Tuesday 26 September 2017

Limerick gangs talk peace for Christmas

The heads of the warring families at the centre of two decades of bloody feuding in Limerick have held out the hand of peace to each other after both sides agreed to speak exclusively to the Sunday Independent.

In a remarkable move by both sides three key figures said they want the feuding to end and agreed to meet to discuss differences in a peaceful manner and end the feuding that has made Limerick the per-capita homicide capital of Europe in 2006.

The first to move was the patriarch of the Collopy family, Jack Collopy, who agreed during an interview on Friday that he wants peace. He said: "I hope with all my heart there is peace for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Life is too short. I hope in the name of God and his blessed Mother there will be peace."

Asked if he wanted this message passed on to the other feuding families, he said he did.

Jack Collopy's message was at first met with some nervousness by the leading family figures in the Ballinacurra Weston area who have been at war with the Collopys for years. However, after his offer was shown to be authentic they accepted and agreed that they, too, desperately wanted the feuding to end.

Christy McCarthy and Jimmy Collins both said they could trust Jack Collopy and they too want peace. They said they will "shake his hand".

The offer by Christy McCarthy is all the more significant because it was a row between members of his family and the Collopys that sparked the feuding 20 years ago.

Jack Collopy was critically injured during a confrontation with members of the extended McCarthy family including Christy's uncle Patrick "Pa" McCarthy.

Jack Collopy was stabbed repeatedly and struck over the head with a spade. He spent two weeks on a life support machine in Cork Regional Hospital and underwent surgery to remove a fragment of bone from his brain. He never fully recovered.

In the past five years alone 16 people have been murdered as the feuding spiralled out of control, sucking in other families and splitting relatives and former friends and neighbours.

The Collopy home in St Ita's Park in the Island area was raked with gunfire in a drive-by shooting earlier this year when a gunman emptied a magazine from an AK47 assault rifle at the Collopy home.

The strike marks are still clearly visible on the wall, windows and door frames and on the wall of the downstairs bedroom where Jack sleeps as he cannot walk up stairs.

Tentative peace talks were arranged this summer after a period of tension following two murders within the space of 24 hours in April. However, all communication between the families broke down after last month's murder of the innocent victim Shane Geoghegan, who was mistaken for an associate of one of the feuding families.

There were fears locally that the murder would spark further feuding.

Jack Collopy said: "We did have meetings before that (the murder of Shane Geoghegan). The talking stopped then. We want it (the feuding) stopped.

"Life is too short and this is going on generation after generation. This is going on 15 or 20 years. I was paralysed by one of the McCarthys. I got a slap with a spade. But I can say this. The media and the guards don't want this to stop, but we are for peace.

"We can't turn back the clock but we need peace for the sake of all our grandchildren. The wounds will heal over time."

Jack's wife, Bernie, said: "Twice our house has been machine-gunned. We are all prisoners in our own homes. It's time for peace, to pick up the pieces."

Later on Friday the Collopy's offer of peace was relayed to the families in Ballinacurra Weston, Jimmy Collins and Christy McCarthy. When asked did they accept Jack Collopy's offer of peace they replied: "We do."

In a remarkable statement after 20 years of murderous hostility between the Collopys and McCarthys, Christy McCarthy said in reply to Jack Collopy's offer: "He is a genuine man. We all genuinely want peace. This was never stopping and it is destroying the areas."

Jimmy Collins said: "This has all got to stop. We had talks but they broke down." Asked if he would echo Jack Collopy's sentiments, he said: "You can say Jimmy Collins is the same. No one wants this. We want our grandchildren to grow up in peace.

"We will sit around the table and put a stop to it. We want peace for all the fighting factions."

Jimmy Collins survived a gun attack in April when he was hit by two bullets. He and his son, Garrett, along with Christy McCarthy, were recently depicted posing shirtless displaying tattoos of guns and the names of murdered relatives and friends.

Christy McCarthy added: "It's all down to trust. We have to trust each other. If we don't build up trust how can we respect each other. The guards don't want this. They want us fighting.''

Jimmy Collins's wife, Deirdre, said: "It has to stop. It is horrible. The guards smashed their way into our house at five o'clock in the morning. Our children were terrified."

Asked about the nature of the feuding at present both sides disputed the commonly held belief that there are two sides, the Keane-Collopys on one side and the Dundon-McCarthys on the other. They both said that it is separate extended family units that have been involved in the feuding.

It is understood that the talks earlier this year did not involve the Keane family, who live directly behind the Collopy home in St Ita's Park.

Christy Keane, the head of the Keane family, is currently serving a 10-year jail term for possession of cannabis. There have been fears that Christy Keane is still intent on avenging the death of his brother Kieran, who was murdered in 2003. Leading figures in the Dundon family are also in jail, making negotiations even more difficult.

However, since the national sense of revulsion over the murder of Mr Geoghegan, it is hoped locally that these two families will also agree to become part of a process that could lead to peace in the city.

On Friday the signs of the feuding were evident in both houses, with bullet-proof jackets lying around and family members constantly scanning the street outside.

At Jimmy Collins's house, the front door that was smashed when gardai raided the house after the Shane Geoghegan murder is still lying in the front garden. Both homes were elaborately festooned with Christmas decorations.

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