Paul Williams: Elderly bully boy is starting to realise he's no longer untouchable
Published 03/03/2014 | 02:30
As he lies in his hospital bed this morning, John Gilligan will have plenty on his mind to distract him from the pain of his bullet wounds.
By now the penny should have finally dropped for the ageing gangster that he is no longer the feared, swaggering gang boss that he thought himself to be.
When he was released from prison last year, the criminal displayed to the world the cocky, sneering demeanour of a mobster who considered himself invincible.
And within days of his release, after being imprisoned for 17 years, the "little man" sent out a clear message that he was back in business and intended taking up where he left off.
He wasted no time throwing his weight around and issuing threats to younger criminals as he tried to muscle in on the drug trade and extort cash from his minions.
It didn't take a psychic to predict that Gilligan would soon fall foul of a new generation of gangsters who were not going to relinquish their turf or cash to an elderly bully boy.
One wonders if, as the shots were being fired in his direction on Saturday, he heard the flapping of the chickens' wings as they came home to roost.
For it was Gilligan and his generation who pioneered the elusive brutal world of gangland when they emerged in the early 1970s.
He was instrumental in introducing the phenomenon of organised crime – and set the standards for the young, bloodthirsty criminals who want the accolade of adding his name to the roll of the dishonourable dead.
When Gilligan and his cohorts swapped robbery for the much more lucrative narcotics business, the spectre of contract killings became the norm in gangland. Through the years, the godfathers grew fabulously wealthy and began to believe themselves untouchable.
Never was that more brutally illustrated than by Gilligan when he sent his henchmen out on June 26, 1996, to murder journalist Veronica Guerin.
It was the equivalent of a gangland coup and the former burglar from Ballyfermot struck fear into the very heart of Irish society.
Now Factory John, who carried out his fair share of shootings and ordered many more, knows what it is like to be on the business end of a 9mm pistol – the weapon of choice for the modern-day hitman.
It is still not clear who wants Gilligan terminated – and there is a long list of potential candidates.
The most likely scenario is that he has been targeted by a young gang of drug dealers he has tried to muscle in on.
Their first attempt to assassinate the former godfather was an amateurish farce when a hitman arrived in the Half Way House in Dublin last December and asked if Gilligan was on the premises.
Luckily for him the fumbling would-be killers mixed up their pubs – the gangster was having a pint in the Hole in the Wall pub just down the road.
Following the abortive attack, the hitman and his accomplice dumped their motorbike and the automatic pistol they were going to use.
With typical bravado, the drug trafficker shrugged off the death threats as a Halloween prank – but then hired a bullet-proof car.
When his enemies came back for a second attempt on Saturday night, they showed their determination that Gilligan will not die in his sleep like his former trusted lieutenant and hitman, Patrick Dutchy Holland.
On gangland's Serengeti, where the law of the survival of the fittest prevails, the mobster is a weakened, wounded animal.
The young turks, in claiming their place at the head of the herd, smell blood and fear and they won't stop until the veteran gangster is eliminated.
For now, Gilligan is safe from harm as he recuperates – ironically, under protection from his most hated lifelong foes, the gardai.
When he gets out of hospital, the former Public Enemy Number One will have only two choices; shuffle off into obscurity if he wants to live long enough to enjoy his state pension or wait for his enemies to brush up on their marksmanship.