Sunday 23 October 2016

'We stood them down before - and we will do it again'

Published 10/02/2016 | 02:30

A member of the Garda Emergency Response Unit on patrol in Dublin . Photo: PA
A member of the Garda Emergency Response Unit on patrol in Dublin . Photo: PA

Gardaí have proven in the past that if they are given the proper resources they can deliver the desired results. But extra funding for more manpower to tackle a long-festering problem such as gangland-related murders must not be viewed as a short-term response only.

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Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald reacted swiftly yesterday, when she heard the request from Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan that funding had to be diverted to allow more officers to be put on the streets on overt and covert duties.

The previous day, the minister had stated the commissioner was satisfied she had all of the necessary resources to deal with the aftermath of the murder of crime gang associate David Byrne, in the Regency Hotel last Friday. But all assessments changed with the retaliatory strike against Eddie Hutch Snr, who was selected by his killers because of the family name only, even though he was not a gangland player.

And when the commissioner and some of her senior advisers spelled out the reality that this was a deadly feud threatening to spiral out of control, the justice budget for the year was raided and an initial €5m ring-fenced for an offensive on gangland.

Apart from a severe tightening of the financial purse strings in recent years, the strength of the force also dropped from a peak of 14,547 in 2009 to a low of 12,799 by the end of 2014.

The numbers increased for the first time in five years in December as recruits marched back into the Garda College in Templemore.

However, it's a slow process, with an expected outflow of about 300 gardaí a year from the force, through retirements, resignations, deaths and secondments, nullifying half of the annual intake of 600 to Templemore.

At that rate, it could take a few years before a strength of 14,000 is reached and it's by no means certain this will be sufficient for the gardaí to carry out all of their duties.

Last week, on the day of his retirement as general secretary of the Garda Representative Association, PJ Stone told the Irish Independent that nobody knew how many Garda personnel were required.

He repeated his long-held view that the Government should carry out an optimal numbers survey.

The tactics of saturation policing and armed patrolling and checkpoints on the streets worked very successfully with good Garda management when they were put into force to eliminate the gangland problems in Limerick.

Almost all of the main players in Limerick were eventually jailed, some in the Special Criminal Court.

A decade ago, the capital was also gripped by the fallout from the deadly Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, which claimed 15 lives from the warring factions and their associates.

It ended after an intensive Garda investigation resulted in the conviction and jailing of several leading players. The number of murders also took a heavy toll on the gangs.

Since then, some of the leading figures have joined up with associates of one of the two gangs involved in the current feud.

The scenario in Dublin now is a little more complex, with an international dimension as well as a wider area to be covered compared with a handful of areas in Limerick.

And while those tactics should act as a deterrent to further retaliatory strikes, they need to be backed up by good intelligence.

Senior gardaí said last night that most of their operations against organised crime were intelligence-led and they maintained they had none to indicate a gun attack was being planned for the Regency Hotel.

Many of the major players from the two warring factions were in the hotel at the time, officers said - adding that the investigation will be lengthy.

While officers still attempt to identify the gunmen at the Regency Hotel, forensic officers are applying top priority status to their examination of the abandoned getaway car used by two of the killers of Eddie Hutch Snr, on Monday night. Officers believe the men fled from the vehicle before they had time to set it on fire because of the sound of sirens as patrols sped to the scene of the shooting at Poplar Row, in the north inner city, within minutes of the alarm being raised.

A can of petrol was found in the car and gardaí say the vehicle potentially holds a number of key clues to the identity of the killers. Officers say armed patrolling in place over the weekend disrupted further planned activity by the feuding gangs, but admit they are very concerned at the escalation of the violence.

However, one senior officer declared last night: "We stood them down before and we will do it again."

Irish Independent

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