Thursday 27 October 2016

A terrible reality is born as our State abdicates its duty

Fergal Keane

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Heroin kingpin: Larry Dunne being escorted to prison after a long trial in Dublin in the 1980s
Heroin kingpin: Larry Dunne being escorted to prison after a long trial in Dublin in the 1980s

Looking back it is always tempting to say you saw it coming. I will resist that enticement. I was certainly blind to the oncoming deluge. Day after day under the stern admonitions of District Justice Murtagh de Burca, I watched the petty criminals of Limerick make their way to the industrial schools and the prisons, a conveyor belt of hopelessness that ensured nothing but recidivism.

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The courts reflected the State they served: solid, dispensing justice as best they could, but already out of touch with the changing dynamics of the big council estates.

It was the same addresses always: St Mary's Park, O'Malley Park, and Ballinacurra-Weston. I lived in 'digs' in the latter and knew that the majority of people were law abiding. But a significant core of troubled families in these areas provided the basis for a burgeoning criminal underworld. In those days Limerick crime was still a matter of fists, boots and knives and relatively small pickings.

The real action was starting in Dublin, through an industry that brought wealth to its entrepreneurs, and misery to its victims, in unimaginable quantities.

Heroin numbed the hopelessness. It was popular because there was no escape quite like it. It was lethally addictive and, unlike alcohol, its prohibition made it the perfect trade for the city's criminals. At either ends of the line of supply and demand the poor were screwed, from the peasant opium farmer in Afghanistan to overdosed pusher in a lane off Dorset Street.

I moved to Dublin in the early 1980s and found myself regularly brushing up against the human wreckage of the heroin trade. In those days the Dunne family were the feared masters of the inner city streets. They established a familiar pattern - notoriety followed, eventually, by concerted State action leading to arrest, imprisonment and decline. This was in the golden days before drug dealers began killing each other.

Others came along to take up the market vacated by the Dunnes. The State found itself then, and now, playing a slow motion game of whack a mole.

Crackdown was followed by resurgence. Cocaine came and was guzzled up by the children of the middle classes and the rich. In Colombia I saw what it cost the poor to send marching powder up the noses of the West's high flyers.

They died in massacres and were exploited in the jungle factories. The dead numbered in their thousands but we never learned their names. They were not mourned when we considered the victims of drugs and the wars on drugs.

The political establishment must take a big share of the blame. Fianna Fail, Fine Gael, the PDs, Labour - governments of all make-ups were slow to react. They failed to give the

gardai the resources they needed, and to tackle the social problems that helped to fuel the drugs trade.

We are cursed with a short-termist mentality. We are good on tactics but too often we have an utter absence of strategy.

At the same time, the Dublin drugs trade was booming, our national police was being undermined by political corruption at the hands of Charles Haughey and several of his chums.

The parties linked to the paramilitaries now act as if they have no role other than to condemn the failures of Government. But it was their armed comrades who held the authority of the State in contempt, indulging in criminal activity like racketeering and importing guns and explosives in huge quantities.

If the gun is now central to criminal life in Ireland, the Provos must accept their share of responsibility. When an AK47 is produced during the attack at the Regency Hotel, we need some humility and honesty from Sinn Fein.

The populist response to a feud between major criminals is to leave them at it and hope there are none left standing at the end, as when the INLA tore itself apart in the late 1980s and one body after another fell in a hail of bullets.

But somebody new and more vicious always comes along. It is the lesson of drugs wars everywhere. Go to Colombia or Mexico for a brief lesson in escalatory savagery.

Here the State has mercifully avoided meeting criminality with its own violence. Look at Mexico and you will see where that leads.

Statistics can be quoted to show that crime and the murder rate is falling. They belie the moral effect of allowing private armies to continue to threaten the peace.

The latest murders attributed to the Kinahan vs Hutch feud have left neighbourhoods in fear and the gardai unable to contain the violence. This is before we even contemplate the effect on the civic consciousness of watching the law being trampled on by thugs.

Last March BBC Spotlight reported on how Operation Shovel by the Spanish police had accumulated detailed evidence of the Kinahan cartel's criminality.

Reporter Jennifer O'Leary asked: "The big question is, given the scale of Operation Shovel, including the detailed surveillance carried out by the Spanish police and the intelligence in the files, why has there not been a prosecution against any of the leading gang members for drug trafficking?" We are still waiting for answers on that.

Christy Kinahan is an enemy of the Irish people. So are the rest of his ilk. They represent the greatest threat to the integrity of the Republic since the end of the IRA campaign.

They are banal figures, all of them, human voids in which all notions of decency, let alone loyalty to their nation, were long ago subsumed by greed.

Short-term tactics won't defeat them. Like the battle against terrorism it will be the slow, forensic and very patient work of specialist policemen here and across Europe that will lead the way.

But if it is not matched by honesty about the great social divide in Ireland, the impact of cuts on police and the poorer neighbourhoods, and a campaign of change, we are just buying time.

Recognise the danger now before the private armies get any bigger.

Sunday Independent

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