The new untouchables - and we cannot say we weren't warned
The shocking Regency Hotel gun attack is proof that the new generation of criminals is the worst yet, says Willie Kealy
Published 07/02/2016 | 02:30
I spent a hour or more on Friday afternoon recording an interview for RTE about Veronica Guerin. Veronica was shot dead by gangsters 20 years ago - murdered - and RTE is making a commemorative programme to be shown during the summer to coincide with that sad anniversary.
It wasn't long after I left the film crew that I heard the news about the fatal gun attack at a boxing weigh-in in a north Dublin hotel. And a few hours later, I saw the horrific footage on the six o'clock news.
It conveyed the real terror as gunmen armed with automatic weapons opened fire in a crowed public area, killing one man, injuring two others and traumatising everyone else present.
Most shocking was the voice of a small child who could be heard plaintively calling, "Help me. Daddy help me."
The assassins were not Isil fanatics nor their like. For they are our own home-grown criminal terrorists.
All three victims were "known to the gardai" - and I'm pretty certain that when the identities of the shooters are discovered, they too will come under that heading.
For the hour or so that I reminisced about Veronica, I recalled the start of organised crime in Ireland with the Dunne gang, and Larry Dunne's grim prediction on being imprisoned that, "If you think we were bad, wait 'til you see what's coming after us."
What came after were gangs led by the likes of The General and John Gilligan, who ran their criminal enterprises with a ruthless savagery that brooked no opposition. They made fortunes, untroubled much by the law of the land and eventually came to see themselves as untouchables.
Then, The General died by the sword and John Gilligan and his gang were destroyed by a reinvigorated Garda force and a team led by Assistant Commissioner Tony Hickey, who investigated Veronica's murder.
But, as Tony Hickey said, "Even after the crucifixion there was sin," and maybe at that stage, we should have asked ourselves, "What's coming next?" Because as long as there are fortunes to be made in the illegal drug trade, there will be truly evil people to take advantage.
What came next was worse than anyone could have predicted. Through whatever set of circumstances, there emerged a criminal generation worse than anything we had seen before. Young, amoral sociopaths, often consumers of their own death drugs, prepared to die young or die in prison.
They would kill without thinking. They would murder friend and foe alike without provocation and with the least suspicion or perception of a paranoid threat. Sometimes, they kill just to avoid repaying a debt.
"Gangland killings" have become commonplace now and while the gardai pursue every murder without reference to the character of the victim, we seem to have fallen into the trap of thinking that so long as they're killing each other, we won't get too outraged.
Except, they're not killing each other. Think back and remember the innocent victims - the people who might bear witness, or those unfortunate to have been in that infamous "wrong place at the wrong time".
'Most shocking was the voice of a small child who could be heard plaintively calling, "Help me. Daddy help me"'
When Veronica Guerin first began to write about "the untouchables", we could be forgiven for not having been aware of the extent of the criminal problem we then had.
Not now. Not when we read on such a regular basis about the major gangs that operate here and abroad and make fortunes and rule by viciousness and terror. Everybody knows the names. We all know what they look like. We read about their social gatherings, often timed around major sporting events, especially big boxing matches. Yet only occasionally do they feature before the courts, too often on relatively minor charges.
Too frequently they are literally getting away with murder.
They are the new untouchables. And we can't say we have not been warned.