Closing drug law loophole is cash blow for gang
Gang's main source of drug income faces wipeout
New drug laws being fast-tracked through the Dail could deal a financial death blow to the north inner Dublin drugs gang on the losing side of the current blood feud, gardai say.
The new law being promoted by Health Minister Simon Harris is targeted to shut down the legal loophole under which possession of prescription painkillers bought and sold by thousands of addicts in central Dublin every day is not against the law.
The illicitly imported drugs, many with well-known brand names, make up around 80pc of the illicit opiate market, according to academic research.
The northside gang were first to exploit the legal 'grey area' in the Republic's 40-year-old 'Misuse of Drugs' laws with a small network of inter-connected families becoming millionaires, gardai say. These families, and in particular two brothers, are the current targets of the State's biggest drugs cartel led by Christy Kinahan.
Despite being under severe pressure from the Kinahan-backed assassins, the northside gangs have been able to keep up the supply of prescription drugs in Dublin. Gardai say one of the driving forces behind the Kinahan gang onslaught is to wrest control of the 'tablet market' from their opponents and is not simply a matter of avenging the murder of their 'lieutenant', David Byrne (33) in the Regency Hotel attack in February.
The sale of the prescription tablets takes place mainly on the northside of the Liffey in territory which the Kinahan mob, whose centres of power are in the working-class areas of the south inner city, are unable to control.
However, sources say, that when gardai receive powers under the newly expanded Misuse of Drugs Act, they will be able to arrest the mainly northside street dealers who openly trade the prescription tablets in the city centre.
Last week, Mr Harris said that as a result of consultation with gardai in the north inner city, he had determined to fast-track the legislation to prohibit the sale and possession of branded opiate drugs unless they are legally prescribed.
Mr Harris said he expected the legislation to be in place before the Dail closes for its summer recess in early July.
The proposed amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act has been hanging around government for two years but put back after the successful constitutional challenge to other amendments to the Act covering methamphetamine 'head-shop'-type drugs in March last year. Gardai from the North Central Dublin Division have tried hard to remove the street dealers and addicts from open trading and have made thousands of arrests.
Between the two main gangs and the State's free methadone supply (costing taxpayers up to €250m annually), the city centre has been turned into the main drugs bazaar on the island.
Gardai have had very significant successes, mainly against the northside gangs since the feud began, but have also been working in co-operation with other police forces against the Kinahan cartel. The garda's Special Detective Unit (SDU) has played a major role in containing the feud as it uses its separate intelligence network to target the 'republican' elements that have become allied to both sides.
The group known as the 'New' IRA aligned early on with the northside gangs but has been hit hard by Special Branch actions and also by the murder of its main northern representative in Dublin, Michael Barr (34), who was shot dead at the Sunset House bar in the Summerhill area in April.
Another 'republican' group terming itself the 'New INLA' (Irish National Liberation Army) has also had a minor role in offering weapons and muscle for hire for either side, but appears to have been squeezed out of the picture after one of its leaders disappeared. It is not clear yet if he has gone on the run or was murdered and his body secretly buried.
Although the feud was sparked by the Kinahan mob's murder of Gary Hutch (34) in Spain last September, there had been deepening tensions between the gangs after an alliance was formed between the northsiders and a major Scottish gang involved in heroin and cocaine trafficking. This group was already at variance with the Kinahan mob.
The northside gangs were last week still active in supplying the illicit prescription market in the city from their bases in blocks of council flats which, local sources say, are being protected by gangs of spotters and armed 'teams' inside the flats complexes.
Meanwhile, there have been embarrassing problems over the establishment of the 'elite' 55-strong armed response unit that Minister for Justice and Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald announced in February.
The selection procedure for the unit is being challenged in the High Court by gardai who failed to be selected.
The unit, which is to be armed with 'high-powered' weapons, is also likely to be located at Dublin Airport, a good half-hour's drive from the main inner-city flashpoints. It is understood it is to fulfil a dual function of providing an 'anti-terrorist' response at the airport as well as support for Dublin gardai who have been successful in preventing every more deaths in the feud.