Little sign of peace as gangs braced for a bloody New Year
Evidence suggests the drugs trade with Belfast is linked to the Dublin gang warfare, writes Jim Cusack
Visitors and residents in Belfast's fashionable Titanic Quarter were surprised by a large armed police presence one Saturday evening in early November.
The major PSNI operation was linked not to the city's remaining Republican or loyalist paramilitary groups, but to the professional debut fight of local boxer Paddy Barnes at the Titanic Exhibition Centre.
The double Olympic bronze medallist is signed to the Marbella-based MGM boxing promoters whose weigh-in event at the Regency Hotel in Dublin in February became the scene for the public assassination of Kinahan mob member David Byrne.
There was no Garda presence at the Regency Hotel weigh-in at which Byrne (32) was gunned down. However, the PSNI were apparently taking no chances of a repeat of the scenes in Dublin.
The event in Belfast passed off peacefully and Paddy Barnes, who has chosen to remain living and training in his native Belfast rather than relocate to Marbella, won the bout after his opponent, Bulgarian Stefan Slavchev, was disqualified for lifting Barnes over his shoulder.
MGM promoters is run by Matthew Macklin, who has no involvement in crime, nor has Paddy Barnes.
The irony of a major policing operation being mounted in Belfast because of gang warfare in the Republic's capital city was not lost on those inhabitants who recalled the days of the Troubles when Belfast was known around the world for its terrorist atrocities.
The Titanic Quarter is to Belfast what the Docklands redevelopment area is to Dublin. In the narrow inner city and outer suburban mainly public authority estates, the city is also witnessing a significant level of gang-related violence. Six and possibly seven murders in the city in 2016 are linked to gangs, either Republican or loyalist involved in the drugs trade or in extorting money from the dealers.
The cocaine which is sniffed in Belfast nightclubs is almost certainly supplied from Dublin. More and more evidence of links between the Belfast and Dublin gangs is emerging. Arrests and seizures in the city relate directly to supply networks between the two cities, with most of the drugs travelling north.
In Irish criminal history, 2016 will be remembered as the year of 'Open Season' on the Hutch family from north inner Dublin and their associates in the city's underworld.
Twelve out of a total of 17 gang-related murders can be directly or indirectly linked to the 'feud' as it was still referred to in the first bloody months after the execution of David Byrne.
After the murder of Byrne, the gangs who act as distributors for the Kinahan 'product' in Dublin were offered an opportunity to kill members of the Hutch family and any of their associates either for payment (it is said that €30,000 in cash is not an unusual blood payment) or for their own reasons if these coincided with the Kinahan war on the Hutch gang.
The reaction was swift and lasted the entire year. Eddie Hutch (59), Gerry's brother, was shot dead two days after the Regency Hotel attack. Eddie, a taxi driver and not regarded as a major crime figure, was gunned down at his home in Poplar Row in the north inner city.
The next murder was initially seen as being linked to another feud in the north of Dublin, one between a very violent drugs gang led by a man known as 'Mr Big' and the 'Real' IRA gang which had been led by Alan Ryan (34) until he was murdered in September 2012. Ryan's brother Vinnie (25) was shot dead as he called to his girlfriend's house in McKee Road, Finglas, on February 31.
The murder of Vinnie Ryan was carried out by one of the gangs in association with the Kinahans. They had a long-standing reason to murder the second Ryan brother as he and his associates had been blamed for their involvement in the death of a Finglas man believed to be close to members of the Kinahan gang.
This murder was the settling of an old score but also a killing that suited the Kinahans as the Ryans were seen as being Hutch associates.
'Mr Kingsize' Noel Duggan (58), a long-standing acquaintance and business partner of the Hutch gang whose minions distributed Duggan's €4-a-pack smuggled cigarettes in Dublin city centre, was shot dead at his home in Ratoath, Co Meath on March 23.
The first of two innocent victims of the Kinahan onslaught on the Hutch family was Martin O'Rourke (26), a heroin addict who was in Sheriff Street to buy drugs from a well-known Hutch lieutenant. He was gunned down in broad daylight on April 14 as women and children walked nearby.
Another 'Republican' associate of the Hutch gang, Michael Barr (34), was shot dead at the Sunset Bar on Summerhill on April 25. Barr is said to have had close associations with an IRA faction in Northern Ireland that has carried out several murders. Gardai still believe that there will be some form of retaliation for this murder, although this would pitch a small and loosely organised Republican terror group against the might of the Kinahan organisation.
Gerry Hutch's nephew, Gareth (35), was gunned down outside his home in the North Cumberland Street Corporation flats just off Parnell Street, a short walk from O'Connell Street. Gareth, who was murdered purely because of his family connections, had pleaded with gardai for protection, knowing he was high on the Kinahan murder list. He was given a mobile number for the Garda's Emergency Response Unit but was still shot dead in another daylight assassination on May 24.
Neill Fitzgerald (35), from Tallaght, was shot dead on June 5 and this was not directly linked to the feud but was carried out by a Kinahan-related gang as part of what was becoming a general clean-out of enemies under the umbrella of the Kinahan purge.
The next murder was on July 1 when former Provo David 'Daithi' Douglas (53) was shot dead on Bridgefoot Street close to the heart of the Kinahan organisation in the Oliver Bond Street flats in south inner Dublin.
The second innocent victim was Trevor O'Neill (40), a Dublin Corporation worker who was on holiday with his wife and three young children in Mallorca when a young gunman walked up behind him and shot him dead in full view of his family as they were strolling from their hotel for an evening meal.
One of Dublin's worst gangsters, Mark 'Guinea Pig' Desmond (41), was the next to die. He was lured to a meeting in Griffeen Valley Park, in Lucan, Co Dublin, on December 2 and shot dead.
The main suspects are Kinahan gang members from south inner Dublin who were known to have had intentions to murder Desmond for some years.
The Desmond murder is reckoned by gardai to be directly related to the 'feud', but some sources in Dublin say it could also have been carried out by associates of Liam Kenny (53), a former Provo who had close links to 'dissident' Republican groups.
Kenny was shot dead over a row over money stolen from one of Desmond's runners in Clondalkin. It is possible the Republican group used the cover of the Kinahan-Hutch killing spree. The same group was almost certainly responsible for the murder in Cork of Aidan O'Driscoll (37) in Cork on December 7.
A figure who hasn't appeared on the list of 'feud' murders is Darren Kearns (33) who was shot dead as he left a pub restaurant in Cabra in December 2015 two months before the Regency attack. This murder was put down to a local dispute over losses from a Garda drugs seizure. However, Kearns worked with David Douglas, the ex-Provo and Hutch associate murdered in July. Kearns' killers are believed to be Kinahan associates.
The latest 'feud' murder was that of Noel Kirwan on December 22. Kirwan (62) was also a former Provo who worked for the Hutches, who he had known since his youth in north inner Dublin. It is said in Dublin that Kirwan had managed to keep a sufficiently low profile that he had hoped to avoid the attentions of the Kinahan death squads. But he had attended his old friend Eddie Hutch's funeral and was seen in the company of Gerry Hutch. That sealed his fate.
Just after Christmas, the Garda issued a statement saying that their actions had prevented a further 15 murders during the year. Most of this was a result of information reaching detectives in the city from old and reliable underworld sources.
As with most feuds, the Kinahans' destruction of the Hutch organisation stems from police action in seizing shipments of drugs.
A reputed €2m of cocaine was being transported by Gerry Hutch's nephew Gary from Spain to the UK when it was intercepted by British police and customs last year. Hutch was unable to repay his debt. Gary Hutch (34) was shot dead at an apartment complex in Marbella in September 2015 and it was this that led to the shooting in the Regency Hotel.
One senior garda offering his opinion of the 2016 murder toll pointed to the grim irony that almost every time police make a major drugs seizure someone somewhere incurs a major debt and, under the rules of drug trafficking, pays with their life.
It is, he said, an unending cycle so long as the 'war on drugs' policy of the Irish and most other Western nations remains in place.
No change is this criminalisation policy is being considered, according to Government sources even though the State has legalised the use of cannabis for medical reasons. The prohibition policy costs the State - ie taxpayers - at least €2bn, soaking up a huge amount of the Department of Justice's annual budget of €2.3bn, including the Garda's €1.4bn budget, and with associated treatment and welfare costs.
The United States and other countries are now moving towards decriminalisation, regulation and taxation, having admitted that the 'war on drugs' is unwinnable.