Innocent families are being targeted in a cash drive by the anti-Maguire faction in the deadly Drogheda feud, it can be revealed.
Two brothers who are considered the leaders of the faction are now understood to be based in the UK after spending time on the run in Mexico, Spain and Turkey in the past two years.
Despite their absence, gardaí have always said that their gang are still heavily involved in drugs trafficking but it now seems that they are running out of cash.
Sources say that henchmen of the brothers have been calling to a number of homes in the Drogheda area in the past fortnight demanding money from families linked to ongoing drug debts owed to him.
In one incident in recent days, a henchman called to the home of a family looking for a young man who is said to owe “a significant, four-figure debt.”
The young man was not at home but when one of his relatives answered the door of the property, sources say that he was handed a mobile phone in which the older gang boss brother made sinister demands for cash.
The criminal “made it clear in the phone call who he was and that he expected the money from these people who have no involvement in crime,” a source said.
“No official complaint was made to gardaí in this case but it is also suspected that a number of other families have been targeted this way in recent weeks.
“It is very sinister behaviour and obviously shows that this gang are under serious financial pressure – being on the run abroad for over two and a half years is not a cheap business and it is perhaps significant that they are now believed to be living not too far from home now.
“Funds must be tight after all this time and information is coming in that they are even chasing relatively small debts owed,” the source added.
The gangster who was on the phone cannot be named because he is facing serious feud-related charges before the courts.
While the Drogheda gang continues to terrorise people from abroad, there have been no serious incidents in the feud in recent times, with many protagonists either out of the country or in jail.
Rival gangster Owen Maguire, who was left paralysed after a 2018 gun attack, remains in Drogheda but is continuing to keep “an extremely low profile”, according to sources.
Gardaí were continuing to question a 47-year-old man on Thursday after his arrest on Monday in relation to the gun murder of Keith Branigan (29) in August 2019.
Mr Branigan became the first fatality in the deadly Drogheda feud when he was shot dead at a caravan park in Clogherhead, Co Louth, in broad daylight on August 27 that year – there have since been three more murders linked to the bitter criminal dispute.
The murder victim was associated with the brothers who are believed to be in the UK.
A 26-year-old close female associate of the suspect who was arrested with him in the Ardee area on Monday was released without charge from Balbriggan Garda Station yesterday while he remains in Drogheda station being quizzed by detectives.
It can now be revealed that the 47-year-old was suspected of involvement as a getaway driver for one of the vehicles linked to the unsolved murder of Benny Whitehouse in September 2014.
We previously revealed the detained man was well known to gardaí for offences including serious assault and was considered a trusted member of the Maguire gang but he may have fallen out with his former pals in recent times.
He has also been involved in a number of separate serious feuds in the Ardee area.
Sources say that he has also been investigated for two gun attacks on the rival gang leader who is now demanding money with menaces, that occurred in 2019 before Mr Branigan was shot dead.
Meanwhile, gardaí nationwide have launched a number of major investigations into drug-related intimidation, particularly in north Dublin, which has seen a number of people charged before the courts in recent weeks.
Dublin District Court was told last month that Operation Fógra, across the city's northern region, has 30 ongoing investigations where individuals or households were targeted.
A detective told the court that some of the debts were small, but others were more than €100,000 or involved "houses being remortgaged".
He said there was a "drug debt explosion" as debts were more difficult to recoup due to the Covid-19 lockdown.