Sinn Féin leader’s claim of no indication of her protégé’s gang links is contradicted by the Hutch tapes
Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales depicted a story-telling contest among a group of pilgrims travelling together.
Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch was not so fortunate. He had to listen to the wittering on of Jonathan Dowdall as they drove from Dublin to Northern Ireland to meet the IRA, as the feud with the Kinahan cartel took hold.
As if experiencing it once wasn’t enough, The Monk had to listen to the chatter over again. In the dock of Court 11 on the fourth floor of the Special Criminal Court, Hutch sat with his fellow defendants closest to the judges. Headphones to help him hear proceedings rested on top of his greying black, shoulder-length hair.
He was smartly dressed, wearing a navy blazer, blue shirt with white tips on the collar and fawn chinos.
For three days this week, he listened to bugged conversations from his trip with Dowdall: murder facilitator, convicted torturer and ex- Sinn Féin councillor.
The conversations are muffled, with music on the radio in the background. Despite the age gap, the accents of the pair are quite similar, so a transcript on screen in the courtroom is often needed to differentiate between the two voices. Hutch’s legal team is challenging the legality of the recordings as evidence as they cross over the Border. Republican defendants become suddenly partitionist in legal technicalities.
Among the cast of colourful characters featured in the recordings were Fish, Wee, Trevor in the caravan, Black Anto and Mary Lou McDonald. The extraordinary recordings appear to contradict the Sinn Féin leader’s claim that she and her party were in the dark about the criminal connections of her one-time protege, Dowdall.
Dowdall’s brief political career peaked with a successful campaign in the 2014 local elections where he ran in McDonald’s constituency heartland of the north inner city.
In the bugged con-versations, Dowdall speaks about coming back from Shannon while heading to canvass for “Emma” in Cabra.
Emma Murphy was the Sinn Féin candidate in Cabra in that election and Dowdall was living in that area. He says he was summoned to an interview by two Sinn Féin officials, Brian Keane, whom he describes as an “election adviser” and “organiser” in Dublin, and Stephen McCormick.
A Brian Keane is a Sinn Féin political manager, while a Stephen McCormick was convicted for possession of a grenade and flare launcher for the Provisional IRA. Keane did the talking and asked Dowdall about an incident. “He says to me, ‘I was driving by your house...’, he says ‘ya riddled your uncle’s house’,” Dowdall says. “He says ‘this is my job to ask this in case it comes out in the media’,” he adds. “I said, ‘There’s nothing in my past that I did that I’m ashamed of’. He said, ‘It’s my job to ask this’.” Dowdall said he wanted to know the name of who was “feeding it into Sinn Féin, trying to f**k me up” and then there is a reference to “Mary pulled a few of them that
was Sinn Féin people”.
“He didn’t do his homework before he came to me,” he says. From that period, there are stories about Dowdall attacking a relative, including an assault at a wedding.
Despite repeated requests from the Irish Independent, Sinn Féin has declined to comment on Dowdall’s account of this meeting with the two named party officials. The detail Dowdall goes into indicates Sinn Féin did indeed robustly vet him before he was a candidate, because there were suggestions he was not just the clean-cut businessman presented to the voters.
After only nine months as a councillor, Dowdall left Sinn Féin. McDonald insists she knew nothing about Dowdall waterboarding a man in his home until he was charged a year later with false imprisonment and threats to kill.
Those offences were carried out while Dowdall was a Sinn Féin councillor. Three weeks ago, McDonald told Newstalk’s On The Record with Gavan Reilly: “The first I knew of any of this was when he had been arrested for a different offence. And I was very shocked by that. I have to say, prior to that he had been a person running a very successful business with very high-level contracts, employing a lot of people and there would have been no indication for me or for anybody else that he would be involved in this type of activity,” she said.
“Had I had even an inkling that he was involved in any form of criminality, much less what he now stands accused of, he wouldn’t have been within a roar of me or within Sinn Féin.”
Now it turns out Dowdall was a bridge between gangland and the republican movement. He had dealings with figures such as Pearse McAuley – who killed Detective Garda Jerry McCabe during a Provo armed robbery.
Dowdall didn’t just pop up and become a Sinn Féin candidate in 2014. Three years earlier, at the height of the recession, Dowdall gave a generous donation of a €1,000 cheque to McDonald, ahead of the 2011 general election. McDonald and the party has been at pains to suggest the donation went to the Sinn Féin local organisation in Dublin Central, but official records show it went to the TD herself. She points out this was a perfectly legal donation and was spent on “legitimate political expenses and probably election expenses”.
Dowdall also bought tickets for Sinn Féin events, including the purchase of a table at a private fundraiser for McDonald and her constituency organisation in the Gresham Hotel on O’Connell Street in July 2013.
Dowdall was photographed with McDonald and former party president Gerry Adams at the event, smiles beaming from the trio. Funds going to Sinn Féin also come up in the course of Hutch and Dowdall’s long drive in the Toyota Land Cruiser, which was bugged by the gardaí. Dowdall is secretly recorded claiming McDonald used the Hutch family for money and votes.
Hutch is now charged with murdering Kinahan cartel gang member David Byrne, who was shot dead at the Regency Hotel on February 5, 2016. The murder escalated the deadly Kinahan-Hutch feud, which has resulted in the deaths of 18 people.
Dowdall had also been accused of murder, but before the trial started, he admitted to facilitating Byrne’s killing by booking a hotel room for the perpetrators. He has now turned state witness against Hutch. In immediate retaliation for the Regency attack, the Kinahans murdered Hutch’s brother, Edward ‘Neddy’ Hutch, on February 8. A month later, Dowdall drives Hutch north on March 7 for an alleged meeting with republicans.
Dowdall is critical of McDonald and Sinn Féin for turning their backs on Hutch and not attending the funeral.
“She has amnesty from anything like that,” Dowdall said. “She stayed away from that funeral on purpose. But yous were good enough, Gerard, to use for votes, yous were good enough to use for money,” he said.
She could have come out and said, “I know that man”, he continued. Dowdall then says: “She was on the telly the night Neddy got shot and she branded everybody as scumbags. He says it would be different if she was not a politician from the area but she was, yous are in her area and she should have said it. Neddy’s funeral, she should have went to it,” he said.
Hutch replies: “None of them were at it.”
The Monk also says “they were staying away from dodgy subjects at the time” including the Special Criminal Court. The judge-only Special Criminal Court is not supported by Sinn Féin. The party has opposed the operation of the court for the past four decades and now abstains on votes in the Dáil on continuing with the court, which is used to try serious criminal and terrorism offences. During the Troubles, the court was used to prosecute members of the Provisional IRA.
A Sinn Féin spokesperson said: “There is absolutely no truth to any of the suggestions made about Sinn Féin or Mary Lou McDonald.”
The continued exposure of Dowdall’s links to McDonald is hugely embarrassing for the Sinn Féin president.
Dowdall comes across in the tapes as largely sycophantic towards Hutch, whom he continually calls “Gerard”.
His ties to ‘The Monk’ go back to his family being next-door neighbours of the Hutches, when he got to know The Monk and his brother, Patrick ‘Patsy’ Snr. In the early days of setting up his electrical business at the tail-end of the Celtic Tiger, Dowdall’s firm experienced cash-flow problems that were alleviated by his neighbours lending him sums of up to €5,000 to help pay wages. Dowdall also borrowed €20,000 from the Hutches to help his mother with a loan. In return, he would pay for holidays and make other bookings on his credit card for which he was later reimbursed.
Yet the links to Hutch and gangland went entirely under the radar when McDonald was grooming her protege.
With additional reporting by Andrew Phelan