Tuesday 15 October 2019

Criminal rivalry has seen more than 70 shootings, assaults and petrol bomb attacks in less than one year

Arson: a fire-damaged house in Loughboy, Mell, Drogheda. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Arson: a fire-damaged house in Loughboy, Mell, Drogheda. Picture: Caroline Quinn
Robin Schiller

Robin Schiller

Garda intelligence indicates more than 50 people are aligned to either side of the dispute between Drogheda's main crime groups. One side, led by a 24-year-old criminal, has more than 30 members including women and teenagers.

They have ties across three counties - their stronghold in Drogheda as well as Meath and Dublin. Two major criminals from the capital are suspected of being directly involved in the criminal network.

The young leader also lives in a number of different properties across Drogheda due to the threat on his life, while also having access to luxury vehicles.

He cannot be named for legal reasons.

His number two, who is 21, is also facing serious charges before the courts.

The rival faction is led by criminal Owen Maguire (34), who was left with life-altering injuries last year after an attempt on his life linked to the feud.

On July 5, a gunman fired multiple shots leaving him paralysed and hospitalised for more than nine months. He was only discharged in recent weeks.

Gardaí suspect Maguire oversees a gang of at least 20 close associates, while also having close connections to mob boss Cornelius Price, due for release from prison in the coming weeks.

The feared criminal's imminent return has left gardaí in the capital and Drogheda on alert and, fearing he will become involved in the violence, they have carried out a number of searches for firearms near his home.

While there have been tensions between both gangs in recent years, gardaí suspect a domestic incident in which a female was allegedly assaulted ignited the violent dispute.

It was alleged that an associate of Owen Maguire assaulted the woman, who is linked to the rival faction, in early 2018.

The fallout from this allegation led to number of violent attacks and petrol bombings in retaliation, which culminated in the attempt on Maguire. His brother, Brendan, also survived multiple gunshot wounds after being targeted at the M1 Retail Park in February.

Last week, a 36-year-old man with links to the Maguires but with no involvement in the feud was the latest victim of a murder bid.

A gunman sprayed several shots at a number of men filling a skip, missing them as well as an innocent young woman who happened to be walking past by inches.

Taunts have also been common occurrences. In one phone call which was video recorded and shared on social media, Owen Maguire is ridiculed about being left paralysed, with a rival mobster goading him by asking: "Do you want to go for a walk and sort this out?"

The violent feud has seen more than 70 reported shootings, assaults and petrol bomb attacks in less than a year.

A special policing plan, Operation Stratus, has been put in place to specifically deal with the two criminal gangs involved.

National Garda units have been drafted in, including specialist investigators and armed units as part of a planned crackdown on the criminals.

However, local gardaí have been left frustrated at what they feel is inadequate resources to effectively combat the significant feuding gangs whose reach stretches beyond Louth.

Last weekend, five arson attacks were carried out across Drogheda, taking the number of feud linked incidents to 74.

Despite assurances that the elite trained Emergency Response Unit has been patrolling the streets, the violence has continued. The situation has also led to a "considerable strain" on resources in both the town itself and the wider Louth county.

Assistant Garda Commissioner Barry O'Brien, in charge of the northern region, admitted as much in a letter to local TD Fergus O'Dowd, seen by the Irish Independent.

The senior investigator also said local gardaí would remain "resolute" in their efforts to combat the crime groups.

Mr O'Dowd, a Fine Gael TD, has been calling for extra garda resources and written directly to Garda CommisDrew Harris.

He said at least 36 additional gardaí are needed for Drogheda, and yesterday Mr Harris promised 25 extra gardaí to deal with the violence.

Despite so many violent incidents since last June, the feud has thankfully not claimed any lives to date.

Irish Independent

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