Dissidents find new cause in drug war
Republican movement splinter groups are emerging as Ireland's new mafia and are fuelling the gangland feuds besetting Dublin, writes Jim Cusack
'They're Celtic supporters with guns,' says a senior republican. 'They don't know any rebel songs, only Celtic songs'
Since it began reporting on the activities of terrorist groups in Ireland in 2003, the Independent Monitoring Commission has tracked the activities of the self-styled 'dissident' terror groups such as the 'Real' IRA and the 'Continuity' IRA.
In all its reports in the last few years, the Commission has repeated that the 'dissidents' are heavily involved in crime, primarily tiger kidnapping, armed robbery, extortion and smuggling. In its 21st report, issued earlier this year, the Independent Monitoring Commission also said the 'Continuity' IRA was involved in "brothel keeping".
Gardai in Dublin now see these groups as centrally involved in organised crime, including the murders of ordinary criminals who have refused to pay their extortion demands or who have otherwise crossed them.
Sean Winters, the 42-year-old north Dublin drug dealer who was shot dead as he walked along Station Road in Portmarnock last Sunday night is, ostensibly, a victim of republican gunmen. There was no political motivation whatsoever in his murder by the 'Continuity' IRA. He was murdered as part of a turf war over the distribution and sale of drugs in north Dublin.
The dissidents have completed the journey by republicans in Ireland from self-sacrificing idealists to pure criminals, in the same way that the republican revolutionaries of mid-19th Century Italy moved from the ideals of Guiseppe Garibaldi to the entirely criminal mafioso.
The same journey in Ireland began in the dying days of the Provisional IRA. Its members, particularly the Dublin-based brigade, moved from vigilantism against drug dealers to accepting bribes from particular drug gangs and then to carrying out assassinations of rivals to their dealers. Within a decade of Sinn Fein and the IRA leading marches of Concerned Parents Against Drugs to the homes of heroin dealers, the same people were heavily involved in the drug industry while still trading under the name of the Provisional IRA.
The Provos shot dead Joseph Foran, 38, a notorious gangster and heroin dealer, in Finglas in February 2000, not because of his involvement in the drug trade but because he refused to pay their extortion demands. Two months later, they shot dead Thomas Byrne, 41, an innocent man from the north inner city who had stood up to one of the senior Dublin IRA men who was heavily involved in hijacking goods containers from Dublin Docks.
In July 2001, the Dublin IRA shot dead Seamus 'Shavo' Hogan, 40, in south Dublin, passing the murder off as part of its campaign to rid Dublin of career criminals and drug traffickers. Hogan was, in fact, shot because he refused to pay protection and was involved in disputes with another southside drug gang that was paying money to the IRA.
Joseph Cummins, 48, another career criminal, was shot dead in Tallaght in December 2001 because he too refused to pay up.
While the IRA was murdering to order in Dublin, the other republican terror group, the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA), which had been the paramilitary wing of the Republican Socialist Party, went headlong into the drug trade and became involved in feuding with Dublin gangs which it sought to control. Over the last decade, the memberships of both organisations in Dublin, and to a considerable degree in Northern Ireland, have merged.
The major shift from token republicanism for the IRA and INLA came in 2005 when the IRA announced the end of its 'armed campaign' and then finally announced its disbandment in 2008.
In response to the disbandment, the dissidents began moving into the crime territory which the Provisional IRA had begun to inhabit. Former Provisional IRA criminals, left with no name to claim, began firstly associating with and then adopting the mantles of the 'Real' and 'Continuity' IRAs. The evolution from the time of the 1981 Maze hunger strikes, when IRA men were prepared to die for the 'cause', to pure criminality has been completed.
Bernard Dempsey, 53, a former senior Provisional IRA man in Dublin and leader of the Concerned Parents Against Drugs in the south inner city in the Eighties, is serving life imprisonment for the murder of innocent James Curran in the Green Lizard Pub in Francis Street in 2005. Dempsey shot his victim dead when Curran confronted Dempsey after he watched him accepting an envelope full of cash from a notorious south city drug gang.
Dempsey transferred his allegiances to the 'Real' IRA and is now serving his sentence in its wing of Portlaoise Prison. His main former Provisional IRA associates in south Dublin now term themselves 'Real' IRA also. They have close links with the drug syndicate that has grown around the gang headed by the expatriate criminal Freddie Thompson.
On the north side of the Liffey, the former Provisionals are also in league with the dissidents and with the drug gangs. The former IRA gang which assassinated another innocent Dubliner, Joseph Rafferty, 28, in April 2004, is involved in the northside feuding that has been running for the past four years since the imprisonment for life of Christy Griffin for the rape of his partner's young daughter. Former IRA and INLA members are also involved in the latest round of feuding which started with the murder of gang boss Eamon Dunne, shot dead at the Fassaugh House pub in Cabra in April.
Gardai believe he was murdered by members of his own gang who thought he was plotting to kill them. The gang has split and the resulting turf war has drawn in the dissidents. So far there have been two deaths and four people seriously injured.
One of the most remarkable changes to have taken place among the republicans is that the new generation are drug takers as well as dealers. Last month witnesses told gardai that the young gunman who opened fire, with a gun in each hand, on the Players Lounge pub in Fairview, seriously injuring the innocent doorman and two customers, was "high as a kite".
As is almost universal with drug gangs, the dissidents are prone to splitting and feuding. There are dissident elements on both sides in the current feud in north Dublin.
Gardai say that the names 'Continuity' and 'Real' are apparently interchangeable. The group involved in the assassination of Sean Winters last week is currently using the name 'Continuity', but five years ago it was terming itself'Real' and part of the group led by the founder of the Real IRA, Michael McKevitt.
Prisoners on the dissident wing in Portlaoise Prison regularly fall out with each other. Last year one of the prisoners who had been the 'officer commanding' on the Real IRA landing was apparently expelled amid accusations of cocaine dealing. The 'republicans' are believed to be the main source of drugs and mobile phones coming into the jail for ordinary prisoners.
The dissidents were also behind the campaign of arson and grenade attacks on head shops. They carried out the attacks, gardai believe, as part of their 'protection' duties for the drug dealers.
Outside Dublin, the same patterns have emerged. In Derry and the north west, they have been carrying out a campaign of shooting drug dealers who refuse to pay them protection. In Newry and the Border area, where some of the 'Real' IRA now term themselves 'Republican Action Against Drugs', local people say the young members are mainly heavy drug users. One 'Continuity' group with members in the Dundalk, Dublin and Limerick areas is heavily involved in prostitution and the trafficking of young women from eastern Europe where they have established links with cigarette gangs.
In Dublin last week, one Continuity group issued a statement disavowing those (former 'Real' IRA now terming themselves 'Continuity') members responsible for the murder of Sean Winters.
Senior Garda sources say it seems unlikely that the downward drift into criminality will be reversed. The exposure of the Provisional IRA's drift into crime in Dublin was one of the main reasons for the erosion of Sinn Fein's electoral base in traditional working-class areas. The dissidents do not have any public support and no political wing or electoral base on which to build a political movement. Without this, they have become criminal groups merging with ordinary criminal gangs and being drawn into their feuds.
Asked to characterise the new generation of so-called 'dissidents', one senior republican figure said: "They're Celtic supporters with guns. They don't know any rebel songs, only Celtic songs."