Garda chief calls on gangs to 'step back from brink'
'What marks it out from other criminal feuds is the sheer hatred of the opposing sides'
LAST night, Limerick's most senior garda appealed to those involved in the city's gangland feud to "step back from the brink" and stop the murder and violence which has tarnished the city for almost a decade.
If the words of Chief Superintendent Willie Keane sound familiar, that's because he made the exact same comments on July 8, 2003 following the third murder in the feud.
Five years later, 10 people are dead and the residents of the Shannonside city could be forgiven for feeling like they are experiencing a nightmare version of 'Groundhog Day'.
The latest spate of murders has been accompanied by the usual debates over garda resources and the impact of crime on the image of the city.
News of the latest killing took the spring out of the step of locals still celebrating Munster's weekend Heineken Cup heroics and dominated conversations. People want to know: Will it ever end?
While the violence is largely centred around the struggle for control of the city's lucrative drugs trade, what marks it out from other criminal feuds is the sheer hatred the opposing sides have of each other.
Although many of the main protagonists are behind bars, the feud continues to rage, fuelled by hatred being passed on to the next generation -- and large amounts of weaponry being brought into the city.
The statistics are frightening. Some 15 firearms have been recovered so far this year, 70 last year and 80 the year before. These include semi-automatic pistols, revolvers, shotguns and Kalashnikov rifles.
The only thing that is changing is the age profile of those involved, which is rapidly plummeting. Stories of 14-year-old thugs with guns are no longer idle chat, but a true reflection of what gardai frequently encounter in Limerick.
When it was pointed out to Chief Supt Keane that his appeal for those involved to "step back from the brink" might be a futile one, he agreed, but insisted that the appeal had to be made.
"Some commentators have put it down to drug and turf war and that element is there," according to Chief Supt Keane. "But it is deeper than that in Limerick unfortunately. It is into hatred and family hatred and this overwhelming desire to seek vengeance.
"When something happens, there is this immediate need to get vengeance. Entire families have been sucked in."
His message to the gangs continued: "There are no winners here. It is ending in death, serious injury and disability, long terms of imprisonment, sadness and bereavement. It is pain all the way through.
"It has to stop. That's the bottom line."
His words will ring true with the residents of Hyde Road, Delmege Park, Pineview Gardens, O'Malley Park and St Mary's Park where boarded up houses are plentiful.
However, the fear now is that things may get even worse, given that three senior members of the McCarthy-Dundon and Keane-Collopy gangs are due for release from lengthy prison sentences over the next 12 months.
Despite all the doom and gloom, those charged with regenerating Limerick's most deprived areas are adamant they will not be deflected from their mission. Regeneration board chief executive Brendan Kenny told reporters that the actions of a small minority would not hold things back.
"What we are seeing is very isolated and involves a small minority of people. From the regeneration point of view, we can not be allowed to be way-laid every time there is a case of violent crime," he said.
An entire city is hoping he, his colleagues, and the gardai can succeed.