Tuesday 12 December 2017

Gardai probe link between head-shop attacks

Shane Hickey, Patricia McDonagh and Tom Shiel

GARDAI are trying to establish whether a botched attempt to burn down a store selling controversial legal highs is linked to an arson attack on another so-called head shop last week.

Detectives investigating the latest incident refused to rule out a link between both attacks.

However, they have refused to comment on speculation that the attacks could be part of an orchestrated campaign against head shops.

Officers are seeking two men in connection with the latest attack, on the Happy Hippy Store, on North Frederick Street in Dublin city centre.

It came just five days after the Nirvana head shop on Capel Street and surrounding buildings were damaged in a fire.

The latest incident has prompted calls for head shops to be subject to a licensing regime similar to the one used for operating pubs.

The fire brigade rushed to the scene of the fire on North Frederick Street, beside Parnell Square, at about 9.25pm on Tuesday. Locals said two men wearing balaclavas approached the Happy Hippy Store with petrol, causing damage mainly to the outside of the premises.

The scene remained closed off for technical examination yesterday, with the front glass smashed on the ground outside. There was minor damage to the inside of the shop.

About 20 firefighters battled the flames and one person, who was rescued from the premises, had to be treated in hospital for shock. A security guard from the nearby Department of Education helped tackle the fire with two extinguishers.

The owner of the shop was said to be "very upset".

Meanwhile, officers were continuing to investigate the earlier fire at the Nirvana store. Three businesses were completely gutted when the fire took hold inside the head shop.


The owner of the store, Jim Bellamy, said the fire had been started intentionally and he feared for his other businesses.

Last night, a garda spokesman stated that any links between the two incidents would form part of the probe.

The two fires come following an ongoing controversy over the number of head shops that have opened around the country during the past year.

Local Labour TD Joe Costello said the latest incident was "clearly arson" and said criminals were watching the operations of head shops.

"Either scenario is equally worrying -- either people taking the law into their own hands or the heavies from the illegal substances industry who don't want to see other people taking their clientele," he said.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly called for the Finance Bill, which is going through the Dail, to be amended to require head shops to have an operating licence.

However, Taoiseach Brian Cowen insisted such a move would be problematic.

Elsewhere, some 100 protesters expressed opposition to the presence of head shops in Castlebar, Co Mayo.

Castlebar mayor Michael Kilcoyne called on property owners not to rent to operators of head shops.

Paul Bannon, the owner of one of the local shops, Cosmic Closet, said if there was a ban on head shops, then drug dealers would move in.

Irish Independent

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