Youngsters are being used by senior criminals to deliver drugs and collect money, writes Paul Williams
Fourteen teenagers have been identified by gardaí as vulnerable but active participants in the Drogheda drugs feud.
The gruesome murder of Keane Mulready-Woods has done little to scare some of the country's youngest gangsters away from a life of crime.
Most of the teens are treated like low-level "glorified slaves" for more senior criminals who use them to deliver drugs, collect money and carry out acts of intimidation such as arson attacks and assaults.
The Irish Independent understands one 16-year-old who was associated with Mulready-Woods has now been taken into State care.
He became the subject of a Tusla care order last year and was relocated from Louth to a different part of the country amid concerns for his safety as the violence escalated dramatically.
The revelation comes after gardaí arrested two men as part of the investigation into the shocking murder and dismemberment of Mulready-Woods (17), whose torso has still not been found.
The pair are not believed to have carried out the brutal attack - but gardaí based in Drogheda station, with the support of several national units, are closing in on the killers.
They have identified up to five gang members who lured the teenager to the home of an associate intent on committing one of the most sickening murders in recent gangland history.
Separately, an Irish Independent investigation has established there is a hard-core group of 89 individuals who make up the membership of the two feuding gangs.
Gang A has 49 members identified while Gang B has 40. All of them, with the exception of a few members, grew up in Drogheda.
The figures do not include the three people who have been murdered in the six months since last August - Keith Branigan, Richard Carberry and Keane Mulready-Woods.
Branigan and Carberry were leading members of Gang A and it is their associates - including a notorious psychopath from Dublin - who are suspected of murdering Mulready-Woods in revenge.
Gang A has 28 members under 25, which includes seven teenagers. Gang B, which included Mulready-Woods and the child currently in care, has 12 members in the same category.
Six members of Gang B have been seriously injured in gun attacks, with one man paralysed and another with life-changing scars.
There have been more than 70 assaults, stabbings, shootings, arson and bomb attacks recorded in the feud.
Senior gardaí and community leaders believe more young teenagers like Mulready-Woods will fall victim as they are seduced by the gangster lifestyle.
A source told the Irish Independent: "They are just kids who have been lured by the bling and what they think is the glamour of the gangland lifestyle and if they don't get out of that cycle they will be part of a lost generation.
"They are playing with fire and no matter what you say they just don't want to listen."
Like Mulready-Woods, a number of the young teenage gang members have been switching their allegiances from one gang to the other.
The source says they are viewed by older members "as dispensable cannon fodder, glorified slaves, who do the dirty work and cause mayhem".
"Some of them have decent parents who are at their wits' end having lost their kids to the older thugs who dominate their neighbourhoods - trying to break that cycle is the biggest challenge.
"Other kids though have parents who couldn't care less and who are involved in drugs and crime themselves - for them the kids becoming criminals is as natural as a normal kid going into the family business."
Since the feud exploded, six members of Gang A have been targeted in shootings. Up to 19 members of the same mob are facing serious charges relating to the feud and drug trafficking offences.
Gang A is centred around seven members of the same family who live in the Moneymore estate in the town while Gang B is based around two families from the St Anthony's Park area.
Speaking about the boy who has been moved out of Drogheda, a security source said: "The only chance for that kid is to keep him away from this as long as possible and hope that he can be convinced that this is not the life, that if he keeps going the way he was he could end up like Keane-Mulready."
Along with those believed to have carried out that horrific attack, gardaí have also identified the individuals who provided support including the theft of a Volvo car which was used to transport some of the body parts to Dublin.
It has been established that the day before the abduction and murder - Saturday, January 11 - gang members bought a used car but when it broke down they had to quickly source the Volvo V40, stolen from Sandymount in Dublin, on December 15 from other criminals.
The killers planned to dump a bag containing the teenager's severed limbs at the home of one gang rival in Coolock and a second bag containing his head, hands and feet at the home of another crime boss in Gormanston, Co Meath.
The plot came unstuck when the gang members were spooked by Garda activity in the Moatview Estate in Coolock and dumped the bag on the street.
The following morning the other body parts were found in the stolen car set alight near Trinity Terrace in Drumcondra on January 15.
The Irish Independent understands gardaí have retrieved a significant amount of forensic evidence including DNA profiles, human tissue and blood from the stolen car and the house in Drogheda.
Among the CCTV images recovered is footage of a gang member loading plastic bags into the car on the Sunday night close to the murder scene, which are believed to have contained the remains of the murder victim.
Gardaí are searching for the torso because without it they say they cannot establish the cause of death.