20 years after the General: Those who took on his mantle
The murder 20 years ago of the notorious criminal Martin Cahill signalled the emergence of the new generation of drugs gangs, writes Jim Cusack
A retired senior detective who knew Martin Cahill passingly observed last week on the anniversary of Cahill's death that he had "worked hard" for the money he had made from crime.
Cahill is thought to have personally netted something short of two million pounds from the various heists he had led including the estimated IR£2.2m robbery of O'Connor's Jewellers in 1983 and the old masters from Russborough House in Kildare in 1986.
But, "The General" had quite a big gang and the money had to be spread around.It was Cahill's venture into the drugs trade - supplying the seed capital for John Gilligan to buy a large shipment of cannabis in Holland - that led to his death.
Gilligan double-crossed Cahill, having him executed by the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) rather than pay back the reputed £600,000 loan at 100pc interest for the shipment.Gilligan made more in a year than Cahill had in his 30-year career as a criminal. Within two years of Cahill's murder Gilligan was estimated to have amassed a fortune of close to £8m before he was jailed. It was Gilligan's drugs "empire" rather than the old fashioned Cahill robber gang that created the template for the coming generation of organised criminals in Ireland.
With Gilligan out of the way there emerged a succession of relatively small-time gangs who learnt to keep low profiles. Almost no one outside his native west Dublin had heard of Pascal Boland (43) until he was shot dead in January 1999 outside his Blanchardstown home. Yet Boland had control of much of the drugs in northwest Dublin. His killers were to become very well known.
The teenage gang who shot dead Boland were to become notorious as "The Westies", a ferocious young gang who established a stranglehold over much of the north city's heroin trade within a few years.
Led by Shane Coates, who was 18 when he shot Boland, and his sidekick Stephen Sugg the gang were involved in dozens of shootings before Coates and Sugg eventually fled Ireland for Spain after a gun battle with gardai in Co Louth in 2004. Their bodies were discovered in a concrete-covered grave in Alicante in July 2006. .The spread of the drugs trade to Limerick, brought with it the stock-in-trade weapon of the automatic handgun and, in November 2000, Eddie Ryan Snr (40) became the first gang figure in the city to be shot dead in a feud that would continue for over a decade.For the first time in the history of the State the spread of drugs brought murder to provincial areas.
Martin Nolan (34) disappeared shortly before he was due to appear on drugs charges in November 1999. His remains were uncovered in the Comeragh Mountains.In August 2000, the death of a young man at a fast-food outlet in south Dublin marked a milestone in the recent history of organised crime. Declan Gavin was only 20 when he was stabbed outside Abrakababra on Crumlin Road in Drimnagh.
Shortly before his death, two of his associates were caught in the act of "cutting" blocks of cocaine in a hotel in central Dublin.
Gavin had gone to buy food when gardai raided and he was immediately branded a "rat" by some of his former friends. They were wrong. Gardai had been called by hotel staff who had been alerted by people in adjacent rooms irate at the non-stop running of coffee grinders.
Gavin's murder split the gang. On one side was Brian Rattigan - finally convicted in 2012 of Gavin's murder - and on the other Gavin's friends. These young men and their gangs began earning at a rate previously unheard of in Irish criminal life. They cornered the wholesale market on the supply of cocaine when the economic "boom" was beginning. With family links in the south inner city they were ideally placed for the city centre night clubs, bars and hotels. The profit margin was around €100,000 per kilo. The two gangs put as much effort into killing each other as they did shifting cocaine. In nine years some 17 were murdered, one tortured and mutilated in a fashion that genuinely shocked otherwise hardened detectives.
It finally ended in victory, of a sort, for the friends of Declan Gavin. The last standing gunman on the Rattigan side, Anthony Cannon (26), was gunned down in Ballyfermot in July 2009.Dublin's crime scene was, no longer, a place for old men. In April 2002 Maurice "Bo Bo" Ward (54) a gangster just free from jail thought he could muscle in on the booming drugs trade in Ronanstown in west Dublin.
The local new boy on the block, just twenty, calmly walked into Ward's home and shot him dead. (This young man subsequently became one of the most feared though least heard of drug gang leaders and is believed to have racked up around a dozen other murders since).While the gangs sorted each other out in the Dublin and Limerick markets the suppliers - particularly a small coterie of Martin Cahill's contemporaries set up bases in Spain and Amsterdam.
Their exiles were due to the Criminal Assets legislation that Gilligan had precipitated with his gang's murder of Veronica Guerin.
And, their anger at Gilligan was why Gilligan found it was open season on him leading to his narrow scrape with death and his late night, wheel-chair bound flight from hospital last March after the murder of his only remaining criminal associate Stephen "Dougie" Moran.
Two of the exile Irish, Georgie Mitchell and Christy Kinahan, are among the few who police believe reached the top division of the European criminal league. Kinahan is currently resident in Spain where charges against him relating to a reputed half billion Euro of illicit earnings were dropped by Spanish authorities two months ago. Mitchell, it is believed, now aged 72, is in retirement and thought to be mainly resident in North Africa.