A welcome peace for Limerick , but threat of 'new wave' remains
In a matter of just four years, Limerick's criminal underworld has undergone a radical transformation. Like the unpredictable Irish weather, residents in the Treaty City are finally enjoying a welcome settled spell.
The notorious McCarthy-Dundon gang has been effectively dismantled, and Hyde Road - their stronghold - is today a much more peaceful place. Former feuding crime lords across the city are keeping a low profile or are locked up behind bars serving lengthy sentences.
Gun crime is at historically low levels. In 2006, there were 97 illegal discharges of firearms across the garda division. The following year, Limerick accounted for a third of all shootings in the State with 102.
But by 2012, there were just seven gun attacks, 11 last year and only four to date so far this year. The murder figures correlate. Six murders in 2006, seven violent deaths in 2007, but just one each for 2012 and 2013 and neither gang related. Extra gardai, the decapitation of criminal networks and the deployment of the Special Criminal Court for gangland trials have borne success.
Numerous gang members have been jailed due to the success of 'Operation Redwing' against the McCarthy-Dundons, and surveillance investigations on the northern side of the city have led to drugs lords like 'Fat John' McCarthy (41) receiving 14-year-jail sentences.
The criminals that cast a dark shadow over the city and its people for so long are finally on the run, but the ever looming threat of violence remains.
Even after the jailing of Wayne Dundon (36) and Nathan Killeen (24) last Tuesday, armed gardai are this weekend continuing to patrol and mind Ger Dundon's former girlfriend, April Collins, and her family, who continue to live in the neighbourhood once controlled by the Dundons. April (26) testified against Wayne Dundon twice, his brother John (31) and their gunman Barry Doyle (28). Adding insult to injury she began a relationship with convicted gang rapist, Thomas O'Neill (25), who Wayne blames for an arson attack on his home in 2011. April is a marked woman for the Dundons and a constant threat hangs over her.
In the meantime, the criminal world continues to evolve. Larry McCarthy (36) is the assumed head of the McCarthy side of the Weston gang with his three Dundon cousins jailed for life. He is joined by Ger Dundon who was released from prison earlier this year. On top of this, Eddie Ryan junior (31) - a cousin of 'Fat John' - was also freed earlier this month. A close associate of 'Fat John' continues to oversee operations in Moyross while in the St Mary's Park area, the Collopy gang have ousted the Keanes as top dogs in the 'Island Field' and are heavily involved in the sale of hash and heroin. They even import the narcotics themselves, preferring not to rely on other smugglers.
Back in 2007, the Limerick garda division received an extra 100 officers at the request of John Fitzgerald, who was tasked with overhauling deprived estates. However, the numbers have dwindled back from retirements and recruitment shortages, just as calm and peace is restored.
The fear on the ground is the Government will take their eye off the ball believing 'job done'. Social deprivation is still very much a reality in Limerick and without ongoing garda and community supports such environments are ripe for producing the next wave of criminals.