Thursday 12 December 2019

Women run day-to-day criminal business of leading drugs gangs

The last gangland victim of 2012 was assassinated because he crossed a gang headed by women, writes Jim Cusack

THERE are 25 organised crime gangs operating in Ireland, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan told the Oireachtas Justice Committee in November. What many people do not realise is that some of these gangs are run by women.


The south inner city gang that ordered Christopher 'Git' Warren's execution is a network of associates. Freddie Thompson may be its most notorious figure but the day-to-day work of its core drugs supply business is headed by clever and tough women.

The gang accrued massive earnings from the cocaine trade during the Celtic Tiger era, but those earnings are severely depleted. While Thompson and his former associates attempted to wipe themselves out in the bloodiest feud in Irish criminal history, the women behind the scenes kept the business going.

In recent years, the men have been pushed further back. Thompson decamped to Spain but returned to Dublin before Christmas apparently having reached some kind of accommodation with the Spanish police who had sought his extradition in 2011. In his absence, the gang's 'military' wing was run by a man from the Coombe area who was responsible for ordering the murders of Gerard Eglinton, 27, in Portarlington, Co Laois, on September 23 last year and Declan O'Reilly, 32, on the South Circular Road the following day. This man also had charge of the execution of Christy Warren, the 35-year-old serial thief from St Theresa's Gardens. Warren, the last gangland victim of 2012, was in danger from St Stephen's Day after an incident in which he assaulted a woman.

Freddie Thompson's rivals in the Crumlin-Drimnagh feud, which has claimed 17 victims since it erupted in 2000, lost the feud and have been diminished in strength. Their membership was also depleted by Garda action. But, gardai say, a new generation of youths is now coming into place. This gang, formerly led by Joseph Rattigan, who was shot dead in July 2002 at the age of 18, is currently repositioning itself in the drugs trade in the area around the Grand Canal, Drimnagh and Rialto. Gardai expect more violence as this next generation comes into conflict with Thompson's associates. Like the Thompson gang, much of the drugs business of this gang is conducted by women.


Across the Liffey, a similar situation is in place in the Dublin 1 area where the work in supplying opiates to the thousands of addicts, who come into the area daily to attend methadone clinics is controlled by two gangs, again run by women. The two gangs emerged when a single gang, whose men were mainly involved in the importation of drugs and armed robbery, split acrimoniously in 2005. As the men embarked on a round of feuding, resulting in seven murders and multiple attempted murders, the women kept their heads down and kept the businesses running. The women may have as much reason as the men to hate each other but seem to have come to a working understanding when it comes to business. These women pay their spouses, brothers and uncles to spend the day in the pub and stay out of each other's way.

Gardai say the major Irish gangs are multi-national operations. Their leadership, in most cases, are people who live seemingly ordinary lives here but who move between Ireland and the major European drugs distributions centres of the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain.

A middle-aged businessman who lives with his family in an upmarket residential development on the northern outskirts of Dublin is one such figure. The businessman, who has a properly run business in the leisure sector, is also seen as one of the most important figures in organised crime in Ireland. He dealt with the money end of the country's largest gang headed by the Dublin criminal, Eamon Dunne, until Dunne's murder in April 2010. The businessman, aged in his 50s, continues to deal with the money side for several gangs who have filled the void left by Dunne's demise.

This businessman worked alongside Eamon Kelly, Dunne's mentor and a long-term adviser to many other gangs. Gardai believe the man works on a commission basis, introducing gangs to ex-pat drugs suppliers and helping them launder their cash. Like Kelly, who was assassinated last month, this man is also a target of the 'dissident' republicans seeking to extort cash from those in the drugs trade.


In southwest Dublin, probably the most low-key yet successful drugs gang in the country over the past decade has its base in and around Ballyfermot. It is also one of the most murderous, though relatively little attention is paid to its activities compared with that of other high-profile gangsters. A mark of the scale of the Ballyfermot gang, gardai say, is that it has twice had huge hauls of its drugs seized but has continued in business, apparently able to absorb losses which run into millions. These include a seizure of 57 kilos of heroin and 21 kilos of cocaine valued at €7m in September 2006 and another haul of cocaine and heroin, valued at €11m later the same year.

When a further haul of nine kilos of heroin and five pistols were seized after gardai arrested gang member Keith Ennis in November 2007, Ennis skipped bail and fled the country, knowing he was being blamed for stupidity in allowing gardai to seize the drugs and guns. His dismembered body was found in a canal outside Amsterdam in March 2009. Ennis was so sure he would be murdered by his associates for the mistake of being caught that he left arrangements for his funeral.

The Ballyfermot gang has been trading in heroin on such a scale that in 2007 it decided to cut out the European middle-men and make direct contact with suppliers in Pakistan. Seven of its members travelled to Islamabad where they attracted police attention. They were able to escape from the country, leaving fake passports behind in the hotel.

In recent years, the gang has had a running dispute with the Continuity IRA which was extorting and stealing cash from some of its drugs runners. This feud is currently in abeyance with the dissident republicans having backed off after two of its members were killed.

The gang, however, is thought to be responsible for up to 10 murders dating back to the evening of the Millennium New Year's Eve when its leader lured two young drug street dealers, Darren Carey, 19 and Patrick Murray, 20, to the Grand Canal at Karneystown, Co Kildare and shot both to death. This gang's reputation for cruelty was compounded by the murder and secret burial of James McDonagh Kenny, a 28-year-old father-of-one in October 2010. It was six months before gardai recovered his body in a forest grave in the Wicklow mountains. He had no major criminal links and appears to have been murdered after a minor argument with the gang leader.

The gang initially established itself with the murder of veteran criminal Maurice 'Bo Bo' Ward, 56, who was shot dead in April 2002 after he threatened some of its then youthful members. The gang compounded its overall control of the drugs trade in the west Dublin area with the murders of local rivals led by Paul Corbally, 35, and his 22-year-old brother, Kenneth, who were shot dead at Neilstown Road in June 2010. Gardai believe the Ballyfermot-based gang members are the 'business end' of a wider criminal organisation that is headed by a number of families who have been involved in crime for generations. At the centre of this criminal network is a family that, like the north Dublin businessman, has a legitimate business front in the leisure sector.


The north Dublin gang responsible for the murder of Alan Ryan has been importing large amounts of drugs in recent years. It is led by a man from the Malahide Road, in his mid-30s, who comes from a respectable family background. Gardai say he is quiet but very dangerous. He left Ireland but returned early this year for domestic reasons and Ryan attempted to assassinate him. One of his drug runners is reputed to have murdered Ryan for a relatively small reward. This gang's area is centred around Donaghmede.

Its members include two brothers regarded by gardai as among the most violent gang members in Dublin, responsible for at least seven murders including the deaths of two innocent cousins, Mark Noonan, 23, and Glen Murphy, 20, shot dead at a filling station in Finglas in November 2010. It was a case of mistaken identity as the gunmen had been targeting local members of the Real IRA who drove a similar car. Gardai also suspect the same two as being responsible for the murder of another innocent young man, Warren O'Connor, 20, stabbed to death in an unprovoked attack. They are also believed to be responsible for murdering JP Joyce, a member of a travelling family settled in north Dublin who was shot dead in January 2010. This gang has links with criminals in Northern Ireland who, in turn, have links with former republican and loyalist terror group members, all now involved in the drugs trade, mainly ecstasy and amphetamines supplied from Holland.


The Dublin Real IRA formerly led by Alan Ryan is still intact with over 100 active members, though it is currently under severe pressure from the Garda Special Branch and from drugs gangs intent on retaliation for the murder of Eamon Kelly. Gardai say their main operations are extorting money from drugs gangs and forcing pubs and clubs to hire their members as doormen. As well as demanding extortionate prices for their labour, their bouncers also exact payment from minor dealers whom they allow to operate from the premises. This group is believed to be responsible for three other murders including that of Sean Winters, 38, gunned down in Portmarnock in September 2011. The gang is headed by a man who has served a lengthy jail sentence for dissident republican-related crime and who lives in south Co Dublin.

The Dublin 'Continuity' IRA carries on operations similar to that of the larger 'Real' IRA. Led by a group of veteran Provisional IRA members, most of the gang have been inducted into the organisation via family connections. Its Limerick-based group is heavily involved in a variety of criminal activity from smuggling to extortion and robbery. The formerly infamous feuding Limerick gangs have been largely broken up by garda action. There are, though, at least three gangs still supplying the local drugs market. A similar family-based gang system also operates in Cork city where two criminal families are at the heart of the drugs trade. Another branch of the dissidents, styling themselves the 'Real' IRA, is also active in Cork.


In Finglas, local sources say serious organised crime has diminished since the murder of Eamon Dunne. Dunne had headed one of the biggest

and most murderous gangs in Dublin's history, hiring professional assassins to kill his rivals. Before his death, the Finglas area had one of the highest homicide rates in the State with seven murders in 2009. There was only one gang murder in the area last year, in February. Gardai say there are a number of small drugs-based gangs but these are supplied by one significant gang led by

a man in his late 30s living in the west Finglas area. He is an associate of the brothers, Alan and Wayne Bradley, who were each sentenced to seven years' imprisonment earlier this year for an attempted armed robbery in Celbridge in 2007.


In Tallaght, a gang led by a former local Provisional IRA man with links to the dissidents groups in Dublin has control of the drugs market, receiving the drugs from ex-pat Irish living in Spain.

Its point of contact with the Irish criminals in Spain is a former member of the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) who was an associate of John Gilligan's gang until it was broken up after the murder of Veronica Guerin in 1996. He lives in the countryside west of Dublin. There are also "a dozen or so" younger gangs who occasionally clash over disputes, gardai say. Tallaght has become a centre for the supply of crack cocaine.


Garda action in arresting more than 20 drug runners in Clondalkin has resulted in the locally based drugs gang being temporarily put out of action but it is likely to re-assemble as its European supply network is unaffected.


Away from these major gangs, there has been a boom in organised criminal activity in the travelling community in recent years. A north Dublin-based Traveller gang has been supplying criminals and dissident republicans with pipe bombs including the one which detonated in the hands of a five-year-old boy in Newtownmountkennedy last year. The gang is believed to have a mobile manufacturing plant. In recent times, a new form of detonation method has been employed and the Army has had to deal with an increased number of "viable" devices.

Gardai have recently been targeting Traveller gangs in west Dublin, Leinster, the Midlands and in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. These gangs are responsible for many of the house invasion robberies, late-night robberies of shops and businesses around the country and the large-scale theft of machinery and metal for scrap. Gardai have identified six Traveller gangs who send out teams each day to plunder houses and businesses around the country. The standard method is to call to houses during daylight hours and if no one answers, to break in.


Along the Border, gardai say, there are several associated gangs including one in north Monaghan that is involved in a variety of crimes from robbing businesses and ATM robberies using mechanical equipment to smuggling and cannabis cultivation. This gang comprises members of the Travelling community, ex-republicans and criminals. It included former garda John Kerins, 46, who was shot dead at his Bailieborough home in November after an internal dispute. This gang also shot dead and secretly buried Dubliner Gerard Daly, 43, in June last year.


Gardai say they have an incomplete picture of foreign gangs operating here but arrests of foreign nationals for a variety of crimes have increased.

Foreign gangs not involved in drugs include a group of men, some with military backgrounds, from Lithuania, who have been specialising in the theft of easily transportable marine equipment from rigid inflatable craft, some of which can cost up to €40,000, to outboard engines to marine fuel cans. The gang has spotters, some travelling by boat along the Shannon waterways, who identify marinas, and mark the locations on GPS for a specialist team which has sub-aqua and engineering skills; this team steals the boats and equipment which is then shipped by container to eastern Europe. This gang has been operating across the UK and here in the past four years.

Another gang of Bulgarian origin specialises in the theft of cars. They are technically sophisticated, using mobile phone blockers to cancel the satellite signals from expensive German-manufactured cars. They are also believed to be supplying mobile phone blockers to other gangs who specialise in night raids on businesses around the country.

There are several Eastern European gangs, many of them from the Roma community, involved in a variety of theft and frauds who have been operating in Ireland for the past decade. Their most high-profile crime is ATM skimming and the gangs rent the electronic equipment from mafia based in Romania and elsewhere, paying a set fee out of their earnings. They are also involved in "low value-high volume" crimes such as the theft of scrap metal and almost anything with potential value. The Roma gangs transfer millions of euro a year back to Romania, much of it also earned from begging and social welfare payments.

According to gardai, there has been a dramatic increase in drug trafficking by Nigerian gangs operating here who are supplying the cannabis, cocaine and crack cocaine market. Much of the cocaine imported by these gangs contains adulterants, some toxic.


In north Louth and south Armagh, the former Provisional IRA 'battalion" runs the largest fuel and tobacco smuggling operation in Ireland and supplies a considerable amount of both illicit products to Britain. Gardai say this gang operates hand-in-hand with 'dissident' republicans styling themselves the 'Real' IRA. Their operational area extends to Monaghan and each year local councils along the Border are left to deal with tons of the hazardous by-product of diesel "washing".


Two Chinese Triad gangs are operating here with rising involvement in prostitution and gambling. All have non-Chinese citizenship. There are very low levels of crime among the Chinese national population. One Vietnamese gang specialising in cannabis supply has been operating here.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News