A PECULIAR interaction of government policy on the placement of drug treatment centres in Dublin city centre, gang feuding, the mass-scale importation of drugs and tobacco and the traditional bread-winning role in women in inner city Dublin has created a new breed of "godmothers" now responsible for overseeing organised crime.
The Government has allowed a situation to evolve where at least 20 centres for heroin addicts exist in the heart of Dublin, 16 of them in Dublin 1, north of the Liffey. This brings thousands of addicts into the city centre every day. They are the market for the city's heroin and other illegal drug trade which runs alongside the illicit tobacco trade. The control of the distribution of the illegal products is now predominantly run by women, gardai say.
Dublin's male gangsters are chronically prone to feuding and violence. This causes increased Garda activity, and men spending more time trying to kill each other or on the run from attack than in the running of their core drug businesses. In the past 10 years, there have been 121 gang killings in Dublin.
Up to six or seven years ago, gardai say, the drug business was almost exclusively controlled by the men. But in 2004-2005, an upswing in bloody feuding resulted in many male gangsters either being killed or fleeing abroad. For a time the city's heroin supply dried up, causing panic among addicts as prices soared. The supply was turned on again as other gangs emerged to take their place, but they too had a predisposition to murdering each other for control of turf. This reached its peak in 2009, when 31 killings took place.
Despite the gang killings in 2009, the trade in heroin into the city was still running smoothly and gardai became aware that it was women and not men who were seeing to the day-to-day business of keeping the thousands of addicts supplied. Quietly and successfully, there were women who were seeing to it that the money stream from drugs kept flowing.
New patterns emerged in the city drug trade. One was that every August the city emptied of criminal families. Women had always taken their families on holiday but, by tradition, the men hung around the city, minding their patches and taking the time off from their families. Now they go off with their families. The situation has become so quiet in terms of serious crime that many Dublin Metropolitan detectives also decamp as there is little to do in the month as all their main targets are at their holiday homes in Spain or Portugal.
In 2009, the worst year for gang homicide in the history of the State, there were only two killings in August and these were of minor figures killed by minor gangs in the west of the city. There was only one killing in August 2010 and none this August.
This "domestication" of organised crime, mostly in the inner city, can be seen in other patterns that have arisen.
One woman, in her 40s and married with children, has been running a major drug and cigarette smuggling operation formerly organised by the men of a north inner Dublin area. The men had spent much of the previous six years in a deadly feud which has claimed eight lives. This woman is said to have assumed effective control three years ago at the height of the feuding -- and, as well as organising the importation of drugs and cigarettes, she also set up and managed a front business which was used to launder funds. This was something the men had failed to do. It has come to the attention of the Criminal Assets Bureau, but only in terms of non-payment of tax.
Gardai say that the main corps of men who had spent so much time trying to kill each other and neglecting their business are now largely redundant. They give the appearance of being kept men. Gardai point out that they seem to spend their days drinking in a number of bars, and one in particular where they can be seen almost every day from opening time. One Garda source said the men have no means of income and gardai believe they are given "pocket money" by female gang leaders to go to the pub and stay out of trouble. One man who had a reputation as a serious and dedicated criminal and dealer was recently arrested for being drunk and incapable in the north city centre at midday.
The woman suspected of running the show has no serious criminal convictions and comes from a family background where women were street traders and more often than not the main source of income for their families. The gang was formerly run by her brother who is in jail.
Across the Liffey, in the south inner city, male control of the drug distribution business has also diminished, again largely due to the feuding and because many of the remaining male gang members are in prison or have fled to Spain or Holland.
Sixteen of the gang members are dead from feuding. Two women, one a partner and the other an ex-partner of leading figures in the feuding gangs, along with the sister of one of the gang leaders, are believed to be directing drug distribution.They also come from street trading families, and gardai believe they both rely heavily on networks of women and teenagers to move drugs and cash around the inner city.
Two of these women have had attempts made on their lives. However, like their northside counterparts, these women tend to oppose any form of retaliatory violence as this brings with it increased Garda activity which disrupts their criminal business. Despite the attacks on the women principals, there were no attempts at murderous retaliation.
By contrast with the situation in the inner city, women are not said to be to the fore in the drug business in other parts of Dublin. This is particularly the case outside the city centre where women have traditionally not been so involved in the role of bread-winner and in street trading. In the northern and western suburbs of Dublin, men still lead the drug and criminal organisations and few women are actively involved, gardai in these districts say.