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What the Monk and Mary Lou McDonald have in common

Jonathan Dowdall's inner city ties embroiled him in a gang war but a small-time chancer brought him down, writes Maeve Sheehan

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BEFORE THE FALL: Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Jonathan Dowdall

BEFORE THE FALL: Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Jonathan Dowdall

BEFORE THE FALL: Mary Lou McDonald, Gerry Adams and Jonathan Dowdall

Jonathan Dowdall drove all the way to Newry unaware of the bugging device located somewhere in his €85,000 white BMW. Beside him in the passenger seat was Gerry Hutch, a family friend since childhood and fellow boxing fan.

They were, in some ways, an unlikely pair: the north inner city criminal who ploughed his stolen loot into property, paid off the Criminal Assets Bureau and had supposedly gone straight. Dowdall, on the other hand, was the north inner city kid who grew up with the Hutches, stayed out of trouble, set up his own business, became a short-lived Sinn Fein politician and sponsor of local boxing clubs.

It was early March 2016, in the bloody aftermath of the spectacular gun attack at the Regency Hotel in Dublin. One of the top lieutenants of the drug trafficker Christy Kinahan had been shot dead. The Kinahans retaliated with a string of gangland hits, including the murder of Gerry's brother, Eddie. The heat was on. With a contract on his head and at the centre of a massive Garda operation, Hutch was under pressure. According to Garda sources, Dowdall agreed to drive Hutch across the border to a meeting. Whether Dowdall was aware of it or not, it is understood that Hutch's meeting was with members of the Real IRA about getting guns and ammunition out of Dublin and across the border.

On paper, Dowdall looked like the perfect choice to chauffeur a man being hunted by criminals. At the time, Dowdall had no convictions, respectability of sorts and a valid driver's licence, as well as being a trusted northside family friend. He had absolutely no involvement in the gang warfare, according to Garda sources, or in the Regency Hotel attack.

At least until Hutch opened up about it on the hour-long, secretly bugged journey to Newry, sealing not only his own fate but also that of the hapless Dowdall.

Not long after that, gardai obtained a warrant to search Dowdall's family home for weapons and ammunition, clearly suspecting that he had somehow become drawn into the murderous gangland feud.

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Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch

Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch

Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch

The day after the raid, Dowdall went on Joe Duffy's Liveline RTE radio show to berate gardai for searching his home on the grounds that he was a "suspected member of the IRA". He was never in the IRA and he wasn't a criminal either, he said. He was proud to call the Hutches his friends and had never met a Kinahan in his life.

Gardai found no guns in Dowdall's fish pond. But they did find the now-infamous "torture" video of Dowdall and his father "waterboarding" a man he thought was out to scam him. At the time, Dowdall was still a serving Sinn Fein councillor, a public servant who had promised to "stand up" for Dublin.

As Dowdall, 40, and his father, Patrick, 60, were jailed for 12 and eight years respectively at the Special Criminal Court last week, long-standing republicans were scratching their heads. He was never in the IRA, according to one former IRA prisoner, but who let this guy into Sinn Fein?

Although she has been quick to disown him, Dowdall operated in the party under the wing of his local Sinn Fein TD, Mary Lou McDonald, the deputy leader of the party, his neighbour on the Navan Road and whom he claimed was a friend "for years".

In the north inner city, however, Dowdall was considered a bit of a Del Boy, driving around his old neighbourhood in top-of-the-range cars - most recently, his white BMW.

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Gardai removed a motorbike and a BMW car from Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road

Gardai removed a motorbike and a BMW car from Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road

Gardai removed a motorbike and a BMW car from Dowdall’s house on the Navan Road

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He was north inner city to the core. His mother was a street trader and, according to her son, "stood in the cold and the rain" to give her children an education. He did an electrician's course in his mid-20s and had a business up and running within a year of graduating. Dowdall's company prospered during the recession, turning over €428,991 in 2009 and €488,989 in 2010.

Dowdall and his wife had by then moved to the Navan Road, with a €400,000 mortgage, four children, and a pond in the garden where he kept his exotic Japanese Koi fish. (Although he later told Duffy's Liveline programme that the four cars in his driveway were "financed" and he was borrowing money from his father-in-law and the credit union to pay staff wages.)

When Dowdall was put on the ticket in McDonald's constituency along with two other Sinn Fein candidates, it caused surprise. One local activist joked that Dowdall's closest link to republicanism was the one-time IRA commander who once lived in the same block of flats as Dowdall.

Malachy Steenson, an "independent republican" who fell out with Sinn Fein (and whose brother is a former IRA prisoner), said: "He [Dowdall] would have come to the attention of republicans and it wasn't for his political or republican beliefs."

He believes that at least one republican raised concerns about Dowdall with Sinn Fein at the time.

It was pretty widely thought that Dowdall had been donating to various Sinn Fein election campaigns, although Sinn Fein did not confirm this. "It was a strange decision. He didn't have a clue about politics," said one council insider.

Dowdall surprised everyone by being swept in to Dublin City Council on a Sinn Fein tide in May 2014 alongside his running mate, Janice Boylan, but the third candidate, Gaye Fagan, who was expected to win a seat, didn't make it. (She was later coopted onto Dowdall's seat)

He lasted eight months. Although he was well capable of ranting at Sinn Fein critics like Malachy Steenson on Facebook, Dowdall was generally regarded as friendly, although "not exactly an intellectual power house".

One source said Sinn Fein colleagues started to complain about his council work. Christy Burke, who quit Sinn Fein when the party chose Mary Lou over him, said Dowdall was "a type of people-pleaser": "I'd say he scratched his head and said 'what's after happening me, I've a business, I've a young family and I'm after being elected'," said Burke, now an Independent councillor.

Dowdall quit in September 2014, to Mary Lou McDonald's "regret". He returned in October, saying he had the "total support" of Deputy McDonald.

By Christmas, he had withdrawn again. He told colleagues that a particular group of Sinn Fein people were on his case. He had all but stopped showing up at Dublin City Council meetings. One colleague said he stopped taking calls.

It was against this backdrop that Dowdall posted a photograph of his motorbike on the Done Deal website and what happened next could be taken from an episode of The Sopranos.

Alex Hurley is a man with a past, a conviction for fraud, who liked to pass himself off as a barrister. The court heard that he does agency work, most recently for a bank.

Unfortunately for Hurley, he clicked on the wrong ad when he scoured the internet for motorbikes in January 2015. Hurley viewed the bike at Dowdall's house, passing himself off as a barrister, and arousing Dowdall's suspicions. After he left, Dowdall found some warning posts about Hurley online, believed he was about to be scammed and planned a brutal revenge.

On January 14, Dowdall invited him to dinner, convincing Hurley that his father enjoyed his company. On January 15, Dowdall drove with his daughter to collect Hurley from outside the Rotunda Hospital and take him back to his house on the Navan Road.

They arrived at the house at 7.15pm. "Are you looking forward to dinner?," Hurley was asked on the way to the front door. The front door opened, revealing Patrick Dowdall. They bundled Hurley into the garage, where Patrick Dowdall tied him to a chair with cable ties. "If you want to get out alive, you better tell Jonathan what he wants to hear," he told Hurley.

Over the next two hours, he was verbally and physically tortured. He heard three men discuss whether to chop him up or feed him to the dogs. He endured Dowdall's bragging about being in the IRA and being friends with Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald.

His head was shaved. Jonathan Dowdall donned a balaclava, placed a towel on Hurley's head and slowly poured a bucket of water over him. Hurley said he couldn't breathe. . Afterwards, Dowdall warned Hurley his family would be killed if he went to gardai. They then bundled Hurley into the car and released in a "remote location". Hurley testified in the Special Criminal Court that there were three men in the room. A "female" - whom he claimed was Dowdall's daughter - stood in the doorway and recorded the incident. Jonathan Dowdall threatened to post the video on YouTube.

Dowdall formally left Sinn Fein weeks after the 'torture' incident. At the time, Sinn Fein issued a statement, saying it hoped he would continue to be involved in the party.

Dowdall briefly showed up on Christy Burke's general election campaign last year, but soon afterwards dropped off the political radar.

Nothing more was heard of Dowdall until he was arrested boarding a flight to Dubai in May last year, in the midst of the bloody gangland feud. He had by then been told that he was under threat from the Kinahans himself.

There was no mention of Dowdall's Hutch connection when he and Patrick Dowdall were charged and later pleaded guilty earlier this year to the false imprisonment of and threats to kill Hurley.

Afterwards, Mary Lou McDonald condemned his actions then swiftly tried to shift the spotlight onto her old constituency rival. She tweeted a photo of Dowdall with Christy Burke at his general election campaign HQ last year. Burke was livid. Dowdall showed up for one meeting, he said. "After that meeting that night, we never seen nor heard him after that. Weeks after my fellas were saying, where's Mr Wonderful?"

But Christy Burke was on friendly enough terms to be invited to a party to celebrate Dowdall's daughter's Holy Communion before the trouble erupted. "I sat in the kitchen. I had two or three cups of tea which his dad gave me. I had a chat with several different people coming in and out - some of whom I knew and some of whom I didn't - and then I left."

Dowdall has been described as a "devoted" family man and he appears to have gone to some lengths to protect them from all that has happened. However, before his sentencing last week, Dowdall walked himself into an excruciating cross examination by requesting a so-called Newton hearing to challenge some of Hurley's evidence.

Last Wednesday, Dowdall and his father got in the witness box to deny that Jonathan claimed to be in the IRA, and other "marginal" matters. Then it was the prosecution's turn. Was there a third man in the house? No, Dowdall insisted only he and his father were in the house.

"Who recorded the video of the torture?"

"I don't know."

"The recording is shocking. It's in your garage and you don't know who made it?"

"No."

"You must have known who was in your garage, who was making the recording. The person who was wearing pink pyjamas. You can see the person's legs."

Dowdall shook his head. His father leant forward and bowed his head. The court was told that Jonathan and Patrick both had "difficult upbringings". Patrick, who is separated and lives with Jonathan, has health problems and Jonathan suffers from stress and mild depression.

In passing sentence, Judge Isobel Kennedy used words such as "callous", "brutal", "chilling" and "deeply disturbing" about the crime and found Dowdall's moral compass "deeply skewed".

The judges also noted that the Dowdalls claimed they were the only people in the house. "This is patently untrue as some of the events of the evening were recorded by a female. In fact, Mr Hurley's evidence in the Newton Hearing was that Mr Dowdall's daughter recorded these events. Jonathan and Patrick could not recall. While the very act of recording this ordeal is reprehensible, facilitating a young woman to record the events and is an aggravating factor affecting the moral culpability of each accused man."

Dowdall nodded at his wife and put his hand to his ear: "I'll call ya," he mouthed as guards ushered him and his father out of court. They are expected to serve their time in Portlaoise Prison, where Provos, dissidents and the non-political crims have their own landings. It's not clear with whom the Dowdalls will shack up.

We may not have heard the last of them yet.


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