Monday 18 February 2019

Whiff of death hangs in the air just yards from city centre

Gardaí at the scene of last Tuesday's murder of Gareth Hutch in Avondale House
Gardaí at the scene of last Tuesday's murder of Gareth Hutch in Avondale House
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

It may look normal to those passing through, but after four assassinations, Dublin's north inner city is in the grip of gang warfare and there is nothing normal about it.

The Sunset House bar on Summerhill Parade, where Michael Barr was shot dead on April 25, remains closed, the name obliterated under a coat of thick black paint.

The pub itself may be shut but the assassination of Barr, a dissident republican and Hutch associate, has not been forgotten.

The killing was caught on CCTV
The killing was caught on CCTV

Evil forces have by no means finished their work.

As night and a gentle veil of rain fell, the streets looked empty, except for the knots of women talking in low tones. There was no obvious garda presence anywhere to be seen east of O'Connell Street, save two uniforms at the entrance to the flats in Cumberland Street, where Gareth Hutch was shot dead on Tuesday morning. It was still cordoned off with garda crime-scene tape.

Kids scooted by, people walked their dogs, groups of youth sullenly kicked football - but there was an air of menace that I last remember feeling in parts of Belfast in 1981. A whiff of death hangs on the inner city air.

The repainted Sunset House in Summerhill
The repainted Sunset House in Summerhill

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "This is a vicious and murderous dispute between two families and I do not think I can stop that."

Accepting that a section of the community, living within a stone's throw of the capital's main street, can be abandoned to their fate at the hands of drug dealers and crime bosses who have no compunction in ordering hits on their enemies is wrong.

It is defeatist and it certainly is not the message they should be hearing.

One innocent man has already died in this blood feud, so what will the Taoiseach say when innocent women or children get caught in the crossfire or when it escalates into multiple murders? Then it won't be good enough to say the State can't stop it. It can and it should. One way is by making it impossible for these people to operate and control parts of the city centre.

Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch
Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch

The real problem is that the State has largely given up on this part of the inner city. It has given up on insisting that the community has a right to a better life. The withdrawal of 140 gardaí from this area clearly shows that it has also given up on insisting that the rule of law and order is enforced there.

It has given up on the right of the many decent people in this area to live their lives in peace.

Instead, it has abandoned these areas to another type of drug to keep it docile, breastfeeding it on social welfare and benefits. Too many of the children growing up in this area will follow in the footsteps of their fathers and mothers to the labour exchange in Cumberland Street.

I am no bleeding-heart liberal who sees these people as 'under-privileged', 'marginalised', 'deprived' - the buzzwords of the social science graduates. They are living, for the most part, in good housing; they have cars and satellite dishes and cash to spend in the same supermarkets as you and I and on holidays on the Costa del Sol. The city is on their doorstep and one of the pubs I know in the area is probably the most profitable in the city per square foot.

When the sun shines, locals sit outside and sip on cans of beer, just like we middle-class people do in our back gardens. But that's only what you see on the surface; underneath lurks the scourge of drugs, the misery it brings and the wads of cash that seem to flow untrammelled along these streets and into the pockets of the few.

Christy Kinahan, who rules his empire from the boardwalks of Marbella in Spain, profits from that trade and protects his patch through a network that has operated for decades.

In the underworld, hits are ordered by people who have watched movies like 'Scarface' and 'Goodfellas' too many times and think that is real life - cheap and expendable.

As I passed by Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch's old house in Buckingham Street, I couldn't but recall his words to Veronica Guerin in the only interview he ever gave, in March, 1996.

"My philosophy in life is simple enough," he said. "No betrayal. That means you don't grass and you never let people down."

The murder of his nephew Gary Hutch by the Kinahan mob was betrayal. The retaliation, the killing of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel, was savage and stupid. The reprisals have left pools of blood on the streets running down from Summerhill.

Local criminals, it seems, are settling old scores, cosying up to the cartel by rubbing out its enemies.

There is no easy solution to this vicious cycle. Yet cross to the other side of the Liffey and you pass through similar streets where normality reigns, where people want to get on with their lives in peace, harmony and relative prosperity. Cross Amiens Street and you are walking among Dublin's cathedrals of commerce... another universe.

Not even trying to imagine a better way for this community is a sad reflection on the State and its services.

It may be too late to save the parents, but surely we should try to save the children, to show them that there is more to life than drugs or drug money, a flash car and a bullet in the head from a former associate before they are 40.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss