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Family's terror as thugs torch ice-cream vans in gangster war on rivals

The attack is the latest instalment in a campaign of terror that the innocent O' Brien family from Firhouse have endured over the past six years after becoming targets of a notorious Tallaght-based armed robber and drug dealer.

The convicted armed robber, in his early 40s, is a major target for gardai and is involved in the ice-cream business himself -- so that he can launder money.

Other incidents endured by the O'Brien family include a grenade attack, four previous arson attacks, dozens of their cars being smashed up and threatening phone calls.

Despite there being no incident for over two years before yesterday morning's attack, the O'Brien family knew that the gangster would not stop his reign of terror.

Today they said that they will not be intimidated from running their ice-cream business, which employs 10 people in high season and have vowed not to give into the threats and violence.

CCTV footage recorded at their corner house in Firhouse shows a dark car, possibly a Saab or an Opel Vectra, pulling up outside the property in the Carrigwood estate just after midnight yesterday.

Thomas O'Brien (38) told the Herald it shows the driver of the car getting out and walking out of view around the corner to the wall the ice cream van was parked at.

"The passenger gets out and goes to the back of the car and can be seen using his mobile phone, then the man who was in the passenger seat comes back and gets into the driver seat, and the other man gets into the passenger seat and they drive off," Thomas explained.

After the car drives away the ice-cream van starts to smoulder and smoke can be seen pouring from the vents in the roof before it bursts into flames.

"My mother was watching television when a lad on the road came knocking saying there was a fire beside the house, and then there was panic," he added.

"She rang me and I came down and we shifted as many of the vans as we could. The heat was very intense, and one of the other vans caught fire too and the neighbours put out the flames with buckets of water after we drove it out," Thomas explained.

Thomas explained that he has grown up in the ice-cream business, and that his mother Flora (56), who is Italian, comes from a family of ice-cream sellers.

Flora's 60-year-old husband Pat lays the blame for the arson attack on what he terms "unlicensed pharmacists", meaning drug dealers.

"We are lucky to be alive today. My business has been attacked many times, including once when a grenade was thrown into one of my vans.

"We don't conform to the unlicensed pharmacists regulations and then this happens to us," the former police officer told the Herald.

The Herald can reveal that the gangster who is suspected of ordering the attack left Dublin for Spain's Costa Del Crime at the weekend -- less than 24 hours before the arson incident.