Criminals linked to the Maguire side of the Drogheda feud are now the chief suspects for the murder of Robbie Lawlor after gardai seized a €50,000 bounty they believe was paid for the murder of the gangland psychopath.
Two Limerick women with close links to the McCarthy/Dundon gang were in custody last night at Portlaoise Garda Station where they were being questioned under money laundering legislation. They were arrested as part of a massive surveillance operation.
Sources told the Herald last night that the women were observed "collecting the cash" from criminals linked to the Maguire crime faction from Drogheda who had been feuding with Lawlor.
The cash handover happened at a service station off the M7 motorway close to Portlaoise.
Yesterday, the Herald revealed that detectives are investigating whether key members of the ruthless McCarthy-Dundon mob set up hitman Lawlor to be murdered after travelling to Belfast with the gangster.
"This handover happened in Portlaoise and it is believed the women travelled from Limerick to meet criminals who had travelled from Drogheda," a source told the Herald last night.
"They were being watched and gardai arrested the women as they attempted to drive back to Limerick. The cash was found on the floor of the car they were travelling in.
"Gardai are satisfied that this cash was money that was paid over for the murder of Robbie Lawlor in Belfast on Saturday," the source explained.
Two members of the notorious Limerick gang - a 33-year-old and his 17-year-old nephew - remained in PSNI custody last night, as well as a 30-year-old who is also linked to the McCarthy/Dundon gang.
A clearer picture of the murder of Lawlor was emerging last night.
Sources say gardai believe criminals linked to paralysed mob boss Owen Maguire - who Lawlor is suspected of maiming in a gun attack in July 2018 - are the chief suspects for the murder of the serial killer in Belfast on Saturday.
They enlisted their associates in the McCarthy/Dundon gang to set up Lawlor and have him killed, it is suspected.
The Drogheda criminals with links to the Maguire gang have not yet been arrested.
Gardai announced details of the arrest of the women last night.
"Gardai have arrested two women and seized a large sum of cash during an operation in Co Laois on Monday, April 6, 2020," a spokesman said.
"Shortly after 2pm, gardai stopped a car on the M7 motorway (southbound) in Co Laois and recovered €50k in cash. The occupants of the car, two women aged in their 20s and 30s, were arrested at the scene.
"Both were brought to Portlaoise Garda Station where they are currently detained on suspicion of money laundering. They can be held for up to 24 hours.
"The operation involved Laois-based Divisional Roads Policing and local garda units."
Also arrested by the PSNI on Sunday was the criminal son of a notorious murdered dissident republican at a property in Crumlin, Co Antrim. He was released without charge yesterday.
The 27-year-old released man is currently on bail in relation to serious offences relating to a cross-border drugs-trafficking operation.
Hitman Lawlor was shot by a lone gunman in Etna Drive, Belfast, shortly after 11.30am on Saturday in the front garden of a property. The gun attack was witnessed by a number of locals.
The killer made his getaway into the estate after entering and leaving the property through a back door.
A car thought to have been used to transport the gunman to the house - a 2010 Volkswagen Scirocco with the registration YLZ 7052 - was set alight nearby but the handgun used in the murder has not been recovered.
Meanwhile, the Herald can also reveal that feared mobster Cornelius Price is planning to return to Ireland within days following the murder of his arch enemy, Lawlor.
The development comes as it emerged that a 42-year-old drugs trafficker - a former right-hand man of Lawlor's slain brother-in-law Richie Carberry - has become a prime target for Price's gang.
The dealer was spotted drinking with Lawlor after the grisly murder of Keane Mulready-Woods (17) in January.
Sources have revealed that a "war summit meeting" is due to take place in the Rochdale area of England, where Price fled after Lawlor's suspected involvement in the murder of Mulready-Woods.
A number of Price's gang are expected to attend.
"Cornelius Price and his close associates in the Maguire faction in the Drogheda feud firmly believe they have the upper hand in that dispute now that Lawlor is dead," a source told the Herald last night.
"They have celebrated Lawlor's murder and are now turning their attention to who they can target next. Top of the list is the 42-year-old who has been left completely isolated now that both Lawlor and Carberry are dead.
"The Price gang would also love to get their hands on the two brothers who led the anti-Maguire faction but these fellas fled to Spain almost two months ago and they are unlikely to get at them.
"However, Carberry's close associate remains in grave danger."
The Price mob has circulated an image on social media which shows three Smirnoff bottles, symbolising their three rivals - all of whom have been shot dead since August.
These are: Lawlor, Carberry and the feud's first murder victim Keith Branigan, who was gunned down at a Co Louth caravan park last year.
However, in the image posted two bottles can be seen covered in brown cloth. These represent the on-the-run Drogheda brothers and the gang do not plan to drink them until the brothers are murdered, sources say.
Price is said to be "delighted" that a video of him celebrating Lawlor's death went viral on YouTube.
The 38-year-old tells the camera in a video filmed on Saturday: "Cheers to Robbie Lawlor, rest in peace. He's not even meant to rest in peace but fair play to you. There you go boy," Price adds before drinking a shot of spirit.
The Herald previously revealed how Price was involved in an attack on Lawlor behind bars after offering him a 'Judas' handshake. Lawlor needed 29 stitches after suffering extensive injuries in the attack in Cork Prison in October 2018.