THE chief suspect in the ruthless gun murder of Paul 'Ralph' Gallagher is a violent member of the notorious 'Mr Big' drugs gang, the Herald can reveal.
A highly volatile Donaghmede man in his early 20s is believed to be behind Gallagher's brutal death, which came after weeks of careful plotting by the suspected killer.
Garda detectives are focusing on a former close associate of Gallagher (26), who believed that 'Ralph' had ripped him off by stealing a haul of cannabis herb earlier this year during a violent incident.
The chief suspect has become a "big player" in the Co Louth and Co Meath drugs scene over the past year and has been a major target for gardai in the north east as well as specialist units operating in the capital.
Known for violent crime and with a number of previous convictions, the Dubliner is a key member of the 'Mr Big' drugs organisation.
He was one of the main participants in the feud with Alan Ryan's Real IRA faction, which led to Ryan's murder by the mob in September, 2012.
Sources say that he was involved in a brutal assault on a burly IRA thug in late 2011 that kicked off the entire gang war.
Gallagher, who was facing serious drugs charges, was lured to his death in a Co Meath field in the early hours of Tuesday morning and shot at least three times in the upper body. His corpse was found the following day.
A source explained: "This was a very well planned murder. 'Ralph' was lured to that field on the pretence that he was to meet fellas to discuss a job.
"Contact had been made with him a week before the murder - this was very deliberate. He was murdered because he had stolen a large amount of drugs earlier this year in an incident in which violence was used.
"The problem with 'Ralph' was that he was so naive that he might not have even known who owned the drugs."
The savage murder has intensified garda pressure on the 'Mr Big' drugs gang.
Gallagher was formerly a trusted member of the gang before his reckless behaviour led him to be isolated from the mob in recent months.
Last night, detectives were seeking to speak to the young man who drove him from his Donaghmede home to Co Meath on Monday night.
Sources say that this young man is not involved in crime and had no idea that his pal was going to be murdered in the 'set-up'.
It is understood that he sped from the scene in panic after he heard three gun shots shortly after 'Ralph' got out of the car.
The victim's highly respected family received a phone call on Wednesday morning with information that something had happened and directing them to the general location of where Ralph's body was.
Two of Gallagher's siblings were with a local farmer when the grim discovery of his body.