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PJ Browne: Violence will always follow security extortion rackets

THE VIOLENCE that has erupted in recent weeks between dissident republicans and Dublin's drugs gangs has been simmering under the surface for some time.

The root cause of the issue is drugs, and the supply of them at pubs and clubs. It has been widely stated that if you control the doors you control the drugs and therefore you control the cash.

In these straitened times criminals, be they 'patriots' or ordinary thugs, have found themselves out of pocket, as drug consumption drops. Consequently the pressure emerges to secure whatever revenue streams they can.

The practice itself is nothing new, it has been going for many years, and was learned from the dissidents' forebears in the Provisional IRA. It's not often reported and therefore can be difficult to detect. Like everything else it is all built on fear. Fear is engendered in the owners of the premises, some of whom are among the most reputable people.

But when a gun is produced and a threat made, self-preservation comes into play, and the owner wilts and allows the doors to be taken. That is not to say that all pubs are run that way, but the dissidents pick out pubs in strategic locations with a large number of young people attending at weekends. These young people are vulnerable to the taking of drugs and are then targeted by dealers.

In my time leading detectives in Dublin's south inner city, our members would often check on the reliability and credibility of door staff and we did not have a huge problem. But constant vigilance was, and is, required.

The practice of leaning on businesses extends beyond the entertainment industry. Dissidents also generated cash by running protection rackets on building sites here at the height of the boom, and there's no reason to believe that this has changed.

Of course it's an easy move to go from tapping up businesses for cash to targeting individuals directly. It has been reported that the dissidents behind Sean Winters' killing demanded money from other individuals in recent months, some of whom were convicted criminals.

Both sides in these matters have ready access to firearms, so violence is inevitable when these extortion demands are made.

The backdrop to the protection racket war that's emerged in Dublin is the increased activity of dissident republicans in the North. In the past two years the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA have begun to solidify their groups, and it's accepted that they are working together in many instances.

Such terrorist activities require funding, and extortion is the simplest and quickest way to get it. It's easier than robbing banks, the traditional terrorist fundraising model. And major seizures of smuggled cigarettes in recent times have placed further pressure on cashflow.

In a related issue, the revelation that one of the suspects for last Sunday's murder of Sean Winters is a convicted terrorist, who was later granted a private security licence, is deeply disquieting.

This matter raises serious questions about the level of vetting in this industry. How many other dissidents hold these licences? Is there any intention to investigate them and take away their permits?

Securing the security men would be a good way to start to tackle this problem.