Describing crime from the front line

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 28th April, 2010 5:00pm

Describing crime from the front line

Crime journalist Paul Williams opened the door on Thursday night to a vision of an Ireland few of the over 200 people sitting before him have ever seen at first hand.

The Penguin, The General, The Monk - all names known to the public through Williams' work for the Sunday World, and now for the News of the World, were just some of the unsavoury characters whose lives, histories - and savageries were laid bare as the journalist gave the April lecture in the series that has been hosted over the winter months at Columb Barracks in Mullingar.

At this stage, Williams told the audience, Ireland has had four decades of organised crime, and he dated the genesis of this "new Ireland" to 1969, which was, he said, "probably the last truly peaceful year in this nation of ours".

"That changed with the escalation of problems in Northern Ireland," he said, adding that Irish republican terrorism was intrinsically linked with organised crime.

Back in 1969, Ireland's garda strength was at just 6-6,000, and the Gardaí weren't accustomed to dealing with gun crime. But, he continued, the notorious Dunne crime family in Dublin, started getting guns from the republicans, and armed robberies became commonplace, happening for a time at a rate of 5-6 a day. The Dunnes became what he described as "celebrity criminals". It was they that introduced Martin Cahill, "The General" to armed robbery.

In the 1980s, he continued, what was almost an "all out war" broke out between the IRA and the crime gangs in Dublin over armed robberies, and the crime gangs began to move into drugs.

Meanwhile, in Iran and Afghanistan, the production of heroin began. Criminal gangs quickly identified its potential for easy financial reward, and when it was introduced into Irelands, it took just two weeks for heroin to become a serious addiction problem in North Inner Dublin, and a month for it to take hold in the South inner city.

At the same time, there was a commensurate increase in the number of gangland murders, not just in Dublin, but in towns across the country.

Mr. Williams reminded the audience of headline crimes from that area, including the theft of sensitive Garda files from the DPP's office by Martin Cahill.

Recalling names and crimes from that time on, Mr. Williams spoke of the death of Veronica Guerin, saying that she had asked the questions of John Gilligan that society should have been asking, which were about where he came by his money.

The most impressive period of Dáíl Éireann's history came, he said, in the wake of Guerin's death when the Dáil put together a package of legislation aimed at tackling the gangs, including instigating the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Going on to death with the Westies, and their cruelty, and going on to explain the spread of organised crime to various other parts of Ireland, he said that at this stage, there are criminals operating who are third and fourth generation. The new millennium saw the growth of the culture of violence, and there are youngsters of 14/15/16 in parts of Dublin who are now slaves to the criminal gangs.

The crmiinal underworld is a mirror image of the legitimate world, but with different morals and structures, he said, and the growth of the Celtic Tiger led to an unprecedented boom in organised crime, and the importation of cocaine here "in tonnes". He said 170 people have been shot dead in gangland murders, and now there is the arrival of the bomb, which has kept Ireland's bomb squad "probably busier now than at the height of the troubles". He said there are terrorist gangs operating in Limerick, and they are in Sligo.

"I don't want to depress you: Mullingar is a lovely town, but you have seen violence. We have the Waterford fights. Longford is ready to erupt again."

Sadly, he admitted, he doesn't foresee the problem of organised crime going away any time soon.