SURELY, the chorus of calls in the past week for the forces of law and order to reclaim the streets of Dublin from the murderous criminal factions roaming them, and seemingly killing people with impunity in spite of extra armed Garda patrols, cannot be allowed to fall on deaf ears? Taoiseach Enda Kenny sent out the wrong message in Dáil Éireann when he protested that he could not do anything to stop the bloody feud between two rival criminal gangs.
The main protagonists are the Kinahans – whose foot soldiers are martialled from abroad – and the Hutch gang, which has borne the brunt of the casualties in its north inner-city base and looks to be facing annihilation at the rate people associated with it are being cold-bloodedly murdered. Last week, in the aftermath of the murder of Gareth Hutch, a young father of one in this thirties, who became the seventh victim of the feud, there was a justified outcry about how these brutal assassinations can be committed with such ease with many of them happening in broad daylight.
Instead of the type of the decisive actions that are needed, the default seems to have been a public debate on the airwaves about the shortage of Garda resources with various vested interests using it to get their points across. Indeed, there seems to be more focus on and interest in the fall-out from the O’Higgins Commission of Investigation report on how some serious cases in the Cavan Monaghan Garda Division eight years ago were handled.
While this is important and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan had serious questions to answer about her force’s attitude to whistleblower, Sgt Maurice McCabe, she should be allowed to get on with dealing with the urgent here-and-now situation on the streets of our capital. People living in parts of the inner city are fearful trying to go about their daily lives in case they become caught in a crossfire and become innocent victims of a feud that does not involve them – already one innocent man has been murdered in a case of mistaken identity – and it is particularly difficult for children living in these areas to come to terms with the gruesome reality of what is going on all around them, necessitating counselling for some to deal with the trauma.
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin, whose callous killing shocked and revulsed the people of the country and forced the politicians to take radical action to tackle criminals, drugs gangs in particular. The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was set up and proved effective in relieving many high-profile criminals of their ill-gotten gains, while the Gardaí got the extra powers and resources they needed to take the gang members off the streets and put them behind bars in places such as Dublin and Limerick where they had struck fear into communities.
However, things seem to have come full circle again and there is a new and more violent breed of criminal on the streets now, who regard human life with even less value and are prepared to kill virtually anyone that gets in their way. Nobody is safe from them, be it opposition gang members, the Gardaí, journalists or even politicians.
Independent Dublin city councillor Jimmy Guerin, brother of the late Veronica, said that people in his area are afraid to go into coffee shops or pubs frequented by gang members because they don’t know what is going to happen. This is bad for business and discourages people from socialising, eating into the fabric of communities.
The central area Joint Policing Committee, made up of local Gardaí, politicians and community representatives, met in emergency session last Friday in the wake of the murder of Gareth Hutch and came up with a number of suggestions for Taoiseach Enda Kenny to consider. While Chief Superintendent Pat Leahy, head of the Dublin North Central Garda Division re-assured those present and the media afterwards that those behind the crimes would be brought to justice ‘sooner rather than later,’ that is not going to happen unless more resources are made available to the force.
During the economic downturn, Garda manpower was reduced drastically and is only slowly being built up again – and certainly not quickly enough to deal expeditiously with the increased criminality in cities in particular. An Garda Siochana has seen many senior officers with relevant experience retire in recent years and maybe some of them could be brought back on short-term consultancy contracts to drive on the urgent response that is needed to reclaim the streets.
The Gardaí need to get into the faces of these criminals and show them who’s boss. Then, there must be a long-term community policing plan to try to tackle the root causes of drug abuse and crime in inner-city areas so that young people can look forward to a worthwhile future and older people can feel safe in their own communities.
The Tánaiste has set up a task force to deal with gangland crime, which will only work if quick and decisive action is taken.