A spate of gangster-style killings in the 26 Counties within a week has brought fresh criticism of the Dublin government’s approach to the growing problem of gun crime.
The five deaths included two known Dublin criminals, including a major drug dealer; a young plumber who was killed after witnessing the latter murder; a Kilkenny postmaster who gave chase following a raid; and a Dundalk man who was killed in a random attack.
Local residents described hearing several loud shots and seeing two men in balaclavas speeding away in a car that was parked nearby. For the seven or eight minutes it took for an ambulance to arrive, they said, a lone security guard tended to the victim’s wounds with tissue paper.
“The bangs were so loud, I thought a lorry was after losing its load,” said one afterr the last gangland killing, outside the International Financial Services Centre in Dublin.
“It’s like Goodfellas or something. No mercy. It’s hard to believe.
“I was in the front room with the TV on and I could hear the shots clear as day. I’ve never heard gunfire, but it sounded like a machine gun. The loudness of it.
“They riddled him, head and chest, and the blood, it was pumping out of him. They knew what they were doing.”
The killings, particularly that of the young plumber Anthony Campbell, have caused deep shock across the city and have put the Minister for Justice Michael McDowell under increased pressure over his performance on tackling record levels of gun crime.
Crisis meetings have been taking place between the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Justice Minister and the Garda police Commissioner to formulate a response.
Opposition parties have insisted the latest killings necessitated a response from the State as forceful and determined as that seen in the wake of the 1996 murder of Veronica Guerin.
Sinn Féin’s Aengus O Snodaigh said “ordinary, innocent people and entire communities” were the victims, “not just of these ruthless, callous criminals but of a failure of government strategy.”
“Instead of making excuses and looking for someone to blame for the rise in gangland killings, the government have to starting accepting that their strategy to combat the threat posed by armed criminal gangs, who are operating virtually with impunity, is failing,” he said.
“During the foot and mouth scare, the entire resources of the state were deployed to deal with it. Nobody was going to die. But people are dying all the time due to the drugs problem. In recent weeks six people have died due to a batch of ‘bad’ heroin being sold on the streets of Dublin.”
Meanwhile, a County Mayo farmer has controversially been found not guilty of the manslaughter of a father-of-11 member of the Trevelling community on his farm.
Padraig Nally denied unlawfully killing John ‘Frog’ Ward at his land in October 2004. The jury of four women and eight men took almost 16 hours to find the farmer not guilty.
During the trial the Dublin Central Criminal Court heard that a terrified Mr Nally, feraring his home was about to be broken into, beat Mr Ward 20 times with a stick and shot him twice with a single barrel shotgun.
Neighbours and several politicians expressing “delight”, while a representative of the Travelling community, Martin Collins, described the verdict as a “licence to kill”.
Mr Collins, a member of the Travelling community and a friend of the family, said last night: “The pain continues for [Mr Ward’s widow] . . . There is a feeling of shock and disbelief in the Travelling community tonight . . .”
“I have witnessed many unsavoury events, carried out both against and by Travellers, but in all my 20 years working in this area, I have never been so angry,” he added.
Mayo Independent TD Beverley Flynn said she welcomed the decision, but said that Mr Ward’s shooting had been “tragic for everyone involved”.
A Fianna Fail election candidate for Mayo, Dara Calleary, welcomed the acquittal. “Mr Nally’s case has brought the issue of isolation in rural areas to the fore,” he said. “We must do all we can to look out for people living on their own.”