Serious questions have been raised about the handling of policing by Fine Gael’s Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald following two shocking gang-related killings in Dublin.
Six armed men, at least one dressed as a woman, arrived at at a boxing weigh-in at a hotel on Dublin’s northside last Friday, February 5.
A number of crime journalists and photographers were at the Regency Hotel and recorded the horrific daylight shooting of David Byrne, one of a number of gang members who had been targeted.
The failure of Gardai to attend the boxing event at which a number of Dublin’s top criminals were present, despite an explicit threat of violence, has baffled crime experts.
Byrne was a member of the Spain-based ‘Costa gang’, allegedly led by Dubliner Christy Kinahan. His murder was seen as retaliation for the shooting dead of Dublin drug dealer and armed robber Gary Hutch in southern Spain last September by the Costa gang. Hutch is related to the notorious crime boss Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch, the other party in the current feud.
Minister Fitzgerald was asked this week why Gardai did not have the intelligence suggesting an attack was imminent - especially since it had been widely reported in the media that gang members would be present at the weigh-in. She said she had spoken to Garda police commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan about the failure.
“This was an operational decision taken by An Garda Siochana,” she said. “The Gardai would have taken everything into account when they make these operational decisions. The harsh reality is that intelligence is not always available in relation to the committing of crime.”
With pressure on Fine Gael, who have always portrayed themselves as the ‘law and order’ party, FG leader Enda Kenny sought to deflect attention towards Sinn Fein by claiming that the AK47 weapons used in the attack “may well be very similar if not of the same cargo that came in from abroad with the Provisional IRA”.
There was also suggestion of pre-election political spin behind a subsequent bogus claim of responsibility in the name of the Continuity IRA. A caller to the BBC, claiming to represent the CIRA, said the organisation had killed Byrne because he had been involved in the killing of Real IRA figure Alan Ryan in Dublin four years ago.
Although no recognised codeword was used (and Byrne’s gang had not been involved in the Ryan murder), the political establishment and mainstream media perpetuated the false claim for days, even after it was refuted by a genuine CIRA statement.
But the deception was quickly brought to a halt when a second killing took place. Despite a Garda “ring of steel” across Dublin, Eddie Hutch, a brother of ‘The Monk’, was killed at his home in Dublin on Monday evening in apparent retaliation for the Regency Hotel attack.
Members of the Garda’s Emergency Response Unit (ERU) based at the Border have now been moved to Dublin to cope with the bloody feud. Although they had been sent north to clamp down on republican activity in the border area, the heavily armed garda unit had only succeeded in harassing the public of north Louth with checkpoints and border patrols.
Their transfer is being seen as evidence that the coalition government had treated policing in Dublin as a low priority -- but it also follows the closure of some 140 Garda stations around the country.
Joan Byrne, a coordinator with Citywide Drugs Crisis Campaign said the recent murders in Dublin are only the tip of the iceberg. She said local people in the north inner city were not very surprised at the current violence, because there has been a reduction in the police presence in the area in recent years.
“They don’t walk out at night. They don’t let their children go out at night or early evening,” she said.
“What happened the other day I think, I hope is some kind of defining moment but I don’t think local people in the area are convinced that it won’t happen again”.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams said his party would not “take any lectures” from Fine Gael, Labour or Fianna Fail on criminal justice issues.
“A Fianna-led Government closed the Garda training college at Templemore which had devastating affects on Garda numbers,” he said.
“This was compounded by the actions of Fine Gael and Labour in Government who slashed Garda numbers and resources.
“This Government has a disastrous record in justice. Minister for Justice Alan Shatter was forced to resign, a Garda Commissioner was forced to retire and the Gardai have been undermined.
“The Taoiseach has yet to give a credible explanation of his role in this.
“Sinn Fein has a long and proud record of standing with working class communities in Dublin against drug dealers and criminal gangs.”
He said his party was committed to restoring Garda numbers, recruiting an extra 3,000 Gardai and reversing the policy of Garda station closures.
“Political posturing by Enda Kenny, Joan Burton and Micheal Martin on this issue is cynical and opportunistic electioneering and is not convincing anyone, least of all those communities who have suffered most at the hands of criminal gangsters.”