Drugs bring 'mafia' wars to Dublin streets

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The Independent Online
Anonymous in balaclavas, Larry Shelly's assailants waited silently until 2am, when he returned home with his wife from a night out. He was reaching for the key to his flat when two shotgun blasts hit him. The first shattered his right arm, the second wounded him in the stomach

His misfortune, it seems, was to have witnessed one of Dublin's increasingly common gangland assassinations. The Dublin Corporation worker had been drinking in the Blue Lion pub in Parnell Street last month when a gunman, who had been driven to the scene by motorbike entered. Still wearing his crash helmet, he strolled calmly up to the bar, where a few customers were enjoying an early evening drink, and fired a single shot at close range into the head of John Reddin, 42, a notorious underworld figure in the Irish capital.

Mafia-style hits are the consequence of the burgeoning drugs trade in Dublin, which has one of Europe's worst heroin problems. Both the gardai and Reddin himself apparently knew there was a "contract" out on his life: detectives pressed Ireland's Director of Public Prosecutions to charge him with murder over a fatal stabbing outside a north Dublin disco last year, anticipating there would be no one to put in the dock unless he was safely in custody.

Last month two drugs dealers were also shot dead, including Gerry Lee, killed at his 31st birthday party. The latest murder, carried out in similarly ruthless fashion, was that of John Kelly, an armed robber and drug dealer shot dead with a semi-automatic pistol as he watched television with his girlfriend. In the past 10 months there has been roughly one suspected gangland murder in Dublin a month, and 16 since 1992. No one has yet been charged in any of the killings, and Mr Shelly's near-fatal shooting appears to have been aimed at keeping it that way.

There has long been a practice of "direct justice" in some inner-city communities - after a rape several years ago, the presumed culprit is said to have been dropped from a high balcony of a tower block - but the Northern Ireland conflict has brought guns into the equation. The 1994 ambush of Martin Cahill, known as "the general", Dublin's most notorious gang leader, was claimed by the IRA. It was their last "authorised" killing, two weeks before declaring the ceasefire which lasted 17 months.

Since the late 1980s professional criminals too have commonly chosen the gun as a first option. Hiring or buying illegal firearms has never been easier. Recently a crime reporter paid just Ipounds 200 (pounds 206) to rent a Colt .32 revolver, Ipounds 50 above the rate for regular customers. She claimed this rental market existed in pubs in several working-class areas.

The gardai's failure to crack Dublin's principal gangs has alarmed politicians. Mary Harney, leader of the opposition Progressive Democrats, alleged in the Dail recently that the city's most successful armed robber, known as "the Monk" because of his abstemious and tight-lipped demeanour, had not only taken advantage of a government tax amnesty to keep most of his gains, but had now won a Dublin Corporation contract for MOT testing.