How a raunchy photo led to murder in a city where life is cheap

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The Independent Online

It began with the circulation of a photograph taken on a mobile phone of a young woman in a compromising position; now it has led to a vicious murder in Dublin, a sign of how cheap life has become in the city's flourishing gangland.

The shotgun killing of Ian McConnell, 28, was the culmination of one of the underworld feuds which this year have claimed 19 lives in the Republic of Ireland. Last month, two gangsters, Darren Geoghegan and Gavin Byrne, were shot dead in south Dublin.

This week's death was another sign of the lawlessness that has caused the authorities to introduce a series of emergency measures aimed at halting the bloodshed.

The McConnell killing was the tragic result of a bitter feud between Irish families involved in criminality, a rivalry which took its origins in the lightning-quick passage of the raunchy photo around mobile phones in Dublin a year ago.

The lewd messaging led on to more than a dozen incidents, some of which saw shots fired at property.

But now it has led to a death, with a police source telling a Dublin newspaper: "The motive for the shooting was purely personal, with a touch of madness thrown in." The authorities are trying hard to "sit on" such factions, but most of those involved are second- or third-generation crime figures who make a lot of money from activities such as armed robberies and drugs trafficking. In the past few weeks, police have established that some gangs have recruited bombers and hit men associated with groups such as the IRA, Real IRA and Continuity IRA.

Twice in recent weeks the police have intercepted bombs due to be used in feud attacks in Dublin, describing one of these as the most professionally constructed car bomb found in the Irish Republic. The device, in a car that was stopped on the city's M50 motorway late last month, contained 4lb of explosives and was ready for use. Irish army bomb disposal experts were called in to make the device safe.

The second device was intercepted on a motorway near Dublin. The authorities believe it was the work of a former senior IRA bombmaker who later joined the breakaway Real IRA. More recently he is suspected of involvement in armed robberies. The pattern is now becoming familiar of ex-paramilitary figures turning to money-raising crime.

The authorities north and south have long predicted that the winding down of the troubles would lead to a rise in non-political crime. Certainly, paramilitary expertise now appears to be for sale, on a freelance basis, to Dublin's criminal gangs.

The deadliest of the feuds, which has claimed many lives, arose from an incident five years ago when Irish police seized cocaine worth more than €1m (£700,000) in a Dublin hotel. The gang involved split amid accusations that an informer in its ranks had tipped off police. The shootings have been going on ever since.

Bertie Ahern, the Prime Minister, said after one double murder: "All the indications are that this event was part of a vicious feud between two relatively small groups that are struggling to control drug distribution in areas of ... Dublin. These people deal in death and they will kill to protect their patch and recover debts."

When two armed robbers were shot dead by police in May, the Irish public's prevailing reaction was one of congratulation rather than concern. A recent opinion poll indicated that 60 per cent of respondents agreed "people generally don't care about gangland killings so long as innocent people are not hurt". At the same time, four in five people said they believed gang crime had worsened in the past decade, with three-quarters saying the police were losing the war on crime.

The government has reacted by creating a 50-strong unit concentrating on organised crime, together with tougher laws and prohibition on membership of a criminal organisation.