Three violent deaths in the past two days have highlighted the fact that a gun culture has permeated the Irish Republic's criminal and drug underworld.
A suspected drug dealer was killed in front of his family in Dublin early yesterday, just a day after undercover police shot dead two men during a post office robbery near the city.
Armed robberies and gun deaths have risen in recent years as criminal gangs, often involved in the drug trade, routinely resort to the use of weapons in their activities.
The raiders at a post office in the village of Lusk, north of Dublin, included a gunman with a rapid-fire semi-automatic weapon.
Although some have questioned whether the police were justified in killing two men, the public reaction has in general been one of congratulation rather than concern.
The Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern strongly defended the police, who are known as the Garda. He declared: "The Garda are out there doing a very difficult job against people who are firing shots and shooting people in various locations.
"When the Garda respond, I hope people don't get weak-kneed."
The tough official response follows public and political concern about the rising tide of violent crime which has seen a number of murders this month.
In yesterday's incident a man known locally as a drug dealer was shot dead at his home in the Clondalkin area of Dublin by a man armed with a shotgun.
Earlier this month, a man serving a prison sentence for drugs and other offences was shot dead in the street 10 minutes after his release from Dublin's Mountjoy jail. Many of those killed are regarded as criminals falling foul of associates or competitors, and their murders tend to arouse little public sympathy. But the perception of worsening lawlessness has posed major problems for the authorities.
Their response has been to launch a series of special Garda operations aimed at the criminal gangs, with more than €6m (£4m) allocated to cover additional police overtime.
Last month, 300 police took part in raids on more than 60 houses and apartments in the Dublin area in a search for the proceeds of recent robberies, including a major Securicor heist.
The Lusk incident was part of Operation Discovery, aimed at combating armed robberies of premises and cash in transit.
The police have unofficially explained that they knew an armed robbery was to take place, but were taken by surprise when the raiders did not come in through the front door of the post office.
One of those killed, 33-year-old Colm Griffin, had been to jail several times and had agreed to an official demand to pay several hundred thousand euros which the authorities believed he had raised through drug-dealing and robberies.
Coincidentally, the Irish Justice Minister, Michael McDowell and the Garda Commissioner, Noel Conroy, are on a fact-finding trip to the United States, studying how American cities deal with serious crime.
The Dublin Irish Independent described the Lusk incident as a victory for the public and a triumph for the Gardai. The newspaper declared: "An attempted armed robbery was foiled by the Gardai. By any standards that is a good day's work."
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