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Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald

What's missing in the gangland crisis? The political will to solve it

Security expert Tom Clonan writes that the government needs to do more to tackle the ongoing crisis.

ENDA KENNY ENTERED Leinster House in 1975 and has lived in that privileged gated community for the last 41 years.

Leinster House is sometimes referred to as a ‘bubble’ in that it is often perceived to be profoundly disconnected from the lives of ordinary Irish citizens.

That perception was reinforced last night when Taoiseach Enda Kenny made an extraordinary statement about the brutal execution of a 35 year old man just one mile from our national parliament.

His statement was simple and frank and reveals a great deal about his views on the gun violence that has gripped Dublin’s capital:

This is a vicious and murderous dispute between two families and I do not think I can stop that.

He went on to assure that “whatever resources, facilities and backing the Garda Commissioner requests from Government to protect our citizens and to deal with this will be made available”.

A murder in broad daylight

Yesterday’s brutal murder took place in broad daylight. It took place in the precincts of Avondale House, a residential complex housing dozens of families.

The killers executed Gareth Hutch, a father of one, just yards from an armed garda checkpoint. In the CCTV footage of the incident, the killers shoot their victim at what looks like point blank range.

One of the shooters adopts a flexed position, holding an automatic pistol in a two-handed grip. He fires repeatedly in what the military refer to as ‘deliberate’ firing. Aimed shots.

There is a confidence to the killer’s actions that speaks of a criminal network who regard themselves as above the law. The Taoiseach’s statement will surely confirm what they already believe – that they are untouchable. This same confidence was shown in previous targeted assassinations in Dublin.

The victims, mostly men with criminal records from disadvantaged backgrounds, have been shot in their homes, in public spaces such as bars and in the streets of our inner city. It is only a matter of time before innocent members of the public, including women and children, fall victim to this reckless violence.

‘In short, we have a problem’

24/5/2016 Gangland Murders Crime Scenes Sam Boal Sam Boal

Until today, neither the Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald or the Taoiseach have visited any of the Dublin communities affected by our emerging gun culture. In Ireland, homicide by firearm is a multiple of the European Union average.

Whilst our overall murder rate is close to the EU average, gun killings associated with drug crime are disproportionately high – around five times as high. In short, we have a problem.

In the recent past, when we had a problem with a ‘vicious and murderous dispute’ between the Provisional IRA and other paramilitary organisations on this island, previous Taoisigh took decisive action.

The gardaí and army were mobilised in aid to the civil power operations to neutralise the actions of a few hundred members of republican active service units. In our peace process, there was proactive engagement on the part of our political leaders to deal with the awful cycles of sectarian killings and vicious shootings and bombings associated with the Troubles.

There was investment not only in policing and security, but also in housing, education, job creation and community engagement. Whilst our peace process is undoubtedly flawed, it is considered an international success.

This precedent and this recent success in tackling vicious gun crime in Ireland makes Enda Kenny’s statement all the more troubling. He can stop the violence. He just needs to act. Decisively.

What is missing in the current crisis thus far has simply been the political will to solve it. During the Troubles, TDs and government ministers were potential targets for violence and assassination on the part of paramilitary groups. The government took swift and decisive action.

24/5/2016 Gangland Murders Crime Scenes Sam Boal Sam Boal

In the current crisis, the victims are predominantly young males with criminal convictions. It is perhaps for this reason that Enda Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald have not sufficiently prioritised the crisis.

The government has reluctantly allocated a few million in investment to deal with the problem. A paltry €5 million has been invested in a new armed response unit. Another €5 million was earmarked for the garda overtime associated with Operation Thor and the Minister’s ‘ring of steel’ in Dublin.

However, this breaks down to just €27,800 per garda division per month. Hardly a game-changer.

By comparison for example, in the foot and mouth disease outbreak of 2001, the government invested €49.5 million in garda overtime alone to police the outbreak. The then government took decisive action to protect livestock – let’s be clear here, animals – and our agricultural exports.

What are the priorities?

Government responses seem to be governed by priorities. The citizens of Ireland’s disadvantaged communities would seem not to be priority for Enda Kenny’s government – whether it be in terms of gun crime, homelessness, mental health or suicide prevention.

In 2016, Enda Kenny’s government is not prepared to invest the type of money that was invested in the protection of Ireland’s livestock during the foot and mouth crisis – in order to support those communities in urban areas that are terrorised by armed criminals.

Government inaction and tardy responses suggest that urban communities are not valued sufficiently by those in power. Dublin and Dubliners certainly deserve better than the sentiment expressed in the Taoiseach’s utterances yesterday.

By their recent actions, Ireland’s criminal gangs now represent a clear and present threat to the security of the state and its citizens. Enda Kenny and Frances Fitzgerald must act decisively to deal with this emerging threat.

The garda representative associations are very clear in their view that they do not have the resources to deal with criminal gangs.

Simply put, we desperately need more of the type of government response we saw with issues such as the Troubles and the foot and mouth crisis. And less of the foot in mouth response of our current Taoiseach.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.   

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