There have been 63 violent deaths in the Republic of Ireland this year, a huge amount in a tiny nation of just 4 million people.
December 28, 2006
Gangland Dublin: deadly spree of violence leaves a 'carefree' city looking into abyss
David Lister, Ireland Correspondent
* Irish President blames affluent drug users
* Former members of IRA suspected
River Liffey, Dublin.
Dublin is the capital city and largest city of the Republic of Ireland with a population of around 505,000
The image of Dublin as a prosperous, carefree city has been dealt a series of blows by a surge of gangland violence that has led to a record number of murders and created a security crisis for Bertie Ahern’s Government.
Ten years after the murder of Veronica Guerin, the investigative journalist, triggered a public outcry over the country’s power-thirsty drug dealers, an escalating new feud has illuminated the dark underbelly of the Irish capital.
Police launched a murder investigation yesterday after a 28-year-old man became the latest victim of the violence. He was shot in the early hours of the morning as he slept on a sofa in a house in the north inner-city district of Dublin.
Named locally as Stephen Ledden, a father of one and a convicted robber, he was believed to have been targeted in retaliation for the murder of a rival criminal outside a supermarket in Dublin two weeks ago. Mr Ledden was killed by a gunman who entered the house through the unlocked front door before shooting him once in the back of the head.
The murder of Mr Ledden was the 63rd violent death in the Irish Republic this year, including 27 gun killings, the highest level in almost a decade. They include the murders this month of Dublin’s “Mr Big”, the drugs baron Martin “Marlo” Hyland, and Anthony Campbell, 20, an apprentice plumber, who was in the house at the time and was shot to stop him identifying the killer.
Mr Campbell’s death provoked widespread outrage and was described by Michael McDowell, the Irish Justice Minister, as the act of “evil people”.
He has promised an extra 1,000 police officers to help to fight gangland crime, and has also accused judges of being partly to blame for the rise in violence by releasing too many gang members on bail.
Yesterday opposition politicians accused him of not doing enough. Joe Costello, member of the Dail (the lower house of the "Oireachtas (external - login to view)", the Irish parliament) for Dublin Central, said: “Authorities have to get to grips once and for all. We have seen again the ease with which gangs have access to weapons and the brutal way in which they are prepared to use them.”
Jim O’Keeffe, justice spokesman for the Fine Gael party, said: “The manner of last night’s brazen, professional murder shows just how little gangland killers fear the authorities.”
Mary McAleese is the 8th President of the Republic of Ireland since it left the Union
Why the level of violence has risen so dramatically is not clear, but the issue is an emotive one in Dublin, where the killing of Guerin in June 1996 was condemned by John Bruton, then the Taoiseach, as “an attack on democracy”. Record heroin seizures in Dublin in recent months have underlined the city’s growing drugs problem, while former members of the IRA are suspected of selling their terrorist expertise to gangs in return for a share of profits. Although the IRA has taken steps to distance itself from criminality on both sides of the Irish/UK border, the same cannot be said for some of its former members.
A former “officer commanding” of the Dublin IRA is believed to be involved in a drugs feud in the north inner- city area, while a man in his late forties, who served a jail term for explosives before being freed early under the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, is also reported to be closely associated with one of the city’s biggest heroin gangs.
The murders have provoked widespread soul-searching, not least from President McAleese.
In a Christmas interview she described the rising gangland violence as “a hideous, ugly development” but said that Ireland’s prosperous middle classes had to accept part of the blame. She said: “Who creates the market that allows these people to become so powerful? It is the people with the good jobs, it is the people with a great social life, with the fancy car at the door who are doing cocaine thinking it is a really smart and cool thing to do.
“The gangland killings don’t come out of nowhere. The people who do drugs in rather nice environments are implicated directly.”
Monsignor Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin, also spoke of the killings in his Christmas address and referred to the violence as one of the dark sides of modern Ireland’s success story. He said: “There are signs of an insatiable greed which . . . fails to fill the hunger for selfesteem and value; there is the violence of those who seek to profit from the suffering and addictions of others. There is the terrible violence we find on Dublin’s streets, a disregard for the value of life which haunts me and fills me with a sense of horror.”