A new report examines the organisation, pervasiveness and impact of criminal gangs within local communities in Dublin's south city and recommends how statutory and voluntary organisations should respond.

The report, called Building Community Resilience - was carried out by Dr Johnny Connolly from the University of Limerick's Centre for Crime and, Justice and Victim Studies, focuses on Dublin’s south inner city and the devastating impact two criminal networks are having on the communities who have to live with them and are most affected by them.

Organised crime usually comes to public attention in the most dramatic, immediate and tragic manner, such as when a person is shot dead, when millions of euro of cocaine is discovered, when a cache of military grade weapons is recovered or when a major gang leader is brought before the courts and jailed.

But behind the murders, the guns, the drugs, the arrests and the convictions, the business of organised crime continues to pervade and corrupt Irish society beginning at the most basic level, within families and communities.

And while only a very small percentage of people living in those communities worst affected by organised crime are involved in the drug dealing, burglary, violence and anti-social behaviour; the impact of the activities of the crime gangs ripples out like a pebble in a pond, destroying and damaging the lives of thousands of people, the vast majority of whom are law abiding and innocent.

Organised Crime

More than 100,000 people live in the suburbs from Ballyfermot to Walkinstown, from Drimnagh to the south quays of the River Liffey and yet the report concludes that only 1.2% of them have been involved in organised crime.

The area has still, however, become synonymous with gang-related crime.

It has been stigmatised because it has become known as the stronghold of the Kinahan organised crime gang in the capital.

The report identifies 650 people in the area with a link to crime, which it then pared down to two major criminal networks or gangs.

The two gangs have 44 and 52 members respectively. The gang members are aged between 12 to 39 and each have at least one criminal conviction.

92% of all offenders in the area are from this age group. The gang members operate in pockets of the south inner city, Ballyfermot, Inchicore, Crumlin, Drimnagh, Rialto, Walkinstown and the Liberties.

Gang Structure

The report identifies the gangs’ structures within the community as being "loosely organised" along three levels;

First there are The Career Criminals who are at the centre of the drugs trade, people like Wayne Whelan, who was shot dead last month and Derek 'Dee Dee' O'Driscoll.

Criminal Wayne Whelan was shot dead last month

Second, are The Street Dealers, usually teens and young men operating in and around the hotspots - like Nathan Foley and Paul Beatty, both of whom are now serving lengthy jail sentences for their involvement in Kinahan-related organised crime.

Third are The Children,  many of whom are below the age of criminal responsibility. They are groomed into participation in the criminal networks.

They appear before the Children’s Court every day of the week and cannot be identified because of their age but current inmates like Joseph Kelly, Jeffrey Morrow and Luke Wilson all began their criminal careers as children.

Freddie Thompson is perhaps the prime example of a gangland criminal who went through all three stages of the south inner city gang structure, first as a child, then as a dealer, on to local leader career criminal and the "go to guy" in the area for murder for the Kinahan organised crime group, one of the world’s biggest criminal organisations.

People became involved in the gangs, the report states, because they have been trapped by debt or see the material benefits and money to be made.

The lure of expensive cars, clothes, jewellery and cash, particularly in a disadvantaged area, can be irresistible to a young person who has left school early with little educational or employment qualifications or prospects and no parental support or control.

The gangs consist of individuals who have offended at least once in 2015-2016. A gang can become the surrogate family but is also often constructed around families.

Gang members, however, represent a very small proportion of the community, just 1.2% of the population aged from 12 to 40, and yet they cause significant harm.

Gang Leaders and Community Control

Senior gang members are admired within their communities and younger people seek to emulate them. 

They have significant control in the areas they live. That includes controlling and preventing crimes that might bring unwanted garda attention that could disrupt the drugs network.

They can shut down anti-social activity when they need to and will attack rival criminals and drug dealers who seek to operate on "their turf".

Some of the key figures in the gangs were previously lower down the hierarchy but elevated themselves and avoided long prison sentences and death.

On the one hand, control is maintained through fear and intimidation, on the other through a degree of apathy and resignation. Some law abiding families and communities are being worn down by the relentless nature of the gangs' activities.

The report found the criminal gangs use anti-social behaviour as a mechanism to control the areas and make money through drug dealing and extortion.

This was evident most recently in west Dublin when the Criminal Assets Bureau targeted Derek 'Dee Dee' O'Driscoll and David Reilly after they had forced construction companies to pay protection money to build social housing in Cherry Orchard.

In total the Criminal Assets Bureau seized over a €250,000 along with a mobile home in Courtown and a horsebox which the High Court declared to be the proceeds of crime.

The gangs organise confrontation with gardaí, either in cars or on the beat to make certain communities "no go areas for policing".  

The report highlights an "unwritten code" known in the mafia as 'omerta', where gang members refuse to interact with gardaí.

The gangs also go one step further and through fear and intimidation, prevent law abiding people from dealing with gardaí even on routine police matters.

The gangs assume these people to be co-operating and label them as "rats".

The result is that gardaí are not informed of incidents or asked for help. The report found, for example, that most crime in the Ballyfermot area is not reported.

Issues raised in minutes at four local policing fora in Dublin South Central

Gang Influence Embedded

Criminal gangs can become embedded in communities and normalised because of fear. 

Their pernicious influence, the report states, is often hidden and can also be experienced in the schools.

Not only are children aged 12 and younger involved with the gangs but divisions and conflicts can emerge in the classrooms "over associations with different individuals or families linked to Networks" or gangs.

Criminal gangs also become embedded in the economy of the communities and the report highlights the "complex almost symbiotic relationship" between the gangs and their "host communities."

The drugs businesses run by the gangs provide money, not just for the leaders, dealers and runners directly involved in the supply chain, but also for local residents prepared to deal in the black economy. 

Drug users who have to steal and sell goods to pay for their habits can be a source of cheap high value merchandise, from televisions to mobile phones, X-Boxes to iPads.

"In this way", the report states, "local people often act out of a degree of necessity" in that they have access to high quality and expensive goods they would not normally be able to afford. 

However, the report points out they are also "helping sustain the local drugs trade on the one hand, while being opposed to it or in fear of those involved in it, on the other".

Response Failings

While the criminal gangs have some structure and organisation, the report states that those set up to deal with them do not. The response of the agencies the report says "whether from the statutory, community or voluntary sector does not appear to be similarly organised".

The response is "a largely unfocused and ad hoc approach".

The same issues repeatedly crop up for discussion at the Joint Policing Committees (JPC), Local Policing Fora (LPF) and Community Safety Fora (CSF). 

The structures, the report states, are "weak, disconnected, lacking in clear orientation and poorly resourced". 

Community-based workers and residents who attend the public meetings say the current interventions and responses are not effective.
 
Garda Response Failings

The garda failings are also identified in this report and listed as:

  • inadequate garda numbers
  • the failure to fill garda vacancies - especially at Sergeant level
  • low garda visibility and failure to respond to calls when people report serious issues, especially anti-social behaviour in local parks
  • failure to address crime and anti-social behaviour 'hot spots'
  • and failure to curb intimidation and to respond to gang-related feuding.

Another significant issue that arises in relation to the crime picture is that people do not appear to have faith in the accuracy of the garda crime figures - including in relation to serious offences like domestic burglary.

This is because many people do not bother to report local incidents, believing gardaí will do nothing about them.

This, the report states, is a particularly challenging issue and one which compounds the problem of people not reporting crime due to fear of reprisal.

Solutions?

The report makes a number of recommendations that can be acted on by local communities, An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council, the Department of Justice and other statutory and voluntary agency to tackle the problem of organised crime within communities.

To deal with the gangs it targets their structure and recommends specific interventions at each of the three levels of gang membership.

1. The Career Criminals: Many of these local senior gangsters who are at the highest levels within their communities do not have many criminal convictions.

If they are not getting caught they are not therefore answerable to the criminal justice system.

The report therefore recommends the development an interagency response, with a "carrot and stick" approach involving case management. It says an inter-agency model involving gardaí, Social Welfare, Probation and Revenue to profile and target these local leaders could be developed. 

The model could be similar to the current JARC (Joint Agency Response to Criminality) approach to prolific offenders.

2. Street Dealers: The report recommends an intensive outreach and bridging model to target the young street dealers, their families and those who "orbit them".

This involves teams of outreach workers, young adults who can relate to them, who are also connected with youth services.

They can build relationships with the dealers to bridge them into employment, education, rehabilitation or "other constructive life paths".

The workers would focus on the dealers individually and not be tied to specific areas. If the street dealers move the outreach workers move with them.

3. Children: The report says specific interventions should be created for children identified as at risk and other young potential gang recruits. 

It does not outline a specific programme but says bespoke ones tailored to particular needs may need to be created.

It suggests alternative education programmes for children at late primary and early secondary level which would involve their families, local youth services, schools, Tusla and research evidence from a model being developed in Limerick.

Such a programme it says could be set up to focus on the children linked to one of the south city criminal gangs identified in this report.

The report also makes a range of other recommendations to develop more long term and permanent community responses to tackle organised crime in the areas worst affected.

Garda Response

An Garda Síochána said its response to the impact of organised crime within communities is the National Framework for Community Policing, which is being rolled out over the next three to five years.

The plan is based on having a community policing team headed up by an Inspector in each division with a garda assigned to a particular area.

Gardaí say that people will know which particular garda they can go to about a specific problem in their own area .

"Every area will be covered by somebody," Assistant Commissioner Pat Leahy said.

"A community garda may be responsible for say ten streets but someone will be responsible for every street."

The Assistant Commissioner also said that the Community policing team will have a different approach, either hard or soft, depending on the area they are policing.

He cites as an example Darndale in north Dublin, an area blighted by organised crime and in the area currently worst affected by the ongoing Coolock feud, the most dangerous so far this year, responsible for five of the ten gangland murders this year.

"The Community Policing team in Darndale have seized 220 cars in the last five months," he said, "as part of a policy of asserting control in the area. Community Policing is no longer a soft option."

The problems encountered in a particular area will, gardaí say, dictate the policing approach but they say community policing is now front and centre of what they do.

Conclusion

Much of the focus on organised crime is on those at the higher levels and yet it is those within the communities at the middle and lower levels who clog up the courts and justice systems and do so much damage to themselves and others. 

Most of what is in this report would be well known and familiar but the report not only outlines the facts of organised crime in a detailed and comprehensive manner but also offers potential solutions to what is a perennial and growing problem.

The reality is, however, that while people like Freddie Thompson may be serving life in prison and others like Wayne Whelan have been shot dead, there are hundreds of other young men in Dublin's south inner city and other parts of the country ready to step into their shoes. 

And it is not just them, their families and their communities that will suffer from the pernicious influence of organised crime but also the wider Irish society.