Pubdate: Mon, 12 Jan 2009
Source: Irish Times, The (Ireland)
Copyright: 2009 The Irish Times
Author: Conor Lally


INTERVIEW : Although successes continue in the fight  against crime, 
the commissioner is concerned by a rise  in gangland violence

IRELAND IS becoming a more violent country with more  people than 
ever willing to resort to fatal shootings  or stabbings to settle 
drug-related or personal  disputes, Garda Commissioner Fachtna Murphy has said.

Recent murders committed by teenagers were an  indication that the 
age profile of some of those  engaging in extreme violence was getting lower.

In an interview, Murphy said that, although gangland  murders were 
proving difficult to solve, the force was  enjoying very considerable 
success fighting the drugs  trade.

He also insisted the public were unaware of the number  of fatal gun 
attacks that had been thwarted by gardai  after intelligence was 
gathered and preventive  operations put in place.

"I see drugs as a key factor in crime," he said. "I can  vouch for 
what the guards will be doing; we'll be  focusing our efforts on the 
supply side. But I think  there's a bigger problem here. We as a 
society, we as a  nation, need to be working harder on thdemand [side]."

Drugs were being seized daily, particularly cocaine and  heroin, he 
said. Gardai were also seizing large numbers  of guns linked to the 
drugs trade.

"Life seems to be cheaper," he said of gangland  murders. "These 
people are prepared to go further to  establish their patch."

He said gardai trying to fight the drugs trade were  helped by the 
fact that gang members needed to  transport often large quantities of 
drugs. This  resulted in opportunities to intercept consignments.

However, fatal shootings like the double murder of  Michael Cronin 
and James Moloney in Dublin last  Wednesday could be carried out much 
more quickly and  discreetly.

"People are using handguns in a lot of these shootings.  They are 
easily concealed, small weapons."

If a killing was carried out, and the weapon disposed  of and no 
forensic evidence left at the scene, the  crime would be very 
difficult to solve. But he would  not become "dispirited" because 
some crimes were hard  to solve. Nor would he "bury [his] head in the 
sand" in  relation to the amount of drugs still "swashing  around".

The investigations in the 1990s into the murders of  Veronica Guerin 
and Det Gerry McCabe were "tedious and  painstaking" but had resulted 
in convictions. The  inquiry into the murder of Shane Geoghegan in 
Limerick  in November would be the same.

He believed a proposed ban on handguns would help Irish  society from 
developing an entrenched gun culture.  High-visibility community 
policing would also help  people overcome the fear of giving evidence 
in court  that could secure convictions against gangland  criminals.

"I very much appreciate why people would be afraid to  come forward," 
Mr Murphy said. "I would appreciate how  difficult it would be for 
somebody to uproot from a  local community and to go to live in 
another country  [under the witness protection programme]."

He was not convinced the downturn in the economy would  result in 
crime rates climbing higher. Some categories,  such as burglary, had 
increased last year, but these  always fluctuated "a percentage or 
two" from year to  year.

Alcohol consumption was fuelling a lot of street  violence and he 
welcomed measures in the Intoxicating  Liquor Act that extended the 
Garda's powers to seize  drink from young people.

He also believed mooted legislation on surveillance  being used as 
evidence in court would aid the fight  against organised gangs.

He said the decision to give all Garda members pepper  sprays was a 
reflection of the increased level of  assaults they were now dealing with.

He was greatly encouraged by the falling homicide rate;  to 49 cases 
last year, compared with 78 in 2007. While  this could be seen as a 
barometer on the effectiveness  of the force, the number of gangland 
gun murders, at 19  last year, was a cause for concern.

The homicide rate last year was still too high. Many of  the attacks 
last year and in 2007 involved the use of  knives or were domestic 
killings. "I would be concerned  about the propensity to resort to 
violence that seems  to be out there, particularly among our young 
males,"  Mr Murphy said.

On knife crime, he said: "I was disappointed to note  that over the 
Christmas period An Garda Siochana had to  investigate a number of 
[stabbing or domestic] murders.  I can't have a Garda member sitting 
in every living  room in the country."

"There's no doubt about it, young people are prepared  to be 
aggressive. It seems that frequently in recent  times it's been taken 
to a higher level, particularly  with a number of stabbings taking place."

He was hopeful a knife awareness campaign to be rolled  out this year 
would help educate young people as to the  dangers of carrying the 
weapons. The campaign would at  first focus on Dublin, Cork and 
Limerick, three places  where the need to tackle knife crime was greatest.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom