It took just seven days for the guns to come out again. And when they did, they came out with a vengeance. 2009 was only a week old when gangland Ireland claimed its first two victims of the year, Michael Cronin and James Maloney. They obviously won’t be the last. Last year, 20 people were victims of gun killing in Ireland. That was the second highest toll in the history of the state, behind 2006 when the number of gun homicides reached 26. The figure of 20 is quite high, when you compare it with England and Wales, where 42 people died in gun homicides last year. That’s with a population of some 53.4 million – more than 10 times ours. I wonder how many there’ll be this year in Ireland? I think we’re going to have a bad year and I would fear that 2009 will be just as deadly, if not worse, than 2006. The credit crunch even affects gangsters – fewer people buying cocaine because they’ve lost their jobs will mean gangs fighting over a shrinking market. Add that to the slashing of the overall Garda overtime budget and we have a recipe for bloody mayhem.
Drug dealer Cronin was shot in the head as he sat behind the wheel of his UK registered Volvo in Summerhill, in the centre of Dublin, on Wednesday, January 7. His associate, Maloney, died two days later. He had also been shot in the head. A few miles away, and an hour and half later, JP Brennan was shot in the arm and neck in his girlfriend’s house in Malahide. The bullet that hit him in the neck exited through his face. But he’ll live.
In relation to the double murder, it’s likely there will be quick progress. Gardai have the gun, they have what are probably the killer’s coat and gloves. He was sitting in the back seat before he pulled out a Magnum .357 and blasted his two victims from point blank range – he must have left trace evidence in the vehicle, including DNA. The gardai probably have the killer on CCTV. With all that, they have a good chance of catching the killer. Word is they already have a prime suspect.
But the man who ordered the hit, well, that’s a different matter. Like most godfathers, his hands are clean. He may have ordered up to a half a dozen murders in the last five years – but he has never pulled the trigger. Instead, like all bosses, he gets some lieutenant to carry out the hits while he sits back and watches. There’s no chance of the good guys getting him for the murder. He’s too far removed from the smoking gun.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think that he was one of the most dangerous, most vicious, criminals in the country. He just looks like some, admittedly well built and slightly menacing, fella you would see down the pub, or in the gym. But this is one man you would not want to accidentally bump into while heading to the bar to order a pint.
There were plenty of us reporters there when he was brought into the dock of a Dublin court. He was arrested over a high profile incident and we were there to see him in the flesh and facing justice. I can still remember seeing him for the first time. As ever, I was struck by the normality, the banality, of evil. It would be comforting if he had two heads, or three eyes, or some mark of Cain that betrayed what was going on inside his psychotic head. But, the reality is, he just looked like the rest of us humans – on the surface, anyway.
He showed no fear. He had just been charged with an offence that could see him doing over a decade behind bars. But if he cared, he didn’t show it. He was calmness personified as he appeared in front of the judge. Bail was refused because of the seriousness of the crime he was alleged to have committed. But that was only temporary: he was given bail a few weeks later. He came back on the streets and started back to what he knew best: murder and mayhem. The murders of Maloney and Cronin weren’t the first he orchestrated since a judge let him out – they probably won’t be the last.
I’d been following his ‘career’ with interest since early 2007. That was when he started to emerge as the successor to Martin `Marlo’ Hyland, shot dead in Finglas with innocent plumber Anthony Campbell in November 2006. Marlo controlled much of the drugs trade in north and west Dublin – and the man I was staring at in a Dublin court had started making shapes to take over that lucrative market. Not only was he interested in the business, he was also eager to snap up another valuable chunk of the Marlo empire. Hyland had the smuggling networks. Not only did he know where to sell the cocaine when it got in into Ireland, but he also knew how to get it in here in the first place. He had a network of established smuggling routes that brought in millions of euro worth of drugs into Ireland every month, for him and others to sell.
With Hyland out of the way, the new man on the block was ready to step up. And boy did he do that. John Daly was one of the few people in Finglas who would stand up to him. Daly, who shot to fame when he rang RTE’s Liveline from his cell inside Ireland’s supposed top security Portlaoise jail in May 2007, got out prison in August that year. He too saw the vacuum created by the death of Hyland, to whom he was close, and started making plans to take over his pal’s empire. He may as well have signed his own death warrant. Within three months, Daly was dead, killed as he sat in a taxi in Finglas. The main suspect is Marlo’s successor – the man who’ll do anything to protect his patch. He’s also suspected of ordering the murder in Finglas in August last year of armed robber Paul `Farmer’ Martin – shot dead as he sat in a pub following a friend’s funeral.
Gardai also reckon he was behind the murders of Cronin and Maloney.This guy clearly takes no prisoners. Get in his way and you’ll soon be suffering from an extreme case of lead poisoning. I suspect he knows he’s facing a good stretch of time behind bars and is getting rid of anyone who he perceives as a threat to his business before he gets locked up. That’s probably why he got Cronin killed last week – he was living in Finglas and, like all of the wannabe gangsters, thought he was somebody. We can’t name him at the moment. If he’s convicted of the charge he is facing, we’ll be able to name him for that – but it’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to unmask him as the serial killer he is. That’s libel for you. The only way we will be able to reveal his name is if he ends up dead himself, which is not as unlikely as he thinks. In recent weeks, he has been boasting that he is confident the charges against him are going to be dropped. I personally would not be too sure. Anyway, 10 years behind bars might just be the best thing that could happen to him. Sooner or later, somebody stronger, more deadly, more vicious and less human will come along and do what he did to Cronin, Maloney, Martin and Daly. Nobody is invincible. Gangland is in a constant state of flux. One day your friend is your enemy, the next day your enemy is still your enemy and he's standing over you with a Glock. There are no friendships, there is no loyalty. Every now and again, a new Mr Big emerges in gangland. Someone who sticks his head above the parapet and reckons he’s the main man; someone who believes the hype about himself and thinks he’s untouchable, that the cops won’t get him and no criminal would dare. He’s invariably wrong on both counts. Cahill, Gilligan, Hyland, PJ Judge, the list is endless of people who either fought the law and the law won – or were killed by their pals. It just might be better for this new Mr Big if the good guys get him – before the bad guys do.