Gardaí have hit organised crime with arrests, the seizure of cash, firearms and drugs, and stopping murder teams, Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland tells Cormac O’Keeffe.
ARMED gardaí tasked with intercepting murder teams are under “no illusions” that they are safe from being fired upon.
So says the Garda’s top detective targeting the country’s most dangerous gangs.
Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland said that running so-called threat to life operations is an incredibly complicated and risky element of the work of the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB).
Since they started collecting the stats, in early 2016, after the Kinahan-Hutch feud erupted, they have conducted a total of 59 operations against “murder teams”.
There were 20 in 2016; 27 in 2017; and 13 in 2018.
Such operations can involve up to 200 officers, either on the ground, conducting surveillance and staffing interception squads, or running control rooms.
“For operations like that you can imagine the balancing of risks,” said Det Supt Boland. “There’s a very high level of training, even with the decision making, never mind the tactical interventions.”
He said his officers train abroad in this area, including trying to decide when to order the ERU intervention teams to pounce.
“You cannot be blasé. With people looking on intending to murder somebody you need to take it to a level of investigation that you are intercepting them almost as they are about to commit that crime,” he said.
“And what if you get it wrong? There are a lot of checks and balances.”
The experienced detective said there was one case where three DOCB officers opened fire on a vehicle targeted in a threat to life operation.
In September 2017, the DOCB were alerted to an “imminent threat to life” in the Inchicore area of Dublin’s south inner city.
They spotted the target van driving at speed, during which a firearm was thrown out the window. The occupants of the van then got into a second vehicle which drove at the three officers who “had to fire shots”.
He said no one was injured and that one man was subsequently convicted. He said a Garda Ombudsman investigation (automatic in cases of discharge of official weapons) fully exonerated the members, who are now recommended for commendation.
Det Supt Boland said his officers are “under no illusions” — these gunmen, armed and on their way to carry out assassinations, are prepared to fire at gardaí in order to avoid apprehension and, most likely, a hefty prison term.
He said many of the shooters used by the main criminal gangs are “very experienced” gunmen, who may have been involved in unsolved gangland murders down the years.
While 2016 and 2017 were the busiest years, and with threat to life operations falling last year, he warned against complacency.
He added: “Not all of those resulted in a prisoner, but we’re very satisfied that because of our actions lives were saved on a particular night.”
He said a majority of the incidents relate to the Kinahan-Hutch feud.
Other figures show the work of the DOCB is hitting organised crime:
“Seizing cash is very significant and effective way of disrupting organised crime at a senior level,” Det Supt Boland explained.
“Generally by the time that cash is counted and about to go out of the country a lot of work has gone into building up that cash — you could have a whole month, two months work null and void and hopefully will result in us, if forfeited to the State if successful in court, in taking their profits.”
Det Supt Boland is reluctant to be tied down on estimating the number of serious criminal gangs in Ireland or operating into the country.
He said this is because organised crime groups are very “fluid” with individuals prominent in two or more groupings and with groups acting collectively in terms of trafficking and domestic sourcing of product.
“They almost operate at times like a co-op,” he said.
He said it is the same across Europe. He estimated there are “two, maybe three” Irish groups operating internationally in terms of trafficking.
He said they would fit into the “top European level” where co-operation also operates, as would be seen in the recent mammoth 9.5 tonne cocaine haul in Cape Verde destined for Europe.
In relation to major gangs, he said the DOCB are targeting “in the region of 20 groups” at any one time.
He said some of these groups, like the massive Kinahan cartel, could have hundreds of people linked to it. But trying to establish if someone is active, or just associated, with a group, is difficult.
Det Supt Boland, with 29 years experience, said that within the groups, people are organised in cell-like structures.
“We break them down into groups of cells, each confined to five to eight people, in order to keep their own security tight,” he said.
He said the DOCB’s mission is to “disrupt, dismantle and prosecute” organised crime groups.
He said that like the Criminal Assets Bureau they target the controllers at the top of the criminal gangs and those groups that “cause the maximum fear” such as murders.
Speaking of such gangs, he said the work of the DOCB, and gardaí generally, is not done in relation to the Kinahan cartel: “Our work is not finished. We have definitely impacted them, definitely disrupted them, but we haven’t completely dismantled them, yet.”
He said the recent spate of arson attacks in Dublin’s north inner city targeting females associated with the Hutch group shows the true nature of this feud: “It’s actually thuggery. These are not sophisticated operations. If you strip it back it shows you where it is at this stage. They’ll be smashing windows with stones next. But we’ll continue to throw resources at this. We have to remain focused until those groups are absolutely dismantled.”
Dec 2018: Estonian hitman Imre Arakas, 60, was jailed at the Special Criminal Court for six years for the Kinahan-ordered conspiracy to murder James Gately in April 2017.
That case hinged on gardaí accessing Arakas’ encrypted phone when they raided a west Dublin house.
“We had a tactical team on top of him straight away,” said Det Supt Boland.
“He didn’t get time to turn off his phone and he was in full conversation with somebody, an email thread, so we got it all photographed, the full thread of the conversation. We had less than five minutes, it was all very quick. We had staff instructed and primed to do that. It was a very significant arrest and a significant sentence.”
Luke Wison (aged 23) from Cremona Road in Ballyfermot, was jailed at the Special Criminal Court for 12 years for a Kinahan-ordered conspiracy to murder Gary Hanley.
Gary Gleeson, 34, from Ballyfermot and Stephen Dunne, 39, from Lucan, were jailed for 12 years each at the Special Criminal Court for conspiracy to murder Michael Frazer in August 2017.
Heist boss Stefan Saunders, 41, and his associates Francis Murphy, 39, and Damien Noonan, 32, were jailed to seven and a half years each for conspiracy to commit robbery of a security van and ATM in Dunboyne, Co Meath in October 2016.
Paul Carew, 41, from Saggart, Co Dublin, was jailed for eight years for money laundering, involving a total of more than €600,000 in cash linked to the Kinahan cartel.
Jonathan Harding, 44, of Sallins, Co Kildare, was sentenced to 10 years at the Special Criminal Court in relation to a Kinahan firearms cache at Greenogue Business Park, Rathcoole, in January 2017. Three others were also convicted, including, on Tuesday, senior Kinahan figure Declan Brady.
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