Covering drug-related crime in Dublin in 1996 was so dangerous that gangsters murdered one of the country’s toughest journalists, 37-year-old Veronica Guerin, just to shut her up.
Almost 20 years later, some of the same crime fraternity that Guerin fought so relentlessly to expose have gotten more powerful and violent—with a reach that extends to their new base on Spain’s Costa del Sol and as far away as China.
A complicated new feud between two men long identified by Irish media as smooth, old-school Irish gangsters, Christy “The Dapper Don” Kinahan and Gerry “The Monk” Hutch—ignited by younger, dumber gang members and possibly a Northern Ireland Republican dissident—is like something right out of Ireland’s cult gangland TV series Love/Hate, and blood is spilling all over Dublin.
Police have warned some Dublin crime reporters that they are in such danger from drug lords angry at being written about that they should leave their homes.
Not surprisingly, the press was barred from getting close to the flamboyant funeral Monday of David Byrne, 34, a reputed key underworld figure, according to multiple Irish media accounts. Byrne was gunned down in a brutal revenge killing at a boxing match weigh-in on Feb. 5, a murder followed by yet another retaliatory hit a few days later—both of which led to the threats to reporters.
“The circumstances are worse now than in Veronica’s day, in a way, as far as the violence,” Jimmy Guerin, Veronica’s brother and an independent candidate in Ireland’s Feb. 26 general election, told The Daily Beast. “But at least now people are aware that the danger is real and they know what can happen. I also feel for the families of the reporters who have been targeted. You don’t understand the trauma involved until you go through it personally.”
In a cruel irony, the Criminal Assets Bureau, established after Veronica Guerin’s murder to seize the assets of the bigger criminal kingpins, only made the bad guys more creative, her brother said. Some of the more powerful drug lords left Ireland for the Costa del Sol and organized a sophisticated new system of drug trafficking from Amsterdam to Asia, The Irish Times reported.
Byrne, a father of two, was reputed to be a local enforcer for Ireland’s alleged chief crime boss, “Dapper Don” Kinahan, 59, who has lived in Spain for years and, according to The Guardian, speaks four languages and has two university degrees earned during prison stints.
Byrne’s killing was so brazen—masked gunmen with AK-47s, wearing uniforms resembling Ireland’s elite police squad, burst into Dublin’s Regency Hotel and fatally shot Byrne in front of hundreds of onlookers at the boxing match weigh-in—that it seemed almost more ISIS than Irish. Except, of course, that police said one of the six gang members involved in the attack was dressed as a woman, in a reddish wig and gray dress.
According to multiple media accounts, Kinahan’s son, Daniel, who was at the hotel but escaped, was the real target. Some of the press reports, quoting confidential police sources, said the Regency Hotel hit was in response to the murder of Gary Hutch, the 34-year-old son of “The Monk” Hutch, on the Costa del Sol in September 2015. The younger Hutch was one of many trying to muscle in on Kinahan’s alleged Spanish-run empire, according to Irish media accounts.
Three days after the Byrne assassination, the Monk’s older brother, a taxi driver named Eddie Hutch, 59, was shot nine times in the head at his Dublin home by another hit squad, the Irish Independent reported. Hutch was considered a “soft target,” according to Irish media, meaning he was not an active criminal.
The Irish police, or Gardaí, normally do not carry guns, but armed offcers were on patrol during Byrne’s dramatic funeral procession Monday, which included three horse-drawn carriages bearing floral tributes, one in the shape of a boxing ring with a pair of red Everlast boxing gloves.
One report talked of fears that hand grenades might be thrown, but the packed church service went smoothly even as police helicopters circled overhead. Only about 20 members of the broadcast and print media covered the event, from more than 300 feet away. More than 500 people attended the funeral.
The Irish Independent reported that Daniel Kinahan and his brother, Christy Jr., flew into Dublin Airport the day before the funeral, where they were met by what the paper called their “trusted lieutenant” and Byrne’s cousin, “Fat Freddie” Thompson, as well as quite a few police who followed them back to Dublin.
Armed police have also been seen in Dublin’s inner city recently, where drug lords are alleged to operate what Irish media say has become a global drug-dealing business.
After the Byrne killing, police, reportedly acting on intelligence, warned the editors of the newspaper group Independent News and Media (INM) that the lives of some their journalists were at risk, and recommended they move out of their homes. The newspapers include the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent, where Guerin worked. Because of strict Irish libel and privacy laws, the targeted journalists have not been publicly identified.
“We take all threats against citizens very seriously,” a Dublin police spokesman said Monday. “We have a process in place that seeks to mitigate such threats, which includes risk assessments.”
But in a move unusual for Irish media, INM went public with the threats and also published an edition of the Independent on Feb. 12 with a cover photo of Guerin and the headline “Why We Won’t Be Intimidated.”
The INM newspapers have long been known for their persistent and tenacious reporting about controversial issues and people. Martin O’Hagan, a crime reporter for INM’s Sunday World in Belfast, was murdered in 2001 after he had written a series about drug dealing in Northern Ireland.
“A number of reporters have been formally notified by the Garda Siochána [the formal name of the Irish police] that their safety is at risk from organized criminals,” the INM said in a statement. “INM is working with gardaí to strengthen security around these journalists and taking every precaution to ensure their safety. The threats are understood to have emanated from criminal gangs in Dublin.”
The newspaper group’s editor-in-chief, Stephen Rae, a former crime reporter himself, made it clear the paper won’t back down.
“Our media group,” he said, “will not be deterred from serving the public interest and highlighting the threat to society at large posed by such criminals.”
Seamus Dooley, Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, told The Daily Beast that INM’s “surprising” decision to talk about the threats may stem from the country’s recent complacency about the rising tide of crime in Dublin.
“I think for awhile it was a question of everyone thinking, ‘Well, they’re just killing each other so we don’t bother with them,’” Dooley said. “But the threat to journalists and the memories of what happened to Veronica really started to make all of this hit home.”
Guerin, made famous in the 2003 film starring Cate Blanchett, was murdered on a highway on the outskirts of Dublin on June 26, 1996. She was shot six times by one of two men on a motorcycle.
“It’s very hard on the families left behind,” her brother said Monday. “But Veronica didn’t back down and I don’t think you will see the reporters today giving up either. I think they may do away with bylines for awhile but the coverage won’t stop.”