herald

Saturday 1 October 2016

'Gangsters have two weapons, their guns and our silence' - Archbishop

In the first in a series of exclusive interviews with leading figures in Irish society, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin talks about what can be done to tackle the gangland crime gripping the city

Paul Williams and Diarmuid Martin
Paul Williams and Diarmuid Martin
Regency Hotel attack

The people responsible for the capital's feud-related gangland killings are "animals", according to the head of the Catholic Church in Dublin.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin also condemned the drug barons who control organised crime as "despicable and evil". Their activities threaten democracy, he added.

In a remarkably candid interview following the recent spate of gangland murders in Dublin, the Primate of Ireland called for the introduction of a "new type of policing" that would use anti-Mafia laws and courts similar to those operated in Italy.

Referring to the Regency Hotel attack in February - which happened a short distance from his home - he said: "The spiral of violence, the shootings are extraordinarily brutal.

"Coming into a place and shooting somebody in the face in front of children. What sort of animals are these people?" he said.

Gangland

"I get actually moved when I hear these stories, and I get angry when I hear these stories.

"We all know where it leads to - you shoot one of mine and we shoot one of yours. There's no future in that."

Archbishop Martin said he was particularly angered that three recent murders in inner-city communities had left the local "salt of the earth" people living in fear.

"It annoys me that their area is being vilified and that they are living in fear; they are the salt of the earth and keep these communities going, they are decent people who look after one another," he said.

However, he said the crime wave provided an incentive for a focused campaign against the kingpins of organised crime, people who "are absolutely without any scruples or conscience".

"People say 'The drug barons are brutal, what can you do? You can't stand up against them'. I believe these people have two weapons in their armoury - their guns and our silence," he added.

The country's most senior cleric - who was widely praised for his handling of the child sex abuse scandal that rocked the Church - said that every community had a role to play in standing up against the gangs, including those that hadn't been affected by the violence.

"You have never beaten organised crime of this kind without some kind of community involvement. There is intelligence on the street and good communication with the gardai, very good community gardai in the area," he said.

"It's gangland and drugs. We get upset about people who have been shot in the streets - and so we should be - but these people [who are responsible] are killing others on the street every day. There are children in Foxrock also dying because of the drugs that are to do with these people [gangs].

"There are big fish in this and there are lots of small fish - and the small fish are younger people who are dragged into this, maybe because they have addiction problems. The big fish have absolutely no mercy on anybody. They don't care about the footsoldiers.

"The only way it will be stopped is from within the drug world.

"There's a lovely phrase that Pope Francis used from Martin Luther King: 'Finally, somebody has to appear with good sense'.

"They believe that they are invincible. They believe that they can do what they like, but we have to believe that - in fact - they are not," he told the Herald.

"[Gangs] are a threat to democracy, because democracy is basically where the people and the law prevail - and the law is there to protect the people.

"We have to defend democracies and we have to defend democracy through democracy, which is not always easy.

"We have to observe all the rules that they don't."

Mafia

The Archbishop said that the mechanisms and the legal processes being used by the gardai and the courts in areas such as the seizure of assets from criminals were "too slow".

"We may have to look at a special type of legislation which can move much quicker," he said. "We have to find a way of marginalising, isolating them [crime bosses] and showing our disdain for them. They don't like that.

"We have to say to them that their traffic is evil and that they themselves are despicable and evil."

During the years that he was assigned to the Vatican, Archbishop Martin took a keen interest in the development of the Mafia and how the Italian state pursued notorious mobsters, such as Salvatore Riina from Corleone. Riina, a former chief of the Sicilian Mafia, murdered hundreds of people, including Mafia rivals, senior police officers and prosecutors.

Archbishop Martin said we should look to Italy and how it staged trials where scores of Mafiosi were tried at the same time. "They have special legal procedures for Mafia crime [in Italy] … because you have to treat this differently to other criminality. We have to use the Special Criminal Court to prosecute these people.

"We also need a different type of policing around this. The experience is that this type of crime can only be beaten within the law," he added.

On the subject of gangland funerals Archbishop Martin said there was "little" the church could do about the vulgar Mafia-style displays.

In particular, he referred to the funeral of David Byrne, the drug dealer killed in the Regency attack. That funeral was seen as a glorified gangland pageant and a demonstration of contempt by the drug dealer's criminal associates.

"The funeral in Francis Street had this show before they arrived. There is very little the Church can do about that," he said.

"What went on in the church was actually quite quiet and they touched the correct atmosphere. The ceremony is for the deceased and his loved ones."

However, Archbishop Martin said that the gangs appeared to be even trying to outdo each other with garish displays of wealth at their funerals, which he compared to those of the Mafia in Italy.

"[They] have to outdo the other one. If they had 10 limousines, we have to have 12 … it is like the Mafia, they love funerals," he said.

Listen to the podcast today on independent.ie/paulwilliams

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