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Saturday 21 October 2017

‘I’m not going to be intimidated by drug dealers’ – Irish soccer ace’s dad

The owner of the pub where a lone gunman opened fire on three innocent men tells why he is defying gangland threats in this exclusive report by Cormac Byrne

THE owner of the Dublin pub where three men were shot has declared: "I won't be intimidated."

Respected publican John Stokes (53) told the Herald he won't walk away from his family's business at the Players Lounge in Fairview after ploughing his life savings into the venture.

A doorman and two customers were seriously injured in an indiscriminate shooting at the bar in July.

John, whose son Anthony Stokes plays for Ireland and Celtic, has revealed how:



  • Within days of the bar opening, Finglas criminals threatened his staff and demanded to run his doors at three times the cost


  • He was photographed by a gangster and told he would be shot


  • The crisis of criminals preying on Dublin's bar trade is worse than in London, where he worked for a decade.


Recovering

The Players Lounge was targeted by a gunman who opened fire indiscriminately at the front of the premises on July 26 last.

A lone criminal carrying a handgun in each hand shot up the bar, cutting down three men.

Innocent doorman Wayne Barrett (31), who works for a legitimate security business, and equally innocent punters Austin Purcell (24) and Brian Masterson (30) were shot a number of times.

They are slowly recovering from their injuries.

Defiant Mr Stokes told the Herald: "I'm not going to be intimidated by drug dealers or criminal elements.

"We have put everything we have into this bar and after some of the experiences we've had I felt like closing up."

He went on: "We have a big mortgage here and we're not walking away.

"We've taken a serious hit but things are returning to normal because people realise that the gun attack had nothing to do with us."

John and his son Anthony (23), who is a successful striker for both Ireland and Celtic, bought the Players Lounge bar in 2007 for €3.5m.

Detectives are continuing to determine the motive for the attack and a group calling itself the Criminal Action Force has already claimed responsibility.

The group was set up to counter a dissident gang run by two crime brothers in north Dublin which has been trying to extort money from Dublin's leading criminals. Neither of these parties are linked to the Players Lounge.

The two men were members of the Continuity IRA but now operate under the umbrella of the Real IRA.

Despite the ferocity of the attack, the three injured men are all making recoveries from devastating injuries.

Wayne Barrett delighted his family last week when he finally regained consciousness seven weeks after the attack.

He had been shot in the head by a bullet which broke up as it entered his brain.

"They were three miracles, these young guys were just out to enjoy a good night and this happened," John's wife Joan told the Herald.

"We went to the hospital to visit them and when you're coming out, you realise what those young guys have been put through.



Problems

"What that man (the gunman) did to them, you wouldn't do it to a dog."

Ten individuals were arrested within hours of the attack on the Players Lounge but no charges have been brought.

It is not the first time that the pub has had issues with criminals in North Dublin and the problems began the moment they opened up the bar.

"When we first arrived, we had current and former security guards from Dublin Airport on the door but they didn't last long," John added.

"A group of men from Finglas arrived at the door and they were refused entry.

"They threatened to kill the security guards and the following weekend they didn't show up for work.

"They told me they wanted three times the money to keep doing the security.

"I had to do the security on the door for a time and I stopped a gangster who proceeded to take my photo and threatened to come back and shoot me.

"I called the gardai but he had left before they arrived.

"When we purchased the pub we didn't believe that we would have any security issues but Dublin has changed."

Mr Stokes and his wife moved back to Ireland three years ago, while their son Anthony continued his playing career in Britain, and they were shocked at the level of criminality on the streets of the capital.

"I can't believe that we live in a society where these kind of attacks take place," he said.

"The gunman who attacked the front of our pub didn't care who he killed. We lived in London for 10 years, in an area with a bad reputation, but we never encountered anything like this.

"I had no idea how difficult it was going to be to work as a publican in Dublin."



Pride

Mr Stokes prides himself on the lengths he has taken to rid his pub of the scourge of drugs.

"We have 49 CCTV cameras in the pub and we pride ourselves on our zero tolerance drugs policy," he said.

"We have signs up in the bathrooms saying that if you are seen with narcotics you will be thrown out and the footage will be handed over to gardai. This is a clean pub and people who drink here know that."

The bar contributes a lot of sponsorship money to local teams and has strived to become a part of the community.

"We're making a huge effort to integrate in the local community and for the most part we have enjoyed our time here thoroughly," John added.

"Of the 17 staff who work here, 12 of them live within two miles of the pub and that is something we are very proud of."

hnews@herald.ie

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