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How Scourge of Gun Crime Started ... and Spread Like a Cancer

In 1966 there were no gun killings here. Now there's one every week. Cormac Byrne tells how it began with the death of an unarmed garda

Evening Herald, Saturday 30 October 2010

A new RTE series claims paramilitary violence led to the organised crime and drug society which blights Ireland today.

The emergence of the IRA and the infamous Dunne family from Crumlin spawned an age of organised crime which has led directly to the vicious gangs of the 21st century, the series charges.

Bad Fellas, a three-part documentary series written and narrated by crime author Paul Williams, will trace the emergence of the gun and drugs on our streets.

The show will look at a peaceful Ireland in the Sixties, and explain how it evolved into the crime-ridden society it is today.

In 1966 there were just four murders in the State, none of which involved firearms.

There were only 300 prisoners behind bars in Ireland in 1966 compared with more than 4,000 today.

But it was the shooting of an unarmed garda four years later which led to increasing crime levels in this country.

A harrowing account of the events of April 3, 1970, when Garda Richard Fallon was gunned down in cold blood is given by his son Richard Jr.

His father was killed as he confronted members of Saor Eire during a robbery at the AIB branch on Arran Quay in Dublin.

"They've taken him away from us, Dad isn't here anymore," his son recalls saying as a child.

According to senior gardai it spelled the end of the age of innocence and the dawn of the gun in Irish life.

The documentary will show how Saor Eire, a group made up of revolutionaries, anarchists and paramilitaries, wanted to ignite a socialist revolution funded by armed bank robberies. The group would also act as the birthplace of Christy 'Bronco' Dunne who would leave a terrible imprint on the following four decades.

Following a funeral of one of the Saor Eire members, Dunne made a speech at the steps of the GPO and fired a shot into the air.

He was sentenced to six months in prison but to illustrate his volatility he punched the judge after his sentencing.

Christy Dunne and his eight crime brothers would spawn an age of armed robbery and violence.

Their gang would also act as the nesting ground for the likes of Martin 'The General' Cahill, John Gilligan, George 'The Penguin' Mitchell and John Cunningham.

The new programme will show the progression from armed robberies, to paramilitary activities and the drug culture which exists today.

The show brings into context the levels of organised crime on the streets of our town and cities

Irish gangs' love affair with the gun has continued -- there are about five times more gun killings in Ireland than in England, Scotland and Wales, according to Dr Liz Campbell, University of Aberdeen.

The drug industry in Ireland has been valued at €5m a day or €.1.8bn a year.

"It's very simple, people get into organised crime because there is money to be made," said former garda detective inspector Todd O'Loughlin.

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern, in the opening episode, describes the spread of organised crime as a "cancer"

"I would say our number one priority is organised crime because it's such a blight and a cancer on our society and if it is not checked it will spread throughout the country," he said. "It's like any cancer it'll grow and grow and grow.

"These people are making life hell for decent ordinary people in particular geographic areas of the country.

"People if they think it is going to stay in Limerick and stay in certain parts of Dublin and spread out into other areas of the country are being incredibly naive."

The documentary will also go through the details of some of the most shocking incidents of the past 40 years including the killing of Garda Gerry McCabe and journalist Veronica Guerin.

The opening episode will focus on two killings which rocked the state.

Limerick man Steve Collins recounts the events surrounding the murder of his son Roy and the effect it has had on his life.

"We gave evidence to put the leader of the McCarthy Dundon family away. That wasn't going to be let go," he said.

"Life as we knew it is non-existent now, being followed by gardai wherever you go, you can't socialise, we'll have a sentence for the rest of our life.

"It's no life really."

Christine Campbell is the mother of innocent plumber Anthony Campbell, who was gunned down as he worked on a radiator at a house in Finglas where notorious drug trafficker Martin 'Marlo' Hyland was staying.

"I remember when they released his body that he had put his hand up to protect himself that he knew," she said.

"That's always going to live with me. How frightened he was.

"That pain is so great that I couldn't explain it."

The show will air on RTE One on Monday night at 9.30pm.