Criminals on Bebo: 'Live by da gun, die by da gun'
Social networking sites have become a vehicle of self-expression for young criminals intent on glorifying violence and boasting about their criminal escapades.
A scan of Bebo social networking sites of teenagers involved in crime shows young Dublin and Limerick criminals' obsession with, and emulation of, all things gangster-related. On the 'Limerick City Mafia' Bebo page, the welcome message reads, "Live by da gun, die by da gun. Don't f*** with the city mafia", alongside an illustration of three gangsters, one of them brandishing a shotgun. Someone has left a telling message on the site: "There's no mafia in Limerick dude. Big shout out to all the little scumbags who think they're gangsters."
Other Bebo pages show photos of crime scenes complete with victims in body bags, houses on fire and photos of large quantities of drugs. On many of these sites, there are tributes to friends who have died, many of whom have been murdered while still in their teens.
Annebell Dundon – the teenage sister of Wayne Dundon, who is in prison for threatening to kill murder victim Roy Collins' cousin when the barman refused to serve 14-year-old Annebell a drink – has an active Bebo page. In an online quiz, she selected the Colt 45 as her weapon of choice and she claims that her fantasy fighting style is 'Assassin'.
On her site, the 19-year-old talks about her love for her boyfriend Joseph Hehir. The 21-year-old is a former associate of her brother's gang, the McCarthy-Dundons, but was shot by members of the gang seven weeks ago. "Fate brought us together," Annebell says of her boyfriend, who she appears to favour over members of her family who recently tried to kill him.
"The internet has provided so much information for this generation of young people, and through self-expression on Bebo and these other sites they can highlight their admiration of mafia culture. They see it as a lifestyle choice," explains Jonathan Culleton, a lecturer in sociology and criminal justice at Waterford Institute of Technology's (WIT) centre for social and family research. "'Get Rich or Die Trying' is the saying and the attitude that's been adopted. It's a very nihilistic one. It shows an unwillingness to engage. Some of these young people are saying they look at their existence as a 'kill or be killed' situation."
niall o'donovan 'You get fed up trying to defend Limerick'
'What happened to Roy Collins and what happened to Shane Geoghegan really highlighted it for us. Limerick people in general are fed up to the teeth with this sort of thing. It doesn't represent Limerick as a whole. There are so many positive things. The city is looking very well. It plays host to major rugby matches in Thomond Park. But there has to be a greater solution than just sport.
"I think the gardaí are doing a superb job. I take my hat off to those guys who are willing to go and chase these people. It's up to the law-makers to make sure that when these people are caught, it sticks. At the moment, this is a Limerick problem. It could be another city next. Other cities and other countries have come through this and we have to see how they solved their problems.
"You get fed up trying to defend Limerick. It's not the Limerick I grew up in. The majority of the people in St Mary's Park are outstanding people trying to do their best. Regeneration is light at the end of the tunnel for these people who have suffered so much because of a couple of families who have destroyed everything, even the playing fields.
"Everything is going according to plan. It's a lot of money but this isn't just about bricks and mortar. It's about sport and education and community and health and well-being. We cannot afford any budgetary cutbacks to affect this. Limerick is already suffering badly from unemployment with Dell. The numbers could reach 10,000 people by the time all the knock-on losses are counted. Regeneration ticks all the boxes now.
"It takes something like what happened to Roy Collins and to Shane Geoghegan for people to stand up and say 'we've had enough, this has to stop'. People need to do more for the gardaí. They don't have to come out and stand in front of these people themselves but they can help gardaí gather the evidence. Anything that will get these people behind bars is what we need."
Niall O'Donovan is independent chairman of St Mary's Park Regeneration and former Munster rugby number eight
Dr niamh maguire 'We don't have a
well-developed model of community policing here but it would be
a great help'
'I don't think the problems in Limerick are related to our sentencing laws. There are many factors that have led to criminality developing there. Judges generally do apply the law with extreme care and don't let people off lightly. Often when someone is murdered, people look for a scapegoat and the judiciary is sometimes a target.
"The people who are caught and convicted of carrying out gangland-type murders are often not the high-up men who ordered it but just the footsoldiers. This is something that has been raised by Roy Collins' father and something that the judiciary is well aware of.
"Prison is just one facet of the law. When someone has committed a very serious or violent crime, custodial sentences are the only option for the judiciary. But in 2006, 40% of our prison population were incarcerated for minor offences. There needs to be a re-examination of alternatives to prison. In many cases, sending people to prison for petty crime ensures they will continue their involvement in criminality and they can develop into more serious criminals.
"During the course of my research, judges have told me that when they want to consider community service orders this is not always available to them. Judges have confirmed to me that probation officers are overworked and can only take on a certain amount of work. Often a judge would request a pre-sentence report but someone is not always available to them.
"In relation to Limerick and other disadvantaged communities, relationships between the communities and the gardaí are often difficult. We don't have a well-developed model of community policing here but it would be a great help. In parts of the US, where community policing is making a real difference, the communities themselves set the objectives on how their area should be policed."
Dr Niamh Maguire is lecturer in criminal law and policing at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT)
michael noonan 'I think we have to fight the drugs gangs the same way we
fought the IRA... The full powers of the Special Criminal Court should be used'
'Willie O'Dea's response to Roy Collins murder was to say the government will bring forward the new act on covert surveillance. When Shane Geoghegan was murdered in November, the government said the same thing.
"People want these murders stopped. The gardaí have been quite good but public opinion wants this to end. We have an armed garda unit in Limerick that has been deployed from Cork and that's good but more is needed. What is happening has nothing to do with communities. It's gangland families fighting for territory to sell drugs. Any attempt to romanticise it into public legend is wrong. It's about drugs and who sells drugs. There's an ambivalence among the middle classes in their use of cocaine. I understand the price of cocaine has gone down in Dublin within the last month. There's been a drop of about 25% to 30% in the asking prices.
"After Shane Geoghegan was murdered, I advocated that it be made a crime to be a member of a gang, in the same way it was a crime to be a member of the IRA and a chief superintendent's sworn testimony was accepted by the courts. It was said at the time there was a legal obstacle to that but I still believe it is something we should do. I think we have to fight the drugs gangs the same way we fought the IRA. I stop short of internment but the full powers of the Special Criminal Court should be used. If you have proper resourcing and powers, you don't need internment."
Michael Noonan is Fine Gael TD for Limerick East and former Minister for Justice (1982 - 1986)
laura ryan 'Nobody asks people in Dublin if they feel unsafe'
'Roy Collins was an innocent man, as was Shane Geoghegan. It's horrendous what was done to them, absolutely horrendous. Yet I don't feel unsafe in Limerick. With all the people who were in Thomond Park last Sunday for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against the Ospreys and the thousands of Welsh fans in the city, there were no incidents.
"These murders are horrendous, but they're horrendous when they happen in Dublin too. There have been 11 murders in Dublin this year but nobody asks people in Dublin if they feel unsafe. People have said to me that I've one of the most difficult jobs in the country and perhaps that's true. Before the All-Blacks game against Munster in Thomond, Shane Geoghegan was murdered. Last weekend, before the Heineken Cup quarter final, Roy Collins was murdered.
"All we can do is keep highlighting the positive. That's what they did in cities like Glasgow that had similar problems. I'm working off limited funds at the moment. I'd like to have a marketing budget specifically for Limerick city and I'd like to see it marketed as a sporting and cultural centre.
"We've the World Music Centre, the Irish Chamber Orchestra, the Hunt Museum. We have the biggest tag-rugby festival in Ireland, the Pig'n'Porter, with more than 1,600 participants.
"We've Munster rugby with players like Paul O'Connell, a possible Lions captain from Young Munster, the city club, and Keith Earls, from the heart of
Moyross, who scored two tries last weekend.
"It's horrendous that our city is being terrorised by a small minority of thugs. They're terrorists and they're all you hear about all the time from Limerick, the bad news. We have to make sure the good news is heard."
Laura Ryan is head of the Limerick Coordination Office which was established in 2003 by private and public interests to promote a positive image of the city
mary kelly 'We should not be burying our children'
'To watch Roy Collins' family over the past week has been absolutely heartbreaking. I felt like I was going through the whole thing all over again. That's how the pain feels. I cried my heart out watching Stephen Collins talking about his son. He's right, we should not be burying our children. No one has ever been charged with Happy's murder."
"The day they took Happy away, they gave me a life sentence too. I see some of the people who I've been told are responsible for his death around the area. It's very hard. Whoever killed my son should spend the rest of their living days in prison. I believe in a life for a life.
"All Happy was was a joyrider. He had an addiction to stealing cars. He wasn't involved with either of the gangs. He did not deserve to die. Neither did Roy Collins or Shane Geoghegan. Happy was a lovable rogue; everyone in the community loved him.
"The fact that innocent people not involved in gangs are still getting killed down here is totally unacceptable. You hope that each killing of an innocent person will be the last one but there is always another. But I think less and less people are tolerating this behaviour.
"My family have been great support but it's been hard for them to handle and accept too. I worry about them a lot when they go out. It's been made more difficult by the fact that no one has been charged with his killing. I have to leave everything in the hands of God and hope that someone is brought to justice for Happy's murder.
"At this terrible time, I can really feel for the Collins family mourning their son now. I should be planning Happy's 21st birthday which he would have celebrated in two months' time."
Mary Kelly is the mother of Richard 'Happy' Kelly, 17, whose body was discovered, with a concrete block attached to it, in a lake in Co Clare in November 2007, 20 months after he went missing. It is believed he was murdered by the McCarthy-Dundon gang, who blamed him for stealing one of their cars containing drugs
brendan kenny 'It's inevitable that there will be some delay in the regeneration because of the recession, but we are not overly worried'
'People down here are saying the recession has been a good thing for the regeneration. It has given us time to focus and deal with the social problems in Limerick and empower the communities. Regeneration is about so much more than bricks and mortar.
"We have secured €28m for Limerick's regeneration plans this year. That's up from €15m in 2008. We had hoped that by now some construction work on the new housing estates would have begun. But because the economy has taken a downturn, this won't be happening now. It's inevitable that there will be some delay in construction because of the recession but we are not overly worried. There is great hope down here. So far, 140 houses have been demolished and another 150 will be demolished by the end of this year.
"The retirement villages in the four regeneration areas will be the first things to be developed. Some of the elderly people down here have suffered the most and deserve to be accommodated first.
"We're looking at 2011 before the new houses for families begin to come on stream. There will be 3.000. Households will have to get a certificate of eligibility from the gardaí and local authority before they are rehoused. Some people who do not qualify for this will simply not be rehoused, although they will be given the opportunity to reapply. But we will have to consider repossessing some people's homes.
"The recent murder of Roy Collins in Limerick is very tragic. But crime levels have been dropping: there's been a 60% decrease in crime in Moyross since the regeneration began. While some of the building is on hold, we're investing majorly this year in education and sports initiatives in these communities, which is great for community spirit. The communities themselves are directing how this regeneration works, which is extremely important."
Brendan Kenny is CEO of Limerick's Regeneration Agencies
dr ed walsh 'Did you know that you can trace back the problems of Limerick to bad planning? These communities have been isolated over the years'
'In terms of law enforcement and the creation of legislation, I suppose everything is being done but there is a long-term strategy that needs to be addressed. Did you know that you can trace back the problems of Limerick to bad planning? In the context of the times when many areas were being built and the slums were being cleaned out, as they were in other cities too, it was fine. But it is not fine now. In Mary's Island, for instance, there is no through-road. These communities with many fine people have been isolated over the years and the social provisions that should have been put in place were not put in place.
"Limerick has three local authorities – the city council and the county councils of Limerick and Clare. They have been feuding for the last 50 years in a very nice way but it has meant that there is no coordinated plan. Environment minister John Gormley, I know, is anxious to act. What is required is for a line to be drawn around an area with a population of 100,000 people and given a single authority. It can be done in the stroke of a pen. There is no legal restraint on it. It has not been done in the past for local political reasons – 80% of our parliament is composed of politicians who have come up from local government.
"What we have in Limerick are two authorities established to operate counties, attempting to do their work in urban areas. During the boom you had developers running to all three authorities and having them bidding against each other. The middle classes have left the centre of the city. The result is that you don't have a balanced mix of people running it. There is, as far as I know, only one rate-payer on the council. Cities tend to be the drivers in regions and, when you have a sick city, you have a sick county. Brendan Kenny and the regeneration people are doing a fine job but that work has to be consolidated with a rational long-term plan implemented by a single authority.
Dr Ed Walsh is founding president of the University of Limerick
brian sherry 'For far too long the scales of justice have been balanced too much
on the side of the criminals'
'The government has finally got up off its proverbial arse and started to do what it was elected to do by the people of Ireland, and that is legislate to protect the citizens of this country from what has become the biggest threat to our democracy since the Troubles. Do not become complacent, however, as this is no panacea or miracle cure to remove this cancer, a cancer which is threatening the very core of our society. It is a start, and that is something to welcome.
"Drugs have taken over since the 1970s and we have seen a culture manifest itself of 'let them kill each other as long as it does not affect us'. But innocent people are now being caught up in the bloodshed.
"For far too long the scales of justice have been balanced too much on the side of the criminals and the rights of the victims and decent people of Ireland did not count. Our archaic legal system was bending over to try and be seen to be politically correct in upholding the rights of criminals. Unfortunately while doing so they forgot the rights of the victims and citizens of Ireland. Their rights were trampled into the ground.
"Having finally woken up to the fact that the criminal fraternity have become so violent and believe they are untouchable, the government needs to maintain the momentum of the work it has started with the new legislation announced last week.
"Politicians should not become complacent and believe that they have done enough and turn their attention to some other problem. This is so important that it affects the very core of our society and demands constant monitoring.
"What can we as a society do to help fight this cancer? As citizens we should realise this is a problem that we all have a role to play in. It is not just the government, the judiciary and the gardaí who should be left to deal with it. This requires a multi-agency response which should include education from a very early age, more emphasis on respect for our elders, public spirit, and religion.
Gardaí must enforce the laws of the land as they are enacted. Every man and woman in the garda force has a role to play. It should not just be left to the specialist units to fight this crime. It is every garda's job to ensure that they take an active role. I cannot stress enough the important role that the community gardaí play in this fight. They are to the fore as they are the officers who are seen on the streets interacting with the local population. It should become a very sought-after and attractive position within the garda force rather than being seen as a low-level, undermanned unit in each garda district. Yes, all young officers aspire to be in high-profile positions so it is very important that the garda hierarchy promote the community garda section. It should not be just lip service; it should be forcefully followed through.
"As a former detective inspector I recognise the role that all young officers have to play in this offensive against organised crime. Organised is what they have been allowed become through neglect by successive governments.
"In the 1980s the gardaí tackled successfully the gang led by Martin 'The General' Cahill by both open and covert surveillance on all his cronies. It is not rocket science to know how to deal with these gangs. They are not masterminds. All that is needed is the commitment of all the agencies to tackle these criminals.
"It is the right of all decent people to expect to live their lives in peace and harmony and above all to have their children bury their parents and not the other way round."
Brian Sherry is a former detective inspector and led investigations into some of Ireland's most serious gangland criminals