Gangsters keep their heads down as they move between Ireland, Spain and Holland

Gang leaders stay away from the glare of police as violence escalates in Dublin

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Gardaí stand guard after the murder of Eddie Hutch Snr, one of the victims of the Hutch-Kinahan feud | PA Images

Irish criminals have spread their business across the world in recent years, orchestrating the flow of drugs into the country from Spain and Holland.

Gardaí say they are now open to sending officers abroad to track down the gang leaders thought to be behind the recent string of gangland murders in Dublin.

The force is also working with international agencies to tackle the assets of criminals in other countries.

Many of the major gangland figures under scrutiny live a world away from the inner-city communities where the latest wave of violence has had most impact.

Holed up in luxury villas far away from the glare of police, they oversee the passing of multi-tonne drug shipments from South American and North African cartels to Irish and British.

While Spain has long been something of a haven for Irish gangsters, the market in Amsterdam has also become dominated by Ireland's leading criminals, according to author and investigative journalist Graham Johnson.

The British crime reporter spoke to Dutch police for his latest book on British gangs and was surprised to hear that Irish groups have come to largely control the trade there.

Amsterdam investigators say the Irish criminals are difficult to target because they “blend in”.

“They’re invisible, to all extents and purposes. They’re living in suburbs, driving around in people carriers, minding their own business,” Johnson told Newstalk.

Gangsters have learned that attention is bad for business, as he put it, and so keep things low-key.

“They follow the rationale of the head of the Colombian national police, who said that gangs avoid violence when they have control. They know that they’re not going to make as much money if they’re engaged in war.

“The best way to do business is to keep your head down: you don’t get nicked, threaten people, have early-morning disco dances or drive around in illegal cars. You live in nice places out of the way.”

Passing across borders

Such discretion has helped Irish criminals gain dominance over this key drug entry point, according to Johnson.

But gangs tend not to stay put for too long, moving on to Spain, Dublin, Liverpool or Manchester every few weeks to keep on top of business and evade police.

Forgers provide them with the fake documents needed to travel freely, while “dirty work” on the ground is sub-contracted to local criminals or migrant workers.

“If you’re in Dublin and I’m expecting to send you out a shipment from Spain, I’ll meet you in Amsterdam - well away from the activity, so we can’t be linked to it,” explained Johnson, whose books on crime include 'The Cartel' and 'Young Blood'.

“That way, criminals can more easily shake off whoever is on their case, because there are always difficulties for police in following gangs across borders.”

Meanwhile, gang leaders domiciled in Spain, another key drug gateway, shield their wealth from the Criminal Assets Bureau.

One garda liaison officer is working in Madrid to crack down on organised crime, but more may be sent now that a dedicated taskforce has been set up.

Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan insisted this afternoon that the international aspect of gangland crime will not deter gardaí from pursing its key instigators abroad.

“It is a fact of life that organised criminality extends beyond boundaries, not just European boundaries but international boundaries,” she said.

“That's why we have very good interaction and very good co-operation and collaboration with, for example, the Drugs Enforcement Agency, Interpol and Europol.

“No stone will be left unturned in working together collaboratively to tackle, to fight, and to bring to justice the individuals that are involved in these crimes.”