Kevin McGuigan: An IRA enforcer who lived and died by the gun. But did his old friends pull trigger?
In an exclusive article for the Belfast Telegraph, Jim McDowell, who forged his reputation reporting on Northern Ireland's paramilitary underworld, reflects on the life of former Provo Kevin McGuigan whose brutal past led to his own bloody demise at the end of a hitman's barrel.
Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan were a deadly duo. But in the end they danced a duel of death: with, and of, each other.
Both set up the lethal Provo murder gang Direct Action Against Drugs (DAAD). And between them, the pair were to be direct participants in, or issued the orders for, the death of at least a dozen independent drug dealers.
Ostensibly, their remit was to protect republican communities from the rash of independent drug dealers setting up shop around Ulster. That was the Provos' PR take on selling it.
In essence, the Provisional IRA saw the drug dealers as easy pickings.
They wanted to hold them to ransom, issuing them with a licence to operate, but only if they lined the coffers of the PIRA by paying them up to £10,000 a month.
And if the drug dealers didn't pay, they paid with their lives.
At the time DAAD was set up, in the mid-1990s, Davison was a hardline PIRA "officer commanding" in the Short Strand/Markets area of Belfast. McGuigan rode side-saddle with him in that role.
They both knew Mickey Mooney, a ranked amateur boxer who could handle himself - and who knew both of them.
Mooney was a career criminal. He was the first to crack the drugs racket in Northern Ireland, years before loyalist paramilitaries like Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair and his cohorts in the UDA/UFF also copped on to what they saw as a cash cow.
Mooney - the first real godfather of drugs in the province - quickly established himself and his gang by flooding nightclubs and popular pubs with ecstasy. Other illegal substances were to follow.
At one stage, he even toured clubs and pubs on Belfast's Golden Mile wearing a raincoat with the right-hand pocket cut out. He had his hand in there. And in his hand was an Uzi sub-machine-gun.
He simply walked up to bouncers on the doors of the pubs and clubs, opened his raincoat, flashed the gun and told them: "You don't interfere with my business, I won't interfere with yours."
But DAAD were on his tail. He was to become the first of a deadly tally of assassinations of drug dealers, which was eventually to reach more than a dozen victims.
Mooney - eventually to be dubbed Mickey "Moneybags" Mooney because of the dosh he was making from drugs - was sitting upstairs with his henchmen in the now-gone 18 Steps bar in Ann Street in central Belfast in April, 1995. DAAD ambushed him there.
They used what was called a "cell" phone - now a mobile - to call the bar on its public phone to check if Mooney was there. And then a gunman walked up the stairs and murdered him.
It was the first big and bloody statement from DAAD. And from the duo running it: Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan.
A litany of brutal life-taking of drug dealers was to follow. The lethal hit-list was to include the likes of Brendan "Speedy" Fegan, gunned down in his native Newry after falling foul of the Provo front gang.
Kevin McGuigan's name featured prominently in relation to that point-blank killing, especially as when, as "Speedy" saw his assassin approaching, he shouted out: "It's the Provos". Those were his last words. It wasn't for DAAD. They continued to kill a death-list of drug dealers who were eventually given the last rites. They included Paul "Bull" Downey, also murdered in Newry, and Brendan "Bap" Campbell, who survived an earlier DAAD murder bid, but then tried to exact retribution on the IRA by tossing a hand grenade at Connolly House - Sinn Fein's HQ in Andersonstown.
He paid with his life when bullets were pumped into him as he walked to Plank's restaurant on Belfast's Lisburn Road, just yards away from the main police station there.
Then there was Edmund "Big Edd" McCoy in Belfast, Christopher "Cricky" O'Kane in Co Londonderry, and, finally, six years after DAAD was formed, Paul "King Coke" Daly, gunned down in Stephen Street, close to the doors of the Belfast Telegraph in central Belfast, in 2001 - just three years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
But even before then, the founding fathers of DAAD - Davison and McGuigan - had fallen foul of each other. The murky details of their bust-up are still unclear. But what is totally transparent is that both are now dead, just like the dozen or more victims of DAAD.
At one stage, Davison is even believed to have given the order for the gun to be used against his former comrade-in-arms, McGuigan, who was shot in both legs.
Jock Davison, of course, was assassinated in May in a shock shooting which rocked republicanism to the core. The finger of blame for that was pointed in many directions: a contract killing ordered by a drugs gang in Dublin (there was even one line of speculation that an ex-Polish paratrooper had been hired to "do the hit"), or a revenge killing on behalf of someone Davison had run across in the past, perhaps.
And in that last category, Kevin McGuigan's name began to appear most in the frame. However, no matter how fiery the feud became between him and Davison, there are a number of factors which need looking at, not least by the police, who still, after all, are searching for Davison's assassin.
The first is: if McGuigan did murder Davison, why would he still be living in the Short Strand, close to where Davison lived and died? Surely, knowing the penchant of the Provos for revenge, even in so-called peacetime, that would have amounted to a death-wish? The second is: Jock Davison had many close acquaintances. So was the hit on McGuigan personal, carried out without the sanction of the Provos? Or was it both: personal and Provo?
The one sure fact remains: both founders of DAAD - Jock Davison and Kevin McGuigan - lived by the gun. And both have now died by the gun.
But the question remains: whose gun?