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Crime gangs bigger threat than dissidents in Republic

Organised crime gangs are now posing a bigger threat to state security than dissident republicans.

That is the stark assessment of senior gardai in an end-of-year report on how specialist armed units were deployed.

And it is backed up by internal figures showing that two-thirds of the operational call-outs for the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) in Dublin since the start of January were to deal with major criminals.

An increase in cross-over activity between the 'ordinary' gangsters and republican thugs is blurring the picture. But there is clear evidence that two of the three dissident groups are making greater efforts to muscle their way into lucrative criminal rackets in the capital.

Members of both the Real IRA and the Continuity IRA are stepping up their campaign to make inroads into extortion scams where owners of pubs, clubs and some retail businesses are being forced to pay money for 'protection'.

The dissidents are also using their paramilitary connections to put pressure on drug gangs to hand over a slice of their profits from trafficking, and this has led to ongoing tension between the groups.

A small group of Real IRA activists on the northside of the city are focusing most of their attention on crime and their clashes with local gangsters have resulted in at least two murders in the past 15 months.

They are being blamed by gardai for the murder of Michael 'Mica' Kelly, who was gunned down in Clongriffin in September. Kelly was regarded as a 'facilitator' for the Dublin trafficking gangs seeking to import shipments of cocaine and other drugs, and was also a key player as a consignment organiser outside the capital.

A year earlier the same dissident group was reputed to have been responsible for murdering another criminal, Sean Winters, near his home at Station Road in Portmarnock. Winters was regarded by associates as a 'fixer' with a wide range of contacts on the streets.

A leading dissident figure was among 10 people arrested by gardai for questioning within hours of the shooting.

Localised gang feuds also ensure that the ERU officers are now spending more time working alongside the Garda's Organised Crime Unit (OCU) and their round-the-clock armed patrols have been a key factor in restoring peace to areas such as Dublin's north inner city and Crumlin-Drimnagh, as well as to Limerick, where the "in your face" policing policy paid major dividends.

The ERU has been particularly active in the run up to Christmas, providing armed back-up for the OCU in their crackdown on the crime gangs to prevent a seasonal spate of armed raids.

Each officer has been briefed on the main criminal targets in their sector, while the unit is heavily armed the members have also undergone specialist training in less than lethal weapons, such as Tasers.

The attrition rate is high among gardai wanting to join the unit and only 5pc are successful in each recruitment campaign, which is held about every three to five years.

But while there is a greater focus on criminals, the ERU remains at the forefront in the fight against dissident terrorism.

Over the past two years, the gardai have made more than 110 arrests, while 40 people have been charged and brought before the Special Criminal Court in Dublin as a result of the operations against the RIRA. CIRA and the so-called Oglaigh na hEireann.

Belfast Telegraph