NewsCrime Desk

Shooting of dissident by Kinahan cartel shocked under-siege community

Michael Barr's funeral in Strabane
Michael Barr's funeral in Strabane
Michael Barr
Michael Barr

THE news of Michael Barr’s shooting in Dublin on the night of April 25 spread like wildfire. It had been just one month since Noel Duggan was brutally assassinated in the driveway of his home, and 11 days since Martin O’Rourke was ruthlessly slaugh­tered in a case of mistaken identity.

News bulletins ran back-to-back that gardai suspected the murder had been yet another feud-related killing and observers crudely commented that statistically Barr’s murder put the Kinahan cartel in a 6-1 lead over their rival Hutch faction.

One thing was for sure – this was no longer a feud. It was a massacre, and the Kinahans were going to stop at nothing to avenge the murder of their fallen brother David Byrne and remind anyone who thought of crossing them just what they were capable of.

To make matters worse, Barr had been working behind the counter at the Sunset House Pub at Summerhill Parade in Ballybough – a popular watering hole right in the heart of the under-siege north inner city community.

Locals still reeling from the murder of Eddie Hutch on his doorstep at nearby Poplar Row, the daylight shooting of Martin O’Rourke less than a mile away and the constant presence of heavily-armed officers on their streets had now to come to terms with yet another gangland shooting within their district.

The Sunset House was a real locals' pub and the most excitement it ever saw was a disputed game of bingo.

When two masked gunmen burst in at 9.35pm on the night of the murder, the Sunset was full of its usual customers, one of whom was a special-needs man who lived nearby and often popped in for one or two pints in the evenings.

Local councillor Niall Ring would later report that the vulnerable man was so trau­matised by what he saw that he had to be carried home.

Elderly people were also there for chats and a drink and were shaken to the core by witnessing the brutality of a gun murder.

Gardai had made it to the scene within minutes as there was an armed patrol near­by, but an Audi car that was used as a getaway vehicle had already been abandoned near the pub and it was understood the killers had escaped in a second vehicle.

Yet again the Kinahan hitmen appeared to have made their way into the heavily fortified north inner city unnoticed and escaped again.

Two hours after Barr’s murder, a second shooting occurred in Clondalkin when Tom Farnan was gunned down at his home.

 

Tom Farnan

The small-time crook and drug addict with a list of 300 previous convictions was no major player on the gangland scene, yet his murder only served to increase the public’s sense of lawlessness that had de­scended on the city.

As day dawned over Dublin, a long list of politicians were rolled out to condemn the gun violence and to demand that immediate action be taken for the residents of the north inner city.28

Councillor Ring said that people in the area were living in constant fear, adding: “My family, friends and neighbours cannot be expected to live in this environment of fear, intimidation and threat.

I am calling on the acting Minister to act now and to ensure that my community can go about their daily business without having to won­der if they can go into a local shop or pub without fear, anxiety or threat.”

Community workers, too, came out fighting, demanding more funding for the area and long-term initiatives to be put in place to create employment.

Amidst the political hand-wringing was an overlying sympathy for not only the wider Hutch family but for the actual Hutch faction in the feud who were being por­trayed as the small-time hoods who had taken on a monster.

What most people were beginning to forget was that elements in the Hutch faction had for years worked hand in hand with the Kinahan cartel – they were a major part of it and its success.

But, in the fear that hung over the city, little made sense and it seemed that anything was better than the murderous mob.

While political controversy raged, behind the scenes gardai had been working tire­lessly on another aspect of the massive feud investigation – who had planned and carried out the Regency Hotel attack?

While the public had sympathy for Hutch and his associates, there was none afforded by the State.

Bit by bit they had managed to piece together the complex jigsaw and had identified: former Kinahan hitmen, now turned against the mob; New IRA extortionists who had been hired in for the job; and a wide collection of Hutch associates who had acted in key positions on the day as well as spotters, drivers and others with peripheral roles.

Over the previous ten weeks they had painstakingly put together a timeline of events and identified a number of individuals not previously known to be linked to the Hutch side.

Members of the Special Detective Unit (SDU), expert on breaking up paramilitary terror cells, had also been secretly trailing Hutch and his associates and had much success in doing so.

They had received early intelligence that the AK47s used in the Regency belonged to the New IRA and would be given back within weeks during a pre-arranged hando­ver at a warehouse in Coolock.

A Donegal paramilitary, Shane Rowan, they were told, was due to pick up the ri­fles and magazines on behalf of the New IRA and return them to the North.

A major operation had been launched by the SDU and the National Surveillance Unit and for two weeks in the immediate aftermath of the Regency they watched the Hutch faction travel around the country where they met with New IRA associates while making their arrangements.

The guns were now red hot, so it was vital that they were returned to the North without a hitch.

On the same day that Liam Byrne’s home was being turned over by CAB officers, Rowan had arrived at a Coolock warehouse and collected the arsenal.

When he was stopped later by members of the Emergency Response Unit in Slane in Co Meath, they found three AK47s in his car.

The Army were later brought into the warehouse where they believed the guns had been stored since February 5 and they conducted further searches, but no more weapons were found.

A day later a former councillor answered the door of his family home to find gar­dai with a search warrant for the property.

Jonathan Dowdall had been stood down from Sinn Fein a year before after a row with the party.

 

Jonathan Dowdall

While he had been a friend of the Hutch family, he had not previously been on the Garda radar.

During the search of his Navan Road home, the Garda Sub Aqua Unit had been brought in to search a pond at the back of the house where he kept Japanese koi fish.

Dowdall took to the airwaves to defend himself and phoned Joe Duffy’s Liveline.

He insisted that the four cars taken by the gardai from his driveway had all been pur­chased on finance and that he had worked hard for everything he had.

He said that officers had been in his home for around 24 hours and said the ex­perience had been traumatic on his family and had impacted his electrical business.

On Friday March 11, Rowan was charged at the Special Criminal Court with pos­session of the assault rifles, three magazines and 75 rounds of ammunition.

He was also charged with membership of an unlawful organisation, styling itself on the Irish Republican Army.

The early breakthrough in the Regency investigation had been a huge coup for gardai but had gone somewhat under the radar in the public’s perception of the State’s battle against organised crime due to the continued gun attacks by the Kinahan car­tel.

While the public were clear about their reaction to the murder of Michael Barr – the gardai were a bit more perplexed.

Investigators had joined the dots early on the New IRA’s involvement in the Re­gency and experienced members of the SDU were able to go back to the Real IRA Omagh bombers and follow the links through Duggan to Hutch.

But exactly how Hutch had organised the supply of firepower and manpower from the North through the New IRA was still a mystery.

Hutch, they gathered, had gambled that the Kinahan young guns would be left terrified at the idea that he had an ‘army’ behind him willing to run them out of busi­ness.

It had been a classic case of putting all his money on black.

The probe within the Garda Siochana had been highly secretive and information was only being shared on a need-to-know basis for fear of leaks.

Barr was only a recent addition to the investigation, after being identified as an associate of the man known as ‘Flat Cap’, aka Strabane man Kevin Murray, caught in a photograph running from the Regency shooting along with the man in drag.

 

Only a week before Barr’s murder, his home in Finglas was searched by gardai in a low-key early-morning raid.

Both Barr and Flat Cap, it emerged, had been former members of the vigilante Re­publican Action Against Drugs (RAAD) group based in Strabane, which had joined with the Real IRA in 2012 to form the New IRA.

The Real IRA had originally been formed in 1997 following a split in the Provi­sional IRA movement.

A year later it was responsible for the Omagh bombing in which 29 people were killed.

Among the 200 or so members rounded up and jailed in the wake of the bombing was its founder Mickey McKevitt.

While the New IRA purported to be a political movement fighting for a unit­ed Ireland, its stock and trade is extorting money from criminals and operating as muscle for hire.

Many members had been accused of taking drugs from dealers but then re-selling the product themselves.

Barr’s mother Martina had been caught with drugs in her home and pleaded guilty to charges relating to them in the North. Local newspapers reported that she had been stashing them for her son.

Barr had moved to Dublin shortly before merging with the New IRA. He had first landed a job at Finnstown House Hotel, where he worked as a groundsman.

There, he was caught with stolen goods, while he was also brought before the Spe­cial Criminal Court on charges of IRA membership.

He had been caught with six others allegedly having a meeting in a house in Tallaght. All seven were subsequently acquitted by the court due to a problem with the arrests.

Barr had moved between Dublin and Strabane as he faced court and had started working in the Sunset, which had been leased by Anthony Fitzgerald – a former boxer with the Kinahan stable who had retired from the sport following the Regency shooting.

He was later slashed in the face in an attack even though he is not involved in the feud.

Anthony Fitzgerald and Daniel Kinahan

Clearly the Kinahan cartel were doing their own investigations into the Regency and the murder of Barr suggested that theirs was outpacing that of the Garda.

Fears grew that others not yet identified by the investigation teams were already in the sights of the mob.

Following Barr’s murder dissident group the New IRA claimed him as one of their ‘volunteers’ but denied that its weapons were used during the Regency attack.

The denial clearly showed that the terror army had turned its back on Hutch and were afraid they would be wiped out by the Kinahan cartel.

As the investigation into Barr’s murder got under way, it quickly became clear that the same senior members of the New INLA crime faction suspected of involvement in both the murders of Eddie Hutch and Noel Duggan had struck again.

Like the New IRA, the New INLA was made up of a cell of criminals with nothing to do with any political fight for a united Ireland.

They had formed after a Belfast ter­ror thug moved to Dublin in the hopes of taking over the INLA leadership. However, he was overlooked for the job and took a small group of heavies with him in protest to form his own group.

The thug, who was hated in the North, had been undoubtedly involved in a string of callous executions but had evaded justice. He had relocated to Limerick but left a tight-knit group in Dublin to represent his interests.

Among them was the killer who was playing both sides in the bitter divide. Living in the north inner city, he had become the Kinahans’ ace card while also selling infor­mation to the Hutch faction.

But after Barr’s murder he was convinced the game was up and that his terror cell had been busted by both his own community and gardai.

One of the suspected hit team flew to Thailand on holiday and another left for a new life in Spain.

Left behind were the young guns desperate to make a name and a wad of cash while the war was raging.

A tide had begun to turn, but the monster hiding within a community under siege was not yet crushed.