Dissident republicans vow to shut down deadly drugs gang following string of murders

We can reveal armed patrols by vigilante-style terror groups have taken place in the republican stronghold of Kilwilkie

Armed and masked Continuity IRA men patrol Lurgan's Kilwilkie estate

Hitmen at the home of Malcolm McKeown

Malcolm McKeown

Steven MooreSunday World

Dissident republicans in Lurgan are set to take a ‘Firm’ line on a deadly drugs gang believed to be behind a string of murders.

We can reveal armed patrols by vigilante-style terror groups have taken place in the republican stronghold of Kilwilkie.

Last week we revealed notorious drugs gang The Firm was blamed for an outbreak of violence in the area.

We can reveal the head of the crime gang is the son of a former leader of the IRA in north Armagh who comes originally from Lurgan but moved to Co Antrim in the last couple of years.

The Firm, which has increased significantly in size in the last five years, was already being blamed for the murders of drug dealers Malcolm McKeown and his close associate Jim Carlisle.

The Sunday World revealed in 2019 how two weeks before McKeown was shot dead at a petrol station, two armed members of The Firm turned up at his home wearing chilling pig masks with the intention of shooting him dead, only to flee as McKeown wasn’t at home.

Sources in the sprawling Kilwilkie estate say meetings have been held by senior dissidents in a bid to address The Firm’s activities.

Hitmen at the home of Malcolm McKeown

Once a Provisional IRA stronghold, the massive estate retains elements of dissident republican groups who oppose the police and can still occasionally explode in violence. In the main it’s full of people who are fed-up with the scourge of drugs and drug dealers who have caused pain and misery for people there who believe Kilwilkie has been left to ‘The Firm’.

Some members of the community have called for them to step in and “retake control” of the area.

And we can reveal meetings have been held among senior dissidents in the aftermath of the latest murder.

“Boys from the Continuity IRA are keen to make it clear to The Firm they will not sit back and watch them terrorise people in Kilwilkie,” said a source.

“And the worrying thing is there is plenty of people in the community who are demanding action is taken. People are angry. Our young people are dying because of drugs and the pressure they are being put under by drug gangs like The Firm.

“They feel the drugs problem has got way out of control and the streets just aren’t safe for their kids anymore.

“There’s a strong belief amongst some people that the IRA would never have allowed the situation to get this bad.

“They feel the PSNI aren’t interested in policing their area either and so they have been left to the mercy of drug gangs who are armed to the teeth.”

Recent violence has left the Co Armagh town in a state of shock and fear and elements of the community have demanded republicans do something to make their streets safe.

We can reveal late last Saturday night armed men – believed to be from the Continuity IRA – patrolled the streets of Kilwilkie in a bid to “reassure” the local community.

That came after another two drug-related deaths were reported which lead to an avalanche of social media speculation and rumour.

Malcolm McKeown

With a recent fatal shooting in the area, quickly followed by the sudden death of a young man in the Kilwilkie estate last Saturday, which saw several police cars and ambulances arrive at speed into the area, speculation on social media went wild.

Talk of two more fatal shootings and more drug-related deaths spread like wildfire around WhatsApp and Facebook.

There were no more murders but there were two sudden deaths attributed locally to drugs but the rumours demonstrated how Lurgan was truly gripped by fear of further violence.

Talk of drugs debts being settled ran rife and at one stage last Saturday night rumours spread that tooled-up members of the notorious Dublin drugs gang with links to the Kinahan cartel were on their way to Lurgan to collect their debts.

A 50-strong crowd met in Kilwilkie this week to express their anger at the drugs problem in the area.

“People in the community are genuinely scared for their kids,” said a source. “They know drugs has taken a grip of Kilwilkie as it has done most areas across the town.

“Last Saturday they took to the streets when there was talk of Dublin gangsters coming up to settle old scores or collect on unpaid drug debts.

“It was put about that The Firm was collecting all the debts they were owed because the Kinahans were on their way to Lurgan.

“It wasn’t true but the estate was hysterical with fear and anger about the drugs problem.”

The Firm – made up of thugs and ex-paramilitaries from both republican and loyalist areas – was even named in court by crown lawyers who claimed Malcolm McKeown was involved in a feud with The Firm.

McKeown (54) was found dead in his car behind a garage in Waringstown and he had been shot six times in the head and body.

Police officers are increasingly concerned about The Firm who have killed before and the recklessness of their latest attack.

They have a merciless reputation and on the anniversary of the murder of Malcolm McKeown the gang left a twisted message on his grave.

They left £50 in monopoly notes with a letter stating: “£50-Mal You are in a better place now. Rot in Hell. THE FIRM’ Forever in our Thoughts.”

Smiley faces were plastered all over the note and the same message was cruelly sent to friends and family of McKeowns.

The same gang is also believed to have been responsible for a shooting at the home of dissident republican Colin Duffy a few years ago.

In 2021 we revealed how The Firm had suffered a setback when they were busted by elite cops after bungling gangsters posted videos of themselves kissing bullets on a compromised secret messaging app.

Meanwhile a huge stash of guns discovered in Co Down were believed to belong to the gang.

In what was described as the “most significant find in a decade”, 11 firearms including machine-guns, hand pistols and assault rifles were uncovered by NCA investigators buried underground in the rural area of Jerrettspass, Co Armagh.

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