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chief in charge Meet the female Garda chief superintendent spearheading Ireland's five-year war on drugs and organised crime

'If you are one of our targets you better be ready to go to prison...no one is untouchable'


Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis is leading the fight against drugs and organised crime

Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis is leading the fight against drugs and organised crime

Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis is leading the fight against drugs and organised crime

The chief in charge of the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has warned anyone tempted to take on a role in a drugs gang that they should be prepared to be locked up.

Detective Chief Superintendent Angela Willis, who has overseen the Bureau’s response to organised crime and, in particular, the dismantling of the Kinahan mafia, says nobody is outside its reach.

“Whatever your role. If you are one of our targets you better be ready to go to prison. It doesn’t matter what your role is, a group can’t operate without all its components,” she said.

“There is nobody beyond reach. Once the right collaboration is there and dedication to targeting them is there, then I don’t think there is anybody who is untouchable.”

Last year, the Garda’s tough crime-fighting unit seized €8 million in cash, 23 firearms and €36 million worth of drugs, and while it is still difficult to ascertain how Covid-19 has affected organised crime, it has presented opportunities for the force.

In a wide-ranging interview which will be broadcast on the Crime World podcast this week, Detective Chief Superintendent Willis reveals how her own career has spanned the emerging drug market.

She details how she started out as a rookie cop in Store Street’s drug unit, working the north inner city, but now liaises with police departments across the world tackling Irish criminals.

She was part of the team that took on Tony Felloni, ‘Roly’ Cronin and who policed others like Thomas ‘the Boxer’ Mullen and Derek ‘Maradona’ Dunne, who flooded the area with heroin.

Just last week, a report found that one in four people living in the area have experienced drug-related intimidation, but just one in five said they would report it to the authorities.

The report from the Drug-Related Intimidation Initiative found that fear, open drug dealing and intimidation have now become normal for many in the area.

“Back in the 1990s, we could identify all our targets as there weren’t so many of them. It was mothers who were coming to us, mothers whose children were dying from heroin, and our targets were the suppliers that were causing the most misery.

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“The community came on board with us and have continued to support what we do. Without the support from communities we simply couldn’t do our job.


Armed gardai at checkpoints on the streets of Dublin

Armed gardai at checkpoints on the streets of Dublin

Armed gardai at checkpoints on the streets of Dublin

“We would have carried out about 500 searches a year but it was different because we were never overly concerned about firearms.

“We were always mindful they could be there, but the amount of times we found them was minimal compared to today, when that is now the first consideration when we are doing any operation.

“I was just straight out of Templemore when I was assigned to the north central divisional unit. I suppose I was just thrown into the middle of it, but we had a great unit and it was very effective. It was a small number of key targets that interested us.

“The people came to us and told us who was most affecting their community and we went after them.

"Tony Felloni lived up in Dominic Street flats at the time with his children and extended family and we looked at him and his lifestyle and put surveillance around him and we got help from the community who could see the comings and goings, and through that we worked out the right time to search the place and find the heroin inside.


Tony Felloni

Tony Felloni

Tony Felloni

“That was the strategy, hitting them at the right time. You have to catch them and have enough evidence to support a prosecution so they end up in prison and can’t cause any further harm to the community. That is where you have a significant impact.”

Times have changed since Felloni and his counterparts pushed their poison. Back then, a seizure of €100,000 worth of drugs would make a difference and could even cause a drought on the streets. It’s not the same today as drug use and supply has grown to unprecedented levels.

When the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) was set up in March 2015 it had a new strategy, and targeting entire gangs rather than individuals was top of the list.

While seizures are still important, the focus is more on dismantling the structures that facilitate large-scale dealing.

Since then, more than €200 million worth of drugs have been confiscated, 133 guns and more than 5,500 rounds of ammunition. In January alone, almost €3 million in cash, €1.2 million worth of drugs and a pistol has added to the stash.

Less than a year after its establishment, the focus of the DOCB was fixed firmly on events surrounding the Regency Hotel attack and the bloody feud that it kicked off.

In her interview, Detective Chief Superintendent Willis describes how a plan was formulated around dismantling the Kinahan organised crime gang and others.

“I suppose nobody expected in broad daylight there would be a murder of such significance.

“We had been formed before that and we were a well resourced part of the policing reform, so we were in a good position to put those resources into tackling that group and others,” she said.

The jailing of nine members of one murder squad, who were stopped as they attempted to kill Patsy Hutch, was exactly the type of new policing used by the Bureau where everyone involved from top to bottom of the murder team were targeted.

“They were all convicted for their individual roles in that attempt.

“We were as focused that morning on the ones with the firearms, the lookout and the person who bought the sim cards for the mobile phones as they approached their target. We achieved the desired outcome.

“A lot of our work is obviously in preventing murders, and I think that when you look at the numbers you can see that our strategy is working.

“We have intervened and prevented murders 75 times since the Bureau’s establishment. Some of those cases involved the same person multiple times.

“In the last year, those figures were reduced to two.

“It shows that many of the people who are willing to engage in that type of thing are serving time in prison.”

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