Drug gang ‘The Firm’ demanding families of dead addicts pay their drugs debt

It means grieving families have been ordered to pay up thousands of pounds in unpaid drug bills which have nothing to do with them.

Weapons seized from 'The Firm' by the PSNI

Det Chief Insp Richard Thornton with some of the drugs and weapons seized this week

Malcolm McKeown

Steven MooreSunday World

Notorious Ulster drugs cartel The Firm has told those in debt to them that even if they die, their debt doesn’t.

The chilling warning was issued by the murderous gang following a spate of deaths in Lurgan, which were linked locally to unpaid drug debts.

It means grieving families have been ordered to pay up thousands of pounds in unpaid drug bills which have nothing to do with them.

Meanwhile, we can reveal hardline republican paramilitary groups have teamed up to take on The Firm.

Dissidents from the Continuity IRA have held secret meetings with republicans from the so-called New IRA with a view to combining their strength to tackle the infamous drugs gang.

But sources close to the gang, which is believed murdered druglord Malcolm McKeown as well as Lurgan father-of-four Shane Whitla, a court heard this week, say they aren’t for backing down. It’s understood they have secured ‘backing’ from their gang bosses and suppliers, who are believed to be based in Dublin.

Mr Whitla was gunned down in an alleyway in Lurgan three weeks ago and this week a court was told he was allegedly murdered over a drug debt by members of The Firm.

A number of people have died tragically in mid-Ulster, with some of those believed to have been deeply in debt to The Firm, which has been blamed for number of murders in the last few years.

The ‘cross-community’ drugs gang is led by the son of a former senior IRA boss and one of his lieutenants is the son of a former UVF leader from Portadown.

This week a terrifying warning was issued to the many people in the Co. Armagh town who still owe The Firm drug debt cash.

“Drugs has a tight grip on a lot of people in this town,” said one source from the Kilwilkie estate.

“People are dying from overdoses and there are those who are under so much pressure to pay of their drug debts that they have seen no way other than taking their own lives.

“But scumbag drug dealers in The Firm are telling people thinking of taking that way out that all they’ll be doing is leaving the debt to their family.

“The Firm let it be known the debt doesn’t die even if you do. They still want paid what they are owed and they will be asking your loved ones to pay up, or else...

“The Firm are putting it about that they have the backing of gangsters from Dublin and if the dissidents try to hurt any of their members, there will be bloody war.

“There’s a bit of an uneasy calm at the minute as both sides seem to be sizing each other up, checking out what backing they have and if they have the stomach for an all-out war.”

Two weeks ago we revealed how republicans in Lurgan are getting tooled up to take on The Firm, following pressure from the community who feel they have been left to fend for themselves against the murderous criminal gang.

Malcolm McKeown

So heightened were concerns in the community, armed patrols by vigilante-style terror groups took place in the republican stronghold of Kilwilkie.

This week during a bail application by Joshua Cotter, one of three men charged with the murder of Shane Whitla, it was claimed by a police officer: “The history of this incident is a feud between an organised crime gang known as The Firm.

“Threats were issued by a member of this gang to the victim the night before he was murdered.

“This is a feud involving drug debts,” he told Omagh Magistrates Court.

The detective said police believed Mr Cotter was an active member of this gang.

However, that claim was challenged by the defence solicitor, who said there was no evidence to support that theory.

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 has increased significantly in size in the last five years, but two armed republican gangs have now teamed up to take them on.

“The Continuity boys have joined forces with the New IRA,” says a source. “The New IRA has undergone a change of leadership locally – their new OC is a man in his twenties.

“The New IRA has the gear, and the CIRA have the numbers, their respective OCs have had meetings and moves will be made in the coming weeks.

“There have been several secret meetings in fact. They have agreed to support each other.

“The New IRA accept they have made a mistake not backing them up the last time, they lost a lot of support and have plenty of gear but no support unlike the contos.

“Drugs are very bad in Lurgan, it seems like everyone is taking them, kids killing themselves, people are afraid and feeling like they’ve been left defenceless.”

And the Lurgan source says he believes the republican force are hell-bent on getting rid of The Firm through violence if necessary.

“I have no doubt they mean to kill them,” he explains. “The New IRA have a new OC, he’s known locally as [name removed], his behaviour is a bit erratic, and I think he suffers from mental health issues.

Det Chief Insp Richard Thornton with some of the drugs and weapons seized this week

“His mood switches a lot, he knows he’s finished if he doesn’t back the contos up.

“Years ago they used to sneer at the credibility of the contos so it goes to show how bad it is for the New IRA they would now consider teaming up with them.”

TheSunday Worldrevealed 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.

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