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Gangs and guns on Dublin streets

The capital has seen a sharp rise in Soprano-style gang executions.

Children in Dublin
Children buy sweets from a makeshift shop in Ballymun, in Dublin on April 7, 2009. (Cathal McNaughton/Reuters)

DUBLIN, Ireland — It is like a scene from the Sopranos. Two gangland figures are sitting in a Lexus car in a suburban street on a summer evening. Their automobile is rammed from behind by a stolen Audi 6. Two masked men jump out and open fire on the Lexus with semi-automatic handguns, killing the men instantly.

The assassins drive to a deserted street a mile away, douse the car with gas, set it alight and escape. This professional hit — the killers are said to have received 40,000 euros ($50,000) each to “whack” the victims — took place in the Clondalkin suburb of Dublin on June 28.

The men slain were brothers Kenneth and Paul Corbally, aged 32 and 35. Their murder brought the number of gun homicides in Ireland to 15 since the start of the year.

The impunity with which their executioners acted underlined the fact that gun crime in Ireland — a country of just over 4 million people where possession of handguns is severely restricted — is rising fast and is practically out of control.

According to the Department of Justice, there have been only 23 convictions for 198 gun murders in the republic since 1998.

“It’s just appalling that it has come to this; that human life is this cheap and professional killers roam the streets,” said Labour member of parliament, Pat Rabbitte, in whose constituency the murder of the Corbally brothers took place.

Just as in the Sopranos television series, in which rival New Jersey mafia members kill each other in territorial fights, the gun homicides in Ireland arise mainly from feuds between rival gangs, usually for control of illegal drug sales. Their members live in a disadvantaged society and operate by their own rules.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern admitted after the latest killings that the gardai, the Irish police, often do not get the cooperation of the associates of gangland figures gunned down on the streets. Rather they take revenge in what he called “tit-for-tat killings.”

The Corballys belonged to one of two criminal gangs based in Dublin’s Ballyfermot district and it wasn’t long before an associate of the rival gang met a similar fate. On July 9, a masked gunman walked into an animal feed warehouse in the west of the city and singled out 34-year-old Colm Owens. He coolly shot Owens several times in the head in front of horrified coworkers, ran out and was driven off at speed by an accomplice.

Owens was linked to a notorious gang leader, Eamon Dunne, who was shot dead in a Dublin bar in April.

The use of guns to settle scores in Ireland’s criminal underworld has risen sharply in the last decade, according to a survey by Liz Campbell of Aberdeen University.