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Gangs and guns on Dublin streets

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

In 1998 firearms were used in 7.8 percent of all homicides in the republic, but in 2008 this had risen to 38.2 percent. In England and Wales, where there are also prohibitive gun laws, the trend has been in the opposite direction. Gun killings declined from 7.2 percent to 6.8 percent of homicides in the same period.

In Ireland the number of gun killings is still low compared to a “pistolized” society such as the United States, said Campbell in "Responding to Gun Crime in Ireland," published in May by the British Journal of Criminology. The homicide rate in Ireland is almost two per 100,000, twice the rate of a few years ago but much lower than the five per 100,000 in the U.S., which has the highest murder rate of any industrialized democracy.

Just like the fictional crime boss Tony Soprano, played by James Gandolfini in the HBO series, the leading gangland figures in Dublin tend to be family men with children with Catholic backgrounds.

At the funeral of the Corbally brothers, Father Seamus Ryan, parish priest of Ballyfermot in west Dublin, pointed out that Kenneth Corbally’s four children and Paul Corbally’s son and stepdaughter had been left without their fathers.

In noting the increase in serious and fatal gun crime in Ireland, Campbell criticized the more punitive measures such as longer prison sentences taken by the government as inadequate, arguing that the focus should be on social deprivation in areas of Dublin and the culture of masculinity that made young men into killers. There should be more gardai on the streets and more emphasis on education to turn young men out of poverty and away from drugs and crime, she argued.

The 15,000-strong Irish police force is mostly unarmed but has an Emergency Response Unit equipped with automatic weapons. Its members are increasingly visible patrolling districts of Dublin areas affected by gang violence. However as Rabbitte put it, “just one gun murder in eight is likely to result in somebody ending up behind bars,” and things are unlikely to improve anytime in the near future.