At noon one day last week, I approached the outskirts of Balbriggan as light snow fell. I was searching for the Fingal Bay Business Park. To the north, the white dustedMountains of Mourneshone between snow flurries. Border country. Somewhere here, in an anonymous campus, a deep cover operation of the DFA, the Department of Foreign Affairs, had its base. This was North Co. Dublin’s answer to Langley, the small town in Virginia that fans of Homeland will know as the location of the CIA. Read the rest of my article in the Irish Daily Mail.
In a Dublin hotel last Friday afternoon, patrons could have been excused for thinking they were on the set of Fargo, the TV ganglands blockbuster. Gunmen armed with machine guns and dressed in police-style uniforms stormed into the crowded venue and set about executing a crimeland figure who was attending a boxing match weigh-in. Two other men were critically injured. One of the killers was dressed as a woman. The continuity IRA, an Irish republican paramilitary group that split off from the provisional IRA many years ago, has claimed responsibility. The killers’ guns were reputedly from old Provisional IRA stock. Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, has asked Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin, once the political wing of the IRA, to comment on this coincidence. Mr Adams has responded that the killers “should be locked up, where they belong”. He added that the Continuity IRA has him “under active death threat”. The uneasy collegiality that exists between violent republicanism and Irish drugs cartels occasionally disintegrates into turf wars. Criminals with republican pedigrees operate scams, such as diesel laundering, an illegal method of removing the dye from lower taxed agricultural diesel and then selling it at a higher rate to motorists. Drugs bosses conduct their business from the comfort and safety of the Costa del Sol, dispatching murderous acolytes back home to carry out their gruesome orders. The government has responded to the latest bloodshed by putting armed police on the streets. The Labour party, the junior member of the outgoing government, wants the Archbishop of Dublin to get involved. Two days before the hotel attack, the Taoiseach called a general election. His Fine Gael-led government claims it rescued the country from the door of the poor house, where Fianna Fail, which led the previous government, had left it. Labour has been polling poorly and is fighting to avoid the customary fate of junior members in a coalition. Sinn Féin is steady in the polls, and shrugs off suggestions that its president consorts with border criminals and is but a small step from his paramilitary past. The concept of “fiscal space” has recently entered Irish politics. It indicates how much the new government will be able to give away in tax reductions, or to spend on services, without displeasing the European Central Bank. Between €12 billion and €10 billion appears to be in play, depending on whether you believe Fine Gael or Fianna Fail. All parties now hover like bees around this honeypot. But fiscal space may be as relevant as outer space if the UK votes in its forthcoming referendum to leave the EU. Bilateral trade between Britain and Ireland is worth more than €1bn a week. And gathering international headwinds on stock markets and a strengthening euro could leave Ireland’s small, open economy vulnerable. Fine Gael is likely to benefit most as the attention shifts from money to law and order. It has always been seen as strong on law enforcement, whereas Sinn Féin wants to do away with the non-jury court system set up for paramilitary and other sensitive trials in which juror intimidation had become a serious problem. Mr Kenny is set to be returned with most seats — but to form a government he may have to turn away from Labour. He is most unlikely to deal with Sinn Fein and has on many occasions indicated that he will not do so. Apart from the numerous independents, his best option may well be Fianna Fail, whose differences with Fine Gael go back to the civil war of 1922-23. Little else of note separates these two centrist parties; and — as Ireland prepares to celebrate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising — such an alliance, although currently ruled out by both, would be timely. As the implications of last Friday’s execution sank in, another Celtic Fargo killing took place at the start of this week. A Dublin taxi driver, brother of a Spain-based drugs boss, was assassinated at his home, allegedly in retaliation for the hotel homicide. Latest reports say that the dead man’s brother has now returned to Ireland. Law and order is set to dominate the Irish political agenda.