The shooting of innocent rugby player Shane Geoghegan, 10 years ago yesterday, proved to be the tipping point in Limerick’s vicious gangland history which had threatened all-out anarchy between the late 1990s and late 2000s.
According to some, it was skilled police work, and not tougher anti-gangland legislation, that put Mr Geoghegan’s killers behind bars and restored peace to the city.
Mr Geoghegan, a charismatic leader and rugby player with Garryowen RFC, was walking home from his girlfriend’s house when he was chased and shot dead by hired hitman Barry Doyle, on November 9, 2008.
Recruited by the notorious Dundon gang to shoot an associate of rival Philip Collopy, Doyle mistook Mr Geoghegan for his intended target. It soon emerged that John Dundon, one head of the Dundon crime gang, had ordered the hit.
Exactly five months later, on April 9, 2009, another innocent man, Roy Collins, was shot dead by Dundon triggerman Nathan Killeen under orders from gang leader Wayne Dundon.
The murders of the two innocent men were a catalyst for introducing important amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill, introduced in 2006 to tackle gangland crime.
These legislative updates beefed up the Bill, and provided for the use in criminal trials of material obtained during covert Garda surveillance operations; further definitions of membership of a criminal organisation; making it an offence to direct gang activities; and creating a raft of new “scheduled offences” which brought gangland trials into the non-jury Special Criminal Court on a declaration that the ordinary courts were inadequate for the purpose of the effective administration of justice.
Gardaí worked tirelessly with vital sources from inside the Dundon gang. They also worked with rivals of the gang, and the wider community, to get vital evidence which resulted in murder convictions and life sentences for Barry Doyle and John Dundon for the murder of Shane Geoghegan; and for Wayne Dundon and Nathan Killeen for Roy Collins’s murder.
Ten years on, the city is riding the crest of a wave of high employment and investment.
Limerick Fianna Fáil TD Willie O’Dea said the gardaí that smashed the Dundon gang were behind Limerick’s dramatic image transformation.
“The gardaí are the unsung heroes of the whole saga of Limerick’s gangland past. The detective branch who led the investigations have probably the best detection record of any police force in the world,” said Mr O’Dea. “They are absolutely priceless.”
Retired Detective Garda Sean Lynch, who worked on the Geoghegan and Collins murders, praised the then justice minister Dermot Ahern for providing extra resources and an overtime budget for gardaí to concentrate their efforts on bringing the Dundon gang to justice.
Mr Lynch, now a Fianna Fáil councillor, also praised his Garda colleagues, saying: “They never took the foot off the pedal.”
Shane Geoghegan’s family attended a special match at Garryowen RFC last night, held in memory of the player.
“No one has worn Shane’s number three jersey since his death. It’s been permanently retired,” said club vice-chairperson Eoin Prendergast.
Shane’s brother Anthony presented a portrait he painted of his slain sibling, which will be displayed in the clubhouse alongside an All-Blacks jersey signed by Kiwi players which was presented to the club in memory of the Garryowen warrior.
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