DROGHEDA, Ireland — An Irish bishop has offered to mediate between feuding criminal gangs in Drogheda in an effort to end violence that has claimed three lives in six months.
The intervention by Auxiliary Bishop Michael Router of Armagh, Northern Ireland, follows the brutal murder of 17-year-old Keane Mulready-Woods of Drogheda in mid-January and the discovery of the teenager’s remains at two separate locations in Dublin. The youth was a junior member of one of Drogheda’s gangs. The gruesome dismemberment of his body has shocked the country.
In the wake of the teen’s killing, Router, whose archdiocese straddles the Ireland-Northern Ireland border, said: “All human life is sacred, and an attack of this nature on someone who is still a child is disgusting and beyond belief. This desecration of life has diminished our common humanity and our sense of ourselves as a civilized people.”
Speaking to Catholic News Service at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Drogheda, a city of 40,000 located 35 miles north of the Irish capital, Dublin, Router said, “Something has to be done at this stage to stop the violence.”
“Nothing is lost by talking. It was the same in Northern Ireland; someone had to shout halt at some stage to stop the bombings and the shootings, and people had to swallow a lot of things in order to achieve that.”
Drogheda is divided by the River Boyne, which also demarcates the Archdiocese of Armagh from the Diocese of Meath. Parishes south of the river are under the care of Bishop Tom Deenihan of Meath. On Jan. 19, he attended a prayer service at Drogheda’s Holy Family Church, the dead teen’s parish. Deenihan was joined at the service by Mulready-Woods’s sister and brother as the congregation lit candles and prayed for peace in their community.
Speaking after the service to RTE News, Deenihan warned that the feud “runs the risk of degenerating into a cycle of violence that will destroy everything in its path.”
In mid-January, taxi driver John Myles was shot twice as gangland criminals targeted his passenger, who was a member of a rival group. Router said the shooting of an innocent taxi driver has shown how ordinary people can be caught up in “very random” attacks.
“There is a very real sense of fear among people who are trying to go about their daily life. They feel that things have got out of hand and that there is no sense of control on this anymore,” Router said.
“A lot of those working for the gangs are not professional hitmen; they have been handed a gun with no training. They go into a group of people and start shooting or shoot from a distance, and somebody standing by can get hit.”
As Drogheda is still a relatively small community, Router explained that everybody knows the groups involved in the feud.
“There are people living among us with blood on their hands, and we all have a responsibility to assist the Gardai (Irish police) to apprehend not just the perpetrators of this evil, but the gang leaders who orchestrated it,” he said.
But the gangs “have a stranglehold on their communities. You can go to the police and give them information, but the police are not going to be standing outside your house 24 hours a day. Very quickly, information gets out there that somebody is an informer, and the message comes from the gangs that they know who is spreading the information, and fear spreads.”
“Sometimes you just have to make a stand and say what maybe others can’t say and take that risk on behalf of other people,” Router said. “I would hope that the message is getting out there that all the priests working in the town are willing and open to people using them as the vehicle for getting information through to the police.”
Asked if he was fearful for his clergy in making his offer, Router responded, “You have to accept that there is a risk involved because, with this murder (Keane Mulready-Woods), we have seen that these people are absolutely ruthless and not afraid to do anything.”
The bishop also criticized the gangs for “grooming children” by exploiting their desire for the “trappings of wealth” in “a very consumerist society.”
He highlighted how the drug gangs are changing with “lots of younger groups coming in who have no moral center or ethical base and will do anything to get ahead in the drugs game. It has become an unmanageable situation.”
Calling for more resources for the police, his message to the incoming Irish government that will be elected after the Feb. 8 poll is that Drogheda is “a consequence of policy failures over many years. Unfortunately, in a lot of those places where the drug problem is at its worst, there has been decades of neglect.”
The scourge and prevalence of drugs like cocaine in cities and towns across the country affects all communities, said Router. “You can order your drugs by phone or online and they will be delivered to you as quickly as a takeaway pizza.”
His message to those taking drugs is: “There can’t be any disconnect any more. Whether (you are) only using drugs once a month or twice or three times a year — it doesn’t matter. (You are) supporting that illegal drugs industry, which is fueling violence in our country.”
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