Cults by any other name

ARMED CHECKPOINT: Uniformed members of An Garda Síochána, supported by armed SDU officers mount a checkpoint on Kildare Road, Crumlin on 23 July 2016. PHOTO: CONOR Ó MEARÁIN

ARMED CHECKPOINT: Uniformed members of An Garda Síochána, supported by armed SDU officers mount a checkpoint on Kildare Road, Crumlin on 23 July 2016.
PHOTO: CONOR Ó MEARÁIN

Understanding how criminal gangs come about and what motivates them is essential if they are to be eliminated writes John O’Keeffe.

John O'KeefeDealing with gangs in Dublin and around the country is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing gardaí in Ireland today. Their killings appear random and unplanned, their motivations scattered and incoherent. Yet men keep dying in hails of gunfire and the rest of the country can only look on in shock at what appears to the unending murder machines that are Irish gangs.

To understand the criminal gangs that attempt to bring our country to its knees, we must first examine our deepest ancestral brains. The male warrior hypothesis suggests that men have a genetic predetermination that ensures they will always act more aggressively than females especially when it comes to the securing of resources or protecting whatever group they are attached to – the problem is that violence will always be the language.

Men as a group are also more combative because of what is known as ‘coalitional psychology.’ In other words, by grouping together they stand a greater chance of gaining material reward and the attention of the opposite sex through aggressive acts.

The more aggressive these acts, the more these murderers present themselves as ‘hyper masculine’ – a trait that certain women in these communities (as in others) can find irresistible. In more simple terms, since the dawn of time, men just find it impossible not to form some sort of group amongst themselves. Initially they were designed simply to achieve hunting success but soon groups were being formed with other motivations in mind.

Today men will form football and GAA teams, religious groupings and other clubs. Unfortunately, males who suffer from a range of social and psychological disadvantage, will also form groups where the language is not that of great oratory or sporting prowess but one of visceral hatred and violence – towards each other and authority.

Women simply do not form these violent coalitions in the same way in Ireland, or indeed globally. Firstly, they do not have the same aggressive and defensive motivations that men have to form militant gangs. Biologically, their physical stature and status of ‘nurturing mothers,’ do not tend to lead to violent action with other groups of women.

Unlike men, women are also much more discriminatory when it comes to who they hang around with and inevitably tend to group with those who they believe to be from a similar background and persuasion in life.

Research has shown however that men are far less discriminatory and will cooperate with males of all social levels. This ability to cooperate with other men of ‘differing ranks’ allows them to then create gangs, for example, without difficulty. Here the lawyer or accountant will be as much a part of the gang or organisation as the psychopathic hit man or the driver of the get away car.

Gangs in Dublin provide a very simple narrative based on black and white thinking. They are the heroes; the gardaí are the villains. They are good; the system is evil. To a disaffected youth in a deprived estate of north inner city Dublin this can have an enormous resonance. Education will not be their path to success, for in their communities this almost never occurs. Rather, the Kinahan and Hutch organisations provide them with an immediate out to glory. They will become the ‘uber’ males in their communities and will have all the bling they desire.

More importantly, they will gain the personal recognition that they could never have achieved through conventional means – a road they will feel was never open to them in the first place. Layer a dysfunctional personality, family discord and social depravation on top of this pull and you will have created the perfect storm for gang culture to thrive.

Make no mistake however, these gangs share all the qualities of a cult and once a member, leaving the cult may no longer be an option. These groupings provide what appears to be friendship to these disaffected young men. More specifically they provide them with a high status identity within their local communities that they could never otherwise achieve. Like all cults, gangs give ‘respect’ to its members on a plate – the respect is gained by membership of the gang and the ability to perform random and catastrophic acts of violence at a moment’s notice. Finally, gang membership offers both professional and financial security – something a life of social security benefits could never have given them.

Just like large corporations, gangs offer a simplistic world view and a structured one. When you are brought up in a life of chaos and fatal inevitability, the Kinahan and Hutch cults can have the same simplistic allure as Islamic State have to the equivalent young men who live in conditions of abject poverty in Iraq or Syria.

But gang culture in Ireland runs far deeper in its cult like structures. It also demands that its members effectively sever any normative loving familial ties. In RTE’s Love/Hate, the main protagonist Nidge, had little time for his wife or son in the world of drug smuggling, sexual violence and killings. Gangs demand complete loyalty to the exclusion of all others – including family.

Cults demand an unquestioning obedience to rules which seem on the surface quite pointless – in the same way, the murderous criminal gangs in this country will have unswerving obedience to the most bizarre and unnecessary trivial gang rules, yet pay no attention to the civil code that you may not pull a trigger and kill a man in cold blood.

Cults are all about money and so too are gangs. At the heart of all their actions lie singular desires – to have the fastest cars, the most expensive watches, and the largest betting slips. Gangs, like cults, also make exit costs very high. The current feral criminal gangs in this country will not accept your letter of resignation – rather they will issue their own P45 in the form of a hail of bullets when you are having a pint in the pub, or out walking down the street with your girlfriend.

The issue of how we deal with the gangs who are now a sub-culture on this island, is undoubtedly a complex one. Primarily it needs a criminal justice response from government, as was done in recent years in Limerick with great success. Resources need to be poured in to the necessary garda divisions to weed these modern day savages out one by one, top to bottom. The system needs to then have the will to ensure that these individuals serve lengthy minimum – not maximum stays in prison.

We need to understand the animals we are dealing with – only then can we prepare the appropriate cages.

John O’Keeffe is a Criminologist & Forensic Psychologist and Head, School of Psychology & Criminology, City Colleges.


For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

subscribe button