Gangland fears. What Ireland can learn from Mexico

By Beatriz Téllez

Growing up in front of TV news saturated with never-ending crime was something that hardly came as a shock to my generation in Mexico – but after seven gangland murders in eight months, the Irish state should take caution from the lessons of my nation.

Being from a pretty calm neighbourhood, I was lucky to live a pretty sheltered life.

However, when I moved to Guatemala at age 10, I went from watching gangland unfold on TV to hearing the gunshots myself from my apartment complex.

“When you hear that sound, get away from the windows. Watch out for stray bullets,” our housekeeper would tell me.

Waiting for the school bus in the morning, I could often still see police tape at the corner of the street where a shooting had taken place the night before.

A child in Guatemala, where some of the worst gang violence in the world is unfolding
A child in Guatemala, where some of the worst gang violence in the world is unfolding

Being a much smaller country, in Guatemala it didn’t always matter where you lived or how much money you had. Crime was everywhere.

Walking on the streets was off limits but driving around did not stop people that I knew personally from being forced out of their cars at gunpoint.

As a kid who grew up in two of the most violent countries in Latin America, the violence did not scare me until I moved away from it and could see it in a different light.

For work related reasons, my family moved to Europe in my early teens and this change gave me a totally new perspective as I got older.

I kept up with news form back home as a way to keep in touch with my country, revealing an ugly truth I was oblivious to when I was younger.

I couldn’t help but feel unsettled about going back to my own country (and at 22 I still can’t).

Gang culture has spread far and wide across Mexico and in to the States
Gang culture has spread far and wide across Mexico and in to the States

Having lived in Europe for almost 10 years, gang-related crime in Europe surprises me to some extent, but sadly it does not scare me.

Dublin is marketed as welcoming to students. It was voted the friendliest city in Europe just last year and the city is home to a fascinating history of economic prosperity, though of course, the country has suffered financially in recent years.

The Irish capital might not be the first that comes to mind concerning gang crime, at least not to us foreigners, but the city has clearly been fighting its own demons.

Dublin was shaken last Tuesday morning as a gunman claimed the life of Gareth Hutch, the seventh victim of the on-going feud between the Hutch and Kinahan criminal gangs.

The 2016 EU Drug Markets Report revealed Irish criminal gangs are increasingly active and have connections with drug cartels in South and Central America, which facilitate trafficking of drugs such as cocaine into Ireland.

With this in mind the recent gang-related murders can’t come as a surprise, yet they are still jarring in a country where, unlike Mexico, casualties still matter.


For many, I think the term “gang-related shooting” used to offer a sense of relief because, at least, these killings meant the victims were usually the gangsters, people that were directly, if not always willingly, involved.

The average citizen was not affected. In countries like Ireland that generally seems still to be the case.

However, there was more to two of the seven latest murders in the Hutch-Kinahan feud. The death of Martin O’Rourke was a case of mistaken identity, while the murder of Eddie Hutch was retaliation as he was member of the Hutch family, despite authorities claiming he was not involved in crime.

Innocent victim Martin O'Rourke
Innocent victim Martin O’Rourke

In a country like Ireland, ranked highly for quality of life and standard of living, the loss of innocent lives is disturbing.

But in a country where 43 students are abducted – allegedly as a result of a corrupt relationship between government and drug cartels – and over a year later questions remain unanswered, the pain and the fear for the average citizen just does not equate.

The public outrage at the latest of seven gang related murders is, in a sick way, reassuring. It is a reflection of the country’s values and expectations as to security and a certain way of life.

I, on the other hand, was born in a country where similar incidents were well beyond accepted and ‘corruption’ was a word we all knew by age six.

Looking at the media’s reaction was also comforting, a similar incident back home would not have received half as much press.

Beatriz Tellez in Dublin
Beatriz Tellez in Dublin

This is not to say the recent crimes in Dublin should be taken lightly, quite the opposite.

Drug smuggling is everywhere, but the main difference between Mexico, torn apart by a drug war, and a country like Ireland is that the situation here is not yet out of control.

To many, including myself, the legalisation of all drugs – not just marijuana and not just in some countries – seemed like the only option to put an end to the overwhelming power drug cartels have.

Whether this remains the case is debatable in an age when gangs operate so many businesses far beyond drug smuggling including human trafficking, organ trade and recently in Mexico, the tortilla business.

But following the third arrest of famous drug lord El Chapo, Luke Holland for The Irish Times illustrated a controversial solution to Mexico’s violence problem, one that has been talked about for a while.

The notorious El Chapo
The notorious El Chapo

Restoring a pax-narcotica: shifting the focus from eliminating drug cartels to the minimization of violence and harm to the population, even if that means working with the very same cartels.

Holland describes this ‘far from ideal objective’ as potentially, the necessary first step to restoring peace and a healthier democracy in Mexico.

The extreme nature of this method is something that many cannot wrap their head around. The government working with criminals?

Whether it would work or not is not set in stone but desperate times call for desperate measures and, for now, this might be the only hope for a less violent country.

If it is any comfort to those still shaken by last Tuesday’s events and as the Irish people grow increasingly concerned about the housing crisis and political instability, they can rest easy that in comparison to Mexico, Ireland still enjoys a decent level of government transparency and police efficacy that we can only dream of.

Beatriz a journalism student at The University of Stirling.  She writes for and is News and Lifestyle editor for Brig Newspaper

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