Bishop Michael Router of Armagh has appealed to the people of Drogheda to support a rally next Saturday in the town to send a message to violent criminals that “enough is enough” and “they can’t control this community”.
The bishop was speaking to the Tablet following the brutal murder of 17-year-old Keane Mulready Woods in the Co Louth town in an escalating gangland feud that has claimed three lives in six months.
The deceased teenager was a junior member of one of two feuding Drogheda gangs. His remains were recovered last week at two separate locations in Dublin. The gruesome dismemberment of his body has shocked the country.
Speaking to the Tablet at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Drogheda, Bishop Router said: “I think the situation makes it imperative to speak out and to make our voice heard because there are a lot of people suffering.”
During the week, the bishop, who as the auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Armagh has care of parishes in north Drogheda, issued a strongly worded statement, in which he decried the brutal and gruesome nature of the attack on a child as “disgusting and beyond belief”.
He also said: “There are people living amongst us with blood on their hands, and we all have a responsibility to assist the Gardaí to apprehend, not just the perpetrators of this evil, but the gang leaders who orchestrated it.”
Speaking to The Tablet, Bishop Router said Drogheda, which has a population of 40,000, was small enough for everyone in the town to know the gangs at the centre of the feud but he explained that people are afraid to pass information to the Gardaí.
The criminal gangs, he warned, “have a stranglehold on their communities”. He said: “There is a very real sense of fear among people who are trying to go about their daily life.
“You can give the Gardaí information, but the Gardaí are not going to be standing outside your house 24 hours a day. Very quickly information gets out that somebody is an informer and the message comes from the gangs that they know who is spreading the information. Fear spreads. They have a stranglehold on their communities.”
The Bishop emphasised that priests working in the town “are willing and open to people using them as the vehicle for getting information through to the Gardaí.”
Asked if he was fearful for his clergy in making this offer, he said: “You have to accept that there is a risk involved because with this murder, we have seen that these people are absolutely ruthless and not afraid to do anything.”
Of his own offer to mediate between the feuding gangs to try and end the cycle of violence, the bishop said: “Something has to be done at this stage to stop the violence” and “restore people’s sense of confidence" that when they go into the town that they are safe on the streets and are "not going to be caught up in something”.
He said: “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.”
Dr Router added that the people of Drogheda he has spoken to feel that things have got "out of hand" and that there is no sense of control any more.
The shooting of an innocent taxi driver John Myles last Monday night in an attempted drive-by assassination had shown how ordinary people could be caught up in “very random” attacks.
He criticised those who ignore the deprivation in which drugs flourish and said Drogheda is a consequence of policy failures over many years.
“I think we have an idea about problems relating to drugs that they are in certain communities, in certain estates or certain roads and that it is a problem for them. There may be murders and injuries, but it is one bad guy against the next and that it isn’t really affecting society at large. Unfortunately, in a lot of those places where the drug problem is at its worst there has been decades of neglect.”
Calling for more resources for the Gardaí, he also stressed that the incoming government needs to put greater educational supports into deprived areas and provide people with a pathway out of economic difficulties. Addiction support groups should not be “constantly looking for and begging for resources,” he said.
The bishop also issued a strong rebuke to middle class drug users telling them that they are supporting that illegal drugs industry which is "fuelling violence in our country”.
Speaking about the loss of respect for human life and the new low reached by gangland criminals who dismembered the body of a teenager, Bishop Router lamented the push to remove God from society altogether.
“As a man of the Church, I feel that blame can be pinned back to those who want to remove God from society altogether. I think if we do that then we remove people’s moral sense of what is right and wrong. Over time, when we show little respect for people, little respect for life at all stages, then that permeates down into society and slowly but surely there is an eroding of people’s moral sense.”