Sure they all think you’re on the run. Mrs Henderson thinks it, Tommy Owens thinks it, Mrs an’ Mr Grigson think it, an’ Minnie Powell thinks it too.
The Shadow of a Gunman by Seán O’Casey
Somebody shot up Uncle Jimmy’s house.
The finger of blame was pointed at his nephew, Jonathan Dowdall.
The home of Dowdall’s uncle on the Howth Road in Raheny on Dublin’s northside was shot at in late March 2011. Gardaí investigated the incident, taking forensic evidence and witness statements, but nobody was ever charged.
Dowdall’s name was continually linked with the shooting, both directly and indirectly, amid suggestions of IRA involvement in carrying out the attack. Also from that period, there are stories about Dowdall beating up his totally innocent uncle at a family wedding.
The gunshots fired at the house are now key to whether Mary Lou McDonald had any knowledge of her protégé’s involvement in criminality after the Special Criminal Court heard evidence Sinn Féin actually questioned him about the episode.
Branded a “proven liar” and “a master manipulator”, Dowdall managed to wangle his way to the highest ranks of Sinn Féin, apparently without anyone realising he was a gangland criminal.
In her ruling yesterday, Ms Justice Tara Burns did not hold back on Dowdall’s character, describing him as a “ruthless, base, callous criminal” and said he told “lie after lie” to the gardaí. Eviscerating his reliability as a witness, she also said he was a “suspected member of the IRA”. She referred to his relationship with Pearse McAuley: “an infamous and dangerous terrorist of long-standing”. McAuley was one of the IRA men convicted of killing Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in Co Limerick in June 1996 and was collected from prison on his release in 2009 by then Sinn Féin TD Martin Ferris. McAuley is back in jail for a frenzied attack on his estranged wife, now Sinn Féin TD Pauline Tully, in her home. Dowdall visited McAuley 14 times when he was in prison too and then went to him to contact dissident republicans to intervene in the Kinahan-Hutch feud. It all adds to the mystery about how Sinn Féin missed that McDonald’s rising star was so deeply involved in criminality.
It’s 100 years since Seán O’Casey wrote the first of his Dublin trilogy of plays. The Shadow of a Gunman, a tragi-comedy, centres on a hapless poet being mistaken for an on-the-run IRA gunman during the War of Independence. Ironically, a century later on those same streets, a gangland criminal thug with ties to dissident terrorism was mistaken for a respectable public representative.
Jonathan Dowdall has cast a shadow over Mary Lou McDonald’s judgment, leadership and instincts.
Now Dowdall is a convicted criminal, with a rap sheet including torture and involvement in murder. He is heading for the witness protection programme after becoming the chief prosecution witness in the trial of Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch for the murder of David Byrne at the Regency Hotel – the murder which sparked the bloody Kinahan-Hutch gangland feud that has resulted in the deaths of 18 people.
A decade ago next month, Mary Lou McDonald was training with Jonathan Dowdall for a white-collar boxing event at a gym founded by and funded for several years by Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch.
The coaches at Corinthians boxing club do great work with kids in the north inner city, a community ravaged by drugs and deprivation. A Sinn Féin video shows Dowdall doing push-ups while McDonald takes a break and sips water in the club synonymous for many year with ‘The Monk’. As photo-ops go, the image didn’t age too well.
Dowdall would become a Sinn Féin councillor a year later, in the 2014 local elections, but it was a short-lived and fractious stint. The last time the pair were seen together was in late 2014 when McDonald was answering questions about Mairia Cahill’s revelations about Sinn Féin’s knowledge of a cover-up of rape, sexual abuse and grooming by members of the Provisional IRA. Lurking in the background, offering his support to his mentor, was Dowdall.
It’s strange because five weeks earlier, McDonald announced the “hard-working and respected councillor” was stepping down from elected politics for “health reasons” and lavished praise on Dowdall. “Jonathan is a very popular and respected member of his community and he will be missed in his elected role by me, the local party organisation and by local constituents,” she said in a statement to ‘The Journal’. “I would ask to the media to respect Jonathan and his family’s privacy at this time.”
But Dowdall was not silent. He was saying it wasn’t just health reasons and was claiming party members had been “spreading rumours” about him. He ended up rejoining Sinn Féin a few weeks later after talks with party figures and McDonald’s “total support”.
Sinn Féin has always sung dumb about any “negative rumours”, even though it now appears there were strong mutterings about Dowdall’s links to criminality. McDonald’s rising star was up to his neck in crime. Several weeks following that appearance by McDonald’s side, and while still a Sinn Féin councillor, Dowdall waterboarded, tortured and threatened to kill a man at his home, saying he was a senior figure in the IRA and friends with Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Dowdall would ultimately be sentenced to 10 years in prison for the crime.
Gardaí discovered a mobile phone recording of Dowdall wearing a balaclava and holding a tea-towel to the man’s face before pouring water over his head, a torture technique known as waterboarding, when searching his house in the wake of the Regency Hotel murder.
Dowdall was originally charged with murder, but the State dropped that after Dowdall admitted the lesser charge of facilitating the murder as he booked a hotel room for the gang. Not only was Dowdall involved in the Regency murder in February 2016, he then drove Gerry ‘The Monk’ Hutch to meet with dissident republican terrorists to try to broker a peace deal with the rival Kinahan cartel.
Just a year earlier, Dowdall was a Sinn Féin public representative. Then he’s arranging meetings between a gangland crime boss and dissident republicans to get them to mediate in a deadly feud.
Dowdall quietly departed from Sinn Féin and Dublin City Council in March 2015, to little fanfare. McDonald is now telling the nation she and her party had no clue Dowdall was a criminal.
“Had we known that he was involved in any form of criminality – and I have to say I was profoundly shocked, as were many, many others to discover his criminal activity – he wouldn’t have been anywhere near Sinn Féin… he wouldn’t have been anywhere near me or anybody else,” she said in recent months.
Here’s where the plot takes a twist that drags Sinn Féin back into the spotlight. The journey to Strabane in Co Tyrone, as Dowdall drives ‘The Monk’ to meet the republicans, is bugged by the gardaí. The Special Criminal Court hears the pair talk about the “three yokes”, AK-47 machine guns apparently used in the Regency hit; a cast of dodgy characters including “Fish”, “Wee” and “Fluff”; and the Kinahans wanting to be the “biggest gang in Europe”.
Keep in mind this trip takes place on March 7, 2016, just over four weeks after the Regency murder on February 5, 2016. Until February 13, 2015, Dowdall was a Sinn Féin councillor.
The Garda bugging device also captures plenty of political chatter following the general election 10 days earlier, with comments like Hutch saying, “It looks like Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.”
In evidence at the trial of The Monk, Dowdall is heard criticising McDonald for not attending the funeral of Hutch’s murdered brother, Neddy, who was killed in retaliation for the Regency murder, saying “she stayed away on purpose”. “But youze were good enough, Gerard, to use for votes. Youze were good enough to use for money,” Dowdall says.
However, there is also a conversation that adds to the intrigue around McDonald’s claim nobody knew of Dowdall’s criminal involvement. On the Garda tapes, Dowdall tells Hutch he was questioned by Sinn Féin about the gun attack on his uncle’s home. In the evidence, played in the Special Criminal Court, Dowdall paints a detailed picture about a meeting just before the 2014 local elections. He says he was driving back from a job in Shannon and heading to a canvass for “Emma” in Cabra. Dowdall says he was summoned to an interview by two Sinn Féin officials, Brian Keane and Stephen McCormick, whom he refers to as “DOE over Dublin”, “election adviser” and “main organiser in Dublin”. Dowdall tells Hutch that Keane was “after ringing me non-stop, he arrived at my gaff three times” and that during the meeting: “Brian Keane is doing all the talking”. “He says to me, ‘I was driving by your house…’, he says ‘ya riddled your uncle’s house’,” Dowdall says. “He says ‘this is my job to ask this in case it comes out in the media’,” he adds. Dowdall replies: “I said, ‘There’s nothing in my past that I did that I’m ashamed of’. He said, ‘It’s my job to ask this’.”
Dowdall said he wanted to know the name of who was “feeding it into Sinn Féin, trying to f**k me up” and then there is a comment that “Mary pulled a few of them that was Sinn Féin people”. Dowdall also makes some cryptic reference to the IRA. “He didn’t do his homework before he came to me,” he says on the tape.
Even by Dowdall’s standards of droning on incessantly, there are details in there that tally with reality.
When he says he was heading to canvass with “Emma”: Emma Murphy was the Sinn Féin candidate in Cabra-Finglas in the local elections, Dowdall was living in that area and did some campaigning there. A canvass a few weeks out from the local elections is recalled with amusement by a party activist present that evening. The large Sinn Féin canvassing team, which included Dowdall, Murphy and European election candidate Lynn Boylan, entered an estate between the Navan Road and Blackhorse Avenue, near the Cabra end of the Phoenix Park. They come across a small group of Fianna Fáil canvassers, who beat a hasty retreat as the normal canvassing protocol is that two parties don’t canvass a street at the same time.
When he refers to Brian Keane doing all the talking, Brian Keane was, indeed, the Sinn Féin director of elections for Dublin in the 2014 local elections, putting him in charge of all the candidates. Although he now lives in north Co Dublin, Keane grew up in Donaghmede on Dublin’s northside, just down the road from where Dowdall’s uncle lives in Raheny, so would have local knowledge. Keane is a highly experienced and well-liked member of the Sinn Féin backroom team. The 39-year-old is a trusted Sinn Féin staff member who came up through the party ranks. He is good friends with Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, from his days in Ógra Shinn Féin, and Pearse Doherty, who was a guest at his wedding. Appointed as national administrator at the tender age of 25, he has served on the party’s Ard Comhairle and worked in Leinster House.
When he cites the attack on his uncle’s home: This did happen. A Garda with knowledge of the investigation says to say the house was “riddled” would be an exaggeration, but it was a serious incident with no explanation. The attack and the Sinn Féin inquiries came up on a number of occasions in the trial in November and December of last year. During cross-examination, defence counsel for ‘The Monk’, Brendan Grehan, claimed Dowdall had a falling out with his uncle and investigating gardaí were told he was the only person the victim of the attack had any trouble with. But the prosecution said this wasn’t accurate and someone else was suspected. “Sorry, Mr Grehan, Jimmy has said it was not me,” an increasingly agitated Dowdall responded from the witness box.
For the past four months, since the tapes were heard in a packed Court 17 of the Courts of Criminal Justice, Sinn Féin has declined to respond to the allegations that party officials questioned Dowdall.
But there has been no shortage of McDonald saying she had no idea Dowdall was a criminal.
McDonald has made haphazard attempts to distance herself from her former apprentice. When Dowdall pleaded guilty in April 2017 to the false imprisonment and torturing of his victim, at his Cabra home, McDonald posted a picture of him alongside constituency rival Christy Burke, saying it “clarifies political allegiances”. Burke, himself a former Sinn Féin councillor, was having none of it and fired back accusing McDonald of “stooping to a new low”. He said Dowdall attended one meeting but had no further involvement with him.
Then there was the bizarre saga with the cheque. Dowdall popped up on the radar when he gave a €1,000 donation to McDonald in 2011, the year of the economic-crash general election, where she finally got elected as a TD. McDonald declared the donation the following year, as required, listing the payment as a cheque from Dowdall with his address. All above board.
Suddenly, after the Sinn Féin ard fheis last November, and just days before ‘The Monk’ trial began, McDonald gives a different version to Newstalk: “Well, the donation was made to the Dublin Central constituency.” The same line was repeated by Sinn Féin front-bench members and spokespersons. Ironically, if Dowdall’s donation had indeed gone to “Dublin Central Sinn Féin”, its existence would not have been made public at all as it would have been under the declaration threshold.
After much highlighting of the factual inaccuracy, including Taoiseach Leo Varadkar mentioning it in the Dáil, McDonald finally corrected the record. “Mr Dowdall made one contribution to me, to my political donations account, a decade or more ago, which was declared fully, legally, and in line with Sipo regulations,” she said on RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week programme three months later.
Beyond the €1,000 cheque, Dowdall made further donations to Sinn Féin by purchasing tickets for party fundraisers, including a dinner dance and a local event, where a table cost up to €1,000. The successful businessman was pictured with McDonald and Gerry Adams at a party fundraiser in the Gresham Hotel in 2013.
Times were good for Dowdall. The electrical contracting company he set up in 2007, just before the Celtic Tiger crash, was trading well, winning contracts from prestigious companies. Abco Electrical was employing 14 staff by 2012 and had built up €218,000 in shareholders’ funds.
Reared in the north inner city area of Ballybough, Dowdall now owned a sizable house on the Navan Road, where he lived with his wife, Patricia, and four children, and he drove a white BMW.
Growing up on the North Strand, he knew the Hutch family, through his mother, grandmother and sister. Patsy Hutch’s children worked on Dowdall’s mother’s clothes stall on Henry Street. He knew Patsy’s younger brother, Gerard, better known as ‘The Monk’, from calling to the house and seeing him at Corinthians Boxing Club. Patrick Hutch Jr became an apprentice in Dowdall’s firm. When Dowdall was stuck for cashflow, he would borrow €5,000 from Patsy Hutch and pay it back later. Dowdall paid for rooms, flights and holidays on credit cards for Patsy Hutch, as well as taxing his van through his electrical company. Dowdall and the Hutch family were intertwined. Hence when Hutch wanted Dowdall to book a hotel room in the Regency Hotel for a friend of his on the night of February 4, 2016, this was nothing unusual.
Beyond giving money, Dowdall got involved with Sinn Féin, becoming a local area representative in 2013, a precursor to becoming a candidate. By early 2014, he was dropping leaflets in the north inner city as a Sinn Féin candidate. In the run in to the local elections, the party rolled out the heavy-hitters to boost his profile locally, marching with Gerry Adams on Easter Sunday and campaigning with the European election candidate Lynn Boylan.
Dowdall was elected to Dublin City Council for the north inner city, but the Sinn Féin councillor was actually a gangland criminal with links to dissident republican terrorists.
Mary Lou McDonald says she didn’t know about his double life.
And what danger can there be in the being in the shadow of a gunman?
The Shadow of a Gunman by Seán O’Casey
- With additional reporting by Andrew Phelan, Robin Schiller, Nicola Tallant and Paul Williams.