Northern Ireland

The Firm: Linked to murder and drug dealing

‘Cross-community’ drugs gang has international links

Undated handout issued by the NCA showing a haul of 11 firearms including machine guns and an assault rifle which have been recovered in Co Down as part of a National Crime Agency (NCA) investigation into organised crime. The haul by the NCA and PSNI in Jerrettspass, area of Newry, Northern Ireland, included hand guns, machine guns, machine pistols and an assault rifle. Issue date: Friday May 21, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story ULSTER Firearms. Photo credit should read: NCA/PA Wire..NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder..
Weapons recovered by the National Crime Agency in Co Down in 2021

The notorious narco-gang known as The Firm has been linked to murder and other criminal activity across parts of Co Armagh in recent years.

Said to comprise dozens of members, including men and women, it has emerged as one of the most ruthless cartels operating in the north.

With international links, it retains a tight grip on the flow of drugs across a large area of Co Armagh and beyond.

It has also been linked to at least two murders, that of Shane Whitla last year and Malcolm McKeown in August 2019.

Unlike the majority of crime groups in the north, The Firm is known to draw members from across the community divide.

Several leading figures in the group come from republican and loyalist backgrounds, although they are not thought to be politically active.

It is believed the gang consists of around six leading figures who work closely to maintain a stranglehold on the supply of drugs in the area.

It is understood the gang has established supply routes via Albanian criminals based in Manchester and Spain.

Since last year several lists naming alleged drug dealers in north Armagh have been circulated on social media.

The most recent, which was in circulation since before Christmas, included the names, addresses and phone numbers of people alleged to be involved in the drugs trade in the Garvaghy Road area of Portadown.

Vehicle makes and registrations were also included on the circular.

It also links an alleged drug dealer to the death of a teenager last year.

While The Firm has faced little or no significant community opposition in north Armagh, it has been suggested the attitude of many local people hardened last year after the suicide of a young man in the Craigavon area who is said to have owed members of The Firm a drug debt.

A RAPID (Remove All Prescriptions and Illegal Drugs) Bin was later located in the Kilwilkie estate in Lurgan days after local residents held a vigil amid growing concerns over drug use in the area.

The gang is known to have access to firearms and is understood to have a knowledge of explosives, according to one source.

A haul of firearms and drugs recovered during a raid in the Garvaghy Rad area of Portadown last year was linked by police to a crime group operating in the greater Craigavon area.

The discovery of a haul of potentially deadly weapons at Jerretspass, near Newry, in May 2021 by the National Crime Agency as part of an “investigation into organised crime”, has also been linked to The Firm.

Forensic officers at the scene in west Belfast where Kevin Conway was shot dead: