Frank Brandon’s Column

Cyber attacks cause havoc for Irish society

Our man Frank on ruthless cyber attacks, a new book about a family of ‘hitmen’, Monday’s reopening of the retail sector, and a horror show for the Galway footballers… 

It’s Monday morning, and criminals and their many different types of crimes are on my mind amid growing fears that a ruthless Eastern European gang are about to wreak cyber-war havoc on many sections of Irish society.

  Having totally disabled our healthcare systems last week, it now seems that as a result of their €16 million ransom demand not being met, they are possibly going to go after another Irish department, with the Department of Social Protection a likely target. Should that happen, all social welfare payments might have to be stopped. This would result in all those on jobseekers benefits, pensions, and other welfare benefits being left without any money. This would cause untold hardship for everyone, possibly leading to further mental health problems for a society already reeling from the effects of the Covid pandemic.

  Now I am the first to admit that I know nothing at all about cyber stuff – even trying to sort out my mobile phone is usually beyond me – but the fact that criminals can hack into our systems so easily is a big worry. Surely there should be some way to put a stop to this outrageous type of blackmail?

  On a personal level, a friend of mine who has been waiting for an MRI scan for nearly two years, finally got an appointment for this week, but has now had the scan postponed until God knows when as a result of everything being shut down. So, as well as trying to rob €16 million from the Irish people, it also shows how little regard these cyber criminals have for the welfare and health of the most vulnerable members of society.

  It’s a long way removed from my younger days, when I thought riding a bike at night without a light was a crime. While in my twenties, I was brought to court for having bald tyres on my car, and I can still see the headline on the Roscommon Champion – ‘Frank Fined Fifteen’ (I was fined fifteen pounds). Down through the years I’ve also had a court appearance or two for having no tax on my car, and that to date amounts to my criminal record. At the moment, I have no plans to embellish it in any way either!

 

Latest book is a real ‘hit’

Sticking with criminals, I’ve been reading ‘The Hitmen’ by Stephen Breen and Owen Conlon, which, in their words, is “the shocking true story of a family of killers-for-hire”. The book shines a light on the Wilsons, a family of five who were all hired assassins, and who asked no questions as long as the price was right.

  In the family there were three brothers (Eric, Keith, and John), their cousin (Alan), and nephew (Luke), all of whom were prepared to murder anyone they came across, without the slightest hesitation. 

  It’s hard to believe that such people could exist in our supposedly progressive and caring society. Living in rural Ireland, you’d think all of the bad stuff would take place in either Dublin or Spain, where a number of mind-boggling horrific murders have indeed took place. 

  However, at different times, when pressure from the Gardaí got too much, members of the Wilson family got out of Dublin, rented houses in country areas near Portarlington, Carlow, and Naas, and from those very unlikely bases, carried on their family business of bloodshed, mayhem and murder.

  Today, Eric is serving 23 years in a Spanish prison for the brutal murder of Dan Smith, an Englishman he shot eight times after a minor disagreement in a Spanish pub. Keith is serving a life sentence here in Ireland for the murder of another gun-for-hire, Daniel Gaynor, and older brother John was murdered in 2012. The other two family members, Alan and Luke, are both serving shorter jail sentences.

  As such, the Wilsons, who Gardaí believe were responsible for more than a dozen deaths and many other terror-related incidents during their relatively short-lived careers, are more or less out of business. However, as with everything in the criminal world, there is always someone else to step in and take their place.

  I recently told you about all the incidents of local theft of farm machinery, trailers, cement mixers, and other items. Throw in cyber crime and guns-for-hire, and it seems that no matter how much the authorities try to stop it, crime, in its many shapes and forms, is alive and well, and looks as if it will always be part of our society. 

  As for me, my criminal record (all relating to minor road traffic offences, three in total) doesn’t look so bad, and ‘Frank Fined Fifteen’ is no longer causing me any concern – I just hope I paid the fine!

 

Traffic mayhem but plenty of parking! 

It is now Tuesday afternoon and the retail sector has been reopened since Monday. Judging by what I saw, the whole country must’ve been waiting at their front doors ready to make a burst for it, because everywhere seemed to be choc-a-bloc.

  I’m told (though I wasn’t actually there) that there were major queues at Dunnes Stores in Roscommon. As it happened, I was up in Galway in the late afternoon and saw first hand that it was pretty crazy.

  An unexpected visit to the Emergency Department at UCG Hospital meant that I was leaving Creggs at about 4.30 pm, and, aware that I would be hitting Claregalway at a bad time, I was well prepared for some heavy traffic. Thankfully the road into the city wasn’t too bad, but in all the times I have gone to the ‘Western capital’ (even during the Galway Races), I don’t think I have ever seen the outgoing traffic as heavy. It was backed up as far as Corinthians Rugby pitch, with a never-ending stream of cars joining it – I thanked God I was going the other way.

  In the city itself, traffic was very heavy as well, but the cyber-attack had a silver lining as, in cancelling nearly all outpatient services, there were loads of parking spaces available at the hospital for the first time ever. Even better, as I was parked up for more than four hours, they weren’t charging for it at all. Mind you, I have just come back from it again today, and while parking was still free, spaces were back to normal, and it was almost impossible to get parked anywhere. 

  As shops have had such a difficult time over the last fifteen months or so, it was great to see that the people have made the effort to get back out there. As always, remember to shop local and keep your rural towns and villages alive.

 

And finally…

Even though I am a bit of a diabetic, I have a sweet tooth (don’t tell my doctor). Two of my favourite treats are Kit Kat bars and Cadbury’s Flake, and there is some good and bad news to tell you about those two particularly lovely items.

  First, the good news: all of a sudden, we have a multitude of new varieties of Kit Kat minis, with orange, hazelnut, dark mint, dark chocolate, and Kit Kat original all readily available from what I’m told is up to forty different varieties. The bad news is that for all of us who love our 99s, the flake may be in short supply during the summer months. Cadbury were taken by surprise at the huge surge in demand for them over the spring, and may not be able to meet the expected requirements.

  I am pretty despondent at the thought of a summer without any proper 99s, but thankfully, the orange Kit Kat is in a league all of its own. It might just help me get over the Flake shortage.

  Last but not least, as a Galway man, I just have to comment on the awful display last Saturday by Galway footballers when Kerry beat them by more than twenty points. All I really can say is that the Rossies must be licking their lips at the thought of what they’ll do to them this weekend.

 

‘Till next week, Bye for now!