(CNN)Keane Mulready-Woods should have been celebrating his 18th birthday this week. But the Irish teenager's life came to an end last month, in a murder so brutal in nature that it has drawn comparisons with TV show "Narcos."
How drug wars in Ireland led to the murder and dismemberment of a teenage boy
Ireland's ancient town of Drogheda -- pronounced Draw-head-a -- has become the setting for feuds between drug-dealing gangs that have claimed three lives in grisly tit-for-tat attacks.
A day after Mulready-Woods went missing on a cold Sunday evening, parts of the boy's dismembered body were found in a Puma gym bag in north Dublin, 50 kilometers away, police say. Other body parts were found in a burning car in the capital. Irish media reports say Mulready-Woods' limbs were in the bag, and his severed head, hands and feet in the burning car. His torso is believed to still be missing.
The murder paints a dark picture of Ireland's changing underworld, which is increasingly recruiting boys and young men to carry out acts of violence, often to enforce debt payments as the country's addiction to drugs like cocaine grows. Years of austerity have left Drogheda without adequate social services and opportunities to keep young people off the streets, residents there say.
Irish politicians have descended on Drogheda in the weeks leading up to Saturday's general election, amid growing concerns over crime and gang violence.
The Drogheda drug feuds escalated in July 2018 with the shooting of a man linked to crime in the area, according to the Irish Times. He survived the hit but was left paralyzed. Tit-for-tat reprisals have been going on there ever since.
The violence has been largely contained to a small number of social or council housing estates in the town's north, but thousands joined a march in the town center recently, in a show of unity against the gangs.
At the rally was Louise Mahony, manager of the Red Door Project, which offers services to people with drug and alcohol problems.
"Today, we march to say enough is enough," she said to a crowd at the rally, according to video posted on Twitter. "Enough under-resourcing, enough short-term quick fixes, enough of Drogheda being treated as a second-class town."
Gwen Fearon, a concerned Drogheda resident and the director at Stockwell Artisan Foods, also said austerity had left the town with a weakened police presence and not enough for young people to do.
"If more money was put into youth clubs and youth training, it would keep the youth occupied and give them another interest. Instead they're out, being groomed by gangs," she told CNN.
"Everything was cut when we went into recession. There's no funding, no money for drug outreach. This is just what happens when you cut police, resources and counseling for youth."
Current Taoiseach, or prime minister, Leo Varadkar joined the rally and earlier visited Drogheda after Mulready-Woods' murder, vowing to "make this town safe again" and to have those responsible jailed.
Fergus O'Dowd, who represents the community in the national parliament and belongs to Varadkar's ruling Fine Gael party, admitted a shortfall in state services to address drug addiction and youth crime, saying in a statement that private service providers were "filling the gaps."
When asked by CNN to elaborate, he said Varadkar had "given me a commitment that Drogheda will have a drugs community tasks force" to address the problem. A "huge" investment had been made in education and significant investments in deprived communities, he added.
A report on drug markets in Europe shows a growing trend in Ireland in the recruitment of boys and young men to carry out violence, as a means of intimidation to collect drug debts from users.
It also points to "hotlines" and social media accounts being established in towns and rural areas through which people can order drugs, in what a European drug agency calls the "uberization" of the trade.
A three-tier hierarchy has evolved among Ireland's gangs, with "a lower tier of highly disadvantaged young people generally involved in bullying, assaulting, stealing, vandalizing and spreading fear on behalf of the network," the report says.
A second tier involves young people engaged in "high-risk, low-reward activities, such as transporting, holding