Value of the business has increased 60%, to €9.1bn, in the last three years, with a knock-on rise in violence, says Cormac O’Keeffe.
Last Sunday, an improvised submarine was discovered off the northern Spanish coast.
Inside were three tonnes of cocaine, with a street value of €250m.
While such vessels have been used before, particularly to transport massive cocaine consignments to the US,the semi-submersible located off the Galician coast is thought to be first to successfully make the hazardous trip from South America to Europe.
The seizure was led by the Spanish navy, with the involvement of the Portuguese navy, under the co-ordination of MAOC-N, an EU operations task force.
The networks that have flooded Europe with cocaine in recent years are enabled by record production in South America, more gangs involved in importation, huge profits, and increased demand in Europe.
This reality is documented by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Emcdda) and Europol, the EU’s drug and police agencies.
The EU Drug Markets Report 2019 cites a range of data — the number and size of seizures, record purity levels,increases in treatment, and drug-death figures — to illustrate the cocaine trade boom.
The estimates, conducted every three years, show that the value of the cocaine trade has shot up by 60% since the last analysis, in 2016, from €5.7bn to €9.1bn.
The report highlights the extreme violence and environmental damage associated with drug-manufacturing, not least in South America.
The environmental damage spreads to Europe (including Ireland), where cannabis factories produce 4,600 kg of CO2 emissions per kg of product, where pesticides and fertilisers are used intensively, and where waste materials from cannabis cultivation, such as contaminated soil, filters, and empty chemical containers, are dumped.
Another aspect of the cannabis cultivation trade that users here might not know about are the trafficked and exploited people, from Vietnam, China and Eastern Europe, who tend to the cannabis growhouses.
Vietnamese-organised crime groups have been active in a number of European countries, including Ireland, for many years.
The cannabis factories can also pose a fire danger to neighbouring buildings and houses.
Such an incident occurred on Monday in the Rathnavogue area of Roscrea, Co Tipperary. A fire broke out, causing extensive damage to the property.
Inside, gardaí recovered €120,000 worth of cannabis plant.
The EU Drug Markets Report also details the violence — from intimidation of communities to the murder of rivals — associated with the drugs trade and mentions Ireland’s most notorious criminal gang, the Kinahan cartel, a number of times.
It cites the Kinahans’ “war” with the Hutch grouping, which has claimed at least 15 lives since 2015 (some 13 by the cartel).
It documents the links the cartel has with other global operators, includinga major Moroccan trafficking outfit,involved in a brutal gang feud in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain. It has claimed at least 16 lives, including placing a decapitated head on a busy Amsterdam street.
Gang murders and attempted murders have continued in Ireland this year, thanks to a combination of feuds in Drogheda and the Dublin areas of Coolock, Clondalkin/Lucan, and Blanchardstown.
The report highlights how the gang violence at various levels, from low-level intimidation to shootings, silences individuals and communities.
On drug-related intimidation, it says: “Notably, in Ireland, many communities have been severely affected, with major impacts on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities.”
The intimidation of families and communities has been highlighted by groups such as the National Family Support Network and Citywide for decades.
It’s cocaine that gardaí and treatment services are noticing the most in terms of trends.
“You have criminals, who, before, were robbing cars, who are now selling coke,” said a garda source in one local area.
Last February, the Irish Examiner reported that gardaí had seized 159kg of cocaine in 2018, compared to 81kg in 2017.
The Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau said they had 29 significant seizures of drugs in 2018, compared to 23 in 2017.
Last year’s captures include 66kg, 49kg, and 36kg, compared to the largest hauls in 2017, of 20kg, and two seizures of 10kg.
The 2018 figures do not include the 133kg of cocaine on board a ship in Costa Rica bound for Cork, much of it linked to the Kinahan cartel.
This year, Revenue seized 35kg of cocaine at Rosslare Port last July, with 20kg being seized earlier this month by local gardaí in Co Louth, reflecting the scale of the trade in that area alone.