Gardaí are trying to identify the organisers behind what is thought to be the biggest cannabis factory ever discovered in the country.
Gardaí estimate the value of cannabis plants, either being cultivated or harvested, at two warehouses in rural Kilkenny to be in the region of €3m.
Three Chinese nationals — round-the-clock gardeners at the plant — were arrested at the scene in Piltown, south Kilkenny, on Wednesday.
The scale of the operation underlines the size of the market for home-grown herbal cannabis in Ireland. It also puts the spotlight again on the health dangers associated with homegrown herbal cannabis.
A report published last November, conducted by the Forensic Science Laboratory for National Advisory Committee on Drugs, found that herbal cannabis seized in Ireland tends to be around three times the strength of cannabis resin, the traditional form of cannabis in the country.
It is thought the latest operation stemmed from investigations by the Garda National Drugs Unit following the discovery of a cannabis factory in another part of the country.
When officers entered the warehouses they uncovered rows of plants at various stages of cultivation as well as plants that had been harvested and packaged. Gardaí estimate the factory had the capacity to grow around 4,000 plants in one eight-week cultivation period.
The three Chinese nationals arrested, all aged in their 30s, had little English and were interviewed through translators.
Gardaí are satisfied these individuals, who sources said lived in “pretty bare conditions” in the warehouses, were low down the ladder in the criminal enterprise.
Sources said the enterprise was jointly organised by Chinese criminals and “home-grown” Irish criminals.
Meanwhile, a garda surveillance operation led to the seizure of 145 cannabis plants worth €65,000 and growing paraphernalia from a house in North Cork.
Superintendent Pat McCarthy, who led the operation, said a 42-year-old man had been arrested after drugs squad detectives found two upstairs rooms in a house in Mallow had been adapted for a ‘grow farm’.
He said gardaí raided the house in Gouldshill at 10pm on Wednesday and discovered the plants “in various stages of growth” within the converted rooms.
“It was a sophisticated operation and we seized heaters, fans, thermostats, and extractor fans,” he said.
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