Gardaí are questioning 11 people about unlawful money-lending following early morning raids on business premises and private homes in Clare.
The planned searches in Kilrush were carried out as part of an ongoing investigation.
Gardaí carried out the co-ordinated raids from 7am as part of Operation Payday.
Local gardaí were backed up by both Garda and civilian staff from the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), the Regional Support Unit, Special Detective Units from Galway, the National Criminal Intelligence Unit, as well as officials from Revenue, Social Welfare, and Clare County Council.
Five men, ranging in age from 18 to 55, were detained, along with six woman aged 20 to 49.
All suspects were taken to Garda stations in Clare, Limerick, and Galway, where they were detained under Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act.
The raids followed a detailed investigation carried out over the past several months and followed complaints from individuals about persons suspected of being involved in unlicensed money lending.
Gardaí searched business premises in the town centre as well as several homes around the town.
Officers were seen leaving buildings with bags and boxes of documentation, and also seized mechanical equipment including hedge strimmers and chainsaws from one house.
The grounds around several properties, including another of vehicles, were also searched.
Gardaí in Clare repeatedly said there was nothing they could do about the problem unless those who had borrowed money made formal complaints about the practice. But people had feared for their safety and were reluctant to contact gardaí about the problem.
Last year, the town’s money-lending crisis took a sinister turn when a man was reportedly abducted and tied to a tree naked and left overnight because he had failed to pay a debt.
It is understood that two people were questioned in relation to that incident. However, the victim refused to name the perpetrators, so no action could be taken.
Kilrush mayor Paul Moroney said: “The issue of money-lending had been raised at the joint policing committee meetings in the past. The superintendent had always said that the gardaí could do very little unless people came forward and it appears this has happened.
“It’s a difficult thing for anyone to stand up to people like this, but I would encourage anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation to contact the gardaí and seek help.”
Mr Moroney said he was surprised at the size of yesterday’s operation, with 100 gardaí being involved. “It proves that the gardaí are taking the matter very seriously, but I think it also shows the issue is more serious that we thought,” he said.
“If people get tied into the whole money-lending thing it’s often very hard to get out of it and it can lead to bigger problems. If people are brave and go to the guards, it’s clear that they will take it seriously.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved