Garda and Customs officers deployed to European anti-drugs agency

GARDA and Customs officers will be deployed to a European agency which aims to tackle the increasing shipments of cocaine into Europe.

The Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) was established last year and is based in Lisbon.

Involving seven EU countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands and Ireland), the centre is tasked with gathering intelligence about air and sea routes for drug trafficking.

It is estimated that more than 300 tonnes of cocaine are trafficked into Europe each year. The bulk of this comes from west Africa, having been shipped there from South and Latin America.

Each participating state is assigning staff to the centre. Earlier this month, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern informed an Oireachtas committee that the Garda and Customs would each send a liaison officer to Lisbon. The US also has a number of liaison officers attached to the centre. Mr Ahern said the liaison officers from each state would be the “key conduits” in the information exchange process.

“In that regard, I am pleased to inform the committee that the Garda Síochána intends to assign a liaison officer to MAOC-N. Intensifying intelligence-led operations against drug traffickers is a top priority of the 2008 policing plan and it will remain as a top priority for the foreseeable future,” he said. “The Customs Service has also notified me of its intention to assign a liaison officer to the centre. Participation in MAOC-N will enhance its ability to carry out its primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs intended to be smuggled or imported into the State.”

Mr Ahern said, however, that the MAOC-N could not hope to eradicate cocaine shipments entirely.

“MAOC-N is obviously not a panacea. It will not be the answer to all of these problems, but it is another instrument in the toolkit for tackling drug supply to the streets of Europe, including Ireland.”

Meanwhile, junior minister John Curran has said no country has yet managed to get to grips with drug-smuggling.

Responding to Dáil questions from Fine Gael TD Catherine Byrne last week, Mr Curran said the Garda and Customs had achieved notable successes in recent years.

“At the same time, it must be acknowledged that trade in illicit drugs is a global phenomenon and no country has fully come to grips with it,” he added. “There has been a sharp increase in the production of heroin in Afghanistan and this has resulted in an increasing supply in Europe. Similarly, production of cocaine continues strongly, with the resultant implications for supply in Europe.”

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