Community groups welcomed the operations, but stressed that cutbacks to local addiction, youth, and mental health services need to be reversed to help tackle the drug problem.
Among the 60 people arrested are members of an extended crime family, a convicted armed robber and a drug dealer who previously forced undercover gardaí to swallow heroin by threatening to kill them while holding a pair of scissors to their necks.
Det Chief Supt Michael O’Sullivan, the head of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, said the operations involved “very significant arrests”. He said the bureau coordinated the operations over the last six months with searches of 50 homes by 100 officers in the last two days.
In Dublin’s south inner city, the operation — codenamed Tempest — led to the arrest of 26 young men.
In Cork City, Operation Emerson involved the arrest of 25 people, while in Wexford town, Operation Denver saw the arrest of nine people, including the father, brothers, and sisters of an extended crime family.
“In all three locations, we’ve had significant successes in disrupting and dismantling organised criminal groups distributing heroin,” Det Chief Supt O’Sullivan said.
He added: “In areas like Cork and Wexford there will be great difficulty in buying heroin over the next number of weeks. In the [south] inner city of Dublin there will certainly be serious shortage, not only in the supply of heroin but in the manpower available to distribute it.”
Supt Patrick McMenamin of Kevin Street Station said the arrests “should have a significant impact” on heroin dealing in the south inner city.
“We are acutely aware of the impact of drugs on the community there,” he said.
One community source said many of those arrested, aged in their late teens to mid-20s, would be well known as street dealers or “a step above”.
The source said: “Some of these people are also involved in intimidation and fear. There seems to be a lot of debts being called in at the moment, in the Rialto, Crumlin, Drimnagh area.” He said there was a serious assault recently and an incident in a local cafe where two rival gangs drew weapons on each other.
“The local community will be delighted because they will be hopeful it will keep these guys off the streets,” the source said. “They will want to see them put away.”
But he said there is a “core of young people who will jump at the bait” to fill the void and said action needs to be taken now to support children aged eight to 12-year-olds, so that they don’t follow their “role models”.
Paul Delaney, coordinator of the Cornmarket Drug Project in Wexford, said: “The gardaí have their job to do and anything that helps target the main dealers is welcome, but we are never going to police drugs out of society, and gardaí would say that.”
He said their project had suffered a 30% cut in funding over the last five years, with similar cuts to HSE addiction and mental health services. He said there were only seven heroin addicts in Cornmarket 15 years ago and they now had 50 to 60 active users. He said recent research estimated there were about 200 heroin addicts in the county.