A “cocaine epidemic” is sweeping across parts of Limerick, local politicians have claimed.
Detections for possession of drugs for sale or supply locally have increased 14% on last year, rising from 325 to 474, according to the latest local garda crime statistics.
Detections of drugs for personal use has risen 46%, from 107 to 122.
Responding to concerns about the level of cocaine use in the region, as outlined by politicians at a recent Joint Policing Committee meeting, the head of the Limerick Garda Division, Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche agreed the drugs trade was the “biggest problem” in society.
Alarming levels of cocaine are being supplied to the city and county, explained Maurice Quinlivan, Sinn Féin TD.
Mr Quinlivan, who is a member of the Mid-West Drugs and Alcohol Forum (MWRDAF), said: “We have never seen (amounts of) cocaine like this, we have never seen this amount of people who are taking cocaine”.
“The frustration that people have in communities is that, the people who are profiting off of this are driving around in flashy cars, have flashy houses, their facebook pages are flooded with fancy clothes and fancy holidays.”
Emmet O’Brien, a barrister and a non-party member of the JPC said he has been inundated with complaints from the public about “a cocaine epidemic” stretching from Limerick city along the Shanon estuary toward the west of the county.
“There is a perception there is an acute problem, specifically with cocaine”.
Mr O’Brien argued that garda resources would “perhaps be better spent in actually, instead of having gardaí raid pubs, that they actually raid the people who are the known drug dealers, and who are the drug suppliers”.
Labour TD, Jan O’Sullivan agreed gardaí should emphasize their focus on senior players in the drug business.
“That’s really where they root of the problem is,” she said.
Her office receives “regular reports of people who live in certain parts of the city, and we know they are selling drugs in a particular house. It’s really causing stress to people living nearby,” Deputy O’Sullivan added.
Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan, said gardaí were well-aware of complaints of houses in Limerick being used as drug shops.
“There are houses that have been selling drugs which have been reported to gardaí on numerous, numerous occasions - reported by public representatives, reported by residents, reported by local residents committees, and those addresses would be commonly well known in these areas.”
“In one estate in the city there are taxis almost 24/7 outside the door (of a house) dropping off people,” he added.
Fine Gael member Cllr Stephen Keary suggested convicted drug dealers should be fitted with a electronic tag, allowing gardaí monitor their movements.
Non-Party member Cllr Richard O’Donoghue said drug gangs are using “drones” as a counter garda surveillance measure.
Fianna Fáil councillor Kevin Sheehan, a former garda, urged gardaí to follow money trails to catch drug dealers.
“The people who had bicycles the other day are now in posh cars, far superior and more expensive cars than anybody in this room has,” he told the JPC meeting.
There’s a question, where are they getting the resources for those cars. Most of them don't work. How can they afford the lifestyle that they are enjoying - because they are selling and dealing in drugs.
“The trail is there - look at the cars, look at the jeeps they are driving, look at the property they are purchasing,” Cllr Sheehan added.
Chief Supt Roche replied: “I agree, there is a serious serious problem in this country, never mind this (Garda) Division, in relation to the use of drugs, and in my view, it’s the biggest issue that we face.”
“There’s lots of things that feed into it, crime feeds into it, serous assaults, intimidation in public, violence of all types feed into it.”
Chief Supt Roche has increased numbers in the Limerick Divisional Drugs Unit.
If more resources are put into the unit, detections “will go up and up and up”, he offered.
Chief Supt Roche led drug operations out of Galway for several years before being promoted to senior management.
He added: “I’m wise enough and involved in enough drugs investigations for years to know that a lot of it is down to personal choice as well. People going out at night and taking drugs, is very much part of the night’s recreational scene.”
He believes it is unfair to single out young people only for fueling the drug market.
“It is right up to people in their 50s and 60s using recreational drugs.”
The focus “is always on possession of drugs for sale or supply”.
We focus in on people who are making money from drugs, who are out there leading by bad example to young people in their areas, who are driving big swanky cars, who are giving out bad messages to people that this is a way of life for certain people.
“Our detections of possession of drugs for sale or supply has gone up from 107 to 122, I would expect it will be well up by the end of the year,” he added.
Drug shipments often include guns and ammunition to be used by the gangs involved.
In Limerick, detections for possession of firearms are up 56% on last year, from nine to 14, and, detections for possession of offensive weapons are so far up 7%.