Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said that drugs represent an “immediate and imminent” issue for the public, despite all the successes his organisation has had against gangs.
He said the Garda organisation as a whole was concerned about the current level of street dealing and that was why he had decided to launch a dedicated nationwide operation.
As detailed in the Irish Examiner earlier this month, Operation Tara will bring together local and national Garda units in a bid to address dealing in communities and the wealth of local drug bosses, as well as an awareness campaign with other agencies and bodies.
Speaking at a public meeting of the Policing Authority, the commissioner repeated his view that people who use and buy drugs were “directly feeding” organised crime and associated violence.
He said national units such as the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (DOCB) and the Criminal Assets Bureau had scored huge successes against national and international drug traffickers.
“Despite all the successes we’ve had in terms of drugs recovered, money recovered, all the people brought before the courts, the public is very concerned about the availability of drugs and the violence that comes with that, and we must respond,” he said.
He added that from their own intelligence and information from the public, policing committees, and the media that it was “very obvious the present, immediate and imminent issue” drugs represents for the public.
He said gardaí were “collectively concerned” about the amount of drug dealing on the streets and that Operation Tara would be formally launched in the coming weeks.
The commissioner said he had bolstered divisional drug units, most of which were heavily hit during austerity. He said there were numerous partners who wished to support the operation.
Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, head of Special Crime Operations, said that since January 2019 to the end of last month, DOCB had successfully secured sentences of more than five years in 34 cases before the courts.
Eight of those were before the non-jury Special Criminal Court, and five secured sentences of 11-13 years.
In addition, DOCB has conducted 75 ‘threat to life’ operations since the Regency Hotel attack in February 2016, in which “huge resources” were put into intercepting planned murders.
Separately, the authority heard that an estimated complement of 40 gardaí had been approved for the new Anti-Corruption Unit, which the commissioner first announced in May 2019.
While the infrastructure and policies around the new unit were being set up, Assistant Commissioner Dave Sheahan said it would not begin actual investigations until 2021.
He said he needed to get appropriate accommodation for the unit, in secure facilities in Garda HQ, but that this was taking time.
He also said that he did have concerns when he announced the unit that they were not getting reports of as many cases of inappropriate sexual relationships as comparable police forces abroad were seeing.