Drugs seized at Ireland's ports 'could be as low' as 5-10% of total trafficked into the country

Drugs seized at Ireland's ports 'could be as low' as 5-10% of total trafficked into the country

Head of customs at Dublin Port Tom Talbot said the amount of illegal drugs seized at Dublin Port rose from €18.5m in 2020 to €40m so far this year, but said that included a single €35m seizure last July of cocaine, which was infused into charcoal. File picture

A Customs chief has said the amount of drugs intercepted at ports “could be as low” as 5-10% of all drugs trafficked into Ireland – similar, he said, to other countries.

Tom Talbot said that was the “norm across the world” and that these were average global estimates.

The head of Customs Dublin Port was speaking at the Dublin City Joint Policing Committee (JPC), which was told by Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heaney that she had information that drugs were being smuggled into the country inside the private parts of female horses and donkeys.

Mr Talbot said the amount of illegal drugs seized at Dublin Port rose from €18.5m in 2020 to €40m so far this year, but said that included a single €35m seizure last July of cocaine, which was infused into charcoal.

Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan put it to Mr Talbot that there is “never a shortage of drugs”, no matter how much was seized and asked him how much was getting through.

Mr Talbot said there were historic global estimates that somewhere between 5% and 10% of drugs coming into countries, on average, were seized.

“That’s the norm across the world, so the percentages that we hit at the main chokepoints could be as low as that,” he said.

But he said that much of what comes in is not for Dublin or even the Irish market and was bound for the North or Britain, particularly a haul the size of the €35m cocaine seizure.

Cllr Heaney said she had “good information” that equine transport was being used to smuggle drugs in the compartment of vehicles.

But she said it was also being smuggled inside the animals being transported: “Not high-grade animals, particularly female horses and female donkeys are being used by people to transport drugs, to actually insert them into the vagina of the animals.” She said she could not say more over a public meeting.

Responding, Mr Talbot said he would leave his contact details to get more information from any councillor with information on smuggling.

He told Cllr Heaney that, unfortunately, traffickers had “no issue” using humans or animals, including female horses, to smuggle drugs into the country.

Commenting on the drug seizure estimates, Tony Duffin, chief executive of the Anna Liffey Drug Project said: “Based on a commonly used estimation, the amount of drugs seized in a given year is 10% of the total amount imported. That said, it is acknowledged that not all drugs seized in Ireland are destined for the Irish market. Nonetheless, the reality is that drugs are widely available in Ireland.” 

He added: “Recently, during the pandemic, an indication of an active drugs market has been the price of drugs. In Limerick, for example, we have had reports that crack cocaine is available for as little as €10 a rock; and that a bag of Heroin costs €10 as well.” 

Also speaking at the JPC, Assistant Commissioner for Dublin Metropolitan Region, Anne Marie Cagney said that drug supply offences in the region were down 19% so far this year, compared to the same period last year, while drug possession cases were down 21%.

Despite this, a detailed report she provided to councillors showed that the monetary value of drugs and cash seized this year is significant – €18.68m worth of drugs and €5.55m worth of cash.

In addition, 687 firearms were seized by gardaí.

Operation Fógra

The report gives a rare update on Operation Fógra, aimed at tackling drug-related intimidation.

In an area difficult to prosecute, the report cited two recent successful investigations.

In the first, detectives in the DMR North Division investigated an attempt to extort €25,000 from a person.

“The injured party was threatened at their home on three separate occasions and had the front window of their house damaged,” the report said.

The matter was reported to gardaí and an investigation commenced. This resulted in a search of the suspect’s house during which “vital evidence” was secured and seized “incriminating the suspect with blackmailing the injured party”.

The suspect was interviewed by gardaí and a file sent to the DPP directed charges be brought on indictment, in the higher courts.

The suspect entered a guilty plea. The report said gardaí kept in contact with the injured party.

“The injured party and their family attended Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to hear the sentence hearing where the accused was sentenced to imprisonment,” the report said.

In a separate case, again in the DMR North Division, an injured party was “intimidated and demanded to pay €10,000 to repay their drugs debt” and had their property damaged.

The injured party reported the matter to gardaí, who investigated.

“Gardaí arrested the suspect and established sufficient evidence to support charges being preferred against the accused,” the report said.

“The accused is currently before the criminal courts charged with serious offences in respect of this matter.” 

Commenting on the impact of drug-related intimidation, Mr Duffin said: “It’s easy to think of drug-related intimidation as a simple transactional phenomenon – people get into debt from drug use and then experience intimidation as suppliers seek to recover their money.

“However, this view is simplistic at best. In reality, even being adjacent to a drug market – like living in a location where dealing takes place can be sufficient for a person to become a target of intimidation. The sad truth is that many people do not feel safe in their communities, and this is something that everyone should have an interest in addressing.”

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