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'The gardaí don't have a handle on it like they used to': Concern at drop in drug unit officers

In Dublin alone, numbers have dropped from 147 to 114.

Image: drug dealer image via Shutterstock

CONCERN HAS BEEN expressed about garda resources dedicated to tackling the country’s drug problem as figures show the decline in the number of officers on specialised units.

Figures released to Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe show there has been a reduction in drugs unit numbers in Dublin from 147 to 114. In his own constituency, the south Dublin metropolitan region drugs unit saw a reduction in officers from 30 in 2010 to 19 in March.

“Drug dealing and the ready availability of hard drugs are on the increase and no one in government can deny that. It is a lucky town or village across Ireland that hasn’t been impacted in some way by our drugs epidemic, with a growing number of suicides being attributed to coming down off hard drugs or the pressure of mounting drug debts,” Crowe said.

We have the spectacle of open drug dealing in many of our cities and towns with children as young as 12 years of age involved, but there is no banner screaming headlines, and sadly little or no public outcry.

“People are frightened or unaware of the extent of drugs available.”

Counties without drugs units

In response to a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Jack Chambers, the Department of Justice last month revealed that two garda divisions   – Laois/Offaly and Cavan/Monaghan – have no dedicated officers on a divisional drugs unit.

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Independent councillor for Edenderry Noel Cribbin told TheJournal.ie the drugs problem in his area is “in your face every day of the week”.

I know of several good families,  young lads and girls who got caught up in drugs, and they’re from very respectable families. It’s not just from one part of society, it affects all of society and those parents’ lives are ruined as well as the individual themselves.

He said Edenderry used to have a dedicated sergeant and a garda working on tackling the drugs problem, but now it is left to whoever is on duty that day.

“They knew every movement that was going on and caught them getting off buses, caught drugs coming into the town.”

It’s getting worse. The gardaí don’t have a handle on it like they used to, you see it on the streets now, the dealing, and it’s not right.

‘It will get worse’

Equally, in Cavan/Monaghan, there is a prevalent drug problem which is facilitated by the proximity to the border. A garda source said the drugs unit was “the first thing to go” when resources became tight in the division.

“The problem hasn’t gone away of course, it’s a huge problem and it will be in the future – and it will get worse because of the lack of a specialised unit.”

They could have targeted operations with younger guards going undercover, there are no undercover operations at a divisional level right now because they don’t have the resources. So, they can’t target the suspected offenders. There’s no surveillance being done either, and that’s what the drugs units would have done.

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Sinn Féin TD for Monaghan Seán Conlon said there have been garda drug raids in the county in the last month, but he believes gardaí would have a better chance of securing convictions if they had the time and resources to gather the required evidence.

“The degree of surveillance at the moment, I don’t feel there is an adequate level to combat this,” he said.

“I loathe to use the word epidemic, but it does, occasionally, reach crisis levels. You see young people in a zombie-like state on our streets sometimes, especially at the weekends.”

There is a serious issue in the county with young people taking synthetic cannabinoids, which Conlon said are often smuggled over the border.

“There’s no doubt about that, we are exposed and vulnerable to that sort of escape-route mechanism that’s used. Criminals don’t recognise borders.”

In her response to Chambers’ parliamentary question, Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald said where no members are assigned to divisional drugs units, the detective branch takes a lead role in enforcing drugs legislation.

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