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Gardaí unable to provide figures on 'laughing gas' arrests and seizures due to IT limitations

Revenue’s figures indicate a sharp rise in seizures this year.

File photo of discarded nitrous oxide canisters. The gas is commonly discharged into a balloon before being inhaled.
File photo of discarded nitrous oxide canisters. The gas is commonly discharged into a balloon before being inhaled.
Image: Shutterstock

GARDAÍ ARE UNABLE to provide figures on the number of seizures involving nitrous oxide due to limitations of the force’s IT system, known as Pulse.

The issue was flagged in a parliamentary question requesting statistics on seizures of the drug.

Nitrous oxide – commonly known by a range of terms including laughing gas, whippits, balloons, and Nos – is easy and legal to obtain due its wide range of legal uses.

However, it is illegal to both consume the drug or sell it for human consumption.

It made headlines in recent weeks after a father said his son died after inhaling the gas.

The 15-year-old’s death prompted the new drugs minister to request a report from the Department of Health on the use of nitrous oxide.

Warnings

Community drug activists are also warning the drug has become more common since the Covid-19 lockdown, and the HSE added additional information to its website drugs.ie.

Fine Gael TD Emer Higgins, who has called for a public awareness campaign on the drug, submitted a range of parliamentary questions on nitrous oxide.

In response to a request for the number of arrests for illegally supplying nitrous oxide as well as the amount seized, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said gardaí are unable to provide these figures.

The Minister wrote:

I am advised by An Garda Síochána that providing any provisional/operational figures in respect of arrests and seizures of nitrous oxide based on the data collected on Pulse is difficult due to the manner in which the information is recorded, and would require an inordinate amount of time and resources to compile.

It is understood this is a similar problem to how officers were unable to adequately record hate crimes on the system until an upgrade in 2015.

The number of seizures is thought to be very small, given usage has only risen in the past year.

In response to a separate question from Higgins, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said that Revenue made no seizures of the drug between 2015 and 2019, but has recorded three seizures so far in 2020 amounting to a total of 14,400 canisters.

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“In addition, two commercial consignments, which were routed through Dublin Port from another EU member state, were seized by the UK Border Force following information provided by Revenue,” he added.

Gardaí in Co Kildare recently seized almost 1,000 canisters last month, KFM reports.

shutterstock_134604722 File photo of NO2 canisters - known as cream chargers - in a packet. Source: Shutterstoc

Pulse has come in for criticism over the years.

The head of the Garda Inspectorate previously said the system should be scrapped completely.

“It’s time to retire Pulse, you can’t do it right away, you’ve got to keep it running but they need an entirely different platform,” Robert Olson told an Oireachtas committee in 2015, adding that the system currently uses “1990s technology”.

Pulse is an acronym for Police Using Leading Systems Effectively and was first introduced in 1999.

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Nicky Ryan

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