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Organised Crime

Corrupt port and airport workers 'central' to operations of organised crime gangs in Ireland

A new report by The Azure Forum examines the crime ecosystem between Ireland and the UK.

IRISH PORTS AND airports have been infiltrated by organised crime groups to facilitate widespread smuggling of illegal drugs and other commodities, a new report into Irish and British organised crime has found. 

The report by The Azure Forum, a security think tank, was launched yesterday and it has found stark evidence of how organised crime groups are embedded in the Irish transport industry. 

The report, “Exploring Serious and Organised Crime across Ireland and the UK”, interviewed law enforcement officers in Ireland, the North and the UK and studied trends to come to its conclusion.  

It also worked closely with the British Embassy in Dublin who developed the concept.  

The publication comes just a day after the sentencing to 21 years for Irish criminal and Kinahan Organised Crime Group leader Thomas ‘Bomber’ Kavanagh for a drug importation racket in the UK.

According to the report: “Corrupted transport workers are found to be central to several forms of serious and organised crime in and between Ireland and the UK.

“Complicit hauliers are identified as indispensable to drug trafficking and people smuggling into both countries, with corrupt airport and port workers also representing highly valuable assets for organised crime groups involved in the importation of illicit commodities.”

The Brexit impact on trade between Ireland and the UK means that Irish export and import to the Britain may require border checks should talks break down. This could also feed into the organised crime environment.

The report warns that “any change to legitimate maritime trade flows to the UK” is likely to have a knock on effect on drugs flows to and between the UK and Ireland, as organised crime groups seek to “offload a greater proportion of large-scale drugs consignments directly into UK ports or indirectly into Irish ports for onward transportation to Britain”.

“Such a scenario is likely to see greater use of corrupted port workers in both countries being used to retrieve drugs from maritime containers, with a risk that drug-related crime and violence may then extend into surrounding cities – as it has in some continental European port cities,” the report explained. 

Common Travel Area

The report has found that between 22% and 50% of all organised crime activity in Northern Ireland “enjoys strong links to the Republic”. 

The authors said that there were major concerns for British law enforcement officers that the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland was being exploited by crime groups. 

“This research indicates that, for certain crime types, such as drug supply, many criminal entities treat the island as a single market, with the border largely ignored for the purpose of sales but used to their advantage, when required, through the exploitation of differing legislative and policing frameworks, or for the purposes of smuggling to take advantage of different rates and duties applied to certain products.

“As such, a number of bodies in both Ireland and the UK have warned that Brexit ‘has the potential to increase cross-border criminality’, whether through steadily widening legislative divergence, making law enforcement cooperation more cumbersome, or enhancing the profitability of smuggling as the range and extent of regulatory and tariff differentials expand or deepen over time,” it added.  

organised-crime-media-briefing Armed gardaí with guns seized from organised crime groups. LEAH FARRELL LEAH FARRELL

The report also looked at corruption within members of the gardaí and other police forces – finding that the numbers of corrupt officers were low but warning that even isolated cases could have a hugely negative impact on public perception.  

“The active corruption of personnel within law enforcement and criminal justice agencies by organised crime groups appears to be rare in the UK and Ireland, yet remains a risk in both countries – and can have a disproportionately damaging impact on public confidence; not only in the agencies involved, but in the rule of law more widely also.

“The methods used to corrupt individuals tend to differ between sectors, with financial reward the more common means of recruiting those working in ports and airports, the report said. 

Blackmail and intimidation are more likely to be used as a tool by criminals attempting to corrupt police officers, the report added – noting:  

“Pre-existing personal associations and vulnerabilities – whether familial, social or romantic – are assessed as the more likely route used to gain access to law enforcement personnel and their information.”


Recently The Journal examined the trans-Atlantic smuggling routes of Irish crime gangs and profiled the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre Narcotics (MAOC-N) in Portugal.  

The study found that Irish and British organised crime groups had begun to mimic the Italian mafia group the ‘Ndrangheta, based in the south of Italy, and had successfully begun importing directly from South America. 

The Azure Forum report published yesterday warns that there may be a time when non-UK and Irish based crime groups seek to control the Irish cocaine market. 

“Cutting out wholesalers has considerably increased the profit margins of those buying further up-stream, undercutting competitors still reliant on European distributors and keeping retail prices low and purity levels high, which has in turn spurred even greater demand.

“Indeed, this aggressive approach is considered key to the rapid rise to prominence of Albanian organised crime in the UK, which now dominates the wholesale supply of cocaine across the country, as well as some retail supply. 

“In contrast, Irish organised crime groups continue to control most supply and retail of cocaine in the Republic of Ireland, with some foreign national groups involved in sales to meet a continued increase in cocaine use across diverse demographics.

“Albanian organised crime does, however, have a presence in Ireland and has started to establish itself, but to date has not made any aggressive moves into the Irish cocaine market,” it added. 

The report also takes a look at organised economic crime, particularly money laundering, and found that Ireland’s current legislative and law enforcement environment has made it a relatively difficult place to operate. 

The report found that Irish gangs still operate in cash and smuggle these proceeds out of the State.

“Whilst a good deal of this outbound cash is payment for drugs or other illicit commodities, it is believed that a proportion is either reinvested into future criminal ventures or laundered through foreign economies, with overseas property purchases being a long-standing favourite laundering method of Irish organised crime groups.

les-policiers-britanniques-sympathisent-avec-leurs-homologues-irlandais-garda-sur-le-pont-de-belleek-qui-marque-la-frontiere-entre-les-deux-irland PSNI officers and armed gardaí meet at the Northern Ireland border. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“More recently, there have been unconfirmed indications that large Irish organised crime groups, some of whose leaders are based outside the State, are seeking to repatriate laundered assets and reinvest them into the Irish property market,” the report found. 

The report made a raft of recommendations which can be best summed up as a need for greater links between Irish and UK police forces – especially in sharing and monitoring of information about criminal activity.