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'If you're hiding something, we'll find it': This is how Revenue catch drug smugglers here

The scanners have helped seize over €2 million in drugs in the last 10 days.

SINCE JANUARY OF this year, over €40 million worth of drugs has been seized by Revenue at Dublin Port.

Many of the seizures have been shipments belonging to organised crime gangs and other low-level drug dealers. Most of it hidden in amongst legitimate cargo.

Behind this detection work is a team of men and women using multi-million euro technology which can search an entire 40-foot container in less than five minutes.

And the dogs, of course.

Just this week, detector dog Grace and a new X-ray machine were jointly credited with finding 8 million smuggled cigarettes

So what happens?

When a trucks roll up, the driver is removed and the process begins. The team sits inside a protected hub and performs the x-ray scan of the load.

TheJournal.ie was given a behind the scenes look at the scanner on Thursday morning and spoke with a number of people who work with the piece of equipment on a daily basis.

The new state-of-the-art mobile device is proving money well-spent as it has helped uncover two million euro worth of drugs, as well as the €2.9 million in smuggled cigarettes, in the last 10 days.

This specific scanner has been operational since January and cost nearly €1.7 million. However, it has detected significant quantities of drugs, illicit cigarettes and alcohol as well as other banned items in that time – including a €37.5 million cannabis seizure in January and another €2 million worth seized in the past fortnight.

When we arrived, the machine was scanning a container filled with frozen foods. One enforcement officer quipped that criminals “will surprise you with the places they’ll try to hide stuff”.

IMG_0154 Special x-ray systems allow officers see organic materials hidden in containers. Source: TheJournal.ie

But she added: “It’s nearly impossible to get something passed us. The equipment is that sophisticated. But we’ve seen them try everything. Hiding drugs in tyres, in the pallets themselves, in fuel tanks or even the engine block. This scanner sees all those.

“If you’re hiding something, we’ll find it.”

On this occasion, there is nothing to suggest an anomaly with the load. Officers are looking for anything which may contradict what the container’s manifest claims to be carrying. The scanner can also pick up on organic materials which show up as a different colour. Drugs such as cannabis show brighter, allowing officers to detect a suspicious package quickly.


If there is an anomaly in the load, then a full thorough check is completed. For most of the shipments, it takes just five minutes or so before the driver is given the all-clear to continue his or her delivery run.

All the shipments which the scanner searches have been referred by the National Profiling Centre – investigators who are tipped off by international police or gardaí about the movement of suspicious containers from a host of countries.

While significant work goes into the detection of potential drug smugglers, both enforcement officers and gardaí are aware that shipments slip through the net.

However, it is the big detections that make the job worth doing, according to another officer we spoke to. (We are not naming the personnel as to do so would risk their safety.)

These enforcement officers have been responsible for stopping huge quantities of drugs entering Ireland.

One such seizure was the €37.5 million worth of herbal cannabis seized from organised criminals at the start of this year.

“It’s what the job is all about. That’s why we’re doing it. We seize consignments of cigarettes and alcohol as well but when you get a big drugs shipment, you get excited and you’re proud of what you’ve done,” another worker adds.

In total, one scanner searches at least 2,500 containers every year which have been deemed suspicious.

IMG_0158 One of three mobile scanners at Dublin Port. Source: TheJournal.ie

Niall Cody, Revenue chairman, said that as global trade volumes continue to grow, its challenge is to target and confront shadow economy activity, including fuel fraud, cash and tobacco smuggling, and drug trafficking, while at the same time facilitating the free flow of legitimate trade.

He spoke of a drug market that continues to be one of the most profitable areas for organised crime groups operating in the European Union, and globally, and said that the illicit tobacco problem is also very much a global one.

Liam Peakin, who is manager in Customs Drugs Law Enforcement in the Revenue Investigations & Prosecutions Division, has previously described how smugglers are continuously coming up with new methods to conceal their shipments.

He said: “Smugglers go to all sorts of extremes to cover their actions. We like to think that, as we find stuff, that tunes us into trends and then we can respond. For those who try to smuggle cannabis, it can be difficult to conceal because it is so bulky and the smell is very strong. We’ve found it in cans. We’ve found it in picture frames, wrapped in clothing. You name it, really.”

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