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Connolly, Johnny (2013) Drug law enforcement and seizures. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 47, Autumn 2013, pp. 35-36.

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In a recent Dáil debate on Garda operations tabled by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality, the Garda Commissioner stated that there are approximately 25 organised crime groups (OCGs) operating throughout the state.1 The majority are centred in large urban areas such as Limerick, Cork, Galway, Sligo and Dublin. The Commissioner went on to say: 

There is a high amount of interaction between the various organised crime groups throughout the country who regularly pursue joint enterprises, particularly drug imports. The vast majority of organised crime groups are drug trafficking groups… . … Each of these organised crime groups is structured hierarchically and would typically consist of a leadership, a number of middle-managers and low level criminals who could carry out day-to-day running of these organised crime groups. (p.4)
The 2012 annual report of the Garda Síochána2 states that the Garda National Drugs Unit (GNDU) liaises with police forces in the UK, Spain, Holland and Belgium, ‘where OCG’s affecting the Irish jurisdiction tend to be the most proactive’ (p.4). The GNDU has overall responsibility for drug law enforcement. In 2012, the GNDU arrested 125 people in connection with drug trafficking offences, 91 of whom were charged and are currently before the courts. Seventy-one ‘significant seizures’ were made, including one in June 2012 of 432kg of cocaine with an estimated street value of €30.23 million, which was imported to Ireland from Bolivia via the Netherlands. Customs Drugs Law Enforcement and the US Drug Enforcement Administration were also involved in this operation. According to the 2012 annual report of the Revenue Commissioners, three members of an Irish OCG were arrested during this operation.3
Seizures of this size are, of course, untypical. The majority of drug seizures involve small amounts seized from individuals who possess the drugs for personal use. Drug seizures are primarily a reflection of law enforcement activity, with the number of seizures in any given period affected by such factors as law enforcement resources, strategies and priorities, and by the vulnerability of traffickers to those activities. However, drug seizure trends can also provide an indirect indicator of the supply and availability of drugs.
Cannabis seizures account for the largest proportion of all drugs seized. Figure 1 shows trends in cannabis-related seizures and total seizures between 2003 and 2012. The total number of drug seizures increased from 5,299 in 2004 to a peak of 10,444 in 2007. Between 2008 and 2010 the number almost halved, to 5,477. This decrease can be explained primarily by the significant decrease in cannabis-type substances seized. Although not all drugs seized by law enforcement are necessarily analysed and reported by the Forensic Science Laboratory, it is difficult to know if the reduction in cannabis-related seizures reflects a decline in cannabis use or a reduction in law enforcement activity. Following a slight increase in 2011, the number of cannabis seizures again decreased slightly in 2012.

The decrease in cannabis seizures between 2008 and 2010 may also be partly explained by a change in the nature of cannabis use, with people moving from resin to more potent forms of cannabis, such as herbal cannabis. For example, Figure 2 shows that although seizures of cannabis resin have decreased significantly since 2006, seizures of cannabis plants have increased steadily since then, with a slight decrease in 2012. Herbal cannabis seizures almost doubled between 2009 and 2011, from 981 in 2009 to 1,833 in 2011, and then levelled off in 2012.

The reduction in the total number of reported seizures since 2007 shown in Figure 1 may also be explained by a reduction in the number of seizures of other drugs. Figure 3 shows trends in seizures for a selection of drugs, excluding cannabis, between 2003 and 2012. There was a significant decline in seizures of cocaine and heroin between 2007 and 2011. In 2012, heroin seizures increased slightly, while cocaine seizures continued to decrease. Seizures of ecstasy-type substances also decreased significantly between 2007 and 2010. However, in 2011, they increased by more than 800%. This upward pattern continued, albeit by a small margin, in 2012.

1.     Callinan M (2012, 21 November) Parliamentary Debates Dáil Éireann (Official report: unrevised): Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality debate. Garda operations: discussion with An Garda Síochána. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20352

2.     An Garda Síochána (2013) An Garda Síochána: annual report 2012. Dublin, An Garda Síochána. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20365

3.     Revenue Commissioners (2013) Annual report 2012. Dublin: Revenue Commissioners, p.46. www.revenue.ie/en/about/publications/annual-reports/2012/downloads.html.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
October 2013
Page Range
pp. 35-36
Health Research Board
Issue 47, Autumn 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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