Home > Cross-border organised crime: threat assessment 2016.

Guiney, Ciara (2017) Cross-border organised crime: threat assessment 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 63, Autumn 2017, pp. 24-25.

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In September 2016, An Garda Síochána (AGS) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) published their biannual cross-border organised crime threat assessment.1 The aim of the report was to provide insight into how criminal activity orchestrated by organised crime groups (OCGs), North and South of the border, is disrupted by the work of the Cross Border Joint Agency Task Force (CBJATF). The CBJATF involves interagency engagement between the PSNI, AGS, Revenue, HM Revenue & Customs and other agencies, such as the National Crime Agency and the Criminal Assets Bureau.


Abuse of common travel area

A common travel area (CTA), which has existed between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and the United Kingdom (UK) since the 1920s, allows for the free movement of goods, money, people and information. Despite the many positive aspects of a CTA, the land border (approx. 224 miles) that occurs between the ROI and Northern Ireland (NI) can leave the CTA exposed to abuse from criminals, such as OCGs, who view the setting as a way to undertake a wide range of criminal behaviour, for example, the smuggling of various illicit commodities including drugs, fuel, firearms, counterfeit and contraband cigarettes and alcohol (p. 6).


Organised crime groups

Investigations into OCGs on both sides of the border have demonstrated that links and communication between groups are strong. Indeed, intel on mobile OCGs, which focuses on cross-border activity, suggests that OCGs from the South travel into the North to carry out crimes and vice versa. Notably, these offenders willingly resort to violence; in consequence, victims and police personnel are at risk. The majority of cross-border links are for drug-related activities, for example, trafficking and the cultivation and importation of heroin, cocaine and cannabis. To ensure criminality succeeds, OCGs have established ‘mutually beneficial business relationships’ throughout each area (p. 7).


Foreign national OCGs, originating from South East Asia, Africa, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Russia, Lithuania, Albania, Romania and elsewhere in Europe, have become more prominent in NI. These groups also undertake criminal behaviour in the South. It is alleged that key members are located in the ROI and repeatedly obtain money from criminal activities undertaken in NI. In addition, paramilitary groups involved in organised crime also operate North and South of the border.


Cross-border organised crime: drugs

The report highlights that drugs and drug-related criminality is a ‘common concern’ in NI and the ROI. During the last number of years, the drug market has become more varied. ‘Traditional’ drugs remain prominent (p. 8); however, new psychoactive substances (NPS) are on the rise. The main source of income for OCGs throughout the island is from ‘traditional’ drugs, and how these products are imported and dispersed remains unchanged. For example: 

  • Cannabis is the most widespread drug in the ROI and NI. Data from drug treatment centres, in both regions, indicate that treatment referrals for cannabis are higher than for other drug types.
  • Prevalence rates suggest that there are 18,000 to 23,000 heroin users in the ROI; the vast majority are thought to reside in Dublin. Although heroin seizures increased between 2014 and 2015 and between 2015 and 2016 in NI, the amounts were small. However, due to concerns within the community and with the aim of protecting the public at large, PSNI investigations are ongoing.
  • Cocaine markets in the ROI have been declining since 2007, mainly because of the poor economic climate. However, the value of cocaine seizures nearly doubled between 2013 (€3.6 million) and 2014 (€7.5 million). In NI, seizures in 2015/2016 were lower than the previous year mainly as a result of a large 50 kg seizure, which occurred in late 2014.
  • Crack cocaine is the drug of choice for individuals whose primary addiction is heroin. As a result, its use is not widespread. No cases have been reported in NI.
  • More recently, NPS have emerged as being seriously problematic North and South. A survey carried out by the European Commission indicated that 16% of young people in the ROI have tried NPS.2 Some 443 NPS are currently being monitored by the EMCDDA.
  • Although methamphetamine has been low in the ROI for the last decade, in the last two years, four ‘box labs’ that produce methamphetamine (p. 11) were found in Cork (1), Kerry (1) and Dublin (2).
  • Producing tablets from pharmaceutical drugs, for example, zopiclone, zolpidem or benzodiazepine powders, involves ROI OCGs. Prescription drugs, such as alprazolam, diazepam and flurazepam, were available illegally and were widespread throughout the ROI. Similarly in NI, prescription drugs, in particular diazepam, are three times more likely to be identified as cause of death than heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and mephedrone altogether. 

Cross-border activity

The PSNI and AGS are aware of the cross-border links between OCGs North and South of the border, in particular for drug-related crimes. For example: 

  • Cannabis, cocaine and heroin are imported from the ROI to NI by OCGs.
  • OCGs on both sides of the border collaborate to import drugs from Europe.
  • OCGs in NI have links with OCGs in cities in the ROI.
  • Drugs are brought to NI via cars, motorcycles, vans, lorries, taxis, trains and buses.
  • The ROI is used as a transit route by OCGs based in NI, where drugs are imported via ports and then transported to NI to be distributed or sold. 

With the aim of targeting drug-related crime, joint collaborations are carried out between the PSNI and AGS. For example, in January 2016, the PSNI detained two men in Belfast during the handover of herbal cannabis valued at £1 million. In a subsequent home search in Drogheda, cannabis and cocaine were recovered (estimated value £63,000).


In another joint operation between the AGS and PSNI, codenamed Operation Solaro, cannabis plants were recovered from five locations in NI (estimated value £3m) and in County Meath (estimated value €750). Arrests were made by the PSNI in NI and the AGS in County Meath, numbering 10 and three, respectively. Most of the suspects were detained on drug trafficking offences.


1 Police Service of Northern Ireland and An Garda Síochána (2014) Cross border organised crime: threat assessment 2016. Belfast and Dublin: Department of Justice (UK) and Department of Justice and Equality (ROI). Available online at https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27737/ or http://www.octf.gov.uk/Publications/SARS-information-(1)/Cross-Border-Organised-Crime-Assessment-2016

2 Gallup Organization and European Commission (2011) Youth attitudes on drugs: analytical report – Flash Eurobarometer 330. Brussels: European Commission. Available online at https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15497/ or http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/flash/fl_330_en.pdf

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 63, Autumn 2017
November 2017
Page Range
pp. 24-25
Health Research Board
Issue 63, Autumn 2017

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