A huge increase in cocaine use in Ireland and Europe is being driven by employed middle and upper class people who believe it is acceptable to use the drug without taking any responsibility for the organised crime associated with it, according to gardaí.
The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau says it has seized over €210m worth of drugs this year, most of it cocaine, including a tonne more cocaine than cannabis.
Detective Chief Superintendent Séamus Boland says the increase is not coming from working class or deprived parts of society, but from educated and sophisticated professionals who are generating the money for the drug cartels.
The head of the bureau also says cocaine can be easily purchased and users no longer travel to particular areas in towns and cities to buy drugs because the dealer will come to them.
“Most will know who their dealer is,” he says, “in most cases an associate or a friend”.
“It’s no longer the case that people have to travel to particular areas to source their drugs, they now buy through various social media apps, where somebody is on a night out in the town and somebody can rock up to them on a scooter or a moped or a bicycle or even walking with their purchase.
“That takes away the risk for upper or middle-class people to venture into areas they may not want to.”
The gardaí say this evolution in the way drugs are bought and sold is feeding the cartels and where the money is now coming from.
They also say it makes it extremely difficult for them to tackle the problem.
“When we look at the vulnerable addicts, and the areas significantly affected by the gangs and cartels where the violence will take place. If you’re socialising on a weekend and buying cocaine, you can’t walk away from the fact that you’re are part of the problem and feeding the problem.”
There have been two gangland murders this year, the murder of Tristan Sherry during a gang-related gun attack at a Dublin restaurant on Christmas Eve, and the murder of Brandon Ledwidge who was shot dead outside his home in Finglas last month.
The figure has dropped from five in 2022, and represents a substantial drop in the last 15 years.
In 2010, 37% of all murders were gangland killings. 23 people died in organised crime murders that year.
While the reduction in the last few years is welcome the head of the drugs and organised crime bureau says one murder is one too many.
Gardaí, he says, are constantly tackling and dismantling the street gangs involved in these murders, particularly the local units in north and west Dublin where a dangerous drugs feud is continuing.
However, he says that Ireland is experiencing a low level of gangland murders which is “contrary to our European partners who are experiencing a spike”.
There has also been a corresponding rise in the number of murders prevented and lives saved. The Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has intervened in planned assassinations and saved 80 lives since 2016. There were three interventions last year, none in 2023.
Multi-million euro seizures
The largest seizure of cocaine this year was on the MV Mathew which was intercepted by the Defence Forces and boarded at sea by customs officers and gardaí in September.
Gardaí say the use of the ship is indicative of the evolving methods of drugs smuggling used by the South American and other cartels to bring larger quantities to the lucrative markets of Europe.
A second such seizure was made when Customs Officers seized another €21m worth of cocaine on a Maltese-registered cargo ship, the MV Verila, when it arrived in the Port of Foynes in Limerick.
Gardaí have also seized light aircraft this year and say submersibles and drones, similar to those being used in the war on Ukraine, are also being utilised by transnational drug trafficking gangs.
Drones have been identified on a small scale to bring drugs into the prisons but Gardaí say Ireland is not immune to the use by organised crime groups of sophisticated smuggling methods and modern technology.
Gardaí also say that 2023 has been a very significant year for targeting the Kinahan organised crime group and a substantial file is with the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Detective Chief Superintendent Boland says they have developed a very positive working relationship with the authorities in the United Arab Emirates, where the leadership of the Kinahan organised crime group is based.
“The authorities in the United Arab Emirates do not want criminals or drug traffickers and they are quite determined to prove that moving forward,” he said. “The collaboration has been positive, and I would be confident there will be progress.”
He also denied claims that the gardaí are not focusing on the Hutch organised crime group, insisting that any such perception is incorrect.
However, he pointed out that the Kinahan group is a much bigger transnational crime group and has been responsible for much of the criminal activity since its gang member David Byrne was shot dead at the Regency Hotel in 2016. It is therefore a primary target for the gardaí.
He also said that the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau has 15 priority investigations running at any one time targeting the most violent organised crime groups causing the most harm.
Organised crime and the far right
On the question of whether or not the gardaí have discovered links between organised crime and the far right, he said anyone engaging in looting and rioting is involved in criminal activity and what is consistent with this is the use of social media.
Organised crime groups are also using messaging apps to put out certain narratives about their own activities.
Detective Chief Superintendent Boland said both the Kinahan and Hutch organised crime groups understand fully the power of social media and the importance of putting their opinions out to try to control public opinion.
“We have seen movies being sponsored by organised crime groups to try and get their particular message out,” he said. “We’ve seen online books being distributed to try and get a certain message out which is really to counteract any official message that’s out there.”
“They also use it as a means to threaten other people through social media which can lead to headline in national media. Social media is being weaponised and organised crime groups use it.”