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Organised crime groups see Ireland as ‘target’

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said it is “nearly impossible” to say how much drugs are coming into the island of Ireland and that organised crime groups see Ireland as a target.

Mr Harris said that the street value price of cocaine has increased by around 25% in the last three to four months.

“That shows the value of the work on the island of Ireland”, he said.

He was speaking at a cross border police conference on organised and serious crime in Co Cavan today, which was also attended by the PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher.

Mr Harris said that work is still ongoing investigating the recent seizure of crystal meth.

546 kilograms of the synthetic drug were seized in Ringaskiddy, Co Cork.

He said that there was speculation around the intended final destination of the seized drugs and that gardaí are still “actively investigating” that.

Mr Harris added that gardaí have been involved in drug seizures in the Caribbean and in West Africa, and that officers are working to prevent drugs moving across the North Atlantic.

The Garda Commissioner also said that Ireland is seen as a target by organised crime groups because it is seen as a wealthy country.

“We are seen to these organised crime groups as a wealth country, an affluent place, that is shown in the cocaine use in Ireland. Cocaine use is proportionate to prosperity, therefore we are a target,” Mr Harris said.

He added this is one of the principal challenges for policing and that organised crime gangs do not respect borders.

Mr Harris said the biggest issue now is international crime, in comparison to 20 years ago.

PSNI Chief Constable Jon Boutcher said that anything that arrives in Dublin will arrive in Belfast, whether its drugs or people trafficking.

“We need to make the island of Ireland a hostile environment for them to operate in, and I genuinely believe that is the direction of travel,” Mr Boutcher said.

Mr Harris cited cooperation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI during its investigation into a drug seizure on the MV Matthew as a good example of cross border cooperation.

He said gardaí drew on colleagues in the PSNI to pursue a number of suspects in relation to that investigation.

The MV Matthew was seized off the south coast of Ireland in September with €157 million worth of cocaine on board.

Mr Harris said that the “main drugs of choice” in Ireland remains cannabis, followed by cocaine and he said that drugs are becoming “more prevalent and stronger”.

He said that cannabis is now a “good deal stronger” than it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago and that THC content in cannabis was driving addictive behaviour and difficulties around psychotic incidents leading to mental health problems.

“There is a real health issue around the abuse of substances”, he said.

Mr Harris said that drug testing at festivals like Electric Picnic had shown a “huge variation” in the strength of drugs.

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