When drug mules land in Ireland
As Michaela McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid wait in jail for their trial in Peru, what becomes of foreigners who are caught trying to smuggle narcotics into Ireland?
“Some of the mules are in desperate personal and financial difficulties,” he says. “Some of them have been glad to get a 10-year sentence, because for the first time in prison they are being fed and accommodated. The system has come across people who are happy to spend time in prison because they are safe and had literally no money; nowhere to live in their own country; nothing, absolutely nothing.
“Everybody thinks lots of big drug dealers are being locked up when in fact quite often the people coming before the courts are pitiful creatures who have committed a very serious crime. They are in such desperate financial difficulties they are willing to risk anything, because they have nothing to live for. Those are the most difficult cases.”
The former drug-unit member says criminals lent money and allowed debts they were owed to accumulate during the boom. “Before then you wouldn’t have been allowed to accumulate that sort of debt,” he says. “But since money became so free during the boom times in Ireland, people were allowed to accumulate debt and then were absolutely pawned by the criminals. People are under pressure, under threat of violence over their debts, and this is how they’re told to get out of it.”
Anybody who tries to smuggle drugs into Ireland faces a daunting task. Dublin Airport is a high-security facility guarded by experienced officers using sophisticated technology.
Domestic and international intelligence informs policing at the airport, and resources are focused on red-flag flight paths between zones known for drugs. Officers then monitor people whose criminal record or peculiar flight history has raised a red flag. The baggage from such flights will be inspected by sniffer dogs.
The former drug-unit member says this type of profiling plays a major role in detecting mules. “If you’re going backwards and forwards to Amsterdam every four weeks, and there is no reason for you to go there, you’ll stand out like a sore thumb on the system,” he says.
When these people disembark they will be monitored by CCTV as they move around the airport. They are also watched from observation rooms behind one-way mirrors at the baggage carousels.
Doyle says drug lords are getting smarter and have begun using mules without criminal records. “The challenge for us is to stay one step ahead of them, because when we make seizures here they always react,” says Doyle.
“Earlier in the year we were getting a lot of swallowers coming in. It’s changed now to concealments in suitcases. That’s them reacting to what we do. They profile us. They’re watching what we seize.
“Sometimes it’s down to officers observing people while they collect their baggage . . . Do they look nervous? How observant are they about the place? We’re looking at body language. We’ve got good seizures from that sort of thing.
“For example, [a flight came in from] Amsterdam, and an officer at a carousel noticed there was a woman on one side and a man on the other communicating with each other without shouting across the carousel. They were stopped and searched, and they had three kilos of herbal cannabis.”
If customs officials suspect someone is carrying an illegal substance, the person is stopped and searched. The airport is testing a full-body scanner, which uses low-power X-rays to show any concealed objects. Similar technology has been controversial elsewhere, as the images they created were so detailed – amounting to what some opponents claimed was a virtual strip search – that passengers and regulators were alarmed by the potential for invasion of privacy. These “backscatter” scanners have now been removed from US airports, and the EU has banned them on health grounds.