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?
The scanner at Dublin Airport creates less intrusive images: instead of showing a passenger’s naked body it shows only any concealed objects, highlighted on a generic outline of the passenger.
The airport also has an ion scanner that analyses swabs from a person’s clothing or baggage to determine whether it has been in contact with an illegal substance – and, if so, with what quantity.
The former drug-unit member says when somebody is suspected of concealing drugs internally, the person can be taken for X-rays and medical examinations. A special toilet allows officers to search deposits for pellets. “You have to try and figure out then do you take them for an X-ray, have a doctor examine them or speak to them yourself,” he says.
“Usually, unfortunately, a lot of these people are quite vulnerable, and they will get into an unmerciful panic once they come before the police. They’ll often tell you, ‘I have it inside me.’ ”
Once it has been established that somebody is carrying a substantial amount of drugs, the person is brought to an interview room and read his or her rights. Custody is then transferred to the drug unit. At this point the person can be held for up to seven days with the approval of a District Court judge. Then Garda must bring a charge.
The former drug-unit member says they would typically oppose bail for foreigners because of the flight risk. Like Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid, “they would probably end up in jail, regardless of guilt or innocence, awaiting trial”, he says. They are also unlikely to meet the criteria of an address and independent surety to make bail. McDermott estimates they could be waiting up to two years before their case came to court.
If a mule ends up before a court in Ireland and, like McCollum Connolly and Reid, pleads duress, it carries little hope of success, according to McDermott. “Irish law says if you commit a crime where your will is overborne by imminent threat to your life, then that can be a full defence, which means you would be acquitted of the crime.
“But Irish courts have been very slow to allow it to be raised legally, because they realise, particularly in the world of drugs, it is a defence everybody can raise.
“The key word is ‘imminent’. While a person can say they are under threat, it’s hard to say it’s imminent if you’re walking through an airport, if you’ve taken flights, if you’ve had opportunities to speak to police and seek help. How do you show it’s imminent insofar as you were just about to be killed if you didn’t carry it out?”
But the former drug-unit member says judges have sometimes taken pity on people they have convicted by delaying sentencing for a few weeks, giving them the chance to flee the country.
McDermott says the practice “isn’t legally proper” but has been known to occur. “I’ve certainly heard of judges effectively telling someone, ‘If you leave the country I won’t imprison you.’ Judges have to be careful doing that, because you’re pushing the edges of what’s legally permissible.”