Drug trade resilient even in face of recession
Q Are organised drug gangs struggling in the recession?
In the years leading up to the peak of the economy in 2008, the total value of drugs seized annually in the Republic was well above €100 million.
However, in 2009 the figure fell to €42 million and was lower in 2010, at €28 million.
Garda sources believed that the fall-off was due in large part to the fact that recreational drug users had seen their spending power hit in the recession, a factor that had hit the cocaine trade very hard.
The anecdotal evidence coming back from gardaí on the streets was that they had also seen a fall in cocaine-fuelled violence.
But last year the value of drugs seized by the Garda was back up, at €89.5 million. And in the first nine months of this year, the value of seizures topped the €90 million mark.
This week Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan said that while the drug trade had fluctuated during the recession, it was proving resilient and was so lucrative it would never go away.
The seizure figures are a crude measure of the health or otherwise of the drug market. Gardaí can make a small number of very high-value seizures that can greatly increase annual totals. Or they can have a poor run in targeting the gangs and miss some large hauls, a factor which obviously lowers annual totals but does not necessarily mean the drug trade has contracted to a corresponding degree.
Another factor to consider is that the cannabis grow house sector has very much taken off in the last couple of years. It means the Garda seizure figures are being bolstered by cannabis crops seized from operations run by Chinese- and Vietnamese-run gangs.
That trend conceals the fact that Irish gangs are under pressure. For example, as the drug trade appeared to be recovering last year, the value of cocaine seized was at €7.6 million, less than half the totals seen during the boom years.
The fall-off in drug arrests and the gun crime that goes with the indigenous drug trade supports the notion that the cannabis grow house sector aside, the Irish drug trade has contracted significantly.
The number of controlled drug offences peaked in 2008 at 23,405, but last year was down to 17,770, a decline of 24 per cent.
Since 2007, the number of cases of discharging a firearm has fallen 49 per cent. The number of cases of possession of a firearm has fallen 25 per cent.