Brexit to significantly alter flow of illegal drugs into Ireland, says think tank

Irish gangs now sourcing drugs directly from mainland Europe, says British embassy-commissioned report

Brexit is set to disrupt and alter the flow of illegal drugs into Ireland as organised criminals take advantage of increased connections with mainland Europe, according to a report commissioned by the British embassy in Dublin.

The use of ports is set to become a more common way to smuggle cocaine into the country with the establishment of new ferry routes from France and Spain post-Brexit, the report compiled by Irish security think tank the Azure Forum stated.

Even before the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, Irish organised crime gangs have been finding new ways of sourcing drugs. Previously, Irish gangs were supplied by UK gangs, but now they have “established their own importation and supply chains to Ireland”, the report said.

The UK increasingly acts as merely a “waypoint” for drugs coming to Ireland rather than a source, according to the report which is based on interviews with senior Irish and UK police officers and a review of existing studies.

These flows are likely to change further “in correlation with decreased legitimate use of the UK ‘land-bridge’ and additional direct ferry routes to Ireland from France and Spain”.

The report said “corrupted” staff at airports and ports are an extremely valuable asset for criminal gangs.

"Port workers in particular are indispensable in identifying containers for drug 'rip-offs', notably of cocaine from South America.

‘Corrupted’ workers

“This is likely to become a more commonplace trafficking method into Ireland as Irish organised crime groups expand their contacts further upstream in drugs supply chains, and as trade flows adjust following the UK’s exit from the EU.”

The report also said “corrupted” workers in the logistics and haulage industries, particularly “complicit” HGV drivers, could smuggle of drugs and smuggle irregular migrants.

Criminals view the island of Ireland as a single market, it said, while also exploiting the differing legal jurisdictions to evade law enforcement.

Despite the continuation of trade between Ireland and the UK under the post-Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement, “it is highly likely that organised crime will take advantage of post-Brexit shifts in legitimate trade flows, including the additional direct roll-on/roll-off ferry routes between Ireland and continental Europe”.

Drug smuggling into Ireland is dominated by Irish gangs. However, the report raised the possibility of foreign gangs attempting to take over the lucrative cocaine trade, as has happened in the UK.

“The ‘takeover’ of the British cocaine market by Albanian organised crime suggests that this could take place through undercutting existing suppliers with cheaper, high-purity product, initially at least using lower-level Irish criminals for local distribution and retail sales.”

This scenario remains unlikely while major Irish gangs control the Irish market, but dismantling or disrupting these groups could create a “vacuum” which may be exploited by non-Irish criminals, it said.

Despite changing methods of drug smuggling, the "county lines" phenomenon seen in the UK –where criminals use vulnerable people and children to traffic drugs from cities to towns and villages – has not yet taken hold in the Republic or Northern Ireland, the report found.

Criminals here do use vulnerable people for street sales but “the county lines model is not currently a feature of retail markets”.

Irish criminals have also been slow to embrace the use of cryptocurrency to launder and store wealth, it said, preferring instead to rely on cash.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times