Drugs being smuggled into Ireland ‘inside horses and donkeys’, policing meeting hears

Councillor calls for focus on equine transport vehicles at Dublin Port

Criminals have been inserting packages containing drugs into low-value female horses and donkeys in order to smuggle narcotics into the State, Dublin City Council’s joint policing committee has heard.

Fianna Fáil councillor Deirdre Heney said she had come across information about the practice, which involved packages being inserted into the animals before they are transported.

Equine transport trucks were being used to smuggle both drugs and dogs; the latter concealed in compartments in the trucks, Cllr Heney said.

“Low-grade female horses and donkeys are being used to transport drugs; they actually insert it into the vaginas of the animals,” she said. “I want to highlight that because of the concern over the animal welfare issues and as another way for these drugs barons to target our young people.”


She called for a new "focus to be put on equine transport vehicles" for searching as they came through Dublin Port.

Tom Talbot, a senior officer in Revenue's investigation, prosecution and frontier management division, said criminals would take advantage of any method to smuggle drugs, including concealing them inside an animal or a person.

He added ongoing work was under way to unearth the smuggling of dogs, which usually involved the animals being moved out of the country as it was “a lucrative game”.

“In terms of smuggling drugs through horses, donkeys... you could pick a thousand ways of smuggling in and, unfortunately, they [criminals] see no issue, whether that’s a female horse or whether it’s a person or a commodity; it’s profit.”


He told the meeting the last two years had been “exceptional” at Dublin Port for the smuggling of contraband such as drugs, cigarettes, tobacco and alcohol.

For example, in 2019 one tonne of raw tobacco was seized in the port, increasing to four tonnes last year and surging to 34 tonnes so far this year.

“Tobacco is the one thing that all of Europe is seeing on the increase,” Mr Talbot said. “What organised crime groups are doing instead of moving cigarettes they’re starting to move the raw products because there’s less of a risk. And they’re moving tobacco across Europe as opposed to cigarettes themselves.”

He added drugs valued at €40 million had been seized at Dublin Port this year, up from €19 million in all of last year. The figure for this year included one consignment of cocaine, disguised to look like charcoal, which was valued at €35 million.

While last year had seen a very high number of cigarettes seized at the port, this year was on course to trump that. Some 42 million cigarettes, with a potential loss to the exchequer of €30 million, were seized at the port last year. Between 38 and 39 million cigarettes have been seized this year, he said.

Mr Talbot added “nobody knows” how big the overall drugs market is compared with the volume of drugs seized by the authorities in Ireland. “Nobody is under the illusion that we can catch everything and [drugs] are obviously in the country,” he said, adding some of the major consignments of drugs found in Dublin Port were not a reflection of the size of the illicit drugs trade in the Republic.

“We might have seized drugs in Dublin Port but the market is not Dublin, the market is not even Ireland. The market could be Manchester or Glasgow,” he said.

“In terms of the €35 million in cocaine seized [this year], I have absolutely no doubt that’s not for the Irish market. The Irish market is not big enough to take that in one go so the chances are it’s for other markets.”

Human trafficking

Assistant Commissioner Anne Marie Cagney told the meeting some 28 “potential victims” of human trafficking have been identified in the Republic so far this year.

Related to those cases, some 30 suspected incidents of exploitation for sexual or labour purposes were being investigated. Ten of those suspect exploitation crimes were committed outside the State and 20 within the Republic, most of which were associated with transport within organised prostitution.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times