Gangland criminals were attempting to move firearms and cocaine with a street value of €500,000 from one safehouse to another when they were caught by gardaí at a routine Covid-19 checkpoint.
The criminals had put the drugs into pizza boxes for transportation by car across Dublin city. Searches of properties linked to the three people arrested continued on Wednesday, including the search of a property on Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city.
Gardaí are still trying to establish why the guns and drugs were being moved. The three suspects under arrest are not major gangland figures and gardaí believe they were working on the orders of others. One line of inquiry is that the owners of the guns and drugs were worried the items might be uncovered due to an increase in anti-gangland operations which began several weeks ago. Drugs and organised crime units have been ordered to monitor and target known serious criminals who may seek to exploit the coronavirus crisis.
"Each of the bureaus with special crime operations is targeting particular criminals and OCGs [organised crime gangs] and will continue to do so until the virus no longer represents a problem,"Assistant Commissioner John O Driscoll said recently.
The seizure, which is one of the largest drug finds so far this year, was made following a dramatic chase through Dublin city centre in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Gardaí operating a checkpoint on Phibsborough Road had attempted to stop the car at about 4am to inquire where the occupants were travelling to. The car sped off and gardaí from Dublin’s Road Policing Unit began a “managed containment operation” and pursued the vehicle into the city centre.
At 4.30am the car was wrecked when it crashed into a wall on Essex Quay. Gardaí arrived on the scene moments later and saw one man throwing something into the river Liffey.
The Garda Sub-Aqua Unit was called in on Tuesday morning to search the river. It found a package containing two working handguns in good condition. In the car, gardaí found another package containing 8kg of cocaine, worth about €500,000, as well as a small amount of cannabis.
The three occupants of the car, two men and one woman, were arrested at the scene. A garda spokesman said on Wednesday they remained in custody in three different Garda stations. They can be held for up to seven days for questioning.
There have been several major drug and firearms finds by gardaí manning checkpoints to enforce the movement restrictions in place to stem the spread of coronavirus.
Last Saturday, gardaí on a Covid-19 patrol in Kilmihil, Co Clare, caught a youth in possession of an unlicensed rifle. On April 5th, gardaí on routine patrol in Limerick city stopped and searched a car, which led to the seizure of a firearm and a pipebomb. A similar patrol stop in the Ballynanty area of Limerick late last month lead to a car chase and another firearm being recovered.
"We are very mindful that the threat from organised crime carries on and indeed it's only a matter of time before they try to exploit the situation, particularly people's fears," Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told new Garda recruits recently.
“We want to be able to combat that. You see from the work we have done through the week – we’ve seized drugs, we’ve seized firearms. So that work carries on.”