Judges are ignoring legislation stipulating criminals convicted of commercial-scale drug dealing must be jailed for a minimum of 10 years unless there are exceptional circumstances.
Only 3 per cent of those convicted of the crime in the last five years were jailed for the so-called minimum mandatory term.
Another one-third served no time in prison, having been given suspended sentences.
The Irish Penal Reform Trust said it was clear judges believed the criminals being caught with drugs were not significant figures in the underworld.
“They set out to get the big guys and they got the small guys,” said acting executive director Fíona Ní Chinnéide of the legislation aimed at jailing major criminals.
Garda sources accepted some criminals caught in possession of drugs were low-level couriers working for gang leaders, but insisted many others were serious gangland figures.
A number of Garda officers told
The Irish Times
the tendency towards suspended or short sentences suggested the courts did not understand the damage caused by drugs.
The Misuse of Drugs Act states that in cases involving the possession for sale or supply of illicit drugs valued at €12,500 or more, the court must “specify a term of not less than 10 years as the minimum term of imprisonment” unless there are “exceptional and specific circumstances” that would render such a setnence “unjust in all the circumstances”.
The figures, obtained by Independents4Change TD Clare Daly from Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald, show that of the 825 criminals convicted of drug dealing on this scale in the five years since 2011, only 25 sentences were for 10 years or more; just 3 per cent of all cases.
No jail time
And in the case of 277 of the convicted drug dealers, 34 per cent of the total, those convicted were given suspended sentences, meaning they spent no time in jail.
An average of one convicted drug dealer in each of the five years was sentenced by way of community service or a fine.
Of the 825 people convicted, some 44 per cent were sentenced to between one and five years. And only one in five was sentence to more than five years, including that 3 per cent jailed for 10 years or longer.