Record amount of drugs seized in 2020 despite Covid-19 pandemic

Gardaí seized drugs valued at more than €36m in first 11 months of year

Cannabis with an estimated street value of €7 million was seized in October at Dublin Port as part of an investigation into criminal gangs. File photograph: Revenue

Cannabis with an estimated street value of €7 million was seized in October at Dublin Port as part of an investigation into criminal gangs. File photograph: Revenue

 

More drugs have been seized this year by the Garda’s specialist narcotics unit than at any time since it was created despite the Covid-19 pandemic having effectively shutdown the night-time economy since March.

Data obtained by The Irish Times reveals that the Garda Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau seized drugs valued at more than €36 million in the first 11 months of the year, compared to €21.3 million in all of last year.

Cannabis, in various forms, accounted for almost half of the value of seizures in monetary terms, with €15.2 million discovered in total. In addition, the bureau seized 209kg of cocaine, valued at €14.6 million; 24kg of heroin, valued €3.3 million; and 15kg of ketamine, valued at €900,000.

Sources believe the higher value of seizures by the bureau shows the drugs trade has proven resilient despite reduced levels of social activity with pubs and clubs closed and home visits restricted.

While drug consumption was generally linked to increasing disposable incomes, sources said many people’s finances had either been unaffected during the pandemic or had, at least in part, been protected by State supports.

“A lot of people were also working from home and if they didn’t lose their job or have a pay cut they would have had more money than ever and that probably meant some people had more to spend on drugs,” said one source.

Among the other narcotics seized were some 3,100 ecstasy tablets; 734kg of khat, a plant chewed by users to give a euphoric high which is popular in some parts of Africa and the Middle East; and more than 700,000 pills – including Zopiclone, Diazepam and Xanax. Most of the latter were likely to be sold to drug users on the black market, with these kinds of pills are often sold or bartered among chronic heroin addicts.

Record level of cash

The Irish Times recently revealed that a record level of cash had been seized from criminals, mostly organised gangs, this year. In the first 10 months, gardaí found €16.35 million in cash, more than double the amount seized in recent years.

Garda sources said criminals had this year been forced to “hoard” their money because many of the businesses they usually launder cash through had been closed for lengthy periods due to the pandemic. These include a wide variety of cash-based businesses such as pubs and nightclubs, takeaway food outlets, tanning salons and many others.

For those businesses that have remained open, the flow of cash through them has slowed as more people have switched to card payments so as to avoid handling money during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Senior gardaí said that while the level of drug seizures by the bureau to the end of November reflected a resilient drugs trade, other factors were at play. The strength of the Garda force is at an all-time high, which they believed would result in more crimes being detected.

Furthermore, a source said that moving large quantities of drugs around the country was riskier during the pandemic because of the unprecedented drop in traffic on the roads and the biggest high visibility Garda operation ever seen across the State taking place.