Irish market for illegal drugs now worth €1bn


The value of illegal drugs seized in the State exceeded €100 million for the first time last year, figures obtained by The Irish Times reveal.

It is accepted internationally that the authorities in any country seize around 10 per cent of illicit drugs. This means the illicit drugs trade in Ireland is now worth €1 billion annually.

Cocaine continued to be the drug type growing most rapidly in popularity, with €20.5 million worth seized last year, a near five-fold increase on the €4.2 million seized four years earlier.

Minister for Justice Michael McDowell congratulated the Garda and Revenue for the seizures. However, he said the increase in the value of drugs seized indicated the scale of the problem.

"New proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill will strengthen the hand of the Garda in dealing with the type of ruthless criminals involved in this trade," he said in a statement to The Irish Times.

Senior Garda sources said while the latest figures reveal that the Irish drugs market is continuing to grow, they also underline the success of the Garda National Drugs Unit and local drug units.

Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy last month said the Garda National Drugs Unit had been particularly successful of late in gathering intelligence on major drug shipments and seizing them.

It has also emerged that the number of foreign nationals now coming to the attention of the Garda for drug dealing nearly doubled last year. Some 196 foreign nationals had criminal proceedings for drug dealings commenced against them, compared with 128 in both 2004 and 2003, an 87 per cent increase.

Gardaí last year seized €71.5 million worth of the main illicit drug types now being offered for sale on the Irish market, namely cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, herbal cannabis, cannabis resin and LSD.

With Revenue's customs and excise officers seizing drugs worth €36.3 million last year, this brings the total seized to €107.8 million. This figure compares with total seizures of €62.8 million in 2004; €51.3 million by the Garda and €11.5 million by Revenue.

In 2003 total seizures were valued at €85.6 million; €64.6 million by the Garda and €21 million by Revenue.

The value of seizures that year was high because gardaí made a number of multi-million euro seizures of cannabis resin by targeting a north Dublin gang.

While cannabis remained the most popular drug in the Republic last year, accounting for €72 million of a total of €107.8 million drug seizures, the exponential growth in cocaine use in recent years is revealed in the latest figures.

The value of cocaine seized in the State last year reached €20.5 million. This compares with €15.2 million in 2004, €11.5 million in 2003 and €4.2 million in 2002.

The value of heroin seized in recent years has increased marginally; €6.4 million last year, €5.3 million in 2004, €8.2 million in 2003 and €5.2 million in 2002.

Of the 196 non-nationals against whom proceedings for drug dealing were commenced last year, 55 were classified as British or Northern Irish.

The number categorised by gardaí as eastern Europeans, while remaining small, increased from nine in 2004 to 26 last year. The number of people classified as Africans against whom prosecutions began last year rose from 21 in 2004 to 43 last year.

Overall, of the 9,867 people against whom drug-related proceedings began last year, 9,671 or 98 per cent were Irish.