This week’s seizure of two tonnes of cocaine in a joint operation by the Garda Síochána, Revenue and the Defence Forces represents a major success for the security services. The largest illegal drugs haul in the country’s history took place in dramatic circumstances over the course of two days. A team of Army Rangers rappelled from the air on to the deck of the 189-metre-long Panamanian-registered cargo ship MV Matthew, took control of the vessel and prevented her from heading for the open sea. The ship and a number of individuals are now in Garda custody in Cork, while two men have been charged after being airlifted off a trawler in Wexford.
Full details of events leading up to the seizure have yet to emerge, but Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has cited the importance of international cooperation via the Garda overseas liaison unit for what is a significant achievement in the international battle against drug trafficking. The commissioner also noted that a number of criminal organisations had made a huge investment in the shipment, which was intended for markets in several European countries.
Without diminishing the significance of this week’s events or the good work of all those involved, the struggle to stem the illegal flow of drugs across international borders remains a Sisyphean task. Data from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction show that cocaine continues to be the second most popular illicit drug in the EU, after cannabis, with 303 tonnes impounded by member states in 2021 alone. Irish cocaine consumption ranks near the top of European league tables, and the drug has increased in purity while its price remains stable, reflecting the reality that supplies are continuing to flow despite the best efforts of law enforcement agencies.
The recreational use of cocaine remains socially acceptable among a much broader swathe of the population than is the case with opiates such as heroin or fentanyl. As supply continues to increase, suppliers are targeting marginalised individuals with existing addictions with the even more dangerous and volatile crack cocaine. The results of this can be seen daily on Irish streets. But everyone consuming cocaine in any form has a duty to be aware that this is not a victimless crime. The drug can have serious and sometimes tragic health consequences for some users. And anyone who participates in the trade is contributing to a vicious criminal enterprise based on extreme violence, corruption and exploitation.
This week’s success also raises the question of whether the State is doing enough to fulfil its constitutional duty to protect its sovereign territory and waters. It seems likely that a properly resourced Naval Service could enable more such operations, further reducing the flow of these dangerous substances into the country.