Seizure of ship carrying drugs puts focus back on Ireland’s ability to patrol waters

TD Cathal Berry describes soldiers involved in operation as ‘Jedi Knights of the Army’

A daring mission by Irish soldiers and sailors on the high seas, gardaí investigating suspected international drug smuggling from South America, and a haul of cocaine perhaps worth more than €100 million.

Our lead by Conor Lally and Barry Roche has it all.

It is no surprise then that the work carried out by a joint taskforce comprising of the Naval Service, gardaí and the Revenue Customs Service – working with the Air Corps and the elite Army Ranger Wing (ARW) – dominates the news today.

Independent TD Cathal Berry, himself a former senior ARW officer, spoke of the elite group’s involvement in the mission – which saw soldiers “fast rope” from a helicopter on to the deck of a large vessel, the MV Matthew.


He told RTÉ's Morning Ireland: “Obviously it was a very kinetic operation but it’s well within the comfort zone of the Army Ranger Wing… they’re basically the Jedi Knights of the Army really.”

As Lally and Roche report on our story, the Panamanian-registered MV Matthew – was attempting to flee when the Naval Service’s LÉ William Butler Yeats and Air Corps helicopters closed in on it off the Co Cork coast on Tuesday.

Weapons systems on the LÉ William Butler Yeats were fired twice as warning shots to deter the crew from persisting with their attempted escape.

After the rangers, took control of the vessel, gardaí and customs officers were able to also go on board.

The Garda and Defence Forces were tracking the vessel on suspicion it was carrying cocaine and making deliveries of the drug to much smaller vessels at sea.

One of those smaller vessels was the Castlemore trawler, which ran aground on a sandbank about 12km off the coast of Blackwater, Co Wexford, late on Sunday night.

Two men – from the UK and eastern Europe – were eventually winched to safety from Coast Guard helicopter R117 in the early hours of Monday morning and on to the LÉ William Butler Yeats. They have since been arrested under anti-gangland legislation and were still in Garda custody in Co Wexford on Tuesday night.

Despite the successful operation there are concerns over Ireland’s ability to patrol its own waters.

Last month, The Irish Times reported that the Naval Service was left with just two ships to patrol Irish waters due to a manpower crisis.

In his analysis today, Lally outlines how Ireland’s lack of naval patrols makes it an appealing route for drug smugglers.

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Dáil proceedings begin with questions on “Topical Issues” at 9.10am.

A People Before Profit-Solidarity motion on the Eviction Ban Bill 2022 will be debated from 9.58am.

Leaders’ Questions is at noon.

Government Business in the afternoon, from 2,50pm, and into the evening includes the second stage of the Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Agency Bill 2023 and the final stages of the Control of Exports Bill 2023.

The weekly Dáil votes are due to take place at 9pm.

Fianna Fáil Senators will put forward a motion on crime and policing in the Seanad at 2.30pm.

There will also be a motion from the Irish Women’s Parliamentary Caucus to deliver a rights-based care economy in Ireland debated in the Seanad from 5pm onwards.

It’s a busy day in committeeland.

Representatives of the Department of Health and HSE will be before the Committee on Health to update TDs and Senators on the implementation of the cross-party Sláintecare reforms from 9.45am.

There will be a discussion on “all aspects of read safety” with senior gardaí and the Road Safety Authority, among others at the Committee on Transport at 1.30pm.

Coimisiún na Meán, the Media Commission, will be before the Committee on Media, also at 1.30pm.

AIB, Bank of Ireland, Permanent TSB and the Banking and Payments Federation will be quizzed on general banking issues by the Committee on Finance, again from 1.40pm.

Minister for Finance Michael McGrath and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe will face pre-budget questions from the Committee on Budgetary Oversight at 5.30pm.

Click for the full Dáil, Seanad and committee schedules.