Fiona McGarry heard calls at the Clare JPC to tackle people moving up the ladder in drug dealing
DRUGS kingpins are living like Pablo Escobar and openly flaunting the proceeds of crime, Clare’s Fianna Fail TD told the Garda Commissioner this week.
At the Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting, Deputy Cathal Crowe questioned whether the law is too soft and failing to prevent people moving up the ladder from small-time dealers to global gang leaders.
Denying the claim that the criminal justice system is not rigorous enough in tackling drugs, Commissioner Harris said there had been a large number of successful operations in Clare over the last year.
He said hundreds of thousands of Euros worth of drugs and tens of thousands of Euros in cash had been seized in the county, and he undertook to provide a written report to JPC members.
In a written question to the Commissioner, who attended the JPC meeting at the invitation of its chairperson, Councillor John Crowe, the Meelick-based TD questioned what is being done to address the situation where many people are flaunting their wealth with no obvious income.
“I commend Chief Superintendent [Sean] Colleran and every man and woman that wears the blue uniform in our county,” Deputy Crowe said.
“They are doing a lot of good work. We saw a Prime Time special last week on the extent of the cocaine problem. The reality is that some of the small-time dealers that stood on stairwells of flats in ‘80s and ‘90s are now drugs kingpins and have millions of Euro and a lifestyle that puts Pablo Escobar in the shade.
“Something is wrong when someone cannot be reined in before going from street corner dealing to being a kingpin.”
The Fianna Fail TD said that “a baby CAB or mini CAB” is needed to tackle dealing in rural areas.
“The reality is that drug dealing is going on in very village in this county,” he said.
“There are a lot of people in Clare who don’t go to work, but live way beyond their means. They are profiting from drugs. Gardai should have capacity to address this. Is criminal law in Ireland soft? Is there something preventing the reining in of these people?”
Responding to Deputy Crowe’s question, Commissioner Harris said that he had received “four pages detailing success at county level” in drug detections.
“We are working at national and local level,” he said. “Nationally, we concentrate on trafficking of drugs into Ireland and the organised crime groups involved.
“We have further stepped up our liaison with international law enforcement partners and have staff in Washington and Bogota embassies. There has been a huge response from law enforcement communities. We are also contributors to Europol and Interpol. That is bringing success against organised crime gangs (OCGs) who have to some extent an Irish origin.”
Commissioner Harris noted that the 25th anniversary of CAB had recently been marked.
“We have expended a lot of time and effort at divisional level on this,” he said.
“Members of the force are trained to do an assessment on individuals with trappings of wealth. I would also ask the community to come forward if they know of people with property, cars, jewellery and other expensive items. We are very much interested in tracking proceeds of crime.”
Commissioner Harris added that the criminal justice system’s response to OCGs is rigorous.
“The response is strong and effective,” he said. “We want to make Ireland a hard target for organised crime. We need international partners and also information from the public to cut the Mr Bigs off from their market.”
Speaking to the media after the JPC meeting, Commissioner Harris said the criminal justice system needs to respond to different levels of drugs offences.
“We have a proper investigative strategy in terms of the various levels of drug dealing, from from the international drug trafficking and also then to main dealers and how that distribution network moves down into the middle lines and then street dealing as well,” he said.
“The street dealers, sometimes, are operating under coercion paying off a drug debt by dealing drugs on the street, and therefore the on our criminal justice response to that and [to the] possession of drugs needs to be proportionate.”
“But there is really zero tolerance around main dealers and those medium sized dealers. We are seeking the evidence to bring them to justice and we are investigating further to strip them of [their] assets.”
The Commissioner also issued a warning to anyone targeted to hold cash in their bank accounts for others involved in the drugs trade. He said the force was aware of dozens of young people, many in Munster, being duped into funnelling money through their accounts. “This is money laundering, you risk a criminal conviction,” he warned. He described money mules as being involved in “a really risky strategy with zero return”.