Pubdate: Sun, 24 Dec 2006
Source: Sunday Times - Ireland (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
Author: John Mooney


THE number of gardai assigned to combat drug dealing and smuggling is
fewer than 340, according to a confidential security memo seen by The
Sunday Times.  It indicates that almost every drugs unit in Ireland is
underresourced, contradicting claims by Michael McDowell, the justice
minister, that gardai have more resources than ever.

The Garda National Drugs Unit -- an elite squad -- has fewer than 50
staff, including administration, split between four shifts. Other
national units, including Special Branch and the National Bureau of
Criminal Investigation, have in excess of 100 officers each.

Senior gardai have confirmed that there is no drugs unit in Co Mayo,
although they say they are considering setting one up. In Limerick,
where drug dealing has led to a surge in gang violence, there are just
nine gardai assigned to the divisional drugs squad.

In the Carlow/Kildare division,fewer than seven gardai are attached to
the drugs squad, although heroin has become a problem in the region.
In Clare, there are just four.

Other areas where gardai appeared to be underdeployed include west
Cork, also with four officers. The region is used as a base by some of
the biggest drug traffickers in Europe, and west Cork has long been
regarded as a gateway.

In Donegal, there are nine gardai attached to a drugs unit while the
divisional area with the lowest number of officers is Roscommon/Galway
East with two.

While gardai will not publicly criticise force management, privately
they say the resources allocated to combat drug dealing are "farcical".

"They are not paying enough attention to the drugs problem," one garda
said. "Heroin use is spreading so fast and it's not even being
recognised as a problem. It is now available in every county and
management is not taking much notice of it."

A Limerick garda said: "There is a colossal drugs problem in the city
and it is fuelling gun violence and gang feuds. The drugs unit here
has just nine officers between day and night shifts. They are not even
impacting on the problem, which is now so ingrained in some
communities we will never get it out."

Resources available to drug units across Dublin city have also
dwindled, partly due to restructuring and personnel being redeployed.

Some of the Garda National Drugs Unit's resources have been diverted
to other units. There are now fewer than 140 gardai permanently tasked
with combating drug traffickers in the Dublin region, which has a
population of more than 1m.

"Many of these officers are routinely diverted to assist other units,"
said a senior garda source in the city. "Officers with specialist
knowledge of the drugs scene are routinely used to investigate other

"No one can honestly say the drug units are staffed adequately --
they're not."

In the late 1980s, heroin use was restricted to a small number of
inner-city areas in Dublin. Now it is a problem in Donegal, Meath,
Westmeath, Limerick, Cork and Galway. The cocaine market in Ireland is
worth an estimated =80210m and has increased almost tenfold in just four
years. Last year 300kg (660lb) of the drug were seized by customs
officers and members of the NDU. The haul was worth =8021m, or =8070,000
per kilogram, and is estimated to be just one-tenth of the amount
coming into the country.

The 2001 National Drugs Strategy (NDS), which says drug dealers must
be continually targeted, recommends four approaches: supply reduction,
prevention, treatment and research. The gardai, as well as the Customs
and Excise service, were given the first task, to halt supply.

"The garda are not living up to their commitments under the NDS," an
officer said. "They are responsible for supply reduction, yet there
has been no increase in resources to units."

McDowell has said that Noel Conroy, the garda commissioner, has access
to sufficient resources. The Department of Justice said the deployment
of gardai was a matter for Conroy, but their belief was that all units
within the force were adequately staffed.

It is understood that McDowell offered more resources to Conroy at a
meeting in Government Buildings last Monday but the offer was again
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