'Where you have access to children, you will have interest from criminals' - Gangs threaten lives of ice cream sellers
Criminal gangs operating ice cream vans as a front for their drugs activity are using violence and threats to drive honest vendors out of the business.
One female operator who wants out has likened it to “the Wild West”.
Vans have been attacked, vendors have been threatened and some have even been intimidated in their homes. The revelation came amid mounting calls for regulation of the industry.
One of Ireland’s largest ice cream van operators said she is quitting the industry because of its infiltration by criminals and the activities of unregulated rogue operators.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous for personal safety reasons, said the industry is effectively unregulated and a free-for-all.
“It’s a bit like the Wild West. To be honest, I now want out of the business,” she said.
The woman has sold some of her vans and is trying to reposition her business away from a total reliance on street sales.
“It’s an open secret that, where you have access to children, you will have interest from criminals, particularly those interested in selling drugs,” she said.
During a Circuit Criminal Court case last week, it emerged that an ice cream van was being used as a cover for a major drugs operation.
In another case, a major Dublin gangland criminal was using an ice cream van to launder the cash proceeds of his south city drugs operation.
Legitimate operators now feel intimidated by such criminal operators.
In some cases, they have been threatened with violence if they attempt to work in specific urban areas.
Senator Jerry Buttimer warned there were “serious concerns” a bout the way legitimate operators are being victimised by criminals.
“We need to protect them and see what can be done by the HSE, the gardai through community policing and, potentially, by vetting,” he said.
It is estimated there are 1,000 ice cream vans in Ireland. The only inspections are conducted by officials on the grounds of food safety and public health.
There is no vetting of ice cream van operators, despite spending most of their time dealing with children.