GARDAI are driving the illegal cannabis growhouse business underground – with gangs moving their operations into bunkers to avoid detection.
And a nationwide alert is to be issued warning drug units that various criminal groups may now be building fully equipped underground bunkers to grow cannabis.
On Tuesday, detectives discovered a sophisticated growhouse contained in two 40ft containers which had been buried under a mobile home in a remote part of west Cork.
The growhouse had its own power and water supply and was accessed through a hole in the floor of the mobile home.
This is the first of its type to be discovered by gardai, leading to concerns that the gangs are coming up with new ways to protect their operations.
Officers from the Cork West Divisional Drug Unit seized 150 plants with a street value of €100,000 and arrested three eastern European men when they raided the site in a wood clearing near the village of Ballyvourney on the Cork/Kerry border.
Sources say that one or more heavy machines would have been used to dig out the site and it would have taken some time to construct.
The provos used a network of similar bunkers to conceal weapons and explosives and hide terrorists but this is the first time drug dealers have been caught with one.
Tuesday's operation brought the total value of cannabis herb seized in the past week to over €400,000 – most of it in Cork and Kerry.
Senior garda sources believe that home-grown weed is now the most popular, and profitable, drug on the market.
The huge demand has created a multi-million euro illegal cottage industry which has become highly sophisticated and well organised.
"The sale and supply of cannabis herb has dramatically escalated over the past few years and we are locating growhouses in practically every county in the country," a source said.
"It is hugely profitable and gangs both local and eastern European are hiring south-east Asians working for slave wages to operate the growhouses.
"It has become as organised as any industry, with specialist suppliers importing the grow kits which are installed in the various houses. Moving the growhouses underground is not a surprise.
"Every garda division and specialist unit in the country will be informed to be on the look out."