Garda drug squad will target 'godfathers' of cannabis trade
GARDA specialist units are to launch a new year crackdown on the godfathers controlling the multi-million euro drug trafficking business.
Senior officers say they are targeting all of the major players in the drugs trade here as well as their network of contacts overseas.
The move will be spearheaded by the garda national drugs unit (GNDU), with back up from a range of other specialist squads.
Preparatory work for the crackdown is already well under way as officers gather intelligence and potential evidence.
All of the top gangs in Dublin as well as the main provincial centres are being targeted as gardai build on the successful seizures of large drug shipments in the past year.
Also in the spotlight are the Irish criminals, who have fled this country in the past couple of decades and established themselves in the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and other overseas boltholes.
Notorious gangster Christy Kinahan is still regarded as a key figure in organising shipments, while other Irish ex-pats with a lucrative book of contacts include the remnants of the John Gilligan gang, younger members of the gang once led by Gerry 'The Monk' Hutch, associates of George 'The Penguin' Mitchell, and accomplices of the victorious gang in the deadly Drimnagh-Crumlin feud, led by Freddie Thompson.
One of the top targets here is a west Dublin gang led by a crime boss, who lives in Co Meath.
He was behind a shipment of 430kg of cocaine, which was seized by the GNDU last year; while the two leading gangland figures believed responsible for the assassination of Real IRA Dublin boss Alan Ryan are also high on the priority list.
The gardai are working closely with the PSNI and several English police forces, as well as the Spanish and Dutch police while co-operating with the Customs and the Naval Service.
The clampdown on those at the top end of the drugs market will also become evident in Operation Nitrogen, which was set up in 2008 to combat the phenomenal rise in cannabis cultivation with growhouses seized in every county in the State.
Most of the arrests up to now have been the Asian gardeners used by the gangs to cultivate the herbal cannabis but the focus is now on the Irish and Chinese drug bosses, who are masterminding the growhouse networks.
The number of cannabis plants seized has jumped from 3,919 in 2009, to 14,227 in 2010, 26,531 in 2011, 55,483 in 2012 and 24,000 last year, up to the end of November.
The growhouses are producing herbal cannabis with a potency level that has not been experienced here previously and health experts are worried about the long-term effects on users.
The switch by cannabis users to herbal has pushed up the street price from €12 to €25 a gramme with a consequent drop in the cost of cannabis resin.
Most of the Irish drugs gangs have now moved into the growhouse business after realising the profits that could be made by the Chinese-led gangs.
One senior GNDU officer told the Irish Independent: "Its a no-brainer. There are big profits, less risks, no importation or transport costs and no source country difficulties."
Garda seizures of big industrial sized growhouses in urban locations have forced the cannabis gangs back into rural areas with the emphasis again on isolated dwellings where a garda success is likely to result in a smaller seizure.
Officers say that organised crime gangs are being set up in provincial towns, particularly where there are Asian communities, and there is a lot of activity between here, Northern Ireland and England.
Cannabis cultivation works on an eight-to-12 week cycle with plants at varying stages of growth.
Each plant is reckoned to have a potential value of €800 in terms of yield.