Fears as more guns smuggled here by drugs gangs
SENIOR garda officers are concerned at the increase in guns being smuggled into the country with drugs shipments.
Detectives from the Garda National Drugs Unit have seized 20 firearms, including two machine guns and several automatic handguns, over the past 12 months.
This is the biggest haul of guns uncovered with drugs consignments for several years.
The increasing traffic in guns was highlighted as it emerged that gardaí seized drugs worth €62m in 2014.
This figure does not include the massive shipment of cocaine intercepted on the yacht Makayabella in September, as its value has not been officially recorded yet.
Some of the guns are being included with drugs shipments as "sweeteners" to seal a deal.
But others are being sought for protection in 'turf wars' or feuds over unpaid debts.
Officers say the drugs scene is becoming increasingly global, with big players now based overseas.
The drugs bosses have settled in Spain, the Netherlands, the UK and Portugal.
Irish gangster Christy Kinahan, who is well established in Spain, has become one of the top drug suppliers in Europe, but maintains close links with several gangs here.
Other Irish ex-pats who have built up lucrative connections overseas include associates of George 'The Penguin' Mitchell, accomplices of the victorious gang in the Drimnagh-Crumlin feud, and remnants of the John Gilligan gang.
Two leading gangland figures, who are both originally from the northside of Dublin and were believed to be responsible for the murder of Real IRA Dublin boss Alan Ryan, are also high on the priority garda watch list along with a former Donaghmede-based gang, who deal in cocaine, herbal cannabis and heroin, and operate independently from Kinahan-controlled suppliers. A big supplier on the Cork scene is also based in Spain and organising shipments for his associates.
The National Drugs Unit has also been active in seizing cash belonging to the gangs and uncovering the identities of facilitators, who are either storing or smuggling the money.
Officers say they confiscated up to €750,000 during 2014.
During the year, there were indications that ecstasy seemed to be making a comeback among users, while herbal cannabis continued to take over from cannabis resin.
Gardaí say the gangs controlling cannabis growhouses are now locating them in smaller units in urban areas rather than big, industrial-sized warehouses.
This is to reduce their losses after drugs busts.