Gardaí concerned by rise in number of high-powered weapons among gangs
GardaÍ are increasingly worried at a significant increase in high-powered guns being imported by drug traffickers.
Officers warn the drug barons are building up dangerous arsenals. The weapons are being brought in by the gangs as part of a deal when purchasing drug shipments.
And up to now most of them have been kept in storage.
But long-held garda fears that they could be fired in a feud were confirmed on Friday when a six-man gang carried assault rifles as they shot dead a rival criminal, David Byrne, at the Regency Hotel in Dublin.
Garda seizures so far have included a machine gun and AK-47 assault rifles as officers step up their efforts to intercept the weapons, particularly as they are being moved between "safe" houses.
The drive to recover the guns is being led by the Garda's drugs and organised crime bureau, backed up by local personnel.
Since March, some 24 firearms have been seized along with €1.2m in cash, while drug hauls had an estimated value of around €25m. A senior officer said: "Up to recently, the gangs were mainly bringing in handguns as sweeteners included in a drugs shipment, apart from one or two serious weapons importations, that were recovered.
"But now they have easier access to more powerful, rapid-firing guns that are high quality and very dangerous to the wider public, particularly if used in urban environments. The gangs seem to be acquiring the guns to prove to rivals they have the firepower if a feud breaks out but until Friday they had not been put into play."
In May 2010 gardaí uncovered two loaded rocket launchers and an AK-47 when they seized a huge shipment of cocaine that had been stored in a rented shed at the rear of a block of industrial units at Clane Road, Longtown, Straffan in Kildare.
The guns and cocaine had been imported by a south Dublin city gang, whose associates included David Byrne.
Three years earlier gardaí, working jointly with the UK serious organised crime agency, prevented another attempt to bring in rocket launchers and weapons for the McCarthy-Dundon gang in Limerick.
Some of the guns are being sourced through cities like Amsterdam where the Irish gang bosses have plenty of gangland connections. But gardaí say those with a wider level of contacts can go directly to countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Russia and Ukraine to buy them.
Another cause of concern to the drugs and crime bureau has been the spread of heroin abuse throughout the nation.
At one stage, heroin could not be bought outside Dublin and the handful of addicts in cities like Cork had to travel by train to the capital to meet their needs.
But eventually some addicts, for a variety of reasons, moved from Dublin, followed by dealers, and the drug quickly took hold across the country.
Now gardaí make heroin seizures in areas ranging from Athlone to Tralee to Galway. "There is no going back with heroin," one senior garda officer said. "It starts in a town with a handful of users and then quickly the problems gets bigger".
The heroin trade is not like selling cocaine, which is largely dependant on disposable income and has a totally different consumer base.
The use of cocaine dropped substantially during the recession but it has made a comeback over the past two years as the national economy improves.
"There are people selling heroin in Dublin whose parents, uncles and grandparents died from the drug. But they still get addicted, even though they know their fate", the officer said.