Cocaine: The Gang Wars connection
Cocaine is not just a social problem; this week reminded us that it's a focus for violent criminals
Despite gardaí mounting dozens of operations against the deadly Kinahan cartel this year, the crime gang remains the main importer of cocaine into the capital in an industry which is valued at €100m per year in Ireland.
Just this week, gardaí investigating the Kinahans seized a "significant" quantity of drugs in Co Meath and made arrests as part of a major international operation.
Gardaí say that they are constantly undermining the cartel's ability to operate but the international crime gang leading the deadly feud with the Hutch mob remains the "most significant criminal grouping in the country", according to a senior source.
However, a number of other separate dangerous crime groupings continue to make vast profits from the illicit cocaine industry.
On Dublin's northside, a gang whose centre of control is in the Coolock area continues to be a main player - this crew is led by a feared criminal nicknamed 'Mr Big'.
In the west of the city a loose group of criminals known as 'The Family' have linked together in the Clondalkin, Lucan and Ballyfermot areas to form a cocaine and heroin dealing enterprise that has been operating for decades.
Gardaí suspect the gang has been importing millions of euro worth of drugs every month into the capital in second-hand cars imported from England.
Sources say that heroin, cocaine and firearms are then distributed from a west Dublin car dealership to middle-ranking dealers who sell the product across the capital.
It is estimated that this detailed drugs operation has been ongoing for over two decades and has involved 'The Family' sourcing 'product' in the Liverpool and Manchester areas of north-west England. 'The Family' gang has been the subject of numerous significant garda raids over the past year.
As the economic situation in the capital continues to improve, gardaí have noticed an increase in cocaine use by people from the middle classes, who now have more disposable income for socialising. This has meant a bigger demand for cocaine, with a gram of the deadly drug generally being sold for between €70 and €100 to recreational users.
While gardaí point out that the quality of cocaine is often of a "far poorer quality" than what can be bought in continental Europe and the United States, there are still hundreds of cocaine addicts in this country.
Gardaí have consistently warned about how recreational drug use fuels the profits of the dangerous drug dealing gangs.
Just last week a new campaign to highlight the role that recreational drug use plays in drug debt intimidation was launched by the Safer Blanchardstown organisation. Backed by gardaí and the PSNI in Northern Ireland, the all-island 'Think Before You Buy' campaign is now a nationwide enterprise.
Speaking at the launch, Garda Inspector Tony Twomey said it was "a very good" campaign in its particular focus on recreational users.
"Often people who engage with recreational drug use do not see the link with organised crime and intimidation, and its contribution to what's happening on the bigger scene at the moment, with the major feuds," Inspector Twomey told the launch.
Elaborate smuggling routes
Cocaine is generally smuggled into Ireland through our ports, but the lethal powder that users take here has had a long way to travel.
The cocaine is produced in countries such as Peru and Colombia and then transported via elaborate smuggling routes to Caribbean countries. It is then sent across the Atlantic Ocean either directly to Spain as part of a northern route or to west African countries such as Sierra Leone.
The cocaine that arrives in Africa is then smuggled all the way up the continent before it reaches mainland Europe and is distributed by gangs including the Kinahan cartel.
A major international study funded by the European Commission concluded last year that cocaine is worth €100m here.
The 'Portfolio of Organised Crime in Europe' report stated that the €100m cocaine value was part of a wider sum of €1.7bn which the report said was the value of organised crime in Ireland.
Meanwhile, crack cocaine use remains an increasing problem in many urban areas of the country with local drugs units making significant busts in relation to this drug throughout the year.