Drugs trail that reaches from Dubai to all corners of Ireland
Gardai increase support for families targeted over drug debts
Drug-related intimidation is increasing across the country, with gardai reporting cases in almost every county in which families are being threatened or extorted.
A Europol report published last week on the €30bn drugs trade across the continent singled out Ireland for the notable and "severe" impact drugs intimidation has on many communities.
Families of young drug users are intimidated into paying the drugs debts of their children, or threatened in order to exert control, in a vastly under-reported fall-out of the rising drugs trade.
The intimidation has become so prevalent in some areas in the past 12 months that gardai plan to roll out public information meetings in areas worst affected by the violence. The first in a series of public meetings was held in Co Louth last week, where a gangland feud between rival drug trafficking gangs has led to what was described by one garda as "chronic" intimidation of ordinary families caught in the crossfire.
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The meetings took place in Drogheda, Dundalk and Ardee, where gardai advised parents how to protect themselves and their children from drug-related intimidation. In Drogheda alone, more than 17 families sought garda protection at the height of the feud after they were threatened, intimidated or had their homes petrol bombed by warring drugs gangs demanding payment of sums ranging from €600 to €30,000.
The intimidation is a symptom of Ireland's increasing drug use. Drug offences are up 20pc this year, according to Central Statistics Office figures. Cocaine, particularly, is believed to be at epidemic proportions, most of it trafficked by the Kinahan crime cartel.
Europol's report lists the Kinahan-organised crime group, led by Dubliner Christy Kinahan and his sons Daniel and Christy Jr, as one of the biggest in the world, ranked alongside the Colombian, Italian, British, Dutch, French, Moroccan, Serbian, Spanish and Turkish gangs. The report highlights a booming global trade, with cocaine production in South America and heroin production in Afghanistan at record levels and 5,000 organised crime groups in Europe competing for market share.
Exiled in Dubai to escape international police investigations, Christy Kinahan has little competition in Ireland and supplies 90pc of the market. The tentacles of his drug trafficking network reach to the furthest corners of the country.
His cocaine is sold through Dublin wholesalers to dealers in smaller cities and towns who recruit young mules to sell it in the towns beyond.
Europol's Drugs Market Report noted that Ireland is one of a handful of countries where dealers are expanding into provincial towns, by selling direct to users rather than through local dealers on the ground. Drug users order directly from the gang, and recruits, usually young disadvantaged people, are dispatched to deliver and collect payment.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office last month show dramatic increases in drugs offences over the past four years, with increases of 90pc in some provincial towns such as Portlaoise and Carlow.
And drug trafficking gangs are leaning heavily on rural dwellers to support their growing networks, as shown in the case of a 44-year-old farmer who was convicted last Thursday week of storing €650,000-worth of cocaine and cannabis, hidden under manure piles and in outbuildings on his isolated holding outside Mallow in north Co Cork.
Michael O'Brien, a carpenter by trade, wasn't even a drug user but he claimed he had been asked repeatedly by certain individuals to store the drugs, and because he was under financial pressure, he eventually agreed.
The greater the violence between gangs, usually the greater the intimidation in local communities. Where gangs are feuding, local families will suffer the fall-out, gardai say, as is the case in Sligo, Longford and in Drogheda. As feuds escalate, the cycle of revenge attacks has left both gangs in need of cash and bodies. That has resulted in families of young drug users being intimidated into paying often manufactured debts, or drug users themselves intimidated into working for the gangs, with disastrous consequences for communities.
In Co Louth, Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan recounted how a farming family in a rural area, a world away from urban drug-dealing, has been living in fear since their isolated home was attacked by a drugs gang over a debt incurred by a relative.
According to Europol, Ireland's drugs gangs operate a "three-tier" hierarchy, with severely disadvantaged youths on the bottom rung, bullying, vandalising, stealing and spreading fear on the gang's behalf; a middle tier of young people who store and shift the drugs, and who also intimidate and enforce; and at the top of the heap the core group - usually a family - controlling the criminal enterprise from a remove.
While the drug dealers grab headlines with their lavishly decorated council houses, €200 trainers and top-of-the-range cars, the families they terrorise are rarely heard.
Gardai acknowledge that the phenomenon is vastly under-reported, largely due to families' fears of retribution for speaking out.