Secret garda unit posing as addicts helps put 3,000 dealers behind bars
A SMALL group of specialist undercover gardai posing as drug addicts have been responsible for the arrest of thousands of drug dealers operating on the streets of cities and towns around the country.
Since being set up, the secret squad of eight young officers, nicknamed the Mockies - street slang for mock junkies - have broken up localised street-dealing gangs and put 3,000 dealers behind bars in over 20 provincial towns.
The undercover unit has also carried out several successful operations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway specifically targeting dealers.
Det Garda Kieran O'Reilly, who plays the part of a drug squad officer in the hit show Love/Hate, was a key member of the successful unit for six years. O'Reilly got his first taste of acting while posing as a drug addict buying heroin from pushers.
Despite its small size, the Mockie squad, which is part of the Garda National Drug Unit (GNDU), has notched up the impressive arrest rate since the beginning of the noughties. However because Garda management has refused to increase the size of the unit sources say that it can only target one area at a time.
The work of the Mockie squad - officially called the 'Test Purchase Unit' (TPU) - has been highlighted after the people of Roscrea, County Tipperary demanded action against local drug dealers.
Last month, over 1,000 people attended a rally in the town to express their anger over the "drug scourge" which had resulted in the deaths of a number of local youths and the attempted suicide by others.
A week earlier a crowd of over 500 people staged an impromptu demonstration outside the local garda station.
Senior gardai say that the Mockie unit has succeeded in disrupting drug gangs in several rural towns but because of its size it is limited in the number of operations it undertakes.
"The unit is snowed under with requests from Garda Divisions around the country to mount operations but there just isn't the capacity to carry out more than one investigation at a time," a source told the Irish Independent.
"There is a realisation that it is only through the use of such undercover investigations that localised drug operations can be infiltrated and broken up."
In the past four years alone the Mockie squad has been responsible for the arrest of almost 700 individuals, all of whom were described as being lower to mid-level drug dealers.
In May, 20 people were arrested and charged with drug offences following an operation in Galway city.
A number of other operations are continuing and sources say that at least another 100 drug dealers in a number of towns are due to be arrested in the coming months. In each case the suspect sold drugs to undercover gardai.
"The people being targeted are responsible for the problems being experienced in Roscrea and very many other towns.," a senior source revealed.
A typical operation involves up to six gardai moving into a town at the request of their local colleagues.
Posing as addicts they infiltrate the local drug scene over a period of months and purchase heroin, cocaine, and other class A drugs. Evidence is gathered and files then forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The first time that a drug dealer knows he has walked into a trap is when he is arrested.
Individual operations have led to arrests ranging from between ten 10 over 100 suspected drug dealers at a time.
The work of the 'Test Purchase Unit' is described by gardai as among the "most dangerous" type of work undertaken in the force.
"Potential candidates must be highly motivated and pass a rigorous selection process before they are accepted.
One of the requirements is that they don't look like a typical guard," according to gardai.
There have been cases where members of the unit were so convincing that they were arrested by their colleagues who didn't believe that they were actually gardai.
The unit was the brainchild of former Commissioner Pat Byrne in the late 1990's.
Two young garda officers were sent to the UK where they were trained in undercover techniques supervised by Scotland Yard and MI5.
When they returned they were tasked with recruiting and then training a small team. The undercover squad normally includes a team of six officers.
Most personnel are changed after a year to ensure "fresh faces" for the streets.
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