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Customs officers opened the suitcase of a suspected drug mule to find a 'designer dog'

Designer dogs smuggled in cases and passengers swallowing hundreds of balloons filled with drugs - these are the kinds of seizures the dedicated customs officials at Dublin Airport have made so far this year.

Almost 100 people have been caught trying to smuggle illegal items into the country thanks to the work of the officers that monitor passengers and cargo at the busy transport hub.

The most infamous drugs mule case in recent years was that of Irish girl Michaella McCollum and her pal Mellissa Reid who were caught transporting 11.5kg of cocaine in their luggage at Lima airport in August last year.

Back home, there appears to be no shortage of individuals trying to smuggle illegal goods through Dublin Airport.

Customs enforcement boss Shay Doyle and Brenda Hearn, Manager of Operations at the airport, brought The Herald behind the scenes to see what a typical day involves.

As Shay explained, eagle-eyed monitoring of air travellers and cargo is key to ensuring as much illegal material as possible is stopped from entering the country.

Customs officers engage in highly sophisticated intelligence-led operations which includes profiling passengers and observing worldwide trends in relation to drug trafficking.

"We work closely with our colleagues abroad to monitor and determine trends but observation is essential to the process," Shay said.

"Our staff is specially trained to identify suspect behaviours.

"In relation to high class drugs, keeping on top of trends is incredibly important. Sometimes there'll be a lot of seizures from baggage and then there'll be a surge in passengers swallowing drugs."

Swallowers typically fill balloons or pellets with drugs, usually with small quantities of liquid ecstasy or cocaine.

Then they swallow them or hide them in natural or artificial body cavities, which they then attempt to transport across international borders.

Such drugs mules are becoming increasingly popular as criminal cartels pack planes with them instead of concealing a large quantity of drugs in baggage, hedging their bets that not all passengers will be caught.

When caught at Dublin Airport, a suspect will be taken to an interview room that has a drugs loo attached where they can excrete what they have swallowed in the presence of officers before being processed.


So far this year, 80 Irish people have been stopped trying to smuggle illegal contraband through the airport, facing custodial sentences or large fines if convicted.

A further 18 foreign passengers have been arrested over suspicion of smuggling.

In one of the more unusual cases in recent years, customs officers suspected one passenger of smuggling drugs only to open a suitcase and find a bred-to-order live "designer dog" inside.

More recently officers noticed three passengers travelling together all wearing brand new shoes.

When stopped and questioned it was revealed that the trio had concealed cocaine beneath the insoles of the shoes.

Cigarettes are another main focus for customs with thousands seized each week. On July 31, 15,600 cigarettes were seized from one passenger.

Studies conducted by the Revenue estimate that for every 10,000 cigarettes or 500 packets that are smuggled in, the seller makes approximately €1,600 in lucrative profit for criminals.

There are also bigger smugglers who operate large-scale operations with Shay detailing one incident on St Patrick's Day in 2008,

"They packed one flight on St Patrick's Day with 50 couriers, totalling around 1.5 million cigarettes on one flight. They obviously thought we'd be operating low security and off drinking pints somewhere but we caught them."