Gardai have identified five criminal gangs operating in the Sligo/Leitrim division and are targeting them and their assets are part of a push to address drug dealing, intimidation and other associated criminal activity last Monday's Leitrim Joint Policing Committee meeting heard.
The online meeting was attended by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and members took the opportunity to highlight concerns over drug dealing in the Leitrim and the wider north west area.
In a discussion on the restructuring of the garda operating model, Cllr Enda Stenson said that there needed to be extra gardai on the ground in places like Mohill to deal with “low level drug dealing” which was starting to occur in the town.
He stressed the need for local knowledge and said that it was vital gardai assigned to an area were on the ground and in the community.
Cllr Justin Warnock pointed out this problem wasn't just seen in parts of South Leitrim noting that “drugs can be found everywhere” and asking the Garda Commissioner if we “can see a stage where we can get a grip on it. The dogs on the street know who is at it,” he added.
Cllr Sean McGowan also noted the widespread availability of drugs “in every community in rural Ireland” adding “this is why stations like Mohill, Drumshanbo and Ballinamore need to be open on a full time basis”.
Sligo/Leitrim Deputy Martin Kenny agreed that the reach of drugs in all areas is “quite serious” and required an investment in community policing.
Minister Frank Feighan said that moves were already underway at national level to develop a Health Diversion programme for early drug offences giving gardai discretion to divert those found in possession of drugs into alternate programmes rather than just solely through the courts.
Responding to calls for action on drugs Garda Commissioner Harris noted An Garda Siochana had made the decision to prioritise the targeting of street dealing and mid level drug dealers in 2020. In tandem with this the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) began to pursue smaller amounts of amounts of money as proceeds of crime.
He noted that €40m in drugs has been seized in 2021 already by gardai and acknowledged that “Covid appears to have driven the demand for drugs” nationally.
“We can't bring drugs under control through enforcement alone,” he said, noting that the public has to play their part by knowing the impact of drugs, by being aware of the violence and intimidation that comes as a result of drug production including the trafficking of workers for drug houses and also being aware of the ecological impacts of drugs in other countries like Columbia, where huge tracks of the rainforest are being destroyed for drug production.
“People speak about recreational drug use but there is no such thing. It's all tied into organised criminal behaviour and has significant moral and ecological impacts,” he said.
Sligo/Leitrim Division Chief Superintendent, Aidan Glacken, said gardai in the division had identified five criminal gangs who were engaging in drug dealing, intimidation, extortion and other crimes in the region.
As part of this 15 primary targets have also been identified and gardai are also profiling the assets of 21 people across the division. He said that to date 170 searches have resulted in 54 detections of drugs totaling €400,000 and the further seizure of €152,000 in cash.
He noted that in Leitrim there have been four drug seizures since the start of 2021 including the most recent on March 21 which resulted in the seizure of cocaine with a street value of €16,000.
He said gardai are also working in Sligo and Leitrim to support young people who are the victims of intimidation from criminal gangs, especially in matters before the court and he urged people to “continue to place your confidence in us and the justice system.”