Violence and intimidation by drug gangs has severely affected communities in Ireland and had a major impact on individuals, their families and the functioning of local services. This is the finding of Europol’s 2019 Drug Markets Report. The huge amount of money spent on drugs each year in Ireland makes it a major source of income for organised crime groups.
According to the report, the gangs are structured along a three-tier hierarchy. At the top are the gang leaders. These are the serious players, often formed around a kinship core, which controls the other tiers. The middle-tier are young people typically engaged in high-risk, low-reward activities such as transporting, dealing drugs, carrying guns, and conducting shootings, beatings and other serious intimidation. The lower tier of the criminal gang structure are generally highly disadvantaged young people involved in bullying, assaulting, stealing, vandalising and spreading fear on behalf of the network.
The report says the gangs in Ireland use intimidation to enforce the ‘social norms’ within the drug distribution hierarchy, to discourage and punish informants, to recruit new members and to gain control over supply networks or territory.
The relatively new drugs supply network, known as County Lines, has emerged in Ireland as in other parts of Europe. Here, criminal gangs based in major cities expand their selling operations to provincial towns and almost exclusively supply heroin and crack cocaine.
Grave concern is expressed over the increase in violence surrounding cocaine importation. Homicides and kidnappings between crime groups in Europe now appear to be more frequent and violent than in the past, says the report.
Director of the Maritime Analysis Operations Centre Michael O’Sullivan said the increase in use of cocaine is fuelling murderous feuds. He said young criminals, in particular, earn large sums of money, gain access to firearms and develop an ‘Al Capone’ mindset, which is not as prevalent among criminals in the heroin or hash trade.
Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Mr O’Sullivan, a former Assistant Garda Commissioner, said the production and sale of cocaine has changed the dynamic of organised crime in Ireland. He said people who are selling cocaine are getting rich quick, and this is fuelling their criminality. They are being empowered by their wealth and buying firearms.
Cannabis remains the largest drug market in Europe with some 25 million Europeans aged 16–24 years old having used the drug in the past year. Herbal cannabis is trafficked directly from Spain to Ireland and the UK. Passenger vehicles and lorries are still the most common modes of transportation but the post office network is also used.