312. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the degree to which the strength of criminal gangs continues to be monitored; if a noticeable change as to the degree of their activity has been seen; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [58161/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): The continued disruption of the supply of all illicit drugs remains a priority for An Garda Síochána and the other state agencies tasked with responsibilities in this regard. A concerted effort has been made over the past year to ensure that the detection and prevention of these types of criminal activity have not been adversely affected by the unprecedented demands placed on policing services by the vital enforcement of public health restrictions.
As the Deputy will be aware, under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána, including Garda operations aimed at preventing and countering criminal activity, and the enforcement of legislation pertaining to illegal drugs. As Minister, I have no direct role in these matters.
The Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) is having significant success in disrupting drug trafficking and the supply of illicit drugs by organised crime groups. The Bureau’s work is supported by Divisional Drugs Units nationwide, and by all Gardaí working in local communities. GNDOCB also works closely and productively with international law enforcement partners. Gardaí continue to work closely with local authorities, HSE, NGOs, community groups and other state agencies to tackle the problems of drug addiction and abuse.
The Deputy may be aware that the Department of Health leads on Government policy in the area of drugs, and this policy is guided by the national drugs and alcohol strategy "Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery - a health led response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland 2017-2025". This strategy represents a whole-of-Government response to drug and alcohol use in Ireland. The implementation of the strategy is led by my colleague, the Minister for Health, however the strategy includes actions for all stakeholders, including my Department and An Garda Síochána.
The strategy recognises the need for a balanced health-led approach - reducing demand, while also reducing access to illegal drugs, and is aimed at reducing the number of people criminalised for the possession of drugs for personal use. While this strategy supports the vulnerable people who use drugs, it is also matched with strengthened enforcement measures across government to tackle the supply of illegal drugs. Sustained action by An Garda Síochána has continued unabated throughout the current pandemic, bringing significant convictions and ongoing seizures of drugs, firearms and ammunition.
I can inform the Deputy that on 2 July 2021, An Garda Síochána commenced an enhanced national anti-drugs strategy, Operation Tara, which has a strong focus on tackling street-level dealing throughout rural and urban Ireland. Operation Tara is focused on tackling street-level dealing throughout rural and urban Ireland. The focus of Operation Tara is to disrupt, dismantle and prosecute drug trafficking networks, at all levels - international, national and local - involved in the importation, distribution, cultivation, production, local sale and supply of controlled drugs.
Recent successes of Operation Tara include;
- Gardaí attached to the Divisional Drug Unit at Kevin Street Garda Station, with assistance from the Divisional Crime Task Force, conducted a search under warrant at a residence in Ringsend, Dublin 4 and seized €123,000 worth of controlled drugs on Friday 8th October 2021.
- As part of Operation Tara, Gardaí from Naas recovered cannabis herb worth €100,000 in the course of searching a stolen motor van in Allenwood, Co Kildare on the 9th October.
- Gardaí from the detective and drug units in Gorey and Enniscorthy, conducted a search of a residence in Bunclody and seized a combined €304,000 in cannabis and cocaine on Saturday, 23rd October 2021, approximately €100,000 of cannabis herb, €180,000 in cannabis resin and almost €24,000 worth of cocaine (subject to analysis) was located at the residence.
- Gardaí from Cork based Drugs Units have seized drugs worth €140,000 and arrested two males in the course of an operation in Cork on Thursday, 4th November 2021.
All drugs seized are subject to analysis by Forensic Science Ireland (FSI).
I am informed by the Courts Service that statistics relating to drug convictions, broken down by District and Circuit Court cases, are published each year in the Courts Service’s annual report and can be found on the Courts Service website, at www.courts.ie/annual-report.
I am further informed that membership of criminal gangs is not noted by the Courts Service during the course of criminal cases.
I am advised by the Garda authorities that, as of 18 November, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) has made 151 arrests and has seized €51.84m in illicit drugs, 4 firearms, 55 rounds of ammunition and €5.1m in cash in 2021.