A new drugs boom is under way in the Republic and gardaí believe the recovery in the drug trade since the recession years is bigger than official crime data suggests.
Senior Garda officers are especially concerned about the increase recorded in major regional towns as drug crime jumped by 20 per cent in the first half of this year.
Central Statistics Office (CSO) drug trend data compiled for every Garda station the Republic shows a mixed picture in Dublin, where recorded drug crime is higher in some areas but flat or decreasing in others.
The most notable increases in Dublin occurred in the area policed by Pearse Street Garda station, which includes nightlife areas such as Temple Bar, Grafton Street and Dawson Street in the south inner city.
There was a 60 per cent increase the number of drug offences in that area from 2015 to 2018, when 713 offences were recorded. And in the Kevin Street station area drug crime increased by 40 per cent in the same period, to 308 crimes last year.
However, in the areas policed by Kilmainham, Bridewell, Fitzgibbon Street and Store Street stations, all in Dublin’s north inner city, recorded drug crime fell over the same four-year period.
“In the Store Street area, and maybe some of those other areas, you’ve had saturation policing because of the Kinahan-Hutch feud and that’s probably having an impact on drug dealing being conducted there,” said one source.
In contrast with most of the trends in the busiest Garda stations in Dublin, in the large regional towns drug crime increased over the four-year period to the end of last year; the most recent period for which a station-by-station breakdown is available.
Significant increases in recorded drug crime in the four-year period to the end of 2018 include: Portlaoise (90 per cent), Mullingar (180 per cent), Naas (200 per cent), Drogheda (60 per cent), Dundalk (160 per cent), Ballina (130 per cent), Castlebar (74 per cent) and Tralee (80 per cent).
“There is now nearly full employment and salaries are up, meaning more disposable income,” said one Garda source. “People are spending more on partying and a big part of that is drugs.”
Another source agreed: “Not so long ago people didn’t have the money to go out too often, especially in rural areas that were maybe hit hardest by the recession. But now they have the money to even send taxis to pick up drugs for them; that’s the reality.”
Other sources said because there were now more gardaí in the force, more drug crime was being detected. But they believed the main driver of rising drug crime was the economic recovery.
“In a lot of those big towns where the numbers show [recorded drug crime] is up, you have two-person patrols,” said one source. “And so they will have no problem stopping the car anywhere and getting out and doing stopping and searching, which is how you catch most people with drugs.
“But in more rural areas you will have one [Garda] member in a car. And they might be more reluctant to stop and do searching on their own because the nearest back-up if anything goes wrong is a long way away. And so in those areas, more of the drug crime may go undetected.”