The prevalance of a burgeoning drugs trade in the west is leading to a volatile and violent organised crime network, the Galway City Council Joint Policing Committee was told on Monday.
This has already manifested itself in violent crimes in Galway City, Athenry, Oughterard and in South Mayo, but Gardai believe they have enough resources to combat the rise, despite the region set to lose ten gardai in the next few months, with little chance of them being replaced.
Addressing the meeting, Chief Supt Gerry Roche said that since his return to the west from Limerick, he has noticed a massive increase in the drug-related activity.
“We have done a lot of work with this. We now have drugs units in Loughrea, Tuam, Ballinasloe and Oughterard. The matter is as challenging in the county as it is in the city. I have noticed a massive increase since I came back.
“Travelling drug dealers, coming here setting up in B&Bs and hostels and bringing big amounts of drugs, advertising on social media and then leaving after several days. We have caught a lot of those, as we are monitoring social media.
“Cocaine and heroin are still there. Cocaine is very prevalent in county. With this comes organised crime and we are targeting the sellers and those who lead the gangs..
“They are volatile, and violent and involved in shotting incidents, pipe bombs and petrol bombs.
“I read out a list of incidents from Galway in the High Court recently, and it sounded like I was back in Limerick ten years ago. We have an opportunity to clamp down now on that and that is why we are taking such action,” he said.
“However, it must be said that Galway is still a great place to work, live and study and do business. We have a great reputation but what we do about the drugs problems is what will define us.
“We have two million visitors plus students, plus socialising, plus the traffic, these are the challenges that we have here in Galway.
It alarms me that people undervalue the harm that cannabis does. We had such a huge outcry to stop people smoking but cannabis does such damage with regards to cancer, throat, lungs, depression.
“Dumbing down of it on TV programmes means we are leaving ourselves very open to it. It will bring all the mental health issues that go with it,” he said.
He told Cllr Terry O’Flaherty that he has enough resources to tackle the issue.
“I now have one of the biggest drugs units in the country. What took me five years to get in Limerick, I got in five months here.
“We will lose ten guards in the next ten months and I won’t get those replaced. They are not coming to us. A big recruitment campaign had 4500 applicants and we hope we get those through, but it takes two years to train a guard, “ he said.
Cllr Donal Lyons said that certain communities have a lot of drugs around.
“The feeling around middle class is that cocaine is a drug of choice. These are the people who we need to educate. I welcome the work that is being done there.
Alan Cheevers also paid tribute to Chief Supt Roche.
“We knew your track record in Limerick and commend you on the good work you have overseen in the last few months. We have a big issue and we need to work as communities and ask how can communty groups work with garda to reduce the problem even more,” he concluded.