Since being expanded last December, the Divisional Drugs Taskforce from the Mayo Garda Division has seized €1.2 million worth of suspected drugs, along with €30,000 worth of counterfeit currency and €12,500 in cash in the county.
Five grow houses have been raided over that six month period with the value of drugs seized in these searches ranging from €64,000 to €432,000.
The number of cannabis grow house incidents investigated by the Gardai in the county has increased by 400 per cent in a 12 month period, while the incidents of sale and supply arrests have risen by 130 per cent, while the number of seizures for personal use also increased by 214 per cent over the same period.
Mayo is operating according to the new divisional policing model, which has enabled the provision of more resources to tackle the sale and supply of drugs. It has also provided the division with a dedicated Crime Superintendent, Joe McKenna, who oversees crime across the entire county.
Mayo Chief Superintendent, Tony Healy, has said this has resulted in a focused approach in tackling the sale and supply of drugs, and drug related crime.
Chief Supt Healy said: "The policing model has created greater flexibility and has allowed us take a county wide view of crime rather than a district focus.
"The new model has also enabled the expansion of the divisional drugs taskforce, which now consists of two sergeants and seven Gardaí, having increased from one sergeant and three Gardaí.
"The drugs taskforce is supported by all members in the division who are also involved in drug related detections. There are additional resources available to the division in tackling drug related activity through the Armed Support Unit, and the Garda National Dog Unit – both units have been involved in a number of this year’s drug detections.
"In addition there are six members within the Mayo Garda Division who are trained in Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB ) profiling and asset seizure.
"This offers a valuable mechanism to target criminals, particularly those engaged in the drug trade. In order to provide a service to all Garda Divisions, CAB trains selected local Gardaí as asset profilers. Their function is to identify local criminals with assets and submit a basic profile to CAB for evaluation.
"The newly resourced drug taskforce has been in place for almost six months now and already has placed a particular emphasis on tackling drug producers in the county. This is evident from the number of cannabis grow houses detected, which account for more than €1million of the seizures made since December last."
Chief Superintendent Healy highlighted that in all the recent cases where grow houses were detected they occurred in rental properties, saying: "We continue to advise landlords and relevant agencies to remain vigilant to the possibility that their properties may be used by criminals as grow houses.
"Where this occurs it can have devastating consequences for the owners, as those involved in drug cultivation often knock through walls, install irrigation systems and can cause significant damage to the property. ESB meters can also be interfered with. Anyone who suspects criminal activity is going on in a property that they are renting should report the matter to An Garda Síochána, failure to report this where the landlord is aware of this activity could lead to prosecution."
Crime Superintendent Joe McKenna added that detections in the division are not just confined to cannabis, with cocaine and ecstasy also prevalent, saying: "While cannabis is more prevalent in Mayo, this is followed by cocaine, which has become a recreational drug used at weekends and is often combined with alcohol.
"This in itself is concerning, but what users of this drug may not realise is by purchasing and consuming cocaine, or any drug, they are funding organised crime both locally, nationally and internationally.
"What is encouraging is our detections relating to heroin are few and far between. This is a drug we are anxious to prevent coming into the division as it can lead to an increase in drug related crime and can cause significant social issues.
"In addition to tackling the drugs producers and suppliers, Operation TARA which is aimed at combating illegal drug use and local drug dealers, is a national priority for An Garda Síochána and in Mayo a proactive approach has been adopted to targeting the low level dealers.
"Further to this Gardaí in Co Mayo have been proactive in supporting those who are the victims of drug related crime. For example, the division has two cases before the courts in respect of drug intimidation.
"The division is also involved in community engagement where it has a schools programme aimed at young people, and regularly engages with parents, sports clubs, and community groups highlighting the dangers of drug use.
"We would like to encourage anyone who has been the victim of drugs related crime to make contact with any Garda Station in confidence. We are conscious that drug use isn’t just a Garda matter and any person who has a concern over a loved one who may have become involved in drug taking is also encouraged to contact An Garda Síochána. We are available to assist them and can provide practical advice and can link them in with relevant support services in confidence."
Superintendent McKenna added: "There are a number of organisations nationally and locally that can provide support, these include but are not limited to: Addiction Services HSE; Western Region Drug and Alcohol Taskforce; Hope House Foxford; Cuan Mhuire Galway; New Choices The Neale Ballinrobe; and Mindspace Castlebar.
"Meanwhile anyone who may have information regarding the sale and supply of drugs in their locality is asked to make contact with any Garda Station or the Garda confidential line 1800 666 111.
"We would advise the public to never assume that An Garda Síochána has been contacted already about unusual or drug related activity in an area and to always report matters of concern."