Sunday January 15 2006
THE head of Dublin's largest drugs gang is a former 'runner' in John Gilligan's gang who began distributing cocaine in the mid-Nineties when it was still a high-end drug in Dublin. Over the past decade, as demand for the drug has exploded, gardai believe he has become the biggest and richest drug-dealer in Ireland.
The drugs lord and former runner still lives here though his wealth is abroad, most likely in property investments in Spain. He lives a relatively ordinary lifestyle at a bungalow in the countryside west
Gardai believe he sources his drugs from the remaining members of Gilligan's gang now resident in Spain, which has become Europe's clearing house for drugs. Gardai also believe that the structure of Gilligan's gang is still largely intact and that the gang - along with a number of other Irish drug-traffickers - still control Ireland's drugs trade and IS richer than ever. The other traffickers controlling the drugs trade were once household names but have a lower public profile since moving to the Costa del Sol.
Gilligan's associates are trafficking cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy into Ireland using new skills and technology to keep them ahead of the gardai. Cocaine has become widely available and much cheaper than ever because of the huge oversupply of the drug in the Americas. The market in the United States became saturated almost 10 years ago, and the South American drugs cartels started looking to Europe as their new market.
Thousands of tons of the drug are crossing the Atlantic every year, being landed
in Spain along the northwest coast of Galicia and the Basque country. It is then
being shipped to other
European countries, including Ireland.
As well as using containers to smuggle drugs into Ireland, the traffickers are believed to have perfected ways of dropping shipments of drugs, mainly bales of cannabis, on the sea bed off the east coast from Wexford to north of Dublin. They are using techniques developed by cocaine smugglers in the southern coastal states of the US - using cargo ships to drop packages miles off shore and marking the point with GPS (Global Positioning Systems).
The waters of the east coast are relatively shallow and once the GPS co-ordinates are given to the gang onshore,
it is relatively easy to use a fishing or leisure boat to run out and hoist the drugs from the seabed.
Gardai in north Dublin have heard of fast 'ribs' - inflatable boats with powerful outboard engines - appearing far out into the Irish Sea beyond their normal fuel range. They are believed to carry additional containers of fuel and once the shipment is picked up they refill their tanks and speed back to shore.
The Naval Service and Army have 'ribs', but even if the drug couriers are spotted and chased, they simply jettison their cargo.
Gardai in the Southeast also believe that some local boatmen may be involved in the same type of activity. A bale of cannabis resin was innocently fished off the shore of south Wexford by an unsuspecting local fisherman two years ago, indicating sea-bed drops are going on in southeastern parts of the Irish Sea.
Once in Ireland, there is a multitude of means of distributing the drugs. Aside from dozens of street gangs in Dublin, dealer networks are now spreading right across the country. The wholesale price of cocaine, which fell dramatically in the late Nineties, has continued to sell at bargain basement prices.
A kilo of uncut, that is at least 90 per cent pure, cocaine costs €48,000. The intermediate buyer 'cuts' this four times with glucose powder so the cocaine reaching the user is only 20 per cent pure. Cocaine is also sold already 'cut' at €24,000 a kilo.
The purity levels can be even lower by the time the drug reaches the pubs and clubs, where it is sold in
1.3 gram bags for around €100 - though some gardai are
reporting even lower prices
in working-class areas of Dublin where a gram can be bought for €40. However, the buyer is often getting a very inferior product.
The gang that works with the successor of John Gilligan was discovered to have bought compressors and was believed to have been 'cutting' their near-pure cocaine, recompressing it into solid blocks and fobbing it off to dealers as pure. The 'cocaine' reaching the street in this instance might have a cocaine content as low as 10-15 per cent or less.
Analysis of street cocaine by the Garda Technical
Bureau has also shown that before the drug crosses
the Atlantic, it may have
been doctored with impurities. Last year, analysis
of samples of cocaine seized
in Dublin showed it con-
tained traces of the banned analgesic phenacetin, which causes cancer.
According to gardai, most major discoveries of drugs here are happenstance though some are still 'intelligence-led', in other words, gardai are acting on information given to them by informers. The whole question of informers, however, is a cause of controversy among detectives as some of the main touts are themselves involved in the drugs trade.
At least one senior member of Dublin's biggest drugs gang is suspected of having been a Garda informer who provided information against the IRA and other republican groups. Questions have been raised by some gardai about why the man is not the subject of intensive Garda operations, given that he is now believed to be one of the country's biggest traffickers.
Some gardai believe the man - like John Gilligan and his associate John Traynor before him - may be or may have been an informer. Gilligan and Traynor enjoyed a remarkable degree of immunity from Garda investigations prior to being exposed by Veronica Guerin.
Some gardai say that the war against drugs has been lost. One compared the Garda "successes" as "like catching salmon - you might catch one or two but you'll never know how many are swimming up the river".
The Saturday Night cokeheads, Life magazine