Saturday, 4 February 2006

Irish are among the 'highest cocaine users in Europe'

Saturday February 04 2006
Bernard Purcell
London Editor
IRELAND has among the highest cocaine use per capita in Europe, according to British National Crime and Intelligence Service (NCIS).

The biggest consumers of the drug are Spain, Ireland, the UK and the Netherlands, according to an NCIS report. Much of the drug is transited from Colombia across the Atlantic to the Iberian Peninsula - predominantly Spain and to a lesser degree, Portugal.

In Britain much of the cocaine that arrives in the country is turning up on the streets of London, Merseyside, Birmingham, Bristol, Nottingham and Leeds as the lethally addictive crack cocaine. The overall supply to the UK has been estimated at 35 to 45 tonnes. The preferred route for many traffickers, who include British and Irish, West African, South Asian and West Indian gangs, is through cargo routes.

Sometimes those who run the cargo routes are unwitting, other times complicit.

Shipments as big as 100kg, worth £3m (€4.4m) at current 'low' prices, have been intercepted. But some West Indian gangs favour individual traffickers and are smuggling in batches via couriers through regional airports.

The couriers then transit to other UK and European destinations including Dublin, Cork and Shannon.

The discovery of a 5kg batch of cocaine in two Irish passengers' luggage at a UK airport recently highlighted not just the growing popularity of the drug here, but the willingness of some people to try and smuggle it.

Its wide availability and relatively low wholesale price has attracted a new breed of non-career Irish traffickers drawn to the idea of a quick profit.

The 5kg consignment was worth - depending on how it is diluted - about €90 a gram. Drug trafficking between Britain and Ireland has been displaced as a major route in recent years by consignments - primarily cocaine - coming in from Spain and the Benelux countries. But UK Customs investigators have started to supply their Caribbean counterparts with sniffers - air samplers and ion tracker machines - which are also becoming much more widespread in UK airports.

Detection of minute traces of cocaine on clothing, baggage or skin, of which the passenger may be unaware, means the customs officers are likely to seize or track the passengers.

Scans of luggage in the holds of planes coming from cocaine hotspots like Spain or the Caribbean are also carried out unknown to the bags' owners.

Latest garda figures show that they seized a total of 300kg of cocaine in 2005.

This compares with only 165kg in 2004, 117kg in 2003, 32kg in 2002, and a mere 6kg in 2001.

In the meantime, cocaine usage has surpassed ecstasy and is now second to cannabis in the popularity table.

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