Wednesday, 3 October 2007
Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
National Drugs Strategy
Question 254: To ask the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take following the recent drug finds around the Irish coastlines, to prevent Ireland being used as an access point for the smuggling of drugs into Ireland via the coastline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22150/07]
The recent drugs finds are a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by all of the agencies involved in trying to prevent drugs being imported into Ireland. We should not underestimate the difficulties posed by the nature and extent of a 3,000 mile coastline.
Under the National Drugs Strategy it is the Customs Service which has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs at importation. But, of course, the Strategy recognises the vital importance of cooperation between the members of the Joint Drugs Task Force of the Customs Service, An Garda SÃochÃ¡na, and the Naval Service.
While a certain amount may be achieved by random patrols of our coastline, the priority must be intelligence-based targeted activities by all the agencies involved. In terms of intelligence gathering and sharing of information, I can assure the Deputy that the agencies mentioned above are cooperating fully not only among themselves but with their counterparts in organisations such as Europol, the World Customs Organisation, the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the U.K. Serious and Organised Crime Agency. On the part of An Garda SÃochÃ¡na, for example, Garda liaison officers are based at London, Paris, the Hague, Madrid and Europol.
I am informed that the work of Customs in monitoring our coastline is based on risk analysis and intelligence-led enforcement. Mobile anti-smuggling teams operate from key strategic locations. These officers are engaged in intelligence gathering and in operational interventions. This type of enforcement strategy is in keeping with best international practice. The Customs Drugswatch programme is also in place to encourage the coastal and maritime communities to assist in confidentially reporting suspicious activity and a dedicated Freephone is in operation on a 24/7 basis.
In order to enhance the State's capability to protect the community from drug trafficking by sea, the Revenue Commissioners deployed the Revenue Customs Cutter, SuirbhÃ©ir, in 2004. The Commissioners constantly monitor the adequacy of the controls that are in place in response to emerging trends and risks as identified both nationally and internationally. Co-operation with other Customs Services and law enforcement agencies abroad is also an important aspect of this work and such co-operation and intelligence exchange is well established and effective.
Last Sunday in Lisbon, I attended the opening ceremony of the new Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre (narcotics) which is our latest law enforcement tool in the fight against drug trafficking. The Centre is intended to focus on targeting the sea and air cocaine routes from Central and South America into the European Union via western Africa. It will collect and analyse operational information, enhance intelligence through better information exchange, and ascertain the availability of assets to facilitate interdictions in accordance with the national laws of the participants involved. The U.K., Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, France and the Netherlands are signatories to the International Agreement establishing the Centre.
The Centre will be inter-agency and will be focused on interdicting large maritime and aviation drug shipments. The centre will maximise operational effectiveness through the pooling of resources and the coordination of intelligence. In the coming weeks arrangements are being finalised for the placement of a customs liaison officer and a garda drugs liaison officer at the centre. The Naval Service will deploy an officer there as the need arises.