Limerick gardai seize €330k worth of heroin in bid to weed out criminal underworld

Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent


Fintan Walsh, Health Correspondent


Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche and Det Gda Padraig Sutton discuss their successful campaign against heroin

Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche and Det Gda Padraig Sutton discuss their successful campaign against heroin

GARDAI have arrested almost 100 drug dealers and seized more than €330,000 worth of heroin in their long-running campaign to root out the criminal underworld in recent years.

Exclusive figures received by the Limerick Leader show that gardai have arrested 88 people in connection with sale and supply of heroin, and have made 247 seizures since 2016.

In total, the gardai tasked with cleaning the streets of Limerick of its drug problem, have seized €330,691 worth of heroin.

And speaking to this newspaper, Chief Superintendent Gerard Roche and head of the drugs unit Det Gda Padraig Sutton detail how local gangs are bringing the highly-addictive drug to the streets as part of their lucrative, international operations.

In 2016, gardai arrested 30 people and made 88 seizures, accumulating €150,700 worth of heroin. Last year, there were 42 arrests and 110 seizures. A total of €93,130 worth of heroin was seized in 2017.

So far this year, Limerick gardai have arrested 16 people in connection with the sale and supply of heroin, and have made 49 seizures. In total, €86,861 worth of heroin has been seized.

Det Gda Sutton says they focus more on the number of seizures as opposed to the number of arrests.

Heroin, one of the most expensive narcotics on the market, is made from opium, which is predominantly cultivated in the tropical climates, such as in the Middle-East and South America.

This means that the product in Limerick is being brought in from other countries, says Det Gda Sutton, whose team has seized around €60,000 worth of heroin since May.

Chief Supt Roche says imported heroin “comes in its rawest format” and is then cut with mixers in order to give it volume. This allows drug dealers on the ground to make a profit. 

And dealers almost never carry heroin in bulk when supplying to buyers; it’s generally in small amounts.

The man in charge of the drugs unit says four deals of heroin, 1g in total, “would fit comfortably on the baby nail of your finger”.

One deal of heroin is a quarter of a gramme, priced at €20. So if someone is caught with around €40 worth, the gardai could likely consider this possession, under Section 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

However, someone carrying seven or eight bags, even for friends, could be arrested under Section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act—unlawful sale or supply of drugs.

“A guy with two or three bags, his intent could be to bring back one for each of the lads. He’s technically a dealer,” Chief Supt Roche adds. But Det Gda Sutton says that there is no general distinction between a Section 3 and a Section 15.

“It all depends on the circumstances of each individual,” he says in the chief’s office on Henry Street. 

“We find with heroin is, a lot of the time we are dealing with small amounts. Amounts of €500 or €600. A person carrying a bar of heroin would be nine ounces, which would be quarter of a kilo.

“A kilo of heroin comes in at around €140,000. People don’t carry that kind of quantity with them. They carry small amounts. They carry an ounce of heroin that could be split up into different bags,” Det Gda Sutton explains.

This is where Limerick’s international gangs, of which there are more than one, start to profit.

The drug scene, says the chief, is “unique” in that it is controlled by locals with zero or little interference from international cartels from the likes of Columbia or countries in Eastern Europe.

Gangs here with a kilo of heroin, worth €140,000, can easily turn this into a fivefold profit, by splitting with whatever mixers.

And depending on the purity of the supply, a kilo purchase could turn into five kilo supply, which will then be split into bags for the dealers on the street.

And even though Limerick’s drug underworld is run at a local level, ‘customers’ are coming from afar. Det Gda Sutton said seizures have been made with people from Kerry who are sourcing product in Limerick “with the intention of dealing heroin in that area”.

But purity is a danger on the streets, says Chief Supt Roche, as heroin is not mixed in a sterile environment. “You get a guy who mixed his heroin a bit different to the people who are used to taking it from a particular guy, you can have fatalities quite quickly.”

Heroin is just one drug and criminal organisations are all about making money, so there are other illicit substances for which gardai are on high alert.

If a group is running a heroin operation, prescription drugs are on their shelves too. This includes xanax, alprazolam, opiate-based drugs, image enhancing drugs such as steroids and growth hormones.

While it is not a criminal offence to possess the steroid for your own use, it is an offence to possess it for the purpose of sale or supply. Which is why gardai work with the Health Product Regulatory Authority and Customs and Excise to identify packages that are coming into the country through a courier or postal service.

The recreational drug scene is still a problem among youths, Det Gda Sutton says, with many consuming ketamine and MDMA, a powdered form of ecstasy. MDMA is also being seized in crystal form.

Chief Supt Roche says the young people treat cannabis as a recreational drug “and don’t see much of the issues with it. There are huge issues with it”. Cocaine “was always the one for people with money”. 

Asked why haven’t international gangs from abroad infiltrated Limerick’s narcotics market, Chief Supt Gerard Roche says it is because there are already international gangs of Irish origin here.

“They can’t waltz in here, there’s a history of feudings, history of violence here, that if there’s an issue they will do whatever they do. Whereas there might not be that issue in other places.

“There’s a culture here which is that’s what they do. You have some very big people operating from here—had been traditionally operating from here, more to do with the past, with some still at it.”

And taking on the successful challenge of tackling these criminal gangs, Det Gda Sutton, based at Henry Street, says some people they are dealing with are “very astute”.

“We have to up our game and make sure that we’re in line and ahead of the curve at times.

“It’s very difficult job but we’ll keep doing it, and wew have had some very huge successes in Limerick and we keep the flag flying.”

- This interview is part of a wider feature in which Fintan Walsh investigates the heroin scourge through the lens of gardai, gangs, healthcare and addicts. See the Limerick Leader broadsheet for more, in shops now