by David Raleigh
A “drugs supermarket” operating from a privately owned house in Limerick is continuing to sell crack cocaine, cocaine, heroin, cannabis and tablets, despite gardaí raiding the property several times.
Local gardaí have sought assistance from National garda units including, the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau (GNDOCB) and Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), but this has failed to tackle the problem, Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche, head of the Limerick Garda Division has said.
The estate where the house is located has been flooded with drugs, according to gardaí, drug workers, politicians and local community activists.
Customers can purchase all types of drugs including cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, and prescription tablets from the property, which has been reinforced with internal steel doors, and its entrance has been sealed with cement with a gap in the block work left for drugs transactions.
A local outreach service provided by the Ana Liffey Drug Project Mid West delivers sterile crack pipes and needles to people in addiction to try to prevent cross infections in people using the drug utensils.
Last March, Chief Superintendent Gerry Roche established ‘Operation Copog’ boosting community garda patrols and carrying out raids in the estate, specifically targeting one house in particular.
To assist gardaí, Limerick City and County Council demolished 14 properties in the estate that were vacant and being used to store drugs, and were also being used by people taking drugs.
Sinn Féin TD Maurice Quinlivan told a meeting of the Limerick Joint Policing Committee, which met last Friday, that the garda operation had “failed” to stem the tide of drugs pouring into the estate.
“One of the main objectives of Operation Copog was to close (the house) down, but it has failed, and the mostly settled older community feel abandoned. I know there have been raids on that property but it is operating 24/7 — it doesn’t even have a front door anymore, they cemented that up, you put your hand in through a (gap), I’ve seen it myself,” said Deputy Quinlivan.
He described the situation as “an ongoing circus”, and he claimed half an hour after gardaí raid the property, “it is back up and running, business as usual”.
Gardaí have seized €2.8 million euro worth of drugs in Limerick since the start of this year – an increase of €1 million for the whole of 2020.
Writing to Deputy Quinlivan ahead of the JPC meeting, Chief Supt Roche said Operation Copog was “continuing…there have been nine search operations conducted under warrant in St Mary’s Park since the 3rd of September”.
Chief Roche said that “one particular house has been searched on more than one occasion, gardaí will continue to target drug dealing across Limerick”.
Chief Roche stated: “The crack cocaine problem in Limerick City is continuing and spreading, international experience suggests that searches and prosecutions will not fix this issue as the drug trade have a ready supply of vulnerable people who are suffering from addiction.
“The sale of crack cocaine from one particular house in St Mary’s Park is an ongoing problem, despite frequent Garda searches and persecutions. The house in question has been reinforced and some structural changes have been made to make entry to the house more difficult,” Chief Roche added.
Chief Roche told the meeting he could not discuss any particular case, however he went on, “it’s a privately owned house and that causes more issues as regards what the Council can do as well”.
He said gardaí and Limerick City and County Council were liaising together to examine possibly taking enforcement action in relation to the property.
“It’s not quiet as straightforward as we would like it to be, it’s something that we have sought assistance from CAB (Garda Criminal Assets Bureau) and from the National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, and they haven’t been able to take it on very far for us, but we are not finished by a mile and we will continue to do the work there,” Chief Roche told the meeting.
He said gardaí cannot solve the drugs crisis alone, and he said the public needs to accept responsibility for fueling the drugs business.
He told the meeting: “Its continuous, it’s never-ending, and sometimes it’s like trying to hold back water at the seaside, and gardaí need the help of the public; we need people to realise the dangers of what they are doing to themselves and to the wider public.”
Chief Superintendent Roche revealed that the Limerick Garda Division is, at times, fighting crime with significantly reduced resources, due to a number of factors including the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
He said: “Last Thursday I had 70 – frontline – people out of 400 who couldn’t come to work out of sickness, be it long-term, short-term, Covid-19, self-isolating or cocooning. That puts pressure on all of our working units, it puts pressure on getting people to work overtime.”
Garda Headquarters has lifted a limit on overtime in the Limerick Garda Division to help keep keep boots on the frontline.