WATCH: Policing chief quizzed over divisional drug unit

Cyber crime unit set for Bailieborough

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has committed to supporting the work of Divisional Drug Units nationwide, but stated that resourcing in Cavan-Monaghan is a matter for the local Chief Superintendent to deal with.

Speaking at the Joint Committee on Justice earlier today, November 9, Cavan-Monaghan Fianna Fáil Deputy Niamh Smyth challenged Comm Harris over the levels of manpower assigned to the specialised unit locally.

According to the most up-to-date personnel figures available, released by the Department of Justice, as of September 2023, there is just one garda member assigned to the divisional drugs unit covering both Cavan and Monaghan.

As of last month however, due to promotion, the Celt understands that the last remaining unit member has since moved on, leaving nobody specifically attached to the unit at present.

The divisional drugs unit in Cavan-Monaghan was disbanded in 2013, but reformed in part due to increasing political pressure on government in the intervening years.

It was re-established locally in 2017 and manned with six members up until 2019.

That number then fell to four in 2020, then three in 2021, and two in 2022 - one sergeant and one garda covering the two counties.

There are currently 374 gardaí serving in the Cavan-Monaghan Division, made up of 300 rank and file members, 56 sergeants, 11 inspectors, and two chief superintendents.

This is down from 385 for the same period last year - a fall of almost three per cent.

There are 73 officers currently assigned to the Bailieborough district within the division, and 95 in Cavan.

In neighbouring divisions and those within the North Western Region, there are seven gardaí assigned to the drugs unit in Sligo-Leitrim, five in Donegal and also Roscommon/Longford. There are seven gardaí serving on the drugs unit in Westmeath, and six in Meath.

“We don't have one,” said Deputy Smyth of a drug unit for Cavan-Monaghan. “I do believe we had personnel in that particular unit, we may have had five, it was reduced to four, and at the moment, it may be part of the retention and recruitment difficulties I'm not sure, but I honestly believe it is a specialised unit that is incredibly important. And I would argue particularly in a rural constituency like Cavan and Monaghan, very much part of the border area which always presents its own difficulties and challenges around policing, it also makes it very attractive for that behaviour and anti-social criminality.”

She indicated that issues around drugs are rife in communities, infiltrating groups and clubs.

“What we're hearing at the JPC meetings is that its happening in broad daylight and in full view.”

Deputy Smyth said her own office is “inundated” with concerned parents asking what is being done to tackle drug dealing and abuse in the community.

“What is your vision around specialised units? Do you believe they are necessary? Do you believe they are effective?” Deputy Smyth asked Comm Harris.

She had two more questions for Comm Harris which she asked.

The first was in relation to the establishment of a cyber crime unit at the still under construction new Garda HQ in Bailieborough, and the second over concerns raised in connection with the use and safety of gun holsters by trained officers.

Responding, Comm Harris claimed that he had set up drug units in 2019 as part of an effort to “local mid-range drug dealing”.

He did not know the resourcing situation of the divisional unit in Cavan-Monaghan, only to say that it was up to the Chief Superintendent to “make his bid into HR”.

He welcomed that 150 new garda recruits would soon graduate and a further 170 after that.

“Those numbers do make a difference in the divisions and they then allow for lateral movement into specialised units.”

He noted that the force at large was dealing part of a global effort aimed at tackling the movement of huge amounts of cocaine into Europe, saying: “Ireland is a target for these transnational organised crime groups. I think the seizures we're making are making a difference but there still a huge amounts of drugs reaching our shores”.

He concluded his point, after prompting from Deputy Smyth for a definitive answer over the future of drug units that: “I believe in the drug units in terms of the intelligence and the success they're having at local level, but we have to couple that with the Criminal Assets Bureau and local assessment done in respect of proceeds of crime. Using CAB not just for the Mr Bigs, but also pursuing those whose income from drug dealing at local level is all about acquired cars or watches, often handbags, etcetera. So we take away those trappings of wealth from individuals. We're entirely committed to that.”

He further confirmed that the cyber crime unit is still destined for Bailieborough, and on the “safety holster” introduced following the murder of Garda Colm Horkan in Roscommon, stated it was done so in order to make it “more difficult” for a firearm to be removed.