Irish authorities have made a string of significant cocaine seizures this year, amid signs the island is becoming increasingly important to European and Latin American traffickers as both a consumption market and transit point.
On November 24, Ireland’s Customs Service discovered 60 kilograms of cocaine in a container at the port of Dublin, which was smuggled from the Dutch port of Rotterdam and another 270 kilograms of marijuana and heroin.
Police sources told the Irish Times only a small number of Irish crime syndicates could organize such a smuggling operation, including the country’s most prominent drug trafficking family: the Kinahan clan.
Led by notorious boss Daniel Kinahan, the group is also suspected of being behind two other recent importations: that in early November of a $3.2 million cocaine cargo – somewhere between 50 and 100 kilograms – from France and that in July of up to 500 kilograms of the drug camouflaged in two containers of charcoal from the Netherlands.
The seizures occur within the context of growing cocaine use in Ireland. According to Eamon Dillon, an Irish crime journalist, the small country of 5 million people is now Europe’s third-largest cocaine consumer per capita, behind Spain and the United Kingdom.
“Cocaine is now available in every small town across Ireland compared to being previously only available in the bigger urban areas ... [and] it wholesales at €28,000 [$31,700] a kilogram and can be sold at a street value of €76,000 [$86,000],” he told InSight Crime.
Kinahan is believed to be crucial to the cocaine trade in Ireland and much of Europe, due to being part of a "Super Cartel," with members of the Dutch mafia, the Italian Camorra and Bosnian organized crime. This organization sourced colossal quantities of cocaine, especially from Peru, where prosecutors have targeted their associates.
InSight Crime Analysis
Besides its burgeoning domestic market, Ireland has become a key pivot in the European cocaine trade for three main reasons.
Firstly, there is a growing presence of Irish criminal emissaries in South America. Despatched by their organizations to negotiate, arrange transport for and often guarantee payment for cocaine shipments, Irish criminals have joined a panoply of other European nationalities traveling to source countries to access lower cocaine wholesale prices, according to a 2021 InSight Crime investigation.
This has been most visible when things have gone wrong. In 2019, an alleged Irish emissary was kidnapped in Colombia after a disagreement with a Valle del Cauca-based crime group, while in 2017, a suspected Kinahan clan associate was murdered and dumped in a ravine near Medellín, reportedly by the Oficina, formerly known as the Oficina de Envigado, in retaliation for a seized drug load.
“The Irish Police are taking connections between Irish criminals and South America seriously. In February this year [the Irish police] appointed a full-time liaison officer based in Colombia,” said Dillon, the journalist.
Secondly, Irish gangs have forged strong ties with other European mafias, especially Dutch drug traffickers. This was most visible in the now-dismantled “Super Cartel” formed between Daniel Kinahan and Ridouan Taghi, the Netherlands' biggest alleged drug trafficker.
First identified by the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2018, the consortium was believed responsible for one-third of all cocaine smuggled into the Dutch port of Rotterdam: roughly 33 metric tons of cocaine that year. At present, Kinahan is the last member of the consortium still at large.
Thirdly, the re-routing of maritime trade after the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. With increased red tape and regulations on European cargo arriving in Great Britain, some experts believe there may be an increase in the use of the Irish land border to traffic cocaine into Northern Ireland and from there to Great Britain.