Dramatic £136 million MV Matthew cocaine seizure shows the scale of the drugs crisis
The Irish News view: More must be done to address the significant social costs linked to drug misuse
THE dramatic seizure of an enormous haul of cocaine worth £136 million from a cargo ship off the Cork coast has dealt a significant blow to the drug cartel behind the smuggling operation.
It is thought a South American gang was using the Panamanian registered MV Matthew to bring 2.2 tonnes of cocaine into Europe.
Members of the elite Army Ranger Wing rappelled from a helicopter on to the vessel on Tuesday as it tried to sail out of Irish waters and evade capture. Warning shots had earlier been fired from a naval patrol vessel. A trawler linked to the smugglers' operation ran aground off the Co Wicklow coast on Sunday.
Three people were arrested during the course of the seizure – the largest drugs capture in the state's history – and around 25 other crew will be interviewed by Gardai.
The Defence Forces, customs officers and the Gardai's national drugs and organised crime unit were involved in an operation which began on Friday when the ship was placed under surveillance.
The scale of the haul means the authorities do not believe it was solely destined for Ireland. Garda Assistant Commissioner Justin Kelly said it was important to recognise it was a "huge hit for the people involved".
In his assessment, an Irish crime gang with direct links to South America must have been involved.
He also pointed out that it is inevitable that more large shipments will enter our waters and that Europe is now the world's biggest market for cocaine.
As our coverage today makes clear, the drugs crisis continues to be deeply felt on the streets of Northern Ireland.
In the past year, for example, the PSNI made 8,934 drug related-seizures – equivalent to 24 a day – with an estimated value of £12m, along with 3,340 arrests.
The problem goes deeper than illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The misuse of prescription medication is a significant feature of many drug-related deaths, while poly-drug use – where more than one substance is misused at the same time – is another serious concern.
As Alex Bunting of addiction charity Inspire says, beyond the deaths linked to drug misuse are significant social costs, including to our health and social care service and to the justice system.
While a policing response is essential, prevention and treatment services must be properly resourced - yet another pressing matter awaiting Stormont's return.