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16 January 1997 Edition

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Gardai brought heroin into Dublin

Drug dealer was working was drug squad



by Rita O'Reilly
     

Heroin sold on the streets of Dublin was imported by a man working for the Garda, An Phoblacht can confirm.

At a time when heroin was being pushed to young ecstacy users in Dublin as the drug to help them `come down' off E, a dealer bringing large quantities of both drugs into the country was working for the state.

The man, a notorious drug dealer called Griffin, from Coolock, was supposedly being used to lead Gardai to one of the biggest drug importers in Dublin. However, the major drug criminal remains outside the law, and the Garda strategy has clearly totally failed.

Secret Customs documents seen by An Phoblacht confirm reports in the Sunday Business Post and Sunday Independent last year that the Garda Drugs Bureau was `running' the drugs courier, an operation which only came to light when Customs Officers detained him at Dublin Airport on 20 December 1995. He was carrying three and a half kilos of heroin and 3,000 ecstasy tablets at a street value of £2 million.

But the Customs records also reveal that the courier's `arrangement' with the Garda had lasted for several years and had survived a September 1993 British court case before which Griffin and an accomplice, Richard Merriman, claimed they were working for the Irish police. They named a Coolock-based Garda detective as their `contact'.

At the time, Merriman was sentenced to 2 years on heroin charges but the charges against Griffin were dropped due to lack of evidence.

In addition, An Phoblacht has learned that on his release, Merriman returned to Ireland and was shot and injured in Coolock in 1995. From hospital, he made a statement to Gardai naming his attackers. However, after being interviewed alone by his detective `contact', Merriman mysteriously retracted that statement.

The revelations concerning the Griffin operation come at a time when stories of corruption within the Gardai are regularly being brought to light.

But even if no illegal corruption was involved in the Griffin and Urlingford operations, the corruption of the role of the Gardai from one of crime prevention and detection to one of knowingly permitting heroin and other illegal drugs to be brought into the country and to be distributed in areas hit with widespread drug addiction is a matter of huge political importance.

Along with the revelations about the Garda cannabis importation which ended on the side of the road in Urlingford in November 1995, the Griffin case illustrates a highly questionable Garda drugs strategy and a clear policy of non-cooperation with Customs on the part of Gardai.

Customs records show they tracked Griffin six times over a period of four months in 1995 on outward or return flights between Dublin and Amsterdam. On one of these occasions he was carrying in excess of £50,000. Knowing Griffin had a record for armed robbery and drugs, Customs took their own action in accordance with their job of stopping illegal trafficking at the point of entry.

The Garda, however, had a different agenda. On at least two occasions prior to 20 December 1995, they failed to let Customs know any details of their operation. On 20 December, a senior Customs officer was informed by the Garda Drug Squad that they had no operation concerning Griffin. Another Drug Squad member who approached Customs to track Griffin's return journey denied any knowledge to them of what was going on. The drug courier's contact, the Garda Detective from Coolock station who was at Dublin Airport, also failed to co-operate with Customs officers. When they informed him Griffin was being arrested, his only reply was ``Do you have to?'', Customs records state. The Detective in question was reportedly promoted and transferred to a rural station during 1996.

Aside from the obvious policy issues, an important operational issue also arises in the Griffin case: why did the Gardai continue to run a drug courier in 1995 when their relationship with him had been exposed through a court case in 1993?

In addition, the courier's exploits did not cease in 1995. The Sunday Independent reported last summer that while out on bail for the December `95 charges, Griffin was still travelling to and from Amsterdam. Garda sources at the time told the paper no investigation would take place ``for fear of the issue exploding into a public controversy''.

When news of the Garda-controlled drug importation first leaked, Garda sources blamed Customs for thwarting their efforts, as with the Urlingford operation. At the time both operations were in full swing, Justice Minister Nora Owen was claiming Gardai and Customs were getting to grips with their liaision problems. She and other government ministers were also praising the new Garda

Drugs Unit being spearheaded by then Deputy Commissioner Patrick Byrne, who was given ``direct responsibility for all Garda anti-drugs measures'' on 19 July 1995.

Nora Owen gave public recognition to Patrick Byrne and Detective Chief Superintendent Kevin Carty (who was appointed to head the Unit on a day-to-day basis) at a Fine Gael drugs/crime conference held on 21 October 1995. ``Drug traffickers are waging war on society,'' she declared, before going on to praise the Garda for drug seizures. The Justice Minister said: ``In dangerous circumstances and often without praise or appreciation, they wage a daily war against the traffickers and dealers.'' At the time, a senior Garda officer (named in the Customs documents) was busy trying to get a trawler to import the biggest quantity of illegal drugs in the history of the state and other members of the Garda were busy running a Dublin drug courier.

The Garda had a budget of £413 million of public money to assist them in 1995. In July 1996, when Deputy Commissioner Patrick Byrne was promoted to Garda Commissioner and his style of police work given full political backing, the government also announced a review of the Garda Síochána to be led by consultants Deloitte & Touche. It was the Deloitte & Touche report which confirmed last month that less than 2% of Gardai are directly involved in the fight against drugs. What fight against drugs? would now appear to be a legitimate question.

The Deloitte & Touche report recommends increased powers and autonomy for the Commissioner and fails to recommend the establishment of any independent authority to monitor the Garda.

The review group's proposals are to be implemented in an operation called `Operation Dearcadh', which means Outlook. On the basis of the record of Garda management exposed through the Urlingford and Griffin operations, the outlook looks bleak indeed.
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