Interesting that the new Irish government Justice Minister, Brian Lenihan, is reported to have dismissed suggestions that the recent discovery of bales of cocaine off the County Cork coast proves that the Irish coastline is susceptible to smuggling. Interesting because of the Taoiseach’s acknowledgement last week that the discovery was due to “weather conditions rather than intelligence” and the Observer report this Sunday which noted that
The vulnerability of Ireland’s coastline was first highlighted seven years ago by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA found that stretches of coast are ‘nearly impossible to patrol’. It concluded: ‘Ireland’s isolated coasts are ideal for shielding offload operations. The country’s internal role as a transit point will accelerate as drug trafficking organisations continue to favour using the island for continental and British-bound cocaine and hashish shipments.’
And also from the Observer report
Much of the intelligence on the cocaine smuggling networks is orchestrated by a new, highly secretive pan-European Maritime Analysis Operations Centre (MAOC) in Portugal. British intelligence officers with experts from Portugal, Spain, Ireland, France and the Netherlands monitor vessel movements from the coca plantations of South America to the Caribbean via the ‘Irish box’. The challenge to the MAOC team is daunting. More than 220m sea containers are transported across the oceans and seas each year, with 90 per cent of cargos escaping inspection.
The MAOC centre, which will open later this year, is aimed at protecting the EU’s Atlantic borderline from cocaine traffickers. A source inside Soca, the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, said: ‘Actionable intelligence is matched to maritime assets to counter the threat in the most effective way possible. This will increase the operational capability of the participating countries to stem the flow of cocaine and improve our common knowledge of the gangs involved.’
The problem for MAOC and other agencies involved in halting the cocaine tide is the dearth of co-operation between services like the Royal Navy and its smaller Irish equivalent. Last year the then Conservative shadow Northern Ireland Secretary David Lidington called for a new Anglo-Irish naval agreement allowing the two services to work together on joint patrols and to share intelligence aimed at shutting down the sea bound cocaine smuggling networks. Last year the Irish Defence Forces confirmed that there was no formal arrangement between the two navies. Since then there has been no progress.