The LE William Butler Yeats

EDITORIAL: Gonna Need Bigger And More Boats

The Irish Naval Service could do with some bigger boats. But more than that it could do with more boats of any size. And it could do with more men and women to crew them.

In recent days the Irish navy, along with Gardai and Army Rangers, intercepted a trawler and a large cargo ship off the south coast.

This from an Irish Times report:  "A 'murderous' South American Cartel, working with Irish and European organised crime groups, was behind the attempt to smuggle 2.2 tonnes of cocaine through Irish waters, gardaí have said.

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"In a briefing on Wednesday, Garda, Naval and Revenue officials laid out the details of the most complex anti-drugs operation ever undertaken in Ireland which led to the seizure of an estimated €157 million worth of cocaine, the largest consignment ever uncovered in this country.

"Ireland has almost non-existent naval patrols and our vast waters are seen as a safe, if long, route for some drug smugglers looking to land cocaine into Europe.

"The operation, which is still ongoing, involved the deployment of special forces from a helicopter on to a moving ship, the Panamanian registered MV Matthew, which had earlier attempted to evade an Irish naval ship.

"As well as various Irish agencies operating under the umbrella of a Joint Task Force, the operation involved the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the UK National Crime Agency (NCA) and French police. It was co-ordinated internationally by the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre-Narcotics (Maoc-N) based in Portugal."

And this from Conor Lally of the same paper: "Ireland is increasingly viewed as a backdoor smuggling route for drug traffickers looking to tap into the European market.

"The Garda and Defence Forces surveillance operation put in place to track the Castlemore trawler and a much bigger container vessel off the Irish coast in recent days represents just the latest chapter in the international battle against drug smuggling.

"Ireland has almost non-existent naval patrols and our vast waters are seen as a safe, if long, route for some drug smugglers looking to land cocaine into Europe.

"Cocaine production has soared in South America in recent years and, because of their booming economies, European nations are the perfect destination for the drug. The demand in Europe has proven so insatiable it is fuelling the supply in South America.

"In yesteryear a yacht would have been used to smuggle a tonne of cocaine on the final part of its journey into a European country. But now a yacht won’t do because the cartels, and the European gangs they sell to, want to move loads of two tonnes or more."

So the cartels and their allied gangs, Irish criminal enterprises among them, are the ones actually getting the bigger boats. And more of them besides.

Cartels will exploit any gaps and perceived weak links. Ireland's coastline is full of gaps and weak links.

Clearly, it would be impossible for the Irish navy and the customs service to be everywhere all the time. But with a bit of planning and additional ship power they could be in more places and for more time.

This might not entirely mean bigger boats. But certainly a greater number of vessels along the lines of the two coastal patrol boats recently purchased by the Irish government from New Zealand would be in order.

Bigger boats, of course, can intercept drug smugglers farther out to sea. In last week's interceptions, the LE William Butler Yeats, one of the Irish navy's bigger boats, played a pivotal role.

We should resist the temptation to indulge in jokes about poetic justice because there's nothing poetic about cocaine.

Countless people die every year as a result of the cocaine trade. Entire countries in Central and South America find themselves under the mailed fist of the cartels.

The battle, then, is a worldwide one. And that means Ireland and its waters are in the front line. 

Whether it be battling the cartels or warding off the Russians, Ireland has some serious matters to consider. And one of those is the matter of a larger navy with a longer reach and bigger punch.