In every city across the country there is Coke on demand to satisfy the insatiable Irish appetite

In her new book Cocaine Cowboys, Nicola Tallant details Ireland’s love affair with the deadly drug

It was 5.02pm and the September evening sun was shining over the picturesque Dunlo Harbor of Ballinasloe, a large town outside Galway. The harbor area was once just a small outpost consisting of a harbor master’s house and two shops.

In the years since the turn of the century, expansion has seen an increase in modern semi-detached houses, terraced houses and apartments, often marketed as the perfect residences for first-time buyers.

But there were still some disused yards that had fallen through the cracks of progress and remained empty and deserted, like the one where the teenager had followed his ball.

Nicola Tallant’s new book

To the casual observer, it was a common scene of bored after-school mischief. But the only people there who witnessed it were anything but accidental. Drug investigators watched as the boy took some latex gloves out of his bag and walked to a school lunch box. As he unpacked the contents of six sandwich bags of white powder, they jumped out of the shadows.

Almost two years later, members of the public were asked to leave the courtroom due to the young age of the perpetrator, whose case was due to be heard by Judge Brian O’Callaghan at Galway Circuit Court.

The now 17-year-old defendant sat flanked by his two parents. The teenager had no criminal record. The court heard he wanted to become a teacher. He was a keen GAA player and also loved football. The average kid next door.

He told the court that he pleaded guilty to charges of possessing cocaine worth more than 44,000 euros with the intent to deliver on the disused port site that Sunday evening in September 2021.

The cocaine was packed in six sandwich bags in the lunch box and ready for sale. Laboratory tests following the youth’s arrest revealed that he had 620.7 grams in his local community.

Armed naval and Garda personnel with half a billion euros worth of cocaine seized from a yacht off the west coast of Ireland

At the on-camera hearing, the teen’s lawyer parroted a saying that has since become familiar in provincial, county and city courtrooms across the country; The boy took full responsibility for the drugs, saying he mixed up with a bad crowd and has since changed his life.

He ended up on the farm with a large amount of cocaine, the court was told, because he had taken on the debts that friends had accumulated.

The boy’s age was on his side. A custodial sentence for the Section 15 offense carried a mandatory minimum of 10 years imprisonment, but as the defendant was under 18 he was lucky and was sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Twenty years ago, when drugs like cocaine were only available in Dublin and some major urban centers in Ireland, the idea of ​​a schoolboy selling cocaine in a provincial Irish town would have caused a stir.

What’s remarkable now is how unremarkable it has become for an Irish teenager to become a small link in a globalized chain of money, misery and murder.

Since cocaine first landed on the West Cork coast and in the stomachs of drug runners from Miami in the 1990s, it has become the nation’s drug. Like a snowstorm it has swept through every corner of every small town, from Donegal to Wexford and from Kerry to Louth.

While a line of cocaine may once have been the subject of films for residents of rural Ireland, it is now a central part of every evening and occasion, from communions and baptisms to weddings and local sporting celebrations.

The seizure of 8.8 tons of cocaine from drug traffickers is the largest domestic drug raid in Colombia’s history

It can be ordered like a pizza on social media sites like WhatsApp, Snapchat and TikTok. The spread and availability was so rapid and widespread that Ireland is now one of the most prolific users of the drug in Europe.

According to the United Nations, one in 40 of us admit to having sniffed in the past year. Unlike other drugs, cocaine has no social boundaries.

Farmers, GAA players, first-time users in their 50s and even pensioners are increasingly coming for treatment.

Professor Colin O’Gara, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of addiction services at St John of God Hospital, says it is now a “public health emergency” the scale of which must be recognized by the government.

But to figure out how a small island on the edge of Europe became such a big player in the cocaine big leagues, we have to follow the white supply lines all the way back to the beginning.

And we also have to follow the money. Every bag that goes from dealer to user in clubs and pubs across the country undergoes an incredible journey from farm to nose, a journey based on abject poverty, greed and corruption, to its final destination on tabletops and toilet tanks reach every county in Ireland.

At each step, the value of cocaine multiplies at a rate that dwarfs any other commercial trafficking activity. It is the ultimate capitalist product, funneling money at every link of the chain back to the mega-rich few who sit at the top of a savage and violent underworld economy.

The bloody trail begins high in the Colombian hills, where impoverished farmers and casual workers pick millions of leaves of the coca plant and transport their products to dangerous jungle laboratories.

There are also similar production lines in the neighboring countries of Peru and Bolivia. The product’s journey to markets like Ireland will be long and treacherous. But also extremely valuable. By the time cocaine hits our streets, its value will have multiplied almost 500-fold. The profit margins of the drug economy are what drive people to kill for them.

This is the 120kg haul seized by Gardai in County Westmeath

A worker in the Andes Mountains, which stretch along the western edge of South America, receives just over a dollar for each of the 125 kilos needed to produce a kilo of cocaine.

By the time it reaches our shores, it can fetch 70,000 euros. In the labs, poor workers earning a few dollars a day chop up the leaves and douse them with chemicals like diesel oil, caustic soda and cement.

Through a series of processes, they turn it into a white paste, a kilo of which, when further processed into powder, is now worth between $1,500 and $7,000. According to other calculations, the production price is much higher.

At the height of Colombia’s drug war, it was estimated that every kilo processed, shipped and distributed cost six people their lives.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Report 2023 shows the Irish are among the top cocaine users in Europe, with only the Netherlands and Spain surpassing our love of the white powder.

But those at the end of the incredible transcontinental production line refuse to see the connections between their weekend parties, the feuds, the murders and the bodies slumped in cars in suburban driveways.

Despite the warnings and headlines and the cost of policing, demand for cocaine continues to grow.


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