LAOIS Gardai have swooped on two drug factories which between them were producing up to 100,000 euros worth of cocaine and cannabis.
In a sign that the drug trade has not been hit by the recession, Gardai in Portarlington have broken up a cocaine mixing factory which was supplying drugs for the local market, but was also linked to a national criminal gang. Upwards of 70,000 euros worth of the drug was seized during the operation on Saturday.
In an unconnected incident in Coolrain on Monday, gardaí uncovered a cannabis factory which could have been in operation for up to a year. Following a tip-off, Gardai uncovered more than 500 plants in a shed, estimated at being worth up to 20,000 euros.
The Port operation was busted following an extensive surveillance operation, which saw local officers and detectives in action at around 7.30 am last Saturday morning when they raided a house in the Ballyshandra area, on the Portarlington to Mountmellick Road.
When the police raided the house they discovered upwards of 70,000 euros worth of cocaine. It is one of the biggest seizures of cocaine in Laois since three local Laois men were caught running a much bigger operation.
Apart from the substantial amount of the drug ready for sale, mixing and bulking agents and other paraphernalia were also seized in a bedroom of the house.
It is understood that the room was being rented by a couple to a single man. However, they were unaware of what was going on under their roof.
Garda Superintendent Philip Lyons described the Coolrain operation as being maintained on a commercial scale. The highly professional set up was equipped with proper heating and ventilation systems, installed for rapid growth.
Gardaí believe those involved were living in a mobile home beside the shed. It can take around 90 days for plants to flower, which requires the crop to be constantly monitored.
No arrests have yet been made, although Supt Lyons confirmed that it is early days in the case, and inquiries are continuing.
While local people were surprised at the discovery, they suspected that drugs might have been cultivated in the shed for up to a year. The property had been rented since last summer. One local woman said the factory was uncovered after a power box caught fire. There are suspicious that the growers hacked into a ESB line and fed electricity to to the sheds by underground cables.
Nobody was detained at the scene of the Port raid but one man was arrested later on Saturday evening. Kieran Heatly, aged 48, is originally from Newry but was living in Port for a number of years. He was charged under Section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act when he appeared before a special sitting of Portlaoise District Court on Sunday evening last.
Heatly made no reply when charged and was remanded in custody to appear again or when he appeared in court possibly this week.
Gardai are continuing their investigation and have not ruled out further arrests However, they are confident that there is a link to Dublin criminals. The involvement of dissident paramilataries of criminal elements of republicanism has been ruled out.
There was local concern in Port. Cllr Tom Mulhall praised Port’s Gardai for their work in this operation and their overall record in policing Port. However, the Emo electoral area county councillor, said crime was rising and drugs has become a serious issue. He called for the expansion of policing presence in Port.
“We have no 24-hour station. There is a huge population and the gardai have to police the Offaly area as well. We have very good garda and there is a very good crime detection rate but crime is rising and drugs is a serious issue with our young people. It is time to think seriously about a full station,” he said
Cllr Ray Cribbin welcomed the garda operation and was concerned such an operation was near the town and that they were supplying locally.
“That is the worst part of the scenario but there is not a city or town that is affected by it but full marks to the gardai who are doing a good job,” he said.
He said a 24-hour station was needed. The Fianna Fail councillor said there was a belief that a criminal element had set up locally however it was not until gardai carry out an operation such as this that local people find out what is going on.