This article looks at trends in legal proceedings for drug offences in the years 2004–2011. It should be noted that drug offence data are primarily a reflection of law enforcement activity. Consequently, they are affected in any given period by such factors as law enforcement resources, strategies and priorities, and by the vulnerability of drug users and drug traffickers to law enforcement activities. Having said that, when compared with other data sources such as drug treatment for example, they can provide a useful indicator of overall drug trends. Alternatively, where law enforcement trends differ from those of other data sources in a given period they may reveal something about specific law enforcement strategies or activities at that time, something that can be further investigated through research.
Figures 1 and 2 show trends in proceedings for drug offences from 2004 to 2011. As can be seen from Figure 1, the number of legal proceedings for the possession of drugs for personal use (simple possession) decreased in 2009 for the first time since 2004. The number continued to fall in the following two years. Simple possession offences accounted for almost 69% of total drug offence proceedings in 2011. Proceedings for drug supply have also decreased marginally since 2009.
Obstruction offences often involve an alleged offender resisting a drug search or an arrest or attempting to dispose of drugs to evade detection. Such offences continue to account for the largest number of prosecutions, although numbers declined from a high of 415 in 2007 to 245 in 2011, approaching the 2004 figure of 242. Proceedings for the offence of forged/altered prescriptions have also remained fairly constant since 2004. Another noteworthy development has been the continued increase in the offence of cultivating/manufacturing controlled drugs. Proceedings for this offence have continued to increase since 2005, when there were 29 related proceedings, reaching 167 in 2009 and then more than doubling to 355 in 2011. It is unclear whether this increase reflects a genuine growth in the commission of such offences or a sustained concentration of law enforcement on their detection. For example, in 2010, the Garda Síochána conducted Operation Nitrogen, a nationwide investigation into cannabis cultivation sites by district and divisional drug units.2 Although the specific focus of this operation may have had an impact on the data presented here, a recent report jointly published by the EMCDDA and Europol highlighted the increased involvement of organised crime groups in cannabis cultivation in many European countries, including Ireland.3
Drug driving offences
Figure 3 shows the trend in prosecutions for driving or being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs (DUID) between 2004 and 2011. Between 2006 and 2009 the number of prosecutions for DUID increased from 74 to 703, an increase of 850%. It is unclear why this increase occurred. It could be due to an increase in the incidence of DUID or, the more likely possibility, to an increase in targeted police activity in this area. Since 2009, the number of such offences has decreased significantly, with 337 reported prosecutions in 2011.
Drug offence data can assist us in understanding aspects of the operation of the illicit drug market in Ireland. Data on drug offence prosecutions by Garda division are a possible indicator of national drug distribution patterns. While these data primarily reflect law enforcement activities and the relative ease of detection of different drugs, when compared with other sources, such as drug treatment data, for example, they can show us trends in market developments throughout the State. Such data can also indicate trafficking patterns by showing whether there is a concentration of prosecutions along specific routes. Figures 4 and 5 show trends in relevant legal proceedings for possession of drugs by Garda region. It should be noted that possession offences include both possession for personal use and possession for the purpose of supply. It is not possible to distinguish between these two offences in the data reported by Garda region. However, in the country as a whole, possession for personal use accounted for between 65% and 75% of all possession cases in the years 2004–2011 (Figure 1).
As shown in Figure 4, an upward trend since 2004 in relevant legal proceedings for possession (for personal use and for supply) continued until 2008, and then decreased between 2008 and 2011. The majority of such proceedings were in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR), where the number increased steadily from 1,515 in 2004 to 5,270 in 2008. The number has fallen since then, with 3,773 such offences prosecuted in 2011, below the figure of 4,077 reported for 2007.
Figure 5 shows trends in supply offences by Garda region, excluding Dublin. Numbers have increased in all regions since 2004. This reflects the reality that drug markets are no longer primarily a Dublin-based phenomenon. Following this general increase throughout the country since 2004, the number of relevant legal proceedings for drug possession (for personal use and for supply) decreased in all regions between 2008 and 2011, with the exception of the Northern Region where the figure fluctuated slightly in that period.
- Central Statistics Office (2013) Interactive tables online. Table CJA02: Offences by type of offence, year and statistic. www.cso.ie/px/pxeirestat/Statire/SelectVarVal/Define.asp?maintable=CJA02&PLanguage=0
- An Garda Síochána (2012) Annual report 2011. Dublin: An Garda Síochána. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17953
- European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Europol (2013) EU drug markets report: a strategic analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19227
- Central Statistics Office (2013) Garda recorded crime satistics 2003–2011. Excel tables online, Table 4 complete. www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/crimeandjustice/gardarecordedcrimestatistics2003-2011exceltables/