Last week was extremely important for working relations between the Irish Gardai and the Guardia Civil in the Balearics and Spain. The two security forces are deeply committed to fighting organised serious crime. The level of cooperation between the two forces is "second to none," Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll, head of the Special Crime Operations force, told the Bulletin last week.
O’Driscoll was in Majorca as a special guest of the Guardia Civil to attend the force's 175th anniversary celebrations, during which two members of the Gardai were awarded the Merit Order Cross of the Guardia Civil. Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland of the National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau was one, while a second Gardai Liaison Officer was the other. He cannot be identified for security reasons.
The Gardai worked closely with the Guardia Civil on the murder of Trevor O’Neill in Costa de la Calma in August 2016. An innocent victim, he was mistaken for being a member of the Hutch family gang and was shot by a hitman from a rival gang, the Kinahan. Another related recent and important case the two forces cooperated on was the conviction of James Quinn, 35, at a court in Malaga in June 2018. This was in connection with the murder of Gary Hutch in September 2015.
Since the Gardai National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau was established in March 2015, it has been involved in the seizure of 97 weapons including eleven machine-guns, seven assault rifles, eight shotguns, 55 handguns, five rifles and eleven stun-guns. The bureau has also seized almost €8.5m in cash and around €155 millions' worth of controlled substances since March 2015. Part of this success is down to the strong working relationship with the Guardia Civil.
"The world of organised crime is getting increasingly more complicated and global thanks to social media and mobile telephones," O’Driscoll explained.
"In Ireland, for example, we have very strict asset controls, so should anyone be seen showing off a new super yacht, multi-million euro property or flash car, they immediately pop up on the radar. Obviously, it does not always mean they are a criminal, but apart from the weather, one of the main attractions here in the Balearics and primarily mainland Spain, is that they can enjoy all those trappings and, to a certain extent, remain anonymous. However, as they say, ‘you can run but you can’t hide’, and with the excellent help of the Guardia Civil - the level of cooperation works both ways - we are tracking the organised criminals down, especially those involved in extreme violence, and bringing them to justice."
Detective Superintendent Seamus Boland was quick to add that "money brings greed", and this is quite often where gang leaders - and we’re talking about a multi-billion euro illegal industry - overstep the mark and make a vital mistake. They commit extreme violence. for example, and end up in the hands of the Guardia Civil or the Gardai.
"We have been and are involved in numerous joint and cross.border operations. These can sometimes involve a third or fourth-party security force; it depends on how expansive any given gang's operations are. Detection is one of the biggest challenges for us in Ireland. The port of Dublin handles vast amounts of merchant cargo every year and some 33 million passengers pass through the airport every year, so at times we're looking for needles in haystacks.
"Being an island, at the end of the day, whatever is being smuggled, has to either enter Ireland by sea or by air. We've seized drugs hidden in fruit, bananas from South America for example. So, while the organised criminal gangs are getting smarter, we’ve got to stay one step ahead of the game. Vital to this is the exchange of knowledge and expertise between fellow security forces, like the Guardia Civil, around Europe and across the world.
"We work extremely closely with the UK security forces and the National Crime Agency as well, and whatever the Brexit outcome is, this will not change. Policing and security are above politics. The only difference for the UK forces is that they may perhaps no longer form part of Europol, which could affect European arrest warrants, but they can rely on Interpol. But to be honest, fighting crime is on another level and will never change," Boland said.
"With communications having become so sophisticated and the ability to travel much greater and easier, all of the security forces have formed what can be best described as a global net. We’re even tracking wanted suspects down in UAE states, so the challenges are constantly becoming tougher and the goalposts are always being widened, but we are as proactive as possible and our activity in tracking down and arresting organised serious criminals is unrelenting. We are in this for the long haul," Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll made quite clear.
"We are closing in on organised criminals more and more often, such as some of the cases in Spain. They end up being prosecuted in the country of arrest or where they have been living and coordinating operations from. In some cases, should countries have tougher penalties, we're quite happy for the suspects to be prosecuted overseas," O’Driscoll added.
"Our outreach is growing but we all (security forces) need to be cooperating. For example, here in Spain, we have no exact figures of how many Irish nationals live here because they are not required to register, unlike residents from the United Kingdom. We have estimates and we are working on a figure of between 30 to 50,000 but we can never be too sure.
"But what we can be sure of, and I hope the organised criminals take heed of this, is that we are never going to give up fighting organised crime, and with the assistance and cooperation of security services like the Guardia Civil, we're enjoying ever greater success," Boland said.
He added that he was "extremely proud" of his award from the Guardia Civil. "It was a recognition neither of us expected, we’re extremely honoured and it's not only just for us. The award is for the whole unit, all of the people involved, they deserve all the praise they can get."
The few days in Majorca were not just about the celebrations but also about strengthening the level of cooperation between the Gardai and the Guardia Civil. They held top-level talks with Colonel Alejandro Hernandez Moscera, head of the Guardia Civil in the Balearics.