The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Brian Lenihan, T.D., will today in Lisbon sign a Treaty establishing a new European Centre to tackle the increasing shipments of cocaine into Europe from, in particular, both South and Latin America.

Minister Lenihan will be joined by his EU counterparts from the United Kingdom, Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal and Italy at the opening ceremony of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) where they will sign the Treaty establishing the centre.

The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre, based in Lisbon, is designed as an international task force to collect and analyse information on drug trafficking, enhance intelligence exchange and identify the availability of naval and other assets to facilitate national drug interdiction operations.
 
The centre will focus on interdicting large maritime and aviation cocaine shipments into Europe from, in particular, South and Latin America. It will maximise the operational effectiveness of the seven participating countries through the pooling of resources and enhanced intelligence sharing which will in turn enhance the interception of cocaine shipments across the Atlantic into Europe and West African states. The Treaty also provides for the possibility of extending the operational area into the Western Mediterranean basin.
 
Each participating state will be represented at the centre. Ireland will be represented by the Irish Drugs Joint Task Force of An Garda Síochána, the Customs Service and the Naval Service. Europol and the US Joint Inter-Agency Task Force will also be located at the centre with observer status.

Speaking in Lisbon, Minister Lenihan said: "The prevalence of cocaine in Irish society has increased enormously in recent years.   As well as the obvious social and health consequences, this trade also fuels organised and gangland crime, and ultimately leads to a futile loss of life". 

The Minister continued: "I am delighted that Ireland has played a leading role in the establishment of this centre which will lead the fight against those trafficking cocaine into Europe and consequently into Ireland.  With over 16% of EU territorial waters in the Irish zone, the reasons for Irish participation in this initiative are obvious.   The pooling of resources will lead to vastly increased monitoring of suspicious vessels heading towards Irish waters.  This in turn will lead to increased seizures and a reduction in the supply of cocaine.

The opening of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre will make the EU a much more hostile place for cocaine traffickers to operate. Ireland’s participation steps up the Government's fight against the scourge of cocaine."

 

30 September, 2007