The record drug seizure by gardaí, Defence Forces and Customs officials highlights the ongoing battle between law enforcement agencies and criminal cartels when it comes to the movement of illegal substances.

Policing the vast expanse of ocean, off western Europe, is central to this effort. That involves a multi-national approach, which has had mixed levels of success.

Latest data from the UN shows Ireland ranks in fourth place, in terms of past year prevalence for cocaine use across Europe, with 2.4% of the population taking the drug.

But as well as a domestic market, Ireland's location on the western fringes of the continent makes it one of a number of countries that have been targeted by smugglers.

The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (MAOC) is an initiative involving seven western European countries, including Ireland, that works to tackle illegal drug trafficking by sea and air.

Since the beginning of this month, the work of that cross border information sharing network has resulted in several large seizures.

Last week, a French surveillance vessel intercepted a 2.4 tonne shipment of cocaine thought to have been destined for Europe, during an operation off the coast of west Africa. A further 2.7 tonnes of cocaine was recovered by Spanish police, after a maritime operation off the Canary Islands at the start of the month.

Those seizures follow other successes by Spanish authorities in August, during which a combined total of more than 4,000kgs of cocaine was recovered at sea.

Policing the skies and the seas is a multi agency, multi national task and it is one that's continually evolving.

The 2023 UN report on cocaine use found traffickers were diversifying their routes from Central America, with "traditional" entry points for cocaine into Europe being eclipsed by other locations.

The report said Ireland's potential role as a transit country, for the UK market in particular was "likely to further attract Organised Criminal Gangs", trying to exploit any weaknesses.

Yesterday's operation has borne out that warning.

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