Cork drugs seizure 'could have gone horribly wrong', TD says

Cork Drugs Seizure 'Could Have Gone Horribly Wrong', Td Says
Military personnel onboard the MV Matthew. Photo: PA Images
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James Cox

The seizure of almost €160 million worth of cocaine off the Cork coast "could have gone horribly wrong" due to Defence Forces underfunding, according to an independent TD.

Members of the highly-trained Army Ranger Wing descended by fast-rope from a helicopter on to the MV Matthew vessel, which became the focus point of a multi-agency operation on Sunday.


The Irish Navy boat LÉ William Butler Yeats was also involved in the operation.

TD Cathal Berry, a former deputy commander of the Army Ranger Wing, told "It could have gone horribly wrong with the lack of backup. Conducting that mission with one helicopter was operating on the edge, beyond the frontier of normal operations."

Mr Berry pointed out that the helicopter was initially in Athlone on a medical operation. "When the helicopter was taken from Athlone, you'd wonder how many medical calls were unanswered? That's a vital service."

"One helicopter for two taskings... a medical tasking in Athlone, and the counter-narcotics tasking in Cork. That is further evidence of how poorly resourced the Defences Forces have been, even in the last two years since Russia invaded Ukraine, it has been continuing to go into free-fall."


He said a mechanical fault, even as small as a warning light on the helicopter, would have forced the Defence Forces to abort the operation.

"In either of those circumstances, the soldiers would have been completely stranded. There should be two helicopters available at an absolute minimum."

Mr Berry pointed to a UK Special Boat Service (SBS) seizure, similar to the one off Cork, which took place a number of years ago and included four helicopters.

In May, four Russian navy and commercial vessels sailed off the Irish coast prompting concern among Defence Forces officials. The group of ships included the Admiral Grigorovich, which is armed with cruise missiles and has been used in attacks on Ukraine since Russia's invasion.


Military personnel onboard a cargo vessel named MV Matthew whilst it's escorted into Cobh in Cork by the Irish Navy.

Mr Berry said Irish waters are "the soft underbelly of Europe". On the MV Matthew incident, he added: "The ship chose Irish waters for a reason."

He said this "highlights the recruitment and retention crisis in the Defence Forces".

"Fifteen years ago the Navy could put eight vessels to sea concurrently. In 2023, when we're the richest we've ever been, we could deploy two at a push and one last week. It sums up how bad things are.


"It's the first crystal clear situation where the retention and recruitment crisis in the Defence Forces has impacted on national operations. Who knows what happens in 12 months' time? We may not even have such meagre resources for an operation then with how bad things are.

"Twelve months ago we could probably have had three helicopters in the air and four ships on the water. The Army could provide one helicopter, the Navy could provide one ship. What does that say about the current state of the Defence Forces?

"The cyberattack caught attention for a week, same with the Russian warships. This is strike three. Another example of how much our Defence Forces are needed but under-resourced. It needs to at least come into the arithmetic for next week's Budget.

"There is a tangible need for territorial defence."


The Commission on the Defence Forces was published on February 9th, 2022, and Mr Berry called on the Government to move faster in implementing its recommendations.

The Defence Forces are not resourced to protect the country.

"The Commission on the Defence Forces recommended a 12-ship navy with double crewing of vessels, up to about 2,000 strength.

From the Caribbean to Cork: The journey of cocaine...
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"This idea of 'one ship is grand' is wrong... 15 years ago we could put eight ships on the water and the Commission on the Defence Forces is the Government's own report, the evidence is there.

"The Defence Forces are not resourced to protect the country.

"The war in Ukraine is 12 nautical miles off our coast, that's the limit of our territorial waters and how close Russian warships can push up against our territorial integrity without any resistance whatsoever. For an island nation, the Irish Navy is imperative, but unfortunately it is in free-fall.

"They're only publishing the Commission on the Defence Forces implementation plan in the next week. I suspect a lot of the timelines will be heading into 2025. That's a different government, so if that's the case, it suggests they aren't serious about it at all... just kicking the can down the road."

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