Costello: 'lip service'

THE government allowed the roll-out of a crime fighting drugs initiative to continue even though a decision had already been made that it would no longer be funded.

The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing hotline was extended to Limerick at the beginning of April even though the government axe had already fallen on any further funding.

The scheme allows concerned citizens to ring a special hotline, whose call centre is based in Liverpool and which cannot be traced by gardaí.

The hotline service was to be available right around Ireland, particularly in provincial cities and towns with major problems of drug dealing. However, the service – which was set up on a trial basis in 2007 – will not be given any further funding.

The hotline will have to close as soon as funding runs out and the more successful it becomes, the sooner that will happen, Opposition TDs have said.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs had given a final allocation of €300,000 from the Dormant Accounts Fund but said there was now "no scope" for additional subvention.

Since last November, the hotline had received more than 1,400 anonymous tip-offs from the public, primarily in Dublin, of which 370 were forwarded to garda stations.

Gardaí said the service had proved valuable because many potential witnesses in Ireland were terrified of coming forward with information.

One senior officer said: "This gave them an avenue to pass on information with no possibility of them being contacted further or ever traced. It was useful as an intelligence-gathering tool and led to a number of seizures."

Labour TD Joe Costello said the programme had been an enormous success at a reasonable cost. "The amount of money involved in providing this service is extremely low and, certainly, gardaí, local communities and businesses were very enthusiastic about it," he said.

"Unfortunately, no more funding will now be made available and the service will probably close this summer. It is clear that the government has only paid lip service to the problem of drug dealing and that they are not interested in tackling the problem."

The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing service had already been available in Dublin, Kildare, Cork and Kerry before its launch in Limerick earlier this month.

A spokeswoman for the service said at the time of the launch: "It has provided valuable information to gardaí. Information gathered from Dial to Stop in Dublin has yielded one significant Section 10 seizure, that is, possession with intent to supply.

"In addition, gardaí have been provided with information leading to a number of other substantial seizures in different locations."

Dozens of calls have also been made to the hotline offering information on drug-related murders, for which it frequently proves impossible to get witnesses.

One detective said: "People are afraid of approaching the gardaí about what they know for fear of reprisals. The example of Roy Collins in Limerick where a man is gunned down simply for doing the right thing is an example of just why."