Former Dublin lord mayor Emer Costello launches the campaign in 2009

A government-funded hotline which encourages members of the public to do their civic duty by ‘shopping’ suspected drug dealers to the gardaí has been outsourced to a UK call centre, where approximately 15 people work on the account.

The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing service, which offers a safe and anonymous way for concerned citizens to pass information on drug dealing to the authorities, has attracted a total of 7,948 calls since it was established in 2008.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, which runs the service, confirmed that individuals who contacted the hotline were put through to operators based in the UK rather than Ireland.

She said the decision to award the €150,000-€180,000 plus VAT a year contract to the UK company, which she would not name for security reasons, was taken after three companies were invited to tender for the campaign.

“Two were Irish and one English. The Irish call centres were asked if they could solve the issue of total anonymity and, having considered the issue, they advised they were unable to do so,” she said. “The call centre was chosen based on this criteria. The other criteria included ability to provide the service, reputation, track record and value for money.

“Fifteen operators including team managers plus account managers [are employed]... Anonymity was a key factor, allied with value for money. The remote location of the call centre ensures that the likelihood of an operator recognising a voice is obviated. With an Irish location, it could transpire that an operator could realistically answer a call from a neighbour.”

The Dial to Stop Drug Dealing campaign was initially rolled out to 15 Local and Regional Drugs Task Forces in 2008. It received a high-profile relaunch in 2009 by the then lord mayor of Dublin, Emer Costello. Since its inception, more than 2,260 full reports have been received by the service.

“The call centre operators don’t know where the callers are from because they’re in the UK. The Garda National Drugs Unit figures out the locations based on the information given – again, this is a part of the anonymity chain,” the spokeswoman said.

Speaking at a recent launch to announce the continuation of the campaign, Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs Pat Carey said the campaign and the publicity surrounding it – including radio and newspaper ads and targeted leaflet drops – had helped tackle “the overt nature of drug dealing in campaign areas”.

He added: “The success of the campaign is proof community activism and civic pride can make a difference. I am delighted to be able to publicise the telephone line further and I would urge anyone with information, no matter how trivial it seems, to call 1890 220 220 and help to stop drug dealing in your area.”