THE drugs problem in Carlow is so profound that members of the public are now writing to the local district court judge complaining that she is not imposing convictions for drug possession.
Judge Geraldine Carthy said she was receiving the letters “because drugs are such a problem” in the county.
Sergeant John Foley, who is the court presenter and prosecutes the state’s cases in the district court, said he has also received complaints.
“I have got letters complaining I’m too soft,” said Sgt Foley.
Judge Carthy made the admission at last Wednesday’s sitting of Carlow District Court. She had been discussing with solicitors how the court would handle a substantial caseload of Section 3 drug possession charges that were pending on 9 December.
Typically, Judge Carthy would briefly talk with each individual, particularly young people, who faced a charge of drug possession. The judge would often ask about their hopes and aspirations and warn how this was threatened by their actions.
“There are so many Section 3s that I’m looking for a way to do it without losing my voice,” the judge remarked to solicitors.
The judge has historically dealt with Section 3 offences in various ways, from allowing a donation to the court poor box to imposing a sentence. If it’s an individual’s first drug possession offence, they are likely to be given an opportunity to make a donation to the court poor box and avoid a conviction.
It was agreed that solicitors would try to have their clients who were facing drug offences attend together so they could be dealt with in batches.
Judge Carthy has repeatedly voiced her concern about the drugs problem in Carlow since she first became presiding judge 18 months ago, on one occasion describing the number of drug cases she was seeing as “horrific”.
The drugs problem in Carlow was also raised at a recent meeting of the Carlow Joint Policing Committee, with one county councillor saying the judiciary needed to get tough on drugs.
Drug detection is one of the few areas of crime that has significantly risen this year, despite the lockdown.
There were 396 detections in total, including 282 for drug possession and 105 for possession for the purpose of sale or supply.
Superintendent Aidan Brennan said the figures were testament to the proactive work of the drugs unit, but there was surprise at the meeting that the number had increased.
Carlow Kilkenny minister of state Malcolm Noonan thought the lockdown would have “caused less” detections and would have seen less drug trafficking.
Supt Brennan said the abuse of drugs continued despite Covid.
“There is a market for them. People are buying them.”
Supt Brennan said people buying drugs for their own personal use, regardless of how they felt, were part of the problem and were connected to criminal activity. He added that a significant number of detections made by gardaí were based on search warrants being executed and proactive policing.
Tullow councillor John Pender said society and the judiciary needed to get tough on drug offences.
“It’s not good enough if you are caught with drugs that when it ends up in court they say ‘it was for his own personal use’. We can’t tolerate this.”
Cllr Pender asked minister Noonan and Carlow TD Jennifer Murnane O’Connor to use their platform to press for tougher punishments.