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'This is a symptom of organised crime': What can be done to stop the recent spate of ATM thefts?

The thefts are proving to be a serious thorn in the sides of gardaí and the PSNI.

A digger next to the filling station in Fermanagh after an ATM was stolen.
A digger next to the filling station in Fermanagh after an ATM was stolen.
Image: PSNI

YESTERDAY MORNING’S THEFT of an ATM with a stolen digger in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan was the latest in a line of similar robberies border areas in Northern Ireland and the Republic. 

A total of seven ATMs have been ripped from the walls of shops and banks in Northern Ireland so far this year. Similar thefts have also taken place south of the border in Cavan and most recently Monaghan. 

The thefts are proving to be a serious thorn in the sides of gardaí and the PSNI, with warnings that they are linked to organised crime groups working in the border areas. 

“The reckless actions of these criminals are despicable and I want to assure the public our dedicated team of detectives working across Northern Ireland specifically focusing on this crime is actively working with the banking industry and retailers,” Detective Chief Inspector David Henderson of the PSNI said on Monday, following an ATM theft in Antrim.

We are doing all we can to catch the people responsible – it is a key priority for us.

But why has there been such an increase in these attacks in recent times and what can be done to stop them?

Banks and gardaí

When contacted by TheJournal.ie a spokesperson for the PSNI said:

“It’s a live investigation so we can’t go into specifics. It is one possible line of enquiry that there could be several gangs involved in this crime. It is one possible line of enquiry is that the attacks are linked to those in ROI.

We are working closely with retailers and also the banking industry and ATM providers. We’re trying also to proactively prevent attacks in the future.

Spokespeople for Bank of Ireland, Danske Bank, AIB and Ulster Bank all declined to give specific details on their security procedures, but confirmed they were working with officials to fight against any further thefts. 

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said yesterday that cross-border cooperation was needed between gardaí and the PSNI to tackled the issue. 

“The criminals involved in these attacks are clearly operating on a cross-border basis,” he said. 

The response therefore must also involve a cross-border policing effort, supported by local communities and the construction industry, in order to stamp out these callous opportunists.

Organised crime 

Security analyst Tom Clonan told TheJournal.ie that the recent attacks were almost certainly a result of organised crime gangs operating in border areas. 

“These aren’t isolated individuals acting in an opportunistic way, this is an organised coordinated campaign to steal large amounts of cash,” he said. 

“And I think in the context of what’s happening on a broader political scale I think our politicians should be sitting up and taking notice of this, paying particular attention to it.

Because there is an organised crime element to it and when you have organised crime there is always a link to paramilitaries and to terrorist groups.  

Clonan said that the thefts showed the “fingerprint of either a paramilitary group of a dissident group”. 

“It’s organised crime and it’s a universal – almost like an iron law that where you have  organised crime you have links to terrorism and to paramilitary groups, they kind of co-exist,” he said.

And the fact that it’s happening in the border area – both sides of the border – should be raising alarm bells with people in both Stormont and in Leinster House. 

Clonan said that the ongoing political deadlock in Northern Ireland, which has meant that there has been no Assembly in power in Stormont for over two years, could have created a power vacuum allowing these groups to operate. 

He also said that a lack of adequate garda resources on border counties in the Republic was also contributing to the issue. 

“In the Republic it’s definitely exploiting a situation where there’s a lack of Garda resources,” he said. 

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“The gardaí are behind in terms of information technology, infrastructure, the vehicle fleet – the sheer numbers of vehicles, the sheer numbers of people out in those border areas. 

I think that’s the environment that’s being exploited by these criminal gangs.

He made it clear that it wasn’t an issue of individual policing or a failure of gardaí on the ground, but rather a political issue linked with a failure to provide gardaí with the adequate manpower and resources they needed to tackle the issue. 

More political oversight in Northern Ireland to help advance PSNI initiatives to tackle organised crime, and further garda resources being provided to divisions along the border were what was needed to properly address the thefts, he said.


Clonan also warned that the uncertainty in Westminster around Brexit and the UK”s future in the EU is a very serious issue coming down the road for Ireland’s security officials. 

“Most journalists seem to assume that if we have a hard border it will be operated by the British like the old days. But it won’t be – this time it’s going to be a complete game-changer,” he said.

“Deal or no deal there’s going to be a frontier on the island that we have to police and monitor – that is, the Republic.

 And we’ve never really been in that position before. We’re going to have to control the border.

And at the moment, as we are, we see this type of [ATM theft] crime. It’s very commonplace and the spate of it and it kind of highlights the challenges that are coming down the tracks very, very soon.

About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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