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Lifting of Covid-19 measures a factor in surge of home break-ins

There has been a 35% rise in the first three months of the year compared to the same period last year.

Image: RollingNews.ie

THE LIFTING OF Covid-19 Garda measures like road blocks and highly visible on-street patrols has been a factor in the increase in home break-ins in recent months, sources say. 

There’s been an uptick in burglary gangs using high powered cars on Ireland’s road network, as figures show a marked increase in this category of crime.

Sources have said that the gangs of travelling criminals are spread across the country – but with a particular focus on South County Dublin, Tipperary and Limerick. 

They are also active in border counties, with the midland counties of Westmeath and Kildare major bases for such groups. 

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Figures released by the Central Statistics Office in recent days show a 3.8% increase in burglaries and related offences over the twelve month period between the first quarter of 2021 this year and the first three months of this year. 

When those figures are examined by comparing the first three months of 2021 against the first three months of 2022 there is a 35% increase in reported burglaries. 

Sources have said the lifting of Covid measures and a general opening up of the State is a major factor in the rise in property crime. 

“The burglars weren’t too concerned about catching the virus it was because there were checkpoints on the road networks and there was a lot more gardaí around.

“The rate fell because they were more likely to get caught and also that more people were home,” a source said.

Burglaries are usually part of an other crime – the break-in is the part of the crime in which the suspect enters the property with intent to commit an accompanying serious offence. 

In the statistics, the rate of burglaries is calculated per 100,000 homes and businesses – Dublin is the worst hit area with 285 per 100,000 in the space of a year.

Limerick is next with 246 per 100,000 followed by Westmeath with 242 per 100,000.

Sources have said not all burglaries are committed by organised criminals and not always done to steal from inside the building but there is a serious problem in Ireland with organised burglary gangs. 

There are only a small number of these specialised gangs operating in the country. Certain areas that have been particularly plagued by the burglary gangs as the most prolific groups live either in the immediate vicinity or in an adjoining counties. 

The sources who spoke to this website said that Dublin’s leading organised burglary gang was based in the Tallaght suburb while in Limerick a similar group is based just across the border in County Tipperary or in the south of Limerick county.

The Tallaght gang have been struck by an increased Garda focus in the last 12 months, with specialist units tasked to intercept them.

In one recent incident a high value car was found following a pursuit in Tallaght – it had been stolen in a burglary in Dublin 8. On that occasion the householder had disturbed the burglars when they returned to the property.

Shipped out

Sources report that many of the stolen-to-order vehicles are shipped out of the country very rapidly – usually through Northern Ireland ports. 

There are also suspicions of mechanics working as “ringers” – meaning they can remove the identifying marks of stolen vehicles before they are resold. 

There was a spectacular success for national unit gardaí in Kildare in April when they arrested the members of a suspected burglary gang after a pursuit across Meath and County Kildare.

That incident ended in the car park of a supermarket when the car the suspected burglars were travelling in flipped over at a roundabout and crashed during a Garda pursuit. 

We asked the Garda Press Office for a statement on what specific measures the force was putting in place to deal with the rise in burglaries.

They did not respond in detail and instead referred The Journal to a section of the Garda website with infographics on crime prevention and a Frequently Asked Questions section dealing with burglary and theft.

To obtain information we spoke to a number of sources who are familiar with Garda investigations and the work of specialist units dealing with the burglary gangs.

Garda 1 A garda on a night duty checkpoint in Dublin. Source: Rollingnews

A secretive national unit has been working for a number of years and uses high powered unmarked cars to pursue and arrest burglary gangs. It was this unit that was deployed in the Kildare incident along with heavily armed members of the Armed Support Unit.

The Garda method of dealing with such gangs is intelligence led but very expensive as specialist units such as the National Surveillance Unit, Emergency Response Unit and Air Support Unit are regularly deployed on the interventions. 

Sources said the gangs use stolen-to-order vehicles particularly those with high speed capability.  

While many of the gangs utilise the motorways to travel at speed they also use back roads to bypass potential interference from gardaí.

To counter that, gardaí are using specially trained drivers to pursue the vehicles – but such tactics have made some senior managers concerned around potential risk factors. 

Intelligence gathering

One source said that the key to the Garda operation is intelligence gathering and successful operations have focused on information surrounding the preplanning by the burglary gangs. 

Outside of Dublin local detective units have also targeted specific gangs with dedicated task force patrols funded through Operation Thor. 

Thor was set up by garda authorities in 2015 in response to a growing problem of property crime and the success of gangs targeting rural areas.

This saw dedicated taskforce units set up which were then operated on an overtime basis in many districts – it involves gardaí deployed in plain clothes to carry out specific patrols. 

There is also money set aside for armed checkpoints and focused operations against known criminals. 

Thor takes place generally in the winter months with sources stating that this is for two reasons – to reduce overtime costs and also to target gangs between October and March when the groups are more active.

One gang in Munster is well known as a group that operates in the lead up to Christmas hitting isolated rural businesses and houses to fund their family’s festive season.

Sources have said that there has been a number of incidents involving criminals travelling to Ireland to commit crimes. Gardaí in Munster have had previous cases involving organised crime groups travelling from Eastern Europe to commit high end burglaries and heavy machinery thefts here, sources have revealed.  

There are no publicly available current figures of how many arrests have been made and charges filed – while another key metric would be to determine how many investigation files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions for a direction to charge. 

There are also no available figures for how many of the alleged burglars were granted bail and committed offences while awaiting court hearings. 

Political view

In a response to a parliamentary question from Aontú’s Peadar Tóibín in July Justice Minister Helen McEntee said there had been a major decline in burglaries in the years leading up to the start of the pandemic – from a high in 2012 of 27,714 to just over 16,000 in 2019 before Covid-19 measures took effect.

Just 8,389 were recorded last year, with McEntee stating that Covid-19 had an impact on the amount of incidents. 

“This annual focus from Operation Thor has proved highly successful in tackling property-related crime since its inception in November 2015.

“In 2015, there were in excess of 18,800 residential burglaries reported. By contrast, in 2021 there were just over 6,000 residential burglaries reported, a reduction of over 66% or approximately 13,000 fewer residential burglaries.

“While the Covid-19 pandemic was clearly a factor in some of this reduction, with people more likely to be present in their homes throughout the day, there has been a marked and consistent downward trend in such offences since the introduction of this Garda focus through Operation Thor.”

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