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THE MORNING LEAD

'Kicked, beaten, spat at': Retailers tell TDs of an 'explosion' in shoplifting

One representative is set to tell the committee that “gangs of feral youth” are completely “out of control”.

RETAILERS ARE SET to tell politicians today that over the last two years there has been an “explosion” of shoplifting, with the levels of crime, violence and anti-social behaviour towards staff at an all-time high. 

Musgraves, the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA), and the Retail Grocery Dairy & Allied Trades Association (RGDATA) will all appear before the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment at 9.30am this morning. 

A representative of Musgraves, the owner of retail brands SuperValu, Centra and Daybreak, is set to tell politicians that there is an “alarming rise” in underage youths who “get a kick out of intimidating staff”.

It is Musgraves’ view that these young people are “totally lacking in fear given there are little or no repercussions for their actions”.

Meanwhile, the CSNA (which has 1,500 members across the country) will tell politicians that shoplifting has reached “pandemic levels” and that over the last couple of years there has been an increase in staff receiving abuse.

“The most worrying aspect of shoplifting today are the accompanying threats, the actual violence, the obscenities, the misogyny and the vile racist abuse levelled at owners and staff,” Vincent Jennings, CEO of the CSNA is expected to say.

“It may not be considered parliamentary language in this House but I cannot think of a more appropriate term for these people than thugs,” Jennings adds.

Tara Buckley, the Director General of RGDATA, which represents family-owned food retailers, is set to tell the committee that it is “no exaggeration to state that there has been an explosion in crimes against retailers in recent years”. 

Buckley will also tell the committee about “gangs of feral youth who are completely out of control and believe they are untouchable and can abuse who they want and steal whatever they want with no consequences and organised gangs who arrived into towns and rob to order.”

Financial cost

Each organisation will also highlight the financial cost associated with retail crime and the impact it has on the viability of some retailers.

According to RGDATA director general, Tara Buckley her members report that retail theft costs them at least €40,000 per store in loss of goods, repair of fixtures and fittings and security and CCTV.

“The retailers that I represent also fear that the retail theft in their stores is not taken seriously because the items taken are often low in value – however if you are robbed on a daily basis it amounts up very quickly,” she is expected to say.

Musgraves will claim that this comes at a time when independent retailers are already facing a barrage of increased costs – including general inflation, living wage and sick pay for workers with pension auto-enrolment also shortly coming in next year. 

Recommendations

According to Musgraves, across its network of retailers there could be over 1,000 issues a week that mainly go unreported.

Musgraves is asking the Government to step up its efforts to tackle the issue.

It will tell politicians that the recruitment of more frontline gardaí would be welcomed and that a dedicated operation by gardaí to tackle assaults on retail workers is specifically needed.  

Garda resources is also an issue that Jennings will raise. He is expected to highlight a “deterioration in services from the gardaí in recent years.

“We are frequently provided with “lack of resources and personnel” as an explanation for slow, and in many cases no, responses to calls for assistance,” Jennings is expected to say.

Similar complaints are expected to be made by the RGDATA, with Buckley set to inform politicians of a lack of garda response to reports of crimes by its members.

The CSNA will advise the committee to recommend that each theft or abusive behaviour carried out by youths be the subject of a Tusla referral. 

Jennings is also expected to ask the committee to “seek explanations” from the gardaí in relation to why Anti-Social Behavior Orders (ASBO’s) are not commonplace as a deterrent in Ireland.

In addition to this, the CSNA is set to suggest that retail employees deserve similar “accelerated protections” as were recently implemented for gardaí and first responders. 

In May, the government agreed that the maximum sentence for assaulting or obstructing a garda will increase from seven to 12 years.

The RGDATA will also tell politicians that the deterrent needs to match the crime and be applied consistently by the Courts.

“We would like to see zero tolerance of retail crime and abuse against retail staff and custodial sentences for serial offenders,” Buckley is expected to say.

Buckley will also highlight the physical risk retailers face.

“Our members and their staff have been hit, kicked, beaten, spat at, stabbed with knives or syringes and shot at in the course of their work.

“There is a significant level of personal risk when seeking to protect your property. And for many that personal risk is at a level where it is causing them to question the wisdom of continuing to expose themselves to this level of risk,” she will say. 

Meanwhile, The CSNA will also seek to “debunk” claims that the rise in shoplifting is directly related to the increase in the cost of living.

Jennings is expected to say: “This is not true, it is not basic foodstuffs that are most frequently stolen. Shoplifting by gangs are not carried out by Robin Hood and his Merry Men; individuals secreting alcohol on their person or persons literally emptying whole display sections of expensive personal hygiene products or washing machine refills are not robbing to feed a starving family.

“Anyone suggesting that retailers get what they deserve due to their position in society is guilty of perpetrating a falsehood.”

 Musgraves and the CSNA will both highlight that shoplifting is not a victimless crime and given that retail is a low margin business, it has a serious impact on a retailer’s profit and their ability to keep the lights on, pay wages and pay taxes.

TDs and senators will also hear directly from a Centra retailer in Dublin who is currently dealing with two to three incidents of theft and antisocial behaviour a day.

Musgraves will also tell politicians of the impact on staff being verbally abused, threatened and intimidated and of the impact this can also have on staff recruitment efforts.

“Nobody should come to work and feel threatened and unsafe while doing an honest day’s work. For the individuals themselves this is terrifying,” the representative will say. 

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