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Dublin: 14°C Saturday 19 September 2020

'We want to attract people to the region. Cars getting broken into like this does not look good'

The problem of theft from cars in the Wicklow Mountains is one that persists each and every year, say gardaí.

20170624_203313 Source: Wicklow Uplands Council

THE WICKLOW MOUNTAINS, part of Ireland’s “Ancient East”, are fast becoming one of Ireland’s most popular tourist spots.

Thousands of overseas visitors make the trek through the mountains to visit sites such as Glendalough and Powerscourt, while residents of nearby counties also make the journey to take in some of the scenery and nature trails throughout the region.

There are dozens of small parking spots dotted around the mountainous trails and, at a large number of them, is a sign warning people not to leave valuables in their car.

IMG_3532 Source: Sean Murray/TheJournal.ie

Chief Superintendent John Quirke, at Bray Garda Station, told TheJournal.ie that the issue of thefts in cars in the area is “an ongoing issue [they're] trying to tackle”.

“It’s amazing the number of cars that are broken into that aren’t locked,” he said. “But we see a lot of tourist crime too.

These are cars that are obviously belonging to tourists – perhaps a clear sign that it is a rented car – being targeted by roving gangs in areas heavily populated with tourists. The Military Road from Glencree to Sally Gap, Glendalough, Powerscourt and the Sugarloaf are places that have been targeted.

Local councillor Joe Behan told TheJournal.ie that “it’s a problem every year”.

“Anytime there’s good weather in all of the tourist spots, it happens,” he said. Behan said that police and local community groups are trying to be proactive about the problem, with the issue being discussed at joint policing community meetings every three months or so.

The independent councillor said that it is believed gangs monitor the area at certain times of the year for the specific purpose of targeting vehicles to steal from.

Chief Superintendent Quirke said that there have been quite a number of arrests for these thefts, and that the culprits are mainly members of gangs from outside the county.

“They’ve come from Tallaght, Finglas, Ballymun and Mulhuddart,” he said. “They’re using the motorway network to a large extent, and they’d be familiar with the back roads.”

He said that extra resources allocated from Operation Thor were being used by the gardaí to tackle the crime problem in this region. Technology that alerts gardaí when a specific car registration is spotted on a certain section of road is also used to arrest the culprits.

Brian Dunne, from the Wicklow Uplands Council, said that the group has received similar reports in the last few weeks.

“There was an occasion some weeks ago where seven cars were broken into,” he told TheJournal.ie. “It is really important for people not to be leaving valuables in the car.”

Behan said cars left idle in these often remote areas means that “opportunists” who spot valuables in the car break the windows to get in and steal them.

From the authorities point of view, it is a difficult problem to solve, the councillor said.

“While it would be great to have more security, it’s not practical,” he said. “There are so many parking spots in the region.”

Everyone we spoke to advised motorists not to leave any valuables visible in the car, if leaving on a hike or out of eyeshot of the car for an extended period of time.

20170624_203501 Source: Wicklow Uplands Council

Behan said: “One issue is people leaving items such as iPads, mobile phones etc in their cars. Another is simply forgetting to lock their cars. You’d be shocked at the number of people who do it.”

They also said that having this as a persistent problem in the mountains would not be beneficial in efforts to attract tourism in the area. Dunne said:

If recreational users are coming in and out of Wicklow, it’s not the image you want to project. Hiking and walking is such an important part of our offering here.

Behan added: “I can honestly say there’s a case for having CCTV of these areas, but it’d be very expensive. I think we may have to look into it.

It’s great that people want to visit this area, but we urge them to just be careful.

Quirke, meanwhile, said that having gardaí on the ground is the strongest deterrent to criminals in this region.

He cited the recent search that took place in the region after the death of Patricia O’Connor in May.

“For over 10 days,” he said, “we had a sizable garda presence in the area. We were heavily deployed around there searching for body parts.

There was not one break in during that time. It shows what happens when we have our feet on the ground there.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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