The gang behind the theft of two ATMs in Kells in County Meath tried to use homemade spikes to stop gardaí pursuing them.
However, Gardaí, who described the theft as a 'well-planned, sophisticated' crime, said the use of the device did not delay their response to the theft of two ATMs from the town centre shortly after 4am on Friday morning.
In total, four ATMs were stolen in the latest in a spate of robberies since the beginning of the year. As well as those in Kells, two others in Crumlin, Co Antrim and Craigavon, Co Armagh were stolen. 16 ATMs have now been robbed since the start of the year: 11 north of the border and five south of it.
In Kells, a gang used a digger to remove the cash machines from the walls of AIB and Bank of Ireland, causing significant damage to both buildings. It is believed that as much as €200,000 has been stolen.
Superintendent Dermot O'Connor from Kells Garda Station confirmed that the assailants placed homemade spikes outside Kells Garda Station in a bid to slow down garda progress. The garda station is just 500 metres from the crime scene and Supt O'Connor said that the device did not delay garda response.
The thieves left behind a JCB Fastrac tractor and trailer and an excavator, which blocked the main street in Kells. Gardaí believe those responsible left the scene in a dark-coloured crew CAB jeep and a dark coloured Volkswagon car in the direction of Carlanstown, north-east of Kells.
Supt O'Connor appealed for any possible witnesses to contact Kells Garda Station on 046 9280820, the Gardaí Confidential line on 1800 666 111 or any Garda station. Specifically, he asked for motorists with dashcam footage of heavy machinery being moved or transported between Ardee, Kells, the N52 or adjoining roads in the early hours of Friday morning to reach out.
He said: "This crime was an organised planned attack on the community of Kells. This crime is not a victimless crime and will have a significant impact on the community of Kells and the local area over this Easter Bank Holiday weekend."
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has spoken to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris about the recent spate of robberies: "I’m very concerned at the most recent ATM robberies and indeed have expressed that concern to the Garda Commissioner. He briefed me this morning and assured me that An Garda Síochána are following every lead in their pursuit of those involved. They continue to work closely with their PSNI colleagues to target crime gangs in both jurisdictions."
The JCB tractor and the excavator had been stolen in the Louth and Meath areas overnight.
Gardaí appealed to anyone who owns or uses heavy plant machinery to 'take every precaution possible' to secure vehicles. A garda spokesman said: "If criminal groups cannot steal diggers and other similar machinery, they cannot tear out ATMs. This will also mean that these expensive pieces of machinery are not destroyed or burnt out after they are stolen."