Urban gangs who target vulnerable rural areas to commit hit-and-run burglaries are to be targeted under new Government surveillance measures.
Environment Minister Alan Kelly and the minister of state with responsibility for rural affairs, Ann Phelan, will reveal the plans this morning following growing concerns that existing security measures fail to prevent the escalating problem.
The Irish Examiner understands that, following a spate of robberies across the country, the Department of Environment has agreed to set up a pilot surveillance project to address the issue — which, if successful, will be extended to other areas.
The project will be based in Co Laois and involve more than €60,000 worth of CCTV and surveillance cameras on rural roads to track people suspected of travelling to the locations from urban areas to commit a spate of burglaries over a single night.
It is expected that the pilot project will last a number of months. If it proves to be successful, department officials have confirmed it is likely to be extended to other parts of the country, including Cork, which has seen the issue repeatedly raised throughout the recession by rural politicians and gardaí already struggling with cutbacks.
Speaking at a recent Cork City joint policing committee meeting, the city’s chief superintendent, Michael Finn, warned that serial burglars are coming from Dublin to rural regions to perform hit-and-run attacks.
The senior garda said that while beefed-up defences are proving to be successful in the capital, the situation has resulted in gangs from Dublin instead targeting areas outside their normal base —leading to what he said has been a 54% increase in break-ins in Cork city since last year.
While he said the issue has been addressed to an extent in Cork City as “extra resources” have been put in place to tackle the problem, the senior garda added that this, in turn, has displaced the burglaries to rural areas of the county.
Gardaí have also issued warnings in recent weeks over dozens of break-ins in houses in Mitchelstown, Fermoy, Rathcormac, Conna, Ballynoe, and Midleton, with two Dublin gangs driving high-powered cars believed to be behind the spree.
The issue is also being repeated in rural Limerick and other areas of the country where there has been a drop in the number of available gardaí, leading to calls for increased surveillance and tracking of gangs coming from urban areas to target communities which have previously not be subjected to widespread attacks.
News of the Government action came as Renua Ireland’s Carlow-Kilkenny general election candidate Patrick McKee said garda cutbacks in rural areas have turned towns into “a criminal’s paradise”.
He said the closure of rural garda stations has been “an invitation to professional criminals”.
“It’s getting to the stage that farming families are now having to install CCTV on their farms to protect both themselves and their property,” he said. “It’s nonsense to say the loss of the resident garda in rural communities has had nothing to do with current difficulties regarding rural crime.”
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