An enterprising Irish firm believes it has come up with a solution to the growing problem of public art thefts around the country.
SmartWater Ireland claims its technology, which is like a “DNA for objects”, will act as a major deterrent to criminals behind a spate of public sculptures thefts over the past year.
Gardaí have reported a series of thefts of such works as the price of scrap metal, including bronze and copper, has soared.
Other locations targeted for scrap metal include former army barracks, ghost estates, churches, and derelict buildings.
However, SmartWater believes it can counteract the problem through its use of a unique forensic coding system.
The company said it has already protected over 350 churches in Ireland and secured their valuable items and lead roofs.
Michael Corcoran, one of the company’s directors, said SmartWater used a forensically traceable invisible liquid which was applied to the protected item.
“This means that not only can the property be traced if it is stolen but thieves run the risk of being tagged with this solution which can link them back to the scene of the crime.”
SmartWater has a unique marking for each location which is recorded in a central database.
The technology, deployed successfully in Northern Ireland as part of the PSNI’s metal theft taskforce, has also led to a number of convictions in Britain for the theft of cable.
Mr Corcoran said the firm, based in Dunboyne, Co Meath, was in talks with gardaí about use and tracing of the material.
SmartWater said the system has already been endorsed by several British police forces as well as the PSNI.
Scrap steel reportedly fetches about €200 a tonne compared to just €30 two years ago. Industry experts say criminals can get €6 per kilogramme for copper on the black market and €1 per kilogramme for lead.
In Mar 2011, a bronze sculpture entitled The Hitch Hiker worth over €50,000 was stolen on the main Dublin-Cork motorway near Monasterevin, Co Kildare. It is only estimated to have a scrap value of about €5,000.
A week later, a 7m sculpture, The Bronze Lady, worth €64,000 was also stolen from a slip road on the M6 near Moate, Co Westmeath.
Last November a 10ft bronze, copper and brass sculpture of a tree, designed to commemorate young people from the area who had died tragically, was wrenched from its foundations in Castletown, Co Laois.
Last month, an attempted robbery of the bronze statue of author John B Keane in his native Listowel, Co Kerry during the middle of the night was foiled by a local resident.
The spate of thefts led Fianna Fáil’s Seán Fleming to call for the introduction of legislation which would require all scrap metal dealers to be licensed.
New Ross Town Council has also taken early steps to prevent the possible theft of the town’s statue of former US president John F Kennedy by installing a CCTV camera nearby.
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