This follows a spate of robberies, three at knifepoint, in Waterford city in the past few weeks.
The attacks suggest criminals are taking extreme measures to steal phones and follow the passing of life sentences on two youths at the Central Criminal Court last week for murders linked to mobile phone theft. Fine Gael TD John Deasy has described it as a “sinister development” and says he plans to talk to gardaí to see if the robberies have any cycle or sequence to them.
“Surely we haven’t reached the stage where people are being robbed at knifepoint in broad daylight - this is a serious escalation in violence and something that needs to be stepped up on,” Mr Deasy said.
No one was hurt in the recent attacks and while gardaí arrested suspects in connection with all three knifepoint thefts, they have expressed concern about the use of violence.
“It’s only very recently that knives are being used ... I’ve no idea why they go to these lengths,” Sgt John McDonald said. Since last December the Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA) and the gardaí have invested €2 million in the battle to prevent mobile phone theft.
It asked the nation’s 3.5 million mobile subscribers to register the IMEI number, a unique 15 digit number that identifies each phone, with their network operator so the phone can be deactivated if stolen. But many have failed to use this service.
The resale value of phones remains a key factor for criminals, but if phones are registered and deactivated they become useless, even if sold abroad.
“It’s hard to know, some people are doing it to get kicks out of it,” Tommy McCabe, director of the ICIA said.
“And if the phone hasn’t been deactivated there is some value in it.”
Gardaí are carrying out detailed research to get a better picture of mobile phone theft in Ireland.
In the absence of national figures, the ICIA has referred to figures from Britain which show: 23% of victims were using their mobile phone when it was stolen; victims tend to be younger than in other types of robbery with 45% aged under 18 and 80% of victims are male.
However, the National Crime Prevention Unit warned it would be incorrect to assume a link between violence and mobile phone theft. “There is no evidence of an epidemic of attacks,” said NCPU inspector Pat McCabe.