Joan Lucey, the owner of independent Cork-based book store chain, Vibes & Scribes, denied she was being racist and said she felt she had no other option.
“We are being made out as the villains here when in actual fact, we are the victims. The bottom line is I need to protect my staff and stock,” she said.
The Cork Business Association (CBA) said it fully supports her actions.
CBA chief executive Donal Healy said: “We will do everything possible to support and protect one of our members.
“We have to take the official line on this and we will deal with this professionally. The gardaí have been notified and are investigating.”
But he said the judiciary has a role to play and that non-custodial sentences and the revolving prison door system are contributing to the problem.
Ms Lucey, who owns a book store on Bridge Street, and an arts and crafts shop and a book shop on Lavitt’s Quay, said her Lavitt’s Quay outlets have been targeted by a gang of up to six women, wearing traditional Romany dress, for the last two years.
She said the gang has stolen stock from the arts and crafts outlet, and that certain individuals have threatened and intimidated her staff.
“They would stay outside the door, and stare in at the staff until they were busy. Then they would swoop in, cause a diversion and they could clean a shelf of stock in a few minutes – just hoover it up,” she said.
“We didn’t realise what they were doing at first until a customer tipped us off. We saw them outside dropping bags of beads from under their skirts and make off.”
Ms Lucey, who in 2004 sponsored an ethnic soccer team in Cork, said her staff members have also retrieved stock, which wasn’t paid for, from some of the women as they tried to leave the shop.
She said the women would also shout and roar abuse at her staff, who began to feel intimidated and at risk.
After a recent shoplifting incident, Ms Lucey said she took a photograph of the gang outside her store, and posted it up on her window, underneath the word ‘Beware’.
“I felt that if they saw their photograph on the window, it would deter them,” she said.
It has worked but Ms Lucey said she has had complaints from NASC, the Irish immigrant support group, and from members of the Cork Anti Racism Network (CARN).
NASC has suggested that Ms Lucey’s actions could incite hatred. CARN spokesman Joe Moore said his group is considering a picket of Vibes & Scribes.
But city traders have rallied to Ms Lucey’s defence.
Reel cinema owner Tom O’Connor, whose Blackpool cinema was robbed by a known criminal gang of foreign nationals four months ago, said he fully supports Ms Lucey.
“This lady has not been racist,” he said. “You have to support someone like Joan who is protecting her business and her staff.
“People are just trying to protect their business from thievery. I don’t have any policy against a specific group of people. I have a policy against people whipping stuff.”