A seasonal Garda operation to prevent raids on isolated Christmas tree farms will get underway from Friday, as growers anticipate record demand for festive firs.
Operation Hurdle — a hugely-successful initiative involving nighty air patrols, high-visibility checkpoints and armed support units — will run up until December 19 in Co Wicklow, which is home to Ireland's largest concentration of Christmas tree plantations.
The news that the operation has been given the green light has been welcomed by growers, a number of who are reporting unprecedented demand for Christmas trees.
Christy Kavanagh, a multi-award winning grower who expects to supply around 10,000 festive firs to both the domestic and export market in the run-up to Christmas, said: "Our crop is looking very good this year and the tree harvest is going extremely well.
"There seems to be a big appetite out there for real Christmas trees this year, and the way things are shaping up, this could well turn out to be my busiest year ever.
"I think there's a couple of reasons for the high demand. Firstly, it's been a difficult year for people with the rising cost of living and so on, and I think because of that people are more determined to celebrate Christmas more than ever.
"Also, the public has moved away from plastic trees and want products that are sustainable. People are far more planet conscious than ever before, and I think that has certainly pushed up demand for real Christmas trees."
Christy, a former chairman of the Christmas Tree Growers Association who farms in Newtownmountkennedy, said the support of Operation Hurdle would be welcomed by all growers throughout the county.
The seasonal Garda ring of steel has been running every year since 2012 in the remote uplands regions of the 'Garden County', before which around 2,000 festive firs would be plundered annually from isolated farms by primarily Dublin-based gangs.
Wicklow Garda District Superintendent Declan McCarthy confirmed the initiative would be up and running from tomorrow.
In a statement, he said: "The operation has been very successful since it started. While detection is very difficult, prevention is the key with a combined effort by local growers and their security staff and improved security procedures, targeting suspects and the vehicles of those involved and focusing on the locations most likely to yield results."
He added: "Operation Hurdle was very favourably commented upon by those in the business, and they have requested that the operation be repeated again this year.
"The key to its success was that the Christmas tree growers and the gardaí worked in tandem to achieve the desired result. It's an example of policing at its best, with the emphasis on crime prevention."