DUBLIN is experiencing an epidemic in pipe bomb attacks -- with more than half of the overall number of the deadly devices found in the capital.
Figures released exclusively to the Herald show that some 53 of the 96 viable improvised explosive devices (IEDs) dealt with last year were discovered in the Dublin region.
Security sources are alarmed at the spate of pipe bomb attacks that have taken place across the capital.
Hotspots include the Crumlin, Tallaght, Finglas and Coolock areas -- areas that have been the scene of a number of disputes between gangland criminals and separate feuds between Traveller families.
A previous Herald probe revealed that criminals are selling the bombs for less than €100 each, sometimes to children as young as 15.
Security sources believe that 65pc of the bombs in circulation are made by Traveller gangs, the rest by dissident republicans.
At 96, the overall number of viable devices found in Ireland in 2012 is the highest in years.
The Dublin region easily topped the list for pipe bombs, with the capital recording dozens more than Cork or Limerick.
While the army had to deal with 53 viable IEDs in the capital this year, they only had to deal with five in Cork and 12 in Limerick.
"The number of pipe bomb attacks in Dublin has risen sharply and the criminal forces behind these incidents is highly alarming," a source said.
Some of the bombs are so sophisticated that they have anti-movement capability and contain mercury, making them far more dangerous.
An army spokesperson said there were a number of incidents where members of the public and defence forces personnel were injured.
"A young member of the public was seriously injured by an IED in June and a bomb disposal team leader sustained minor injuries while he was rendering a device safe in Cork in March.
"Members of the public who are concerned about suspicious items should not touch or approach them and contact the gardai immediately," the spokesperson said.
Some nine IEDs were found in Kildare, followed by seven in Clare and three in Wicklow.
The remaining seven devices were found in Sligo, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary and Westmeath.
In total there were 209 army callouts in 2012.
However, a growing problem for gardai and the defence forces is the fact that criminal gangs are making elaborate hoax pipe bombs to intimidate and threaten their criminal rivals.
These devices have led to the army being called out almost 30 times this year, including over 20 times in Dublin.
The Herald has also learnt that a number of Traveller families -- based mostly in the north side of Dublin -- are running pipe bomb factories in which "crude but deadly" bombs are being manufactured.
Sources say that the pipe bombs made by outfits sell for only €100 each.
A number of garda searches have focused on a halting site at Northern Close in Darndale, which has been raided at least four times in recent months.
In one high-profile operation in October, officers from the Dublin North division, backed up by personnel from the Special Branch, the Emergency Response Unit, the National Bureau of Criminal Investigations and air-support units, searched the area.
Officers were targeting a suspected pipe bomb factory and discovered a number of viable devices. A number of arrests were made and files sent to the DPP.
In 2011, the army bomb disposal team was called out 237 times and dealt with 70 viable devices, while in 2010, it dealt with 49 viable bombs in the course of 198 call-outs.
Fianna Fail Justice spokesman Niall Collins said that the rise was "highly worrying".
"Any one of these bombs can cause bloodshed and pose major risks to families and communities.
"When you consider that just 40 devices were made safe five years ago, 96 is highly worrying," he said. "These figures are revealed in the week Minister Shatter announced the crazy decision to close 100 garda stations.
"So it is essential that the army are given the full support to deal with these type of threats," he added.