Armed gardai's blitz on burglary gangs as 40 checkpoints a day set up
Gardai have launched a round-the-clock armed checkpoint blitz in a drive to crush the burglary gangs that have been terrorising the country.
In one of the largest ever operations of its kind, armed teams, backed up by helicopter support overhead, are mounting 40 checkpoints a day on roads in the east and south-east.
The campaign is less than a week old but already gardai have made 24 arrests and seized 41 vehicles in what has been described as an "in-your-face style of policing" by senior sources.
In addition, a massive amount of intelligence on the gangs has been gathered with gardai identifying hundreds of suspects.
Last night, gardai arrested another two criminals after their stolen BMW car was stopped at an armed checkpoint in Carlow. The Herald was present at the moment the two men, one of whom is wanted by gardai in Louth for armed robbery, tried to flee when they approached the checkpoint at Leighlinbridge at 8.40pm.
When officers quizzed the driver of the 2010 BMW regarding his driving licence, he immediately drove off at speed. Armed gardai gave chase as the pursuit continued on a maze of rural roads. The stolen car was fitted with false registration plates and reached speeds of 200kmph.
Garda Liam Lawlor from Carlow traffic corps assisted by Gda Paul Hogan arrested the two men in Clara, Co Kilkenny following a terrifying 15-minute chase through Gowran, Paulstown, before it ended in Clara. The arrested men were being held in Carlow garda station last night.
The overt operation will continue to until at least Christmas with the aim of tackling burglary gangs head-on.
A core group of up to 10 family-based mobs are involved in the crime wave that has targeted vulnerable rural homes and used the country's motorway system to make rapid getaways. The gangs, who use high-powered cars that often speed away from garda vehicles, are mostly Dublin-based and are made up of Traveller or Romanian criminals.
Most of the criminals are based in the Tallaght area of southwest Dublin but some also have addresses in other parts of the capital, including Rathfarnham, Dun Laoghaire and Shankill. It is estimated that more than 300 criminals are involved in the gangs.
The armed garda officers are being dispatched to slip-roads on the motorway system as well as secondary routes both northbound and southbound to and from the Dublin area.
A vast stretch of countryside from Gorey, Co Wexford, in the east and west to Thurles, Co Tipperary, is the focus of the operation. Gardai have established key information about the structures of these gangs.
The criminals have been using their connections in towns where they have "family hubs" to gather local intelligence on burglary targets.
Among the towns identified where this issue is most prevalent are two in Tipperary and one in Wexford.
A major part of the operation is the use of spy technology involving registration-plate recognition software hooked up to a database of cars associated with the crimewave, which is known as Automatic Number Plate Recognition. If a car linked to previous burglaries or crime is spotted entering the area, gardai send out an alert to other officers in the vicinity.
"This is a massive ongoing operation in which local gardai, both in plain clothes and uniform are assisted by national units including the Organised Crime Unit and the Air Support Unit every day and night," a source told the Herald. "Customs and Revenue are also playing their part by carrying out checks for laundered diesel at these stops."
While noting the arrests and car seizures that have taken place in the past week, the intelligence gathered so far has been described as "perhaps of even more importance" and will lead to a large number of arrests in the very near future.
"This is being run as part of Operation Fiacla and the ultimate hope is that it will lead these gangs to realise that the country's motorway system is no longer easy pickings for these crews," the source added.
"Law-abiding people have nothing to fear about these armed checkpoints and, in fact, crime prevention advice in relation to burglaries and similar crimes is given to ordinary people by community gardai when they are stopped as well," a source explained.
The gardai set up Operation Fiacla to combat the burglary gangs and more than 10,500 people have been arrested in just over two years since it was launched.
More than 6,200 people have been charged with offences in the 29 months since it began.