A seasonal garda operation designed to prevent raids on Christmas tree farms will get under way from today as growers report record demand for festive firs.
Operation Hurdle, a successful initiative involving nightly air patrols, high-visibility checkpoints and armed support units, will run until December 20 in Co Wicklow, which is home to Ireland's largest concentration of Christmas tree plantations.
Confirmation that the special month-long operation has been given the green light was welcomed by owners of isolated farms, many of whom are anticipating unprecedented demand for their trees.
"This year's crop is extremely good - in fact, better than ever," said Christy Kavanagh, an award-winning grower based in Newtownmountkennedy.
"The trees are fresher and fuller than previously, and that's because they've had the ideal amount of light and rain this year. I can't recall a year as good as this.
"We've already sold thousands of trees, which is very unusual at this stage, but with the year that people have had there definitely seems to be more demand for real trees than in past years.
"People seem more determined to celebrate Christmas this year, and already we've shifted more trees than we normally would have at this point.
"Irish trees are in big demand abroad too. I've already had two truckloads of my trees sent over to London."
Ms Kavanagh, a former chairman of the Christmas Tree Growers Association, said he expects to supply around 10,000 trees to both the domestic and export market.
The seasonal garda operation has been running every year since 2012 in the remote uplands of the Garden County, before which growers had been the victims of a spate of raids by Dublin-based gangs.
Wicklow Garda District Superintendent Declan McCarthy said the initiative had been set up "with a view to reducing and hopefully eliminating the theft of Christmas trees in a short finite period between the start of November and the week before Christmas".
The total value of the Christmas tree market to the Irish economy is estimated to be around €22m.