Thursday 23 March 2017

Burglaries down, but 'Thor' faces an uncertain future

The Garda operation has led to a drop in rural crime, but the Justice Minister won't commit to its continuation into next year, writes Shane Phelan

Armed gardaí assist at a checkpoint in Co Carlow
Armed gardaí assist at a checkpoint in Co Carlow
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Doubts have emerged over the future of the Garda crackdown on burglary, Operation Thor, with Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald declining to give any assurance that it will continue into next year.

The initiative is being funded through a €55m cash injection, which is also helping to pay for increased garda overtime to tackle gangland feuding.

However, in an interview with the Irish Independent, the Justice Minister, Ms Fitzgerald, said Operation Thor was only scheduled to continue until the end of the year and she was non-committal about whether it would continue after that point.

The operation has been credited with bringing about major decreases in burglary, theft and robbery rates across the country.

CSO statistics show that burglaries dropped by 18.5pc in the 12 months to the end of March, while the burglary rate in the first quarter of 2016 was 36.5pc less than in the same period last year.

Patrols

But Ms Fitzgerald said the future of the operation would hinge on a review that is set to take place later this year.

"We will see what the crime patterns look like," she said.

Department of Justice officials have also said budgetary issues will come in to play when a decision is being taken.

The minister's comments were greeted with concern by Irish Rural Link, an umbrella body for 600 community groups. It has been pushing for increased community policing in rural areas that have been blighted by burglaries in recent years.

"If this leads to a decrease in the number of gardaí patrolling rural areas, then it would be very worrying," said spokesperson Louise Lennon.

The group said that while the CSO figures were encouraging, the reduction in the numbers of burglaries in northern, western and southern regions was a great deal less than in the eastern and Dublin metropolitan area.

It said it was also aware that serious crimes were going unreported in rural areas, as there was a lack of confidence that the proper resources were there to provide comprehensive policing.

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Ms Fitzgerald said the gardaí had always had good intelligence on who was carrying out burglary sprees, but had not necessarily had the resources to tackle the culprits.

"What they have been able to do over the past year is focus on this and target particular groups," she said.

But now that many of the main players were in prison or facing charges, the situation needed to be re-evaluated.

"You have to review what is happening," she said.

New laws being introduced to act as a deterrent to burglars would also have a bearing, including the electronic tagging of burglary suspects on bail.

"Gardaí have said they want this. They are going to get it in the bail legislation at the beginning of next term," the minister said.

Also being introduced is legislation requiring the district court to impose consecutive sentences where a burglar is being sentenced for multiple offences.

This will also allow the courts to refuse bail for offenders who have a previous conviction for domestic burglary coupled with two or more pending charges.

Around 1,300 arrests have been made for a variety of offences - including burglary, handling stolen goods, possession of firearms and drugs offences - since Operation Thor began last November.

Gardaí have mounted more than 24,000 crime-prevention patrols and around 30,000 targeted checkpoints nationwide since then.

The operation has also involved: additional high-visibility patrols in identified burglary hot spots; the use of new high-powered vehicles by the armed Regional Response Units; efforts to disrupt the stolen goods market; programmes to help reduce re-offending by prolific offenders; and a high-profile national crime-prevention awareness campaign.

Gardaí have also focussed on providing targeted crime-prevention advice in local communities and enhancing support for victims.

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Irish Independent

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