Garda air patrols to prevent crime gangs stealing Christmas trees
Gardaí have confirmed that air patrols are being deployed at night to prevent raids by criminal gangs on some of the country's remotest Christmas tree farms.
'Operation Hurdle' - a hugely successful initiative involving the Garda Air Support Unit and detective and regional armed support back-ups - will run between now and Christmas in Co Wicklow, which is home to Ireland's largest concentration of festive fir plantations.
Christmas tree growers in the isolated uplands of the Garden County had suffered a spate of thefts every year from mostly Dublin-based gangs before the setting-up of 'Operation Hurdle' in 2012.
Since then, the Garda's seasonal ring of steel around isolated farms has helped win the war on criminal gangs, with the result that there were no reports of major incidents in Co Wicklow in the run-up to Christmas last year.
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And with the harvest of an anticipated "bumper crop" now under way, relieved growers have been assured by gardaí that high-visibility checkpoints and nightly patrols will be in force between now and Christmas.
Wicklow Garda District Supt Declan McCarthy said 'Operation Hurdle' had been set up once again "with a view to reducing and hopefully eliminating the theft of Christmas trees".
"To combat the criminal behaviour, gardaí in Wicklow will be conducting high-visibility checkpoints and patrols (particularly at night), and these checkpoints and patrols will be supported in the air by the Garda Air Support Unit and on the ground by local detective units and regional armed support units," he said.
"At checkpoints gardaí will be checking documentation with vehicles, and if trees are purchased legitimately, the driver of the truck or van should have a receipt which is recently dated.
"The Garda Air Support will monitor these areas when they are operational at night and they can also provide support if required for operations, for example, searches using infrared or 'night sun' equipment, and provide air cover or patrols when checkpoints are taking place in remote areas."
Grower Christy Kavanagh, who expects to supply around 10,000 trees to both the Irish and export market this year, said the co-operation between gardaí and local farmers had led to a turnaround from pre-operation days when around 2,000 festive firs would be plundered annually.
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