Crime gang uses girl (7) to help carry out burglaries
One of the country's most prolific burglary gangs is using children as young as seven to carry out break-ins across the country.
The organised crime group is a top target of gardaí under Operation Thor, and special policing plans have been put in place to combat it over the festive season.
The prolific crime group has strongholds in south Dublin and Co Wexford, but has close criminal associates in several other counties, including Kildare.
The 'Cock Wall' gang has been operating for more than a decade but new, detailed intelligence has been carried out on the crime group in recent weeks.
Gardaí believe the family burglary gang is currently made up of around 80 members which includes associates from other crime families.
It can also be revealed that the gang is suspected of using around 16 children under the age of 12 to carry out burglaries - including a seven-year-old girl. Dozens more juveniles under the age of 18 are used by the crime group while the main leaders are considered to be two men aged 43 and 52.
A senior member was even recently arrested as far afield as the United States for using a juvenile to carry out a robbery.
Detectives from Garda divisions across the country are regularly kept up to date with new intelligence on the gang, while it is also targeted by Garda national units under the auspice of Operation Thor.
A senior source said the use of young children is "particularly callous" and leaves the gang less likely to face prosecution if caught.
"If a child that young is found trespassing inside a house, the parents can just claim the child wandered off. It makes prosecuting very difficult.
"Even in cases where children are found with stolen property, the criminal age of responsibility being set at 12 means the children are simply sent back to their parents," the source said.
One of the perceived leaders of the Dublin faction is a 43-year-old criminal from the south side of the capital who is a convicted killer.
He has also been targeted by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) after his gang made millions from raiding the homes of hard-working people.
Another of the gang's hierarchy is a 52-year-old criminal who was last year was slapped with a CAB bill of more than €2m for running the organised burglary gang.
The crime gang targets "every county" in the State and carries out detailed surveillance of potential targets well in advance of 'jobs'.
It has made a name for itself targeting pensioners, and several senior members of the group - including two siblings - have served jail terms for the aggravated burglary of pensioners.
In recent weeks it is suspected of carrying out a spate of burglaries in the south-east of the country, hitting "soft" targets.
The burglars have been breaking into homes of working professionals who aren't normally home in normal daylight hours, meaning they are less likely to be disturbed.
"They won't mistakenly break into the home of someone high-profile, or someone like a judge, guard or anything that would warrant extra attention.
"This crew are doing their homework and are attempting to operate without attracting attention," the source added.
Gardaí have had several high-profile successes against members of the 'Cock Wall' gang in recent years, and due to its volatile nature the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) has been deployed to intercept it in the immediate aftermath of burglaries.
The gang has been involved in several dangerous incidents with gardaí where patrol cars have been rammed as it attempted to make its getaway.
The crime group has also been known to target a particular provincial town and carry out a spate of burglaries in less than an hour before fleeing to Dublin via the motorway.
The 'Cock Wall' gang has been operating since the turn of the century and once specialised in high-speed ram raids targeting cigarette stocks in rural shops and filling stations. It has also been known as the 'Subaru Gang' because of its early use of the Impreza model while on jobs.
In September 2014, a car seized by CAB from an associate of the gang was stolen two days later from a storage compound before being recovered by gardaí.