Gardaí are becoming increasingly concerned about organised burglary gangs roaming the countryside targeting vulnerable pensioners and other potential victims.
Gardaí across Leinster have noticed a spike in burglaries in the past two months, with a number of gangs based in south and west Dublin identified as being involved in the rural crime wave.
Burglary figures have now returned to pre-pandemic levels in a trend that is concerning gardaí.
A number of Garda divisions have seen a big increase in burglaries, including Laois/Offaly, Kildare and Kilkenny/Carlow.
It is understood that gardaí from a number of divisions are working closely together to target the gangs.
The criminals have been using the motorway network to travel from their Dublin bases, often in high-powered cars.
It comes as a pensioner was violently attacked in an aggravated burglary at his home after advertising a scrambler on a buy and sell website.
The victim, named locally as Martin Bagnall (72), required hospital treatment for a serious head injury.
Mr Bagnall was beaten and struck across the head with bolt cutters after confronting a gang at the rural property in Ardrass Lower near Celbridge, Co Kildare.
Specialist gardaí have arrested an “out of control” teen criminal as part of their investigation and are carrying out searches for two other gang members.
It is the latest attack on a pensioner and comes just weeks after retired farmer Tom Niland (73) was left fighting for his life following an aggravated burglary at his home in Co Sligo.
The incident in Kildare happened at around 9.30pm on Tuesday night when the three-man gang broke into the homeowner’s shed.
He was alerted to the break-in by the sound of his dog barking and was attacked when he confronted them.
It’s understood his wife locked herself into their home for her safety and alerted emergency services.
Mr Bagnall suffered serious head injuries and was rushed to Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown, but is expected to be discharged soon.
Two gang members fled on foot, but one drove away on a scrambler stolen from the property.
Specialist gardaí flooded the area and a 17-year-old suspect was arrested several hours later.
He was last night being quizzed at Leixlip garda station after his period of detention was extended.
Sources said the teen is from the Ballyfermot area and is suspected of involvement in dozens of car and motorbike thefts.
Gardaí are continuing to hunt for the other men involved and suspect they are young criminals from the Clondalkin area.
One source told the Irish Independent: “This teenager is being arrested on a regular basis for robberies and thefts across Leinster.
“He is suspected of involvement in close to 100 car robberies and other related offences and, despite his age, is a highly active criminal.”
Detectives believe the gang targeted the property after seeing the advertisement on a buy and sell website.
Locals have expressed shock at the attack on a “very decent man”.
One local, who did not want to be named, said: “He is into his motocross and that. You wouldn’t think he is the age he is, you’d think he is much younger.
“He had only recently placed a scrambler online to sell it, so these guys must have acted on that very quickly.
“He is a very decent man and we can’t believe this has happened to him.”
Local Social Democrat councillor Nuala Killeen said: “People are very concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of that gentleman.
“A cohort of the population would be in a similar age bracket and are drivers of the community.
“Some people in that age cohort have contacted me saying, ‘We don’t want to be living in fear in our houses,’ and it resonates with people when you hear of somebody living a peaceful life being attacked.
“We do have strong community gardaí, but resourcing has been an issue that some people have focused on in the area.”
Ms Killeen added that Celbridge garda station is not open 24/7.
Meanwhile, one of the most prolific of the gangs involved in burglaries, a criminal family organisation based in Tallaght, was almost apprehended by officers after a raid in Co Westmeath last week.
The gang members are suspected of breaking into an unoccupied house in the Rochfortbridge area, where they stole jewellery, cash and other items before being disturbed.
The gang then fled the scene in an Audi S3 car. Gardaí made an attempt to intercept the high-powered vehicle. However, the car failed to stop for officers and a short pursuit began which was stood down because of dangerous weather conditions.
The car was later involved in a collision with another vehicle driven by a woman on the N4 as the criminals tried to get back to Dublin. The woman was subsequently treated in hospital for minor injuries.
The culprits abandoned their crashed car, fled the scene on foot and were “most likely” picked up by some of their criminal associates before escaping back to Dublin.
In the capital, there are fears that an organised burglary gang will carry out more crimes in the Foxrock area following a burglary there on Tuesday morning.
Gardaí confirmed they are investigating the burglary which happened in the area in the early morning.
It is understood the gang gained entry to the property through a window.
The raid came to an end when the burglars woke the homeowner by shining a torch in his face. He was not assaulted but is said to be “shaken”.
The case is being investigated by officers from Cabinteely garda station. No arrests have yet been made.
Foxrock is part of the Dublin DMR East policing division, which traditionally has one of the highest burglary rates in the country.
This article was edited on February 10, 2022