Gardaí to get new powers to search cash-for-gold stores
Gardaí are in line for new powers to search and inspect jewellers, antique dealers and 'cash-for-gold' outlets amid fears they are being exploited by criminal gangs.
Outlets that sell second-hand jewellery goods also face being hit with financial penalties if they fail to report "suspicious transactions" to gardaí.
And individuals who sell jewellery and precious stones would be forced to provide proof of identity, under plans drawn up by the Department of Justice.
The measures are being considered in response to growing public concern over the impact the 'cash for gold' trade has had on the rate of burglaries.
Some of the most dangerous burglary gangs in the country are suspected of involvement in using these stores to sell jewellery - including the mob which was led by slain crime figure Andy Connors.
A core group of up to 10 family-based gangs are involved in the crime wave that has targeted vulnerable rural homes and used the country's motorway system to make rapid getaways.
Most of the criminals are based in Tallaght, Dun Laoghaire and Shankill in Dublin. It is estimated that more than 300 criminals are involved in the gangs.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald will today launch a public consultation document in a bid to seek the views of communities and business groups.
The consultation is in response to a growing level of feedback in both Dublin and parts of rural Ireland that homes are being ransacked specifically for gold and other jewellery goods.
"There has been concern expressed at the possibility that the establishment of 'cash for gold' outlets in recent years has adversely impacted on the rate of burglaries with these outlets being used as means to dispose of stolen items of jewellery (precious metals and stones) etc," the department's consultation document states.
It outlines three main options for consideration:
A "minimalist approach" to tackling the problem through existing legislation and resources;
A "comprehensive and resource intensive response" which involves the registering of business and major new powers for gardaí;
A "mid-way approach" that focuses on regulation and penalties for non-compliance.
The most radical proposals being considered by justice officials would see the appointment of officers who could enter premises with a warrant, request access to records, remove items and even arrest sellers for non-compliance.
A Department of Justice source said the exact response will be finalised following the public consultation.
"This is a public-led approach because the public have been at the forefront of raising this as a legitimate concern."