Opinion Shane Ross

Monday 19 August 2019

Burglar Ben rubs his hands as business is set to boom

Hammer of the Gods: Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan launch An Garda Siochana's new anti-crime strategy, 'Operation Thor' Photo: Mark Condren
Hammer of the Gods: Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan launch An Garda Siochana's new anti-crime strategy, 'Operation Thor' Photo: Mark Condren

Shane Ross

Ben the Burglar sat back to watch RTE's Six One news last Monday evening. He was feeling a bit depressed. All day he had been hearing that Minister for Justice Frances FitzGerald was launching a package to put a stop to his gallop.

Ben tucked into his takeaway burger and chips in his well-furnished living room in a Dublin suburb. On the sofa beside him sat Mrs Ben and his weekend haul of jewellery and cash.

In front of him was his stolen Sony 75 inch TV. There they were, Frances and her new very best friend, Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan, threatening fire and brimstone. The good times were over.

Ben and his fellow burglars enjoyed a good recession. Burglary has been a growth industry during the last eight years. Ben's gang has been plundering the small housing estates of Dublin and other towns at will. The gardai have looked on as the burglars sped along the motorways, carried out smash-and -grab raids and made an unchallenged escape from the targeted estate.

Once in a while, Ben had heard the Garda and the government rattling their blunt sabres at the burglars. Last Monday was billed to be different. In a blaze of publicity, Frances and Noirin revealed their latest project, absurdly named 'Operation Thor'. In Norse mythology Thor was a hammer-wielding god of immense strength. He protected mankind and slaughtered all his enemies.

Ben was not shivering in his shoes after he heard Frances and Noirin invoke the name of Thor as they announced his impending doom. He well remembers Operation 'Fiacla' - launched as recently as 2012 - to clean up the epidemic of burglaries. He hasn't a clue of the significance of the name Thor, but mutters to his missus that he remembers that Fiacla was a toothless project.

Ben has been thinking about the General Election. Should he vote for Sinn Fein? Their past should make them soft on burglaries. But Fine Gael has been good to the burglars. He might consider them, even give them a small donation out of his ill-gotten gains. He recalls that the burglary lobby was awarded a penalty kick two and a half years ago, when Fine Gael and Labour closed 139 Garda stations nationwide.

Ben could not believe his luck. The government had decided to protect the growing burglary industry. His small enterprise saw one of the principal obstacles to its expansion removed.

Garda stations were to be ripped out of the heart of communities. Instead, the buzz words " Smart policing" were substituted.

Gardai were ordered to abandon their stations and play cops and robbers. It was the beginning of the end for what Noirin O'Sullivan on Monday dismissively called "bricks and mortar" and the launch of the era of high-speed vehicles .

Cops and robbers hasn't worked. Ben watched the box carefully as two of the most powerful women in the state spelt out their latest panacea. It was just more cops and robbers. Happily for Ben, this time it was different. This time they were forewarning him and his co-burglars of their precise plans. As usual, there was plenty of hot air and a bigger spend on high-speed cars. The gardai had bought more than a dozen BMW X5s and Audi Q7s to chase him and his colleagues up and down the motorways.

And, as usual, the two ladies had learned their lines in spin and spoof. They were suddenly big into "crime trend analysis" and "high-visibility" patrols. They had identified the top 200 burglars and six "serious" criminal gangs. Ben began to warm to Frances and her comrade Commissioner. He knew he wasn't in the top 10, so Frances and Noirin would not be concentrating on him.

Sounds like poor Ben will have to stop using the motorways. Quite an inconvenience for a successful burglar. He will be forced to get out the Google map and find out a bit about the sideroads leading into his favourite estates. It will probably take him an extra 20 minutes to get home after work because of all those fast cars patrolling up and down the motorways vainly searching for him.

Suddenly his growing hope for the continued success of his enterprise morphed into outright confidence. Frances and Noirin were united on the key question. They are not going to re-open the closed Garda stations. Thank goodness the Ivory tower, known as the Department of Justice, is not listening to any of the ordinary guys in the Garda ranks. Ben knows that the Garda Representative Association (GRA) regarded the closures as folly. He knows that its president Dermot O'Neill has been fulminating against this foolishness.

But the bureaucrats and the politicians know better. Put the gardai into fast cars to "meet the people". Ignore the word from the gardai on the ground.

Ben was momentarily apprehensive last week when the minister revealed that closing 139 Garda stations had only saved €549,000 a year. He feared that it might mean they reacted sensibly, by re-opening a few in areas where burglaries have rocketed since the local station closed. He need not have worried. Last Monday, Frances and Noirin were successfully briefing the media with selective figures highlighting the areas where crime had actually fallen since a station closed in 2013.

Ben is not a political animal. He is a thief. And most thieves do not vote. Yet he is shrewd enough to spot political posturing when he sees it. He knows that politicians like to pull off a few high-profile stunts before general elections. He recognises that Fine Gael need to signal to their own supporters that they are tough on crime.

Ben was not so happy when he heard Independent Alliance TD Michael Fitzmaurice give the thumbs down to the package. Fitzmaurice not only wants the re-opening of certain Garda stations, he is demanding serious community policing. God forbid. If the Government re-introduced real community policing, Ben's days could be numbered. Instead of gardai arriving on the scene of his crimes in high-speed cars after the event, they might hear about strange activities from their footsoldiers on the ground. Intelligence-gathering - before the crime is committed - is far more effective than fast cars arriving afterwards. No fear of that. Justice in Ireland is top heavy. Frances and Noirin must be allowed to spin from their desk jobs. Cure is better than prevention.

Last week began badly for Ben. He had anticipated big trouble for the burglary industry. As each day passed, burglary looked brighter. Friday was a bonus. He picked up the papers to see that one of the suits in Justice had told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that Ireland's judges do not regard burglary as a serious offence.

It was music to his ears. In the unlikely event that he was caught by the cops on the way home from work, he will appear in front of beaks who are soft on burglars. Everywhere he turns there is an escape route.

The likelihood of him ending up behind bars is minimal.

These judges are, of course, politically appointed by Frances and her Cabinet colleagues.

The Government has refused to reform the judicial system, they will not listen to the gardai on the ground, they have spun a good yarn about flashy cars providing lots of visual support to communities. They hope that Operation Thor will fool us and help them win the election.

For the first time, Ben the burglar is thinking of voting for Fine Gael.

Sunday Independent

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