GARDAI responsible for tackling the country's most sophisticated burglary gangs have been using surveillance equipment that is almost 20 years out of date, the Herald has learned.
The technology available to members of the Garda Air Support Unit has not been replaced since 1997 and is thwarting efforts to combat travelling gangs.
Senior officers have warned of the growing threat posed by burglars using high-speed vehicles and night-vision goggles to evade gardai.
It has emerged that equipment used by the Garda's fixed wing spotter plane and helicopter, which are directly involved in combating prolific burglary gangs, is almost 20 years old.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has responded to garda warnings by sanctioning the purchase of infra-red technology and other surveillance equipment for the unit, which operates out of Casement Aerodrome.
The spy equipment, which costs almost €2m, will be put into use in the coming weeks.
The scale of the rural crime epidemic has turned into a key election issue as whole communities claim they are targeted by sophisticated gangs.
A core group of up to 10 family-based mobs are involved in the crime wave that has targeted vulnerable rural homes and has used the country's motorway system to make rapid getaways. The gangs, who use high-powered cars that often speed away from garda vehicles, are mostly Dublin-based and are made up of Traveller or Romanian criminals.
Most of the criminals are based in the Tallaght area of southwest Dublin, but some also have addresses in other parts of the county, including Rathfarnham, Dun Laoghaire and Shankill. It is estimated that more than 300 criminals are involved in the gangs.
Government sources say the investment in the Air Support Unit will be followed by an announcement of a major overhaul of the garda IT system in the Capital Plan this week.
An additional 500 gardai are also due to be recruited in 2016.
But the failure to modernise the surveillance equipment used by officers for almost 20 years will raise serious questions.
The news comes as it emerged that two-thirds of convicted burglars are serving sentences of six months or less.
Ms Fitzgerald will this week bring a new bill before the Dail which proposes that serial home burglars are given longer jail terms and refused bail in some circumstances.
Garda figures indicate that 75pc of burglaries are committed by 25pc of burglars.
The planned laws aimed at "prolific" offenders will result in District Court judges applying mandatory consecutive sentences for multiple offences committed within a 12-month window.
Judges will also be allowed to refuse bail to offenders who have a previous conviction for burglary coupled with two or more pending charges.
Publication of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 comes in the wake of a series of high-profile home burglaries.