WELL-organised Eastern European gangs are responsible for a major epidemic of pickpocketing in Dublin city centre, the Herald can reveal.
Statistics show that pickpocketing offences have risen by a staggering 200pc in the south city over the past number of weeks, according to sources.
Gardai attached to Pearse Street Station have arrested 22 suspects within the past fortnight as the problem continues to get worse.
The Romanian criminals involved in the spate of pick-pocketing offences are understood to be based in Dublin for just a few weeks and gardai believe they will travel to London next month to target tourists attending the Olympics there.
A source explained: "They have not been here for very long but they have had a major impact on crime rates in the city centre on both sides of the River Liffey.
"These are very well organised pickpockets -- they dress as tourists wearing items such as sunglasses and carrying around maps with them.
"They are generally aged in the early to mid-20s.
"They predominately target tourists and one thing about them is that they don't use violence. They work best in very crowded areas and they work by distracting people which leads to them being able to take people's wallets.
"They have no interest in taking credit cards, cash is all they are interested in."
Extra garda attention is being given to certain areas of the city centre which have been established as pickpocketing blackspots.
These include areas in the vicinity of Ha'Penny Bridge, Trinity College and Merchant's Arch on the southside and around O'Connell Bridge and Henry Street on the northside.
"They are well organised and dozens of people have been fleeced but gardai are aware of the issue and are now actively targeting the street gangs.
"There has been 22 arrests so far and we expect more in the coming days," a source added.
Gardai have seen a steady increase in the activity of Romanian criminal syndicates since the country joined the EU in 2007, but these were usually members of the Roma community, who were involved in organised begging as well as metal theft and prostitution.
In the UK, the problem of organised Romanian street gangs is much worse than it is here, according to British police.
A large number of the criminals arrived in London as early as March and April -- months ahead of this summer's Olympics.
Last month a London police officer explained that the foreign crooks were being allocated 'patches' to target prior to leaving their country.
Gardai are now investigating whether a similar situation might exist here in Ireland.
"It is strange to think of a gang sitting in some flat in Bucharest dividing up patches for the purpose of large scale theft operations in Dublin city centre but that may well be happening," the source added.