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‘People coming from offices are the ones we are catching shoplifting’

Cost-of-living crisis appears to be forcing office workers to steal items from deli and alcohol counters in an effort to cut back on spending

In over 40 years as a retailer in Dublin, Noel Dunne says he has never seen shoplifting as bad as it is now. He was recently forced to display higher-value spirits and wines in locked display cases; something he’d never had to consider since starting out in retailing in Dublin in the 1970s. Many of his staff were quitting because they were left “frightened” and “stressed” by shoplifters, who sometimes lashed out at them physically or verbally when they were caught.

“What we’re finding lately is that people you’d least expect to do it − the suits, people coming from the offices − are the ones we are catching shoplifting more often,” he says. “It’s a huge embarrassment for them, most of them are mortified when you catch them. But some of them will have a go at you.”

Often “the suits” are paying for food from the deli and trying to put a drink or other items into their bag or pocket to steal. “And that, for me, is the cost-of-living crisis,” says Dunne. “That’s them trying to cut back on the daily or weekly spend on lunches because they’re getting squeezed financially.”

Overall, he is “not surprised at all” Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has reported a surge in thefts from shops, which have been at a 15-year high over the last six to eight months.


“Three or four years ago, we’d catch one person [shoplifting] per day, maybe one every two days. But now it’s four, five, six a day − I’ve already had three catches today.”

Impulse ‘chancers’

Dunne owns a 2,000sq ft Centra shop on the corner of Moore Street and Parnell Street on the north side of Dublin city centre. Before taking on the Centra shop back in 2006, he ran Noel’s Mini Market on the Old County Road in Crumlin for 30 years.

He says many shoplifters are “chancers” who act on impulse and that most of those are aged 14 to 22 years while the new wave of office-worker shoplifters are older. Others are more organised, often working in crews of three − harder to monitor − and stealing high-value items to sell on the black market.

Dunne says alcohol or items from the deli counter account for about 90 per cent of thefts from his store. There are now so many incidents it is impossible to call gardaí every time. Even when gardaí are alerted, the shoplifter has to be detained in a back office until they arrive. They often threaten Dunne and his staff while being held − “‘I’ll see you, and I’ll be waiting outside for you’, all that carry on.”

When the cases go to court months later, he is faced with spending a morning in court “hanging around” as a witness, which takes half a day out of his working week. “And I just know the guy will be told ‘don’t do that again’ and then off he’ll pop,” he says of the almost exclusively non-custodial sanctions, if any, imposed. As a result, he is much more inclined to simply take a stolen item from any shoplifter he catches rather than call gardaí. He says unless proper sanctions are imposed by the courts, making a report to gardaí is pointless.

Staff fears

He is very concerned at just how fast shoplifting is increasing, saying he dreads the situation facing him and his staff next year as the cost-of-living crisis shows no signs of abating.

“It really affects some of the staff,” he says of his employees, who are often foreign national students looking for part-time work while studying in Dublin colleges. “They’re coming to Ireland and they see this and they’re just not able for it. They can’t understand why, they’re baffled, frightened. And some of them just leave. And of course you’re back training new people then again, and that’s what worries me. The psychological effect it has on the staff really is the biggest concern because people just won’t do the job.”

Managing director of Retail Grocery Dairy and Allied Trades Association (RGData) Tara Buckley says her organisation – which represents 3,500 shop owners – is concerned at the increase in thefts, with alcohol “topping the list of items being stolen”. She also describes as “extremely worrying” the rise in “violent and aggressive incidents”.

“Shoplifting is having a significant impact on family-owned stores at a time when they are struggling with horrendous energy costs and food inflation so this is adding to the stress for these owners.” RGData believes shoplifters who are proven “serial offenders” should be jailed.

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times