ESB says copper thieves ‘taking lives in their hands’

Electricity provider says 150km of copper wire worth €3 million stolen in four years


ESB Networks has said people are taking "their lives into their own hands" in their attempts to steal copper wire from locations such as electricity substations.

The warning comes after an explosion at an ESB substation in Inchicore on Sunday night which was caused by an attempt to remove copper wire from the site. The explosion left 15,000 premises in south and west Dublin without power and caused an estimated €10 million of damage.

Senan Colleran of ESB Networks said despite Garda efforts to tackle the organised crime element of scrap metal theft and a “significant drop” in thefts late last year, the trend of individuals stealing copper lines has re-emerged this year.

"These are incredible risks they're taking," said Mr Colleran. "These people are also creating huge public safety risks to the public, to ourselves at ESB and to the emergency services. Tallaght hospital lost power on Sunday night; they're literally putting lives at risk."

Crimestoppers last summer launched a campaign to bring an end to the theft of electricity cables, copper wires, beer kegs, white electrical goods, road signs, letter boxes and goal posts. Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has called for state agencies and An Garda Síochána to fully implement legislation to deal with illegal scrap dealers.

"This legislation was sought and lobbied for by IFA and requires all scrap dealers to keep proper records and seek proof of identity from people supplying materials," said Thomas Cooney, IFA environment and rural affairs chairman.

“This new law must be fully implemented and supported by vigorous enforcement. A co-ordinated approach from state agencies, including the Garda Síochána and local authorities is needed.”

In 2014, Independent TD Mattie McGrath introduced the Scrap and Precious Metal Dealers Bill in a bid to prevent such thefts and to regulate the "cash for gold" business. Last September, Mr McGrath again raised the issue of scrap metal theft in the Dáil, calling on the Minister for Justice to pass the Bill. He says to date he has had no concrete response from the Minister regarding the introduction of the Bill.

A statement from the Department of Justice said measures in relation to the sale of scrap metal had been taken to improve “the traceability of scrap metal”, saying regulations included requirements to obtain proof of identity of sellers and holding on to records of materials sold. It also highlighted that An Garda Síochána had established a Metal Theft Forum involving stakeholders affected by this type of crime.

A spokeswoman for Iarnród Éireann said there had been no major incidents of copper cable theft from transport sites recently but said the company continued to be “extremely mindful” of metal theft as it could lead to delays for customers due to signal failures.

“Obviously there’s a large financial cost to us but there’s also the safety implications for the thieves as the cables can be live. From our point of view the main issues would be customer delay and financial loss.”

* This article was amended on April 20th, 2016, to correct a factual inaccuracy. The €10 million figure referred to the total cost of the damage caused to the substation, rather than the value of the copper wire stolen, as originally reported.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast