Gangs engaged in telephone cable theft as copper the prize

Rural lifeline for hundreds severed as thieves ‘burn off plastic’ to harvest valuable metal

A recent spate of telephone-cable thefts targeting copper is causing a security risk as well as financial losses for hundreds of Eircom customers.

In the most recent incident, culprits, who mainly target isolated rural communities, cut down 455m of telephone wire at two locations in the Ballinafad area of Co Sligo early on Wednesday morning.

The theft left dozens of householders without landline or internet service until Thursday afternoon.

The copper is so valuable that thieves who netted several hundred metres of cable near Charlestown, Co Mayo, recently returned and stole the replacement telephone line. This occurred just hours after it had been erected.


“Our crew went out and replaced it and that night they came back and cut it down again,” said an Eircom source. He said hundreds of people had been affected in a spate of incidents in recent weeks. “There is not a week that goes by that we don’t have to go out and replace wire that has been cut down. They burn off the plastic because the copper is valuable.”

Last week repair crews had to replace hundreds of metres of stolen cable in the Boyle and Castlerea areas of Co Roscommon.

Rural roads

Mayor of Sligo metropolitan area Thomas Healy (SF) said it was becoming common to see telephone wire left hanging on rural roads where it had been cut by thieves. He said elderly people were frightened because their alarms and panic buttons were being disabled, and those who rely on landline telephones were losing "their lifeline" to the outside world.

Two weeks ago ESB Networks launched a campaign with the Garda and Crimestoppers in a bid to stop the widespread thefts, which have affected 27,000 ESB customers in 2015. The theft of live wire is potentially hazardous, although industry sources said some culprits knew how to disable cable.

According to Eircom about 20 incidents of cable theft have taken place this year, worth more than €36,000.

In 2014, Eircom had about 50 incidents. This rose to 200 in 2013, involving 60,000m of Eircom cable worth €240,000.

A spokeswoman said while the theft of copper cable results in loss of service to customers, Eircom works hard to restore service as quickly as possible. She said a number of cases were pending against culprits and she appealed to anyone with information to contact the Garda.

Eircom sources said cable theft was more likely in rural areas because thieves are less likely to be caught in the act, and because the lines are frequently underground in urban areas.

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland