Some burglars arrested 50 or 60 times, says senior garda

Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll believes current sentences not acting as a deterrent

Some prolific burglars had been arrested 50 or 60 times by the Garda but the sentences imposed by the courts were not deterring them, Assistant Commissioner John O’Driscoll has said.

In an interview with The Irish Times, Mr O'Driscoll said when the Garda had last autumn drawn up a list of burglary gangs it wanted to target during the winter phase of Operation Thor, the sheer extent of some of their criminal records stood out.

And when they were arrested over the winter, their capture was simply the latest in a long line of periods spent in custody.

“It might be the 50th or 60th time we have arrested these people,” Mr O’Driscoll said. “Whatever sentencing we have at the moment, it is not acting as a deterrent to a significant degree.”

Mr O’Driscoll added the Garda would “never seek to minimise” those cases in which older and vulnerable people had been terrorised, and in some cases beaten or even killed, during burglaries at their homes.

“There is something really awful about the vulnerability of people, especially older people living in remote areas, and living in fear,” he said.

However, there were now almost 10,000 fewer burglaries in the State each year than in the peak years of 2011 and 2012.

Central Statistics Office data shows "burglaries and related offences" reached 28,190 in 2011 and 28,439 in 2012.

Lowest number

The years 2016 and 2017 saw the lowest number of burglaries and related offences recorded – at 18,478 and 19,092 respectively – since the CSO assumed responsibility for crime data in 2003.

Mr O’Driscoll believed the reductions in Garda numbers and the Garda overtime during the years of recession had greatly impacted the capacity of the force to fight crime. As resources were now improving again, it was no surprise to him more serious criminals were being targeted and caught.

However, some 1,400 domestic break-ins were still recorded last October for example. This represented a short-term increase. As a result, the new winter phase of Operation Thor was established and continued until March 31st.

During that period, from October to March, the monthly figures for domestic break-ins fell by 42 per cent.

Garda superintendents met regularly at the Garda's Dublin Metropolitan Region headquarters at Harcourt Square, Dublin.

Key suspects were placed under surveillance and intelligence gathered, including their plans to target a particular area for a burglary spree, were shared; often in real time.

“The way they operate is that they are planning to go down and blitz a place,” Mr O’Driscoll said. “They can stay for weekends and size up the premises over a number of days and then hit them.

“On other occasions we’d see them leaving Dublin one afternoon and they’d be heading down; they could do 10 premises and be back in Dublin that night.”

Great distance

Mr O’Driscoll said some of the groups travelled around a great distance on a burglary spree. There had been cases in the past in which gangs from Dublin were detected and pursued by the PSNI in the North only to be caught in the act of another burglary in Dublin within hours.

“When we catch them and they have what we believe are the proceeds of maybe three of four burglaries,” Mr O’Driscoll said.

“But sometimes we can’t get a charge of burglary. It will be charges over handling stolen property, even though the stolen items are in their car.

“A lawyer will say ‘okay, you caught my client with a stolen car and the items from a burglary, but you show me the evidence my client went in and did the burglary’.

“It’s terrible to see the burglary standing as a statistic; a crime that is left undetected.

“But in certain weeks we took out three or four groups,” he said of Operation Thor’s winter phase.

“And they were then locked up [without bail]. And even having some of these people locked up for a month; that can influence national patterns.

“You have [recovered] the proceeds of several burglaries and you have a group of people [in prison] who may have been going to commit five or six burglaries each night for the following days.”

Conor Lally

Conor Lally

Conor Lally is Security and Crime Editor of The Irish Times