Shoplifting has reached ‘pandemic levels’ with staff regularly facing violence, retailers say

TDs told of ‘absence of a deterrent’ for people who steal, with some reoffending within hours of being caught

Shoplifting has reached “pandemic levels” in Ireland with retail staff frequently subject to violence and racist abuse from those responsible, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

There has been a 14 per cent increase in shoplifting offences to date this year, but the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment heard from retail groups that many more incidents go unreported.

“It is no exaggeration to state that there has been an explosion in crimes against retailers in recent years,” said Tara Buckley, director general of the Retail Grocery Dairy and Allied Trades Association (RGDATA).

Shop owners encounter incidents of crime, fraud, abuse and theft every day in their stores. These can involve serial shoplifters, who steal from them several times a month, and “gangs of feral youths who are completely out of control and believe they are untouchable and can abuse who they want and steal whatever they want with no consequences”.


Ms Buckley said there are also “organised gangs” of shoplifters who arrive into an area and steal items to order. She said retailers and their staff have been “hit, kicked, beaten, spat at, stabbed with knives or syringes and shot at in the course of their work”.

This is causing many to question the wisdom of continuing to expose themselves to such risks, she told committee members.

Retailers complain that such offences are not taken seriously by An Garda Síochána or the courts because the items taken are often low in value.

“However if you are robbed on a daily basis it amounts up very quickly,” said Ms Buckley.

She said there is huge frustration when retailers put a lot of time into preparing a case against a shoplifter, only for the perpetrator to receive the benefit of the Probation Act or be released on bail.

There is a “real absence of a deterrent” for shoplifters and sometimes they reoffend within hours of being caught, the committee heard.

Vincent Jennings of the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association (CSNA) said gardaí believe the majority of offences are carried out by a relatively small number of people.

He insisted that the increase in shoplifting, which he said is at “pandemic levels”, is not related to increases in the cost of living. Basic foodstuffs are not the most commonly stolen items, he said.

“Individuals secreting alcohol on their person or persons literally emptying whole display sections of expensive personal hygiene products or washing machine refills are not robbing to feed a starving family,” he said.

Earlier this week, gardaí commenced Operation Táirge, a national initiative targeting organised shoplifting. They have since arrested a woman in her 50s, on suspicion of 11 incidents of theft from stores in Newbridge, Portlaoise, Athy, Kilkenny, Wexford and Maynooth.

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Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime and Security Correspondent of The Irish Times