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Gardaí Target Organised Retail Crime As Shoplifting Reaches ‘Pandemic’ Levels

By Maev Martin
Gardaí Target Organised Retail Crime As Shoplifting Reaches ‘Pandemic’ Levels

Maev Martin talks to Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Neale Richmond about An Garda Síochána’s Operation Táirge, which was launched on 11 December, and reports on the Convenience Stores and Newsagents Association’s presentation on shoplifting at a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment hearing on 13 December

Under Operation Táirge, Gardaí nationwide will use an intelligence-led approach to identify criminals engaging in retail crime.

This involves disrupting the most prolific groups in operation through the use of organised crime legislation and proceeds of crime legislation; working with retailers to strengthen their security and prevent them becoming victims of this criminality; supporting those working in retail to report a crime; identifying and targeting the areas where organised retail crime black markets operate, and their leadership; working with high risk retailers to enhance prevention, investigation and prosecution; and deterring people from becoming involved in organised retail crime by raising awareness of the consequences of committing such offences.

Organised retail crime (ORC) typically refers to situations where a number of persons are acting together, targeting retailer outlets to steal significant quantities of goods to resell back into the retail supply chain through the black market.

It can also involve refund fraud with the purpose of making a financial or material benefit.


ORC is usually co-ordinated and well-organised by people who recruit others to commit theft from retailers.

The stolen goods are then sold to what is known as a ‘fence’ who either sells them at a particular location or, in some cases, may sell them online in an activity known as ‘e-fencing’.

Operation Táirge is led by the Organised Retail Crime Tasking and Co-ordination Group within An Garda Síochána and supports each Garda region to monitor and respond to emerging trends in their area.

As is often the case in organised crime, organised retail crime can involve an international dimension, therefore the co-ordination group is also maintaining its close working relationships with counterparts, including the UK and Northern Ireland.

Retail theft is not a victimless crime, and I welcome this new, nationwide operation targeting organised retail crime,” said Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee.


“I know from my engagement with the retail sector across the country, not only about the economic impact of thefts on our retail sector, but also the significant impact this type of crime has on staff retention, recruitment and personal safety.

"Under the National Detection Improvement Plan, An Garda Síochána will provide a reliable and effective and consistent response to retail related incidents, and ensure that high visibility and targeted patrols are effectively implemented.

"This will help to provide a safe and unhindered shopping experience for members of the public.

"Key to the success of Operation Táirge will be enhanced engagement with high risk retailers.

"Garda members will work with these retailers to educate them on ORC behaviours and to help them identify suspicious activity, act on it, and make it known to investigating Garda members.


"I strongly encourage all retailers to maintain close contact with their local Superintendent, and I want to commend the work of An Garda Síochána in this area.

"I look forward to this making a real difference in helping us build stronger, safer communities.”

Minister of State for Business, Employment and Retail, Neale Richmond said, "Operation Táirge will be hugely beneficial for retailers across the country.

"This intelligence-led operation will target the most prolific perpetrators of retail crime.

"It will support workers and assist businesses in preventing such crime and also act as a deterrent by raising awareness of the consequences of this type of criminality.


"We are sending a clear message that there is no place for retail crime in Ireland.”

Speaking to Checkout, Minister Richmond said that he had been working with Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee on Operation Táirge for some time and that he believe it will make a difference to retailers across the country.

“Only a few days after Operation Táirge launched, we saw the first arrest take place, so I believe that it will be a huge help, not only to our Gardaí, but also to the safety of our retailers and our retail workers.

"I want to see retail crime, shoplifting and anti-social behaviour decrease, those who carry out these acts held responsible for their actions, and retail workers to feel safe while at work.”

Costing Retailers Over €1.62 Billion Each Year

blurred supermarket with people in motion

The Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association estimates that retail crime costs retailers over of €1.62 billion each year.

Additionally, the Global Retail Theft Barometer indicates that Ireland has the highest cost per capita of retail crime (€339.31) – significantly more than both second and third placed countries, Iceland and Denmark.

In his presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment on 13 December, CSNA CEO Vincent Jennings explained the impact that shoplifting is having on retailers, employees and customers, and the need for a joined-up response to the problem that includes, among others, the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána and Tusla.

“We welcome the opportunity afforded to us to present on this important topic, mindful that it is not only retailers that are affected by shoplifting – our employees and our customers are also victims of these practices,” said Jennings.

“Shoplifting can play a large part in reducing choice for communities and it can have a long-term debilitating effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of owners, managers, and retail staff.

Shoplifting, using the words that a Superintendent used at a recent briefing attended not just by myself, but others also present this morning, has reached pandemic levels.

In some ways it was gratifying to hear this acceptance of the level of the problem we are experiencing across the retail sector.

The invitation from this Committee today further demonstrates that there is a growing problem that needs urgent attention.”

Abused For Doing Their Job

Jennings said that the most worrying aspect of shoplifting today is “the accompanying threats, the actual violence, the obscenities, the misogyny, and the vile racist abuse” levelled at owners and staff.

He told the Committee that these abuses are increasing year on year and have become more pronounced post Covid.

“It is impossible to conceive of a more worrying aspect of running a retail business for the majority of our 1,500 members than to have to console someone that has been assaulted and abused just for doing their job,” he said.

“It may not be considered Parliamentary language in this House, but I cannot think of a more appropriate term for these people than thugs.”

He said that the Committee would most likely seek to learn from the various representatives at the hearing whether they felt there was a need for additional powers for An Garda Síochána or whether the Department of Justice should consider extra legislation “to alleviate the terrors that we and our staff currently experience.”

He told the Committee that “the short answer is no – we don’t need more laws, but we do need better service from our Gardaí and those charged with responsibility for managing young offenders.

"We also certainly need our Court Service, and particularly our judicial system, to pay attention to the trauma occasioned against the victims of these crimes and to seek to ensure that restitution is not only awarded but enforced.”

Tusla Referral For Theft 

Jennings told the Oireachtas Committee that several shopkeepers are aware that those involved in shoplifting ‘progress’ to other more serious crimes.

For this reason, they have commenced with a policy of demanding that all reports of shoplifting carried out by juveniles are the subject of a mandatory referral by the investigating Garda to the child agency Tusla.

“CSNA suggests that the Committee recommends that each theft or abusive behaviour carried out by youths be the subject of a Tusla referral,” he said.

“We would also ask that the Committee would recommend the setting up, possibly on a pilot basis, of a ‘clearing house’ or ‘sorting office,’ possibly run by local Chambers, that would help retailers to report crime and share evidence with An Garda Síochána, ensuring a consistency of reports and supporting evidence such as CCTV.

“It will come as no surprise to the members of the Committee to learn that Garda intelligence has pinpointed that most offences are carried out by a relatively small number of criminals stealing on a regular basis.

"It is of great concern to our Association that attempts by Dublin City Council, RGDATA and CSNA to replicate the very successful approach used by Belfast retailers and the PSNI were consistently shot down by AGS, even when the representatives from the Department of Justice saw merit in doing a similar scheme in the Republic.

"GDPR and different protections afforded to criminals leave a very bitter taste in our mouths. Balance needs to be restored. We are on the frontline.”

Talking to Checkout, and in response to these comments, Minister Richmond said, “We have to bear in mind that the Gardaí are independent in their work and it is not my position to dictate to the Gardaí what approaches they should take.

"I believe that by working with Minister McEntee, who in turn works very closely with the Garda Commissioner, we can ensure that the needs and views of the retailers and workers who are impacted by this behaviour are heard.”

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

Jennings also claimed that there is only one reason that Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) are not commonplace throughout Ireland as an added deterrent, and that is “the unwillingness of AGS to manage and oversee them. CSNA would ask the Committee to seek explanations from the Gardaí as to the reasons that these Orders, used extensively in other jurisdictions, have not found favour here.”

Speaking to Checkout, Minister Richmond said that, last year, Minister Helen McEntee asked the Garda Commissioner to examine the use of ASBOs to deal with anti-social behaviour.

“We do have ASBOs in Ireland and they are used for both minors and adults and in many cases for anti-social behaviour,” he said.

“Again, I think we have to respect our Gardaí and the work that they do.

"My interactions with our Gardaí, and indeed with Minister Helen McEntee, has left me with absolutely no doubt that they are committed to addressing the issues of retail crime and anti-social behaviour.

"Whichever way they believe is best to achieve this we will support them. ASBOs are an option available to the Gardaí.”

The final part of the CSNA’s suggestions to the Committee was to accept that retail staff are providing an essential service and are fully deserving of protection.

“A recent change was made to the sentencing available to judges where the victim was a Garda or First Responder,” said Jennings.

“The CSNA suggests that our vital and essential employees deserve similar accelerated protections.”

Not Connected To Cost-Of-Living

Jennings said that it should not be necessary to have to debunk suggestions, “some of which have surprisingly been made by members of the Oireachtas, though not, I wish to stress, by anyone here this morning,” that the rise in shoplifting is directly related to the increase in the cost of living.

“This is not true – it is not basic foodstuffs that are most frequently stolen,” he said.

“Shoplifting by gangs are not carried out by Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

"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.

"Anyone suggesting that retailers get what they deserve due to their position in society is guilty of perpetrating a falsehood.”

Deterioration In Gardaí Service

Jennings told the Committee that CSNA members were greatly concerned about the “deterioration in service” from the Gardaí in recent years.

“We are frequently provided with ‘lack of resources and personnel’ as an explanation for slow, and in many cases no, responses to calls for assistance,” he said.

“One of the most annoying comments made by members of the force is “why don’t you get your own security?” or the more recent, and most certainly offensive comments have been “take it up with your politicians/Drew Harris.”

Checkout asked Minister Richmond if he was concerned about these reports from the retail industry about their interactions with Gardaí.

“I am always concerned when I hear reports of retailers facing anti-social behaviour and having to engage with the Gardaí,” he said.

“I have discussed this with Minister McEntee.

"When a retailer calls the Gardaí it is important that these calls are answered and that protection is supplied.

"In the past few weeks in Dublin city centre we have seen a big increase in the Garda presence on the streets, which has led to an increased presence in our stores and shopping areas.

"We would like to see similar response times across the country as we know that retail crime and anti-social behaviour are far from just Dublin issues.

"Our Gardaí are brilliant professionals and have a key role to play in keeping retailers safe.”

The Retailer’s Story

Accompanying Vincent Jennings to the Oireachtas Committee presentation was CSNA member Michael O’Driscoll who owns a Spar convenience store on Talbot Street in Dublin, less than 100 yards from Store Street Garda Station.

He told the Committee about how his business is affected every day by the activities of anti-social thugs.

In a subsequent interview on RTE’s Morning Ireland, Mr O’Driscoll said that he deals with up to ten shoplifters a day who are mainly Irish people in their 20s, with some of these incidents turning into physical confrontations.

He said that the cost to the shop works out at one or two per cent of the takings over a year and makes a real difference as to how much he makes as a retailer.

Mr O’Driscoll said that he had witnessed a “huge increase” in anti-social behaviour.

“Since Covid, it has certainly got worse and it is the aggression that is the biggest problem we have now,” he said.

“When they come in, even if you catch them, they'll fight with you to take the goods, so you have to tackle them, try and get the stuff out and make a decision whether it's worth that hassle or not.”

Mr O’Driscoll said it was very dangerous for his staff, most of whom are not Irish.

"There seems to be more disrespect for them because of their nationality or where they're from," he said.

“So, I tend to deal with these personally and then my staff will be there as a back-up if something was out of control, but generally when it gets to that situation I have to back away and let them out with goods.

“I have had some instances where I have gone out after somebody and tackled him and there were guards there who dealt with the situation and that's a huge comfort for me.

"I want to be able to go out on the street and see guards walking up and down and know that if I've got an issue, they're not far away.

"Those riots that happened weeks ago are the culmination of what has been developing in our city for quite a while.

"People who rob now don’t have any respect because they feel that there is no punishment.”

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