What are we to make of Operation Thor, the initiative announced this week by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, which promises more resources to gardai in tackling the scourge of burglaries in the home? It was announced with fanfare, but it will take more than a high-profile launch to convince ordinary people who have never felt more vulnerable that they will safer in their homes as as result. That is because there is nowhere near enough detail in the Operation Thor, or evidence that the travelling gangs who have caused havoc and misery in this country will get what they deserve when found guilty – a long stretch behind bars, without the prospect of bail. In other words, a proper deterrent.
It did not augur well for the new measures that the Minister appeared to endorse the call for electronic tagging of the most prolific of these burglars only when the Save Our Community organisation pointed out that she had failed to mention it when first revealing the measures. Tagging, if introduced, will require a big effort on the part of gardai and the justice system generally. It is far from the after-thought Ms Fitzgerald presented it as.
When it comes to sentencing habitual burglars and tackling the situation whereby so many crimes are being committed by criminals on bail, the judiciary can only work with what the tools it has – and Operation Thor does not go anywhere near enough to making appropriate punishment a reality.
Thus, with a modest and short-term budgetary increase to allow for overtime surveillance and crime prevention, gardai have been given no more than a modest helping hand. That said, there was some encouragement to by drawn this week by the comments of Chief Supt Dave Sheahan, who stressed to this newspaper gardai will be strongly targeting those they believe involved in local burglaries, particularly criminals active in the stolen goods market. He confirmed that in the year to date, there has been a 9% increase in burglaries in the Limerick division, with 910 recorded as of this Tuesday. Behind that statistic are many devastated lives and a level of fear, particularly in rural areas, which has never been more acute.
GPS technology and more sophisticated analysis of crime patterns, Chief Supt Sheahan added, will assist in ‘marking’ these criminals. Limerick’s most senior garda officer was understandably anxious to get the message out to the local community that his division is doing its level best to confront the problem and it is important that such a message resonates.
Good policing is vital, but more is needed to assist gardai and the judicial system in easing widespread fears. In that context, we regret to say that Operation Thor has not gone far enough. This problem needs a more radical solution.