On March 2nd, as temperatures fell and images of snowmen and igloos filled news-feeds, the video of a JCB digger pulling the roof off of a South Dublin Lidl supermarket stood starkly in contrast.
Later, footage surfaced of someone attempting to smash open the store’s safe with the same digger, while dozens of young people watched on.
Social media was a front row seat as expressions of shock and horror at such a blatant theft were expressed.
Many people from the area insisted that the behaviour seen in the videos was not an accurate reflection of the majority of people in the Fortunestown area and only that of a “small bunch of thugs”.
However, almost three weeks after the Fortunestown incident, an unsuccessful copycat heist took place at a McDonald’s in Castletroy, Limerick.
With two incidents in less than a month, it may seem as though Fortunestown was the beginning of this trend, but people stealing construction equipment from building sites is not a new issue.
In 2015, a stolen digger was used to pull a cash machine from the side of a petrol station in Newry, this was the second time such an incident happened at that station.
“People used to steal a lot of machinery years ago”, Bruce Cummins, a Dublin builder said. “They used to steal them and sell them in England or to some farmer miles away where they’d never be found.”
Trackers on newer machines have massively stunted the level of theft, according to Mr. Cummins. However, the equipment isn’t actually hard to steal.
“Most keys will start a digger because after a few years the ignition gets worn”, he said, “A nail file or a knife will all work instead of a key”.
In response to the recent incidents, Cummins said he doesn’t think you’d actually be able to open a safe by smashing it with the digger as “it hasn’t got that sort of power”.
Thefts from building sites and tradespeople can cost the industry up to €7 million over a 12-month period. Construction site crime also increased by 35% in 2017, according to Gardaí statistics.
Mr. Cummins pointed to the lack of regulation around the locking up of building sites as a huge factor. “If the site is in a public place, we usually put pieces of metal over the windows of the diggers to stop them from being smashed but other than that, we just lock the doors. There’s nothing in writing about how to lock up a site.”
Stealing construction machinery is becoming increasingly prevalent in Ireland but clear rules about how to lock up construction sites may be the key to the solving the problem.