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Gardai splashing millions on high-powered vehicles to tackle burglary gangs

High-powered: The Audi Q7
High-powered: The Audi Q7

A new garda "motorway patrol unit" using high-powered cars forms the cornerstone of a new Government plan to upgrade the force's fleet with more than 200 extra vehicles.

The Government is finally responding to the worsening crime epidemic by signing off on the immediate purchase of more than 200 high-visibility vehicles, the Irish Independent has learned.

The fleet, which will be announced today by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, will be used to target criminal gangs suspected of using the country's motorway network to carry out burglaries and other crimes.

It's believed more than €5m has been approved by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for the purchase.

A significant number of the vehicles will also be provided to rural communities which are struggling to cope with a recent spate in criminal activity.

Such is the level of fear, leading members of the farming community say landowners will go to whatever lengths necessary to defend their homes.

Homeowners have reported sleeping with firearms beside their beds, while many country communities say they have lost faith in the ability of gardaí to protect them.

Poignant stories detailing individual efforts to combat criminals have also been detailed by TDs in the Dáil. But it was the ordeal suffered by Tipperary couple Mark and Emma Corcoran and their three young daughters that sent shockwaves throughout the country. The family have been left scarred after a seven-man gang from Dublin carried out an aggravated burglary at their home two years ago.

The vicious thugs were handed prison sentences ranging from 12 to 20 years for a burglary that had "catastrophic" effects on the young family, according to the judge in the trial.

Now, the Government has pledged to unveil a series of special operations and multi-million euro investments aimed at responding to the crime epidemic.

As part of a package of long-awaited measures due to be announced in the coming days, the Department of Justice has shored up additional cash for more than 200 vehicles.

Sources say the Garda fleet will consist of high-powered Audi vehicles, motorbikes, vans and BMWs for undercover gardaí. This will include specially commissioned Audi Q7 four-wheel drives kitted out to the highest spec by the German manufacturer.

These vehicles will be given to the armed Emergency Response Unit, which will fit compartments for assault rifles and handguns. The 4WDs will be used for checkpoints and high-speed motorway pursuits of roaming burglary gangs.

"They have very high horsepower - they are a serious piece of kit," a senior source said.

Undercover gardaí will be given access to a new fleet of BMWs. For security reasons, the exact model of the German brand can not be published.

"The vehicles will be on the road by the end of the year and will be used for motorway and rural policing," a source told the Irish Independent.

The purchase has been agreed between Ms Fitzgerald and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan.

The new vehicles are separate to the 370-strong fleet that was made active in 2015. Some €1.75m was also set aside for the installation of new infra-red technology Garda aircraft, while the recruitment of more than 600 new gardaí was announced in last week's Budget.

A core group of up to 10 family-based mobs are involved in the crime wave that has targeted vulnerable rural homes and used the country's motorway system to make rapid getaways.

The gangs, who use high- powered cars that often speed away from Garda vehicles, are mostly Dublin-based, made up of criminals based in suburban areas in the south of the capital.

It is estimated that more than 300 criminals are involved.

Niall O'Connor and Philip Ryan