The favoured quick-fix money-making exercise of the average Irish organised crime gang had, for decades, been bank robberies. But a massive investment by banks in branch security has made the traditional armed hold-up raids increasingly difficult.
The presence of CCTV cameras in most banks means any raider would need to be masked to avoid being identified. But security measures at the entrances to many branches, where customers are admitted by staff operating a buzzer, say, means masked men can now not even get through the door.
By the middle of the last decade, cash-in-transit vans delivering money to ATMs were identified by gangs as the weak link in the banks’ operations. This gave rise to a huge number of armed hold-ups on the vans.
However, in recent years the cash-in-transit companies have followed the example of the banks and invested heavily in security technology. Most vans carrying money are now heavily protected by timing devices on safes in the back of the vans, with staff having access to only limited amounts of cash at specific times to facilitate their deliveries.
These security measures have led to a steady decline in robberies on such vans in the past five years.
But having turned from bank robberies to armed hold-ups on cash vans, organised crime gangs have once again changed tack and are now engaging in robberies with hostage-taking.
Known as “tiger raids”, the robberies involve an organised crime gang kidnapping a family member or loved one of a person who has access to cash because of their work in a bank or post office.
Family members are normally taken away at gunpoint, threatened with being shot and or held until the bank or post-office worker goes to their work place, takes a ransom sum and leaves it for the gang at a prearranged drop-off point.
The Garda has worked closely with the main banks in agreeing protocols for such incidents. The main element of that agreement is that banks will not let money leave a branch, no matter how serious the hostage situation, until gardaí have been notified. A reaction operation can then be put in place to try and catch the gang as they collect the ransom.
These protocols have been relatively successful and seem to be deterring tiger raids targeting bank workers.
However, gangs are now increasingly targeting post offices in the belief that security protocols and equipment such as safes are not as robust as in the banking sector.
Most of the tiger raids now occurring are targeting post-office staff, usually in rural areas.
The latest raid occurred just last week, when more than €100,000 was taken from a post office in Newcastle West, Co Limerick, when the post mistress’s adult son was kidnapped at gunpoint and released unharmed when the ransom was paid.