Ramraiders struck in the Republic again yesterday despite a special Garda offensive to deal with thieves who are using diggers and JCBs to carry out a series of robberies.
The thieves rammed an Aldi store in Carlow town early yesterday but fled the scene after realising there was no cash on the premises.
Their modus operandi was all too familiar to gardai tackling a spate of ATM robberies across the east of the country in recent months.
Gardai are trying to establish if yesterday's incident is linked in any way to a series of ATM thefts in the Republic.
Yesterday's culprits may have copied the methods used by these gangs when they targeted a cash transit system, used by Aldi to transfer money from the supermarket to a security van during business hours.
Gardai in Carlow said the raid, in the Graiguecullen area of the town, was carried out at about 4am.
An unknown number of thieves used a digger and caused significant damage to the roof in the office area of the property.\[Michael McCready\]
“We're waiting on a report to see how much damage was caused. It's at an early stage but we're doing inquiries in the area,” said a garda spokesperson.
The men fled the scene shortly after the break-in, probably when they realised that there was no cash present.
It is believed that the cash-transfer system is only used during opening hours at Aldi and that significant amounts of money would never be kept on-site when the shop is unoccupied.
Last month senior gardai convened special meetings with bank chiefs to discuss ways of preventing the problem.
They said they were considering the use of GPS tracking devices to pinpoint the location of stolen ATMs and the use of dye which would destroy notes inside the cash machine if it were opened illegally.
And officers confirmed that they had placed surveillance on suspected key members of up to three gangs involved in at least seven ATM thefts and other ram-raids on garages and shops.
The Irish Payment Services Organisation, an umbrella body for payment services to financial institutions, is reviewing security and operations at ATMs.
The most recent occurred in Enniscorthy almost three weeks ago when raiders got away with a significant amount of money in a cash machine after using a digger, on-site because of renovation works, to break into a service station.
Also in July, an unsuccessful attempt was made to remove an ATM from an Ulster Bank branch in Clones, County Monaghan, using a digger which was taken in Kells in County Meath.
Other incidents occurred in the Mother Hubbard's truckstop in Moyvalley, County Kildare, in June and at a convenience store in Kilcoole, County Wicklow, last October.
But the problem is not only an Irish one, suggesting the use of JCBs may gathering popularity among criminals.
Last weekend, in Scotland, a gang smashed a 25 tonne digger into a bank and stole an ATM. They then drove off in a waiting getaway car with the whole machine including an unknown amount of cash.