Police action demanded after four ATMs are stolen in a night
Police are coming under increasing pressure after four more ATMs were stolen in a single night.
The raids took place on both sides of the border in the early hours of yesterday morning.
A retail chief said the situation is now "beyond critical".
Two machines were ripped from the wall at the Tesco supermarket in Crumlin, Co Antrim, and two further machines removed in Kells, Co Meath.
A failed attempt was also made to steal another ATM in Craigavon.
Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: "It seems that these criminal gangs are now able to strike at will.
"This is a systematic and calculated attack on our members and with the Easter holidays upon us we fully expect more attacks this weekend.
"I have spoken again this afternoon to Assistant Chief Constable Barbara Gray on just how bad this situation now is. She has assured me that the PSNI is pulling out all the stops to catch these gangs.
"We would urge the general public to be vigilant and report anything suspicious activity to the police."
Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Evans said at least three men were involved in the Crumlin incident.
"At approximately 2.30am, two ATMs were stolen from a shop on Main Street, Crumlin," he said. "The machines were removed from the wall by a digger and placed into a pick-up truck. The digger was then set alight before at least three men made off from the scene.
"A second incident was reported to police shortly before 3.45am at Drumgor shops in Craigavon.
"A telehandler was used in an attempt to remove the cash machine from the wall. The criminals were unsuccessful in their attempt and ran off from the scene, leaving the ATM and telehandler behind. They have now been recovered and examinations are being carried out."
The ATM attack in Crumlin was the 10th in Northern Ireland this year.
Mr Evans added: "I want to reassure the public that we continue to do everything that we can to catch those responsible.
"We have increased resources dedicated to tackle this issue. However, the reality is that these attacks are carried out in a range of geographical areas and we cannot monitor every ATM all of the time. We need the public to help us.
"Whilst we do not think these incidents are linked, stolen diggers were used in both attacks.
"This shows the importance of owners of heavy plant machinery ensuring that they do everything possible to secure and immobilise equipment. If the diggers cannot be stolen, these attacks cannot take place."
UUP councillor Mervyn Rea visited the scene in Crumlin yesterday.
"From what I understand the tractor and trailer were stolen from a farm yard in Dundrod and the digger from Ballyclare," he said.
"Police manpower is down and they can't be in all places at any one time. But a deterrent on the streets should be the first step to trying to combat this criminality.
"These gangs have taken over our communities and do what they want, when they want. It's ripping the heart out of our local communities."
Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney said the theft of the two machines would have serious repercussions for the community.
"This is not a victimless crime. Those behind this criminality have demonstrated absolute contempt for the community," he said.
Local Sinn Fein councillor Anne Marie Logue also appealed for help to apprehend the criminals.
"This is not only an act of wanton theft and destruction of property, it is an attack on the whole community.
"I would ask the public to pass any information about this theft directly to the police."
SDLP councillor Thomas Burns said the theft has caused major disruption to the town and the staff of the local supermarket.
"The SDLP will meet with retailers and the PSNI in the coming weeks to explore ways in which new innovative security measures can be put in place to deter these gangs," he said.
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said condemnation was not enough.
"We need to see robust measures put in place by the banks, police and owners of these ATMs," she said.
"There is an urgent need to ensure those responsible are brought to justice. Hundreds of thousands of pounds has been stolen, damage to properties and vehicles and yet no progress in terms of apprehending these people involving themselves in this type of activity. This is totally unacceptable."
In the incident in Kells, Co Meath, it is believed up to €200,000 was taken when two ATMs were ripped from the walls of both the Bank of Ireland and the AIB just after 4am.
It took four minutes to rip the ATMs from the walls of both the Bank of Ireland and the AIB on John Street. The alarm was raised at around 4am.