At 8am, after a 24-hour shift on St Patrick’s Day, Hugh O’Sullivan swiped his hospital card to open the metal gate of the bike yard in Temple Street hospital in the north inner-city.
Immediately, he had a bad feeling, he says.
Cut bike locks were strewn across the ground. He spotted the rack he’d left his e-bike tied to – and his broken lock underneath.
“It was an expensive lock, a proper heavy-duty Abus lock, a chain link and an outer mesh on it,” he says.
O’Sullivan, who reported the theft to the guards, says he knows it is unlikely to be found.
Six of the 184 bikes and e-scooters reported stolen in the Dublin Metro Region from 1 January to 14 March this year have been recovered, according to a recent report from An Garda Siochána to members of the citywide joint policing committee.
Past figures suggest a higher recovery rate. In 2020, 3,958 bikes were reported stolen in the Dublin Metro Region, said a past Garda press release, while 1,107 bikes were recovered – although they aren’t necessarily the same ones stolen that year.
But still, cycling advocates say there is more that could be done, with ideas ranging from more targeted operations, to harsher penalties for bike theft.
What’s Being Done?
In its report to the joint policing committee, An Garda Síochana highlighted two strands of its work to tackle bike and e-scooter theft, under the banner Operation Handlebar.
It has started to park blue bikes in hotspots for theft, to flag that is a risky area, the report says. And it bought a marking machine, to mark up bikes for people.
An Garda Síochana has tried for a while to encourage bike owners to get their bikes engraved and record serial numbers, saying it’s hard to return bikes to owners if they don’t have a marker. Gardaí occasionally offer a free service to do that.
An Garda Síochana’s efforts to encourage owners to engrave and record bike serial numbers may have been part of how bikes have been recovered, says Paddy McCartan, a Fine Gael councillor.
“I think that was an issue before, people had reported to the guards the bike was missing, and they didn’t have any details about it,” he said.
Said Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey: “I think the Garda engraving service is one of the best things they’ve done in recent years.”
Joe Gilligan, a spokesperson for Dublin Cycling Campaign, said any number that is unique to the bike would make it easier to return to its owner.
But one difficulty is that stolen bikes can be stripped for parts, he says. “And often they don’t get posted online and it is hard to recover. But we have seen an increase in the Gardaí recovering bikes.”
Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says though that the Gardaí should focus on paths to get bikes back, not just engraving.
“What are they doing to engage with Dublin Port? When bikes are leaving the country, making sure that they’re interrupted, prevented from exiting,” she says.
Bike theft is a lucrative enterprise, Horner says. “And it should be taken quite seriously in that regard. But you just don’t perceive that sense of seriousness from the Gardaí.”
Horner says it would be better if Gardaí were more engaged and open about what they know about bike theft in the city.
“Put in place more comprehensive prevention strategies, part of that is communication,” she says, like reporting that a lot of bikes were stolen from one particular area at a certain time.
“They’re able to kind of recognise patterns, identify patterns and put in place those different prevention strategies,” she says.
Horner says thieves have been getting into bike bunkers, locked containers for people to park bikes in.
“The Gardaí can be kind of patrolling and keeping an eye on, and ensuring that they’re working with them if there is any theft from those high-density areas, that they’re doing specific operations in those areas,” she says.
A Garda spokesperson did not respond to queries sent Thursday asking whether it checks for, or has ever found, bikes in shipping containers in Dublin Port.
The latest Garda update to the citywide joint policing committee does also mention a few other specific operations.
‘Operation Chain’, in the south central division (Donnybrook, Kevin’s Street and Pearse Street Garda stations) is an initiative to identify people stealing bikes and finding where they are stored and sold, it says. There’s also Operation E-Bike running in Ringsend and Irishtown.
Gardaí also hold crime prevention clinics as part of ‘Operation Blizzard’, in the north central division, (Bridewell, Fitzgibbon Street and Store Street Garda stations).
“Gardaí actively targeting crime hotspots and persons responsible for stealing bikes compliments efforts undertaken in this area. A particular group of individuals have been identified,” they said.
O’Sullivan has a GPS tracker on it, which gives an approximate 1.5km radius for where the bike is.
O’Sullivan and some friends trawled the area around the hospital where his GPS scanner was picking up a signal, he says, but to no avail.
The signal disappeared for a while, but then came back on. It signalled that the bike was in Celbridge, he says. “The bike must have been charged.”
O’Sullivan told Gardaí was in Celbridge. “He was like, ‘Oh, you’ll have to do better than that, it’s a big area.’”
Gardaí said to him that his bike was unlikely to be recovered, says O’Sullivan. “I understand that to an extent. I know that they don’t have a lot of resources for finding bikes.”
But he’d given a lot of information, he says. He reported the theft immediately and the hospital had security footage of the theft.
“I know they wanted a super accurate GPS locator, but it was something, you know, more than a lot of people have,” says O’Sullivan.
Gardaí haven’t given him updates on whether they’ve used the live tracker to try and find the bike, he says. “I’m the one calling them to update them. They haven’t kind of followed up with me.”
A Garda spokesperson said: “All reported thefts including the theft of bikes are fully and thoroughly investigated. We would advise victims of this form of crime to report to their local Garda Station.”
Gilligan, of Dublin Cycling Campaign, says it’s unfortunate An Garda Siochana hasn’t managed to find O’Sullivan’s bike, even with the tracker. “But it is still quite difficult, unfortunately.”
O’Sullivan says he would have liked the Gardaí to have been more engaged, and more active in updating him on the search for his bike.
“Even get local gardai in to look around the area,” he says. “Or any active storage areas where previous stolen bikes have been found in this area.”
“I feel like if it was a stolen car that was worth two grand, they would, they would try and find it,” he said.
There’s a public perception that they don’t value bikes the same as cars, Gilligan says. “So we would be in favour of stronger prosecution and abilities for the Guards to pursue bike theft.”
Gilligan says he would like to see stronger penalties for bike theft. “A bigger fine maybe, or really to implement deterrent measures, which would make it less of a fruitful activity for people stealing bikes.”
The offence of theft carries either a fine or up to 10 years imprisonment**, **said the Minister for Justice in June 2021 in response to a query in the Dail.
Too few people report to the Gardaí that their bike has been stolen, he says. “Because they think it might be a hopeless venture. you know, that they might never get it back, that the guards won’t help.”
Dublin Cycling Campaign encourages everyone to report it if their bike is stolen, he says. “Because if they did, you know, there is the off chance that it will be recovered. And the guards are working hard.”