Scrap metal thieves target heating systems across Kildare

Thousands of euros worth of damage is being inflicted by scrap metal thieves who are ripping out heating systems for the black market, leaving Kildare homeowners facing massive flood damage.

Thousands of euros worth of damage is being inflicted by scrap metal thieves who are ripping out heating systems for the black market, leaving Kildare homeowners facing massive flood damage.

There has been a recent spate of these thefts in the county. Most recently, e16,000 worth of damage was caused at Ellistown GAA clubhouse after their heating system was stolen causing massive flood destruction. Farmyard gates are being lifted, copper wiring taken from ghost estates and even telephone wire is being stripped down for the copper inside.

Ellistown chairman, Martin Donnelly explained how jerseys and other equipment were found floating in six inches of water when their clubhouse was targeted in the early hours of Thursday December 6.

“There was lot of water damage. Overnight, they 
broke a window and got in. They took out all the copper piping, they took the cylinder, they even took the shower heads, the copper piping leading into the urinals, and the pipes going to the wash hand basins. The doors of 
the presses were all damaged. It was dreadful,” 
he outlined.

The mess was uncovered by a local Montessori teacher who uses the building.

“Everything was destroyed, underage jerseys, everything you could mention. All the stuff we had in the presses was destroyed,” he added.

The rural club got a lotto grant to build the dressing room extension and a new shower system was put in. Now, the players have to use the old end of the clubhouse. This is a huge financial hit for the club, especially as it is so hard to fund raise in recessionary times. They will have to fork out the first e4,000 of the cost of the repair, as the insurance company will only cover the rest of the claim. Club officials are also concerned that their premium will rise as a result. Meanwhile, the club has to cater for up to 80 players without the use of the damaged dressing rooms and showers.

“It’s crazy, the actual value of the pipes that were stolen would only be a fraction of cost of the damage caused,” stressed Martin.

Two houses in Newbridge were also hit by scrap metal scavengers in the last two months. Again, flooding was caused to the homes. Local plumber, Alan Salmon from Mick Salmon plumbers said they had personally come across this problem in a guest house and a domestic property in the county.

“Copper has become really expensive. It’s being sold on to the scrap market and exported to China. A three quarter length of copper would now cost you e40 or e50. The price has gone up worldwide and that’s why they are taking it,” said Alan.

He also pointed out that these thieves were mainly target vacant rented houses or industrial buildings. The cost to replace a domestic heating system can range from e300 to e500 depending on the size of the house and the amount of damage caused. However, it’s the resulting flood damage that costs the most to repair. Alan pointed out that if a house is going to be vacant for some time, the owner can get the water switched off and the heating system drained. This means that if the pipes are taken, they won’t have to contend with flooding.

Supt. Joseph Prendergast, who is based at Kildare town garda station, acknowledged there was a spate of these thefts in the midlands in 2011.

“They do seem to be occurring again and it is something we are concentrating on. We are also liaising with the scrap merchants. It is something we are doing our best to prevent and we have had successful prosecutions,” he said.

Due to the recession and the rise in the value of scrap metals, this phenomenon has gripped every county and Kildare is no different. The vacant Magee Barracks in Kildare town has been stripped of every piece of metal even down to the manholes. The Hitchhiker monument was stolen from the motorway near Monasterevin in 2011. Experts believe scrap metal and copper wiring has increased by up to 20% in the past four years. Copper can be sold for €4,500 per tonne. Spain is another export market for such materials. All homeowners can do is keep their homes secure and be vigilant.

- Niamh O’Donoghue