GARDAÍ have appealed for information after thieves robbed thousands of Euros at a play centre run by the Share A Dream Foundation.
The elaborate break-in – the second in the past two months at the charity’s fantasyland “all-inclusive” play centre in Limerick – has left the charity reeling after between 3 to 4 thousand Euro was stolen.
The charity’s founder Shay Kinsella said it is “struggling” to survive.
Visibly shaken by the robbery, he offered: “This has taken a lot out of me”.
“We are very badly off for funds,” Mr Kinsella, who was visibly upset, explained.
The charity relies on donations, and, apart, from a handful of paid staff, relies mostly on volunteers.
Mr Kinsella said it costs an estimated €300,000 annually, to run both the Share A Dream Foundation, which fulfils dreams for children with life-limiting illnesses, as well as Dreamland, which provides play facilities for both disabled and able-bodied children.
“We are finding it really difficult to keep going, because of stuff like this,” Mr Kinsella added.
Two men wearing face masks and carrying an axe and a crowbar can be seen on the centre’s CCTV cameras shortly after 4am.
The raiders are believed to have cut through a steel security fence at the rear of the centre before tunnelling through a back wall and smashing their way into the centre through an interior wall.
The two-man gang, who may have been assisted by others, ransacked offices upstairs before fleeing with a safe, a petty cash box, and the proceeds of a giant glass bowel of cash donations.
Ciara Brolly, Share A Dream project manager, arrived at the scene shortly after the robbery upon receiving an alert that one of the centre’s security alarms had been activated.
Footage from CCTV cameras at the premises appear to show two raiders attempting to smash alarms and cameras.
“It’s frightening. We could see all the damage that had been done at the back door going in. There were pieces of the (alarm) keypad and bits of electrical boards lying all over the ground,” Ms Brolly said.
“When Gardaí went down to the supermarket role-play area they saw (the raiders) had tunnelled in through the back. It’s like an escape from Alcatraz – it was a tunnel all the way through to the outside, at the back.”
“When we looked at the back they had taken the galvanize sheeting off the back. They cut through the steel security fence. They had axes, and hammers, ladders, and they smashed cameras, locks, everything.”
“They took off up to our offices where our safe was. We were open for the Bank Holiday weekend and we were doing parties and events, and the takings of all that would have been put in the safe to be lodged today, but, unfortunately, they took that,” Ms Brolly said.
“They took thousands,” she added.
Following the previous robbery last September, the charity had purchased and fitted a “reinforced safe”, but the thieves managed to take it with them.
Becoming emotional, Mr Kinsella said: “This is personal for me. I’m 27 years doing this and it’s a long time. I love working with the kids, we’ve helped over 20,000 kids, and the first thing that flashed in front of me was all the kids I’ve helped, and all the little angels that have left us now.”
He continued: “Do I really need to be doing this anymore? Everything you see here is magical and a lot of it is hand-painted so I can’t replace it. It’s like Disney.”
“It’s hard to believe. It’s heartbreaking,” Ms Brolly said.
“The only way you can lift yourself up a bit is to get on with things, and that’s what we did this morning. We had a Halloween camp and we have the Garda Commissioner coming on Thursday to commission ten little gardai,” she added.
“We are saying to hell with (the robbers), and we are going to get on with it. That lifts you a bit, but it’s the funds, the money. The part of the building they came in through, it’s going to be a huge cost (to repair),” she explained.
Mr Kinsella said despite the ordeal he would “not give up” providing dreams for terminally ill children.
“We will build up again and I know the community will help us out. You can’t give up because the next time you get another dream for a little kid that is terminally ill, you just get a good buzz that they are contacting you to make their dream come true, and you move on – but, it’s different now, you are looking over your shoulder now,” he added.
“There’s nothing sacred anymore.”
“If they want to go in to (rob) a place, they are not worried about cameras, alarm systems. They don’t care, because they have it down to a few minutes by the time anybody comes, and they get in and get on with it.”
“The biggest fear I have is that Ciara came down (on her own) and it frightened the life out of me, because if she had walked in (during the raid), there was one guy wielding a big axe around the place breaking everything.”
“The people who put up the fence came and they are shocked. It’s supposed to be bullet proof – they couldn’t believe they went to the extremes they went to, to get into the place,” he said.
A Garda spokesman said: “Gardaí in Henry Street are investigating a burglary at a premises in Rhebogue, Dublin Road, Limerick, that occurred between 3am and 4.30am in which a sum of money was taken.”
“Gardai are appealing for witnesses to contact Henry Street Garda Station on 061-212400.”