By Pierce O’Reilly If you’re planning a trip to Ireland this year, you’d better carry an insurance policy. That’s the advice coming from the Tourism Victims Support Group, which released figures last week showing that serious assaults on vacationers in Ireland is up nearly 50 percent in the last year. Among the most victimized are Irish-American visitors who throng resorts in Ireland each summer trying to trace their Irish heritage. More than 6 million holidaymakers arrive in the Emerald Isle each summer, with more than a million of these coming from the United States. Noreen Harrison of the Garda press office, said that there were roughly 2,500 indictable offenses in 2000 in which the injured party was a tourist. She also noted that the number of “serious assaults” against vacationers jumped from 11 in 1999 to 20 last year. Harrison warned that Irish Americans in particular need to be more careful, especially in the larger cities. “You just can’t walk around anymore, especially at night, with big, expensive cameras and camcorders hanging from your neck,” she said. “Traveler’s checks, passports and other valuables should always be stored in hotel safes. “A lot of the problems are due to carelessness and naivete to the dangers of modern urban society. If you leave valuable property visible in your car or appear to be carrying a lot of money in a wallet, then you’re a sitting duck for criminals and there are a lot of criminals in Ireland today.” Barry Twomey, owner of O’Connor’s Fairways Travel Agency in Manhattan, brings more than 25,000 vacationers to Ireland each summer. He said the figures don’t surprise him. While in Ireland on a holiday, Twomey was himself attacked by what he called a “gang of six thugs” who assaulted and robbed him outside the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. “Obviously, we don’t give potential customers a negative picture of Ireland, but I personally feel it’s important that everyone should be aware of all the consequences if anything goes wrong while on vacation,” he said. Twomey said he is shocked to see the growth in the drugs and drink culture in Ireland during the last 10 years and questioned the role the gardai are playing in working toward its elimination. “You don’t see any gardai anymore walking around the streets in the cities and I think in the past that was a great deterrent to crime,” he said. While Twomey didn’t need hospital attention after the assault, he said he was “black and blue” and “very sore” for a few days. “I was born and bred in Cork City and am very streetwise,” he said. “Can you imagine how easy it is to assault a tourist with a camera around his or her neck and an Aran sweater on — when it was so easy to attack me,” Lisa O’Neill, coordinator of Tourism Victims Support, said tourists need to be aware they are vulnerable targets and that there are certain preventive measures they can take. “It’s time the tourist industry was open about crime against holidaymakers,” O’Neill said. Once tourists had contacted Tourism Victims Support, the groups figures show that 79 percent were able to continue with their vacation plans, while 10 percent decided to shorten their vacation and return home. “In many cases tourists will return home, canceling their vacation because they are unaware of what to do or who to go to for advice if they are a victim of crime,” O’Neill said. “They should know they don’t always have to do this, but, more importantly, they need to be aware from the outset of their trip what support network is in place to deal with crime.” Tourism Victims Support assisted more than 700 vacationers last year. Larceny still amounts for half of the crimes against tourists, followed by car theft. Hired cars are more likely to be broken into than private cars. The group said 15 percent of referrals came from the UK, followed closely by American tourists. Next were French, Italian and Spanish tourists. The Tourism Victims Support service gives emotional and practical support to tourist victims of crime and has a number of trained multilingual volunteers. “We work closely with the Irish Tourist Board and the gardai, but we do feel that holidaymakers aren’t always made aware of the dangers,” O’Neill said. “This isn’t giving an negative image of Ireland, it’s just educating the visitors of the dangers that may lie ahead.” The executive vice president for the Irish Tourist Board in the U.S. and Canada, Jim McGuigan, said the figures surprised him. “Customer safety is of huge importance to us and we’re always concerned when figures like these are published,” McGuigan said. “However, we still feel that while assaults on tourists are on the increase in Ireland, they’re not alarming compared to other cities in Europe.” The Irish Tourist Board at present does not carry any detailed information regarding assaults on any of its promotion brochures, but it does advise visitors to be vigilant while in the larger cities. “We’ve nothing to hide and will be reviewing most of our brochures in the near future,” McGuigan said. “The most important thing right now is that we work closely with the Tourism Victims Support Group.” McGuigan said that he has not seen information regarding assaults on tourists in a holiday brochure, but he would keep an open mind on the issue. “The Irish Tourist Board will monitor the situation and if we feel the customers need more information, then we’ve no problem becoming the first tourist board to put our neck on the line and add more information regarding difficulties that holidaymakers may encounter while in Ireland,” he said. In the latest development from the Department of Justice, Minister John O’Donoghue has freed an additional 500 gardai from desk duties to work on the streets of Dublin. Tourism Victims Support can be contacted from Ireland at 1 800 661 771.