Farmers are quietly talking about taking the law into their own hands
Published 16/09/2015 | 02:30
There is a week to go before the Ploughing Championships, the annual week-long jamboree which celebrates every aspect of Irish farming, the backbone of our nation's economy.
But this year, probably more than any previous one in recent history, a cloud will cast its shadow over proceedings - the alarming increase in rural crime.
Over the past two months an Irish Independent investigation has uncovered how the farming community are living in fear of a spiralling crime wave.
The prevalence of the problem in every county in the country is corroding the fabric of rural life as no one seems to be immune from the scourge.
The many farmers and rural dwellers who have shared their experiences of being robbed, some on multiple occasions, disprove the sneering urban elite who shrug it off as mere hype.
The spectre of the crime epidemic has undermined the peace of mind of the many victims who no longer feel safe in their own homes.
What is emerging is a picture of law-abiding citizens losing faith in the ability of the gardai to protect them as they cope with a lack of resources.
The victims of rural crime blame this situation on the Government and enthusiasm with which it closed local garda stations and slashed garda budgets.
The response to this - belated - discovery was the announcement for the second time in as many months of new legislation designed to put "repeat offenders" in jail for longer and refuse bail. This is too little, too late.
It is a bit like a squad car arriving at the scene of a robbery hours after the raiders have had it away on their toes. The fact is that there is not enough gardai on the ground to catch the same repeat offenders and, if they are, there is little room in our over-crowded prisons to put them.
Travelling around the country to to meet victims of rural crime one gets a palpable sense of despair and hopelessness.
There is also the almost debilitating realisation among the same people that criminals had been watching them and their families from the shadows before pouncing.
And that is why farmers are quietly talking about taking the law into their own hands and keeping their shotguns closer to the bed at night than before.
No one is gung-ho about the prospect of shooting a raider. The opposite is true: they know that as soon as they squeeze the trigger their lives will probably never be the same again.
All these issues are building a mountain of distress and frustration and destroying a way-of-life that has characterised rural life for centuries.
There is also the very heavy monetary cost of crime to the average farmer. In most cases the large amount of valuable tools and machinery being stolen are never recovered and, because it is now difficult to get theft insurance for farms, it is costing thousands to replace the equipment taken.
Farmers are being forced to turn their premises into veritable fortresses protected by high, reinforced steel gates, CCTV and sensors.
All of this is costing money that they can ill-afford. Which is why the farming sector which contributes so much to this economy are justified in feeling let down by the government.
Call for 'meaningful' Garda presence
ICMSA president, John Comer has called for a "meaningful Garda presence in rural Ireland" to combat the rural crime crisis. And he also wants "some exemplary court sentences" from the judiciary to accompany a crime crackdown.
"There is no doubt that the surge in crime directed at farming and rural communities is a specific problem requiring a specific response," Mr Comer told the Farming Independent this week.
The current deficiency in rural policing was symbolic of a wider problem which Mr Comer described as "the withdrawal of the State and ancillary services from large areas of life in rural Ireland. This includes the closure of schools, post offices, district veterinary offices, courthouses bus connections, banks and other services," Mr Comer said. ''There are now whole swathes of the country where services that have taken a century to roll out have now disappeared in the last decade.
"It is fair to wonder sometimes if the focus of the State does not stop at city boundaries," he added.
"Rural Ireland feels neglected and that feeling is deepening."