Ten ways to crack rural crime
Our special correspondent offers his solution to the threat posed by criminal gangs targeting farmhouses and country towns
Published 03/05/2016 | 02:30
In the year leading up to the centenary of the Easter Rising, a rising of another kind was taking place involving thousands of men and women.
Since 2015, the normally silent majority living in rural Ireland have been uncharacteristically vociferous - they are angry, frustrated, afraid.
But when thousands of them banded together and began highlighting the scourge of rural crime through the media, the political establishment were caught unawares.
It is most likely the reason why Enda Kenny and Fine Gael suffered such a bloody nose at the hands of the farmers and rural dwellers who form the backbone of their support base.
What the people were saying is that they are no longer prepared to sit in silence and watch their peaceful lives blighted by roaming criminal gangs who have been taking full advantage of a depleted and demoralised police force.
Over the past year the Irish Independent consistently highlighted the problem of rural crime which was initially denied by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her loyal Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan. But then they were both forced into an embarrassing u-turn last November, admitting there was a serious problem when they launched a €5m rural crime crackdown under the sexy title of Operation Thor.
However, some of the groups who were involved in highlighting rural crime have effectively been silenced over recent months following meetings with senior gardai and the Justice Minister.
The following is a charter listing 10 solutions, proposed and articulated by the people of rural Ireland, which they believe will go a long way to resolving the problem.
1 GARDA RESOURCES
One of the main reasons identified for the rise in rural crime is the chronic lack of garda resources on the ground. A lack of the basic resources necessary to police the country, such as cars, combined with the effect of incentivised early retirements and a ban on recruitment, has left the force depleted. The recommencement of recruiting will take several years to address the shortage of personnel and restore numbers to where they were before the recession.
2 COMMUNITY POLICING AND GARDA STATION CLOSURES
The much-hyped community policing ethos of An Garda Siochana - as espoused by the those in garda HQ - in reality does not exist in large areas of rural Ireland.
The closure of garda stations around the country failed to achieve what had been intended - to save money. The current claim is that community policing policies are being pursued in rural counties to make up for the closure of local garda stations with the loss of the local garda everyone knew.
In some areas, the nearest garda station can now be up to 30 or 40 miles away in counties where there are often only two or three officers available to patrol areas up to 50 square miles in size. Many of these local stations, the people say, should be re-opened and gardai should be incentivised to live in the communities they police.
3 GARDA PAY AND CONDITIONS
The Government should immediately rectify the unjust two-tier pay system for gardai. The people most concerned about rural crime say they are shocked that the long-awaited new recruits are being forced to live in penury with the ridiculous situation that several of them - including the three already gone - will have no option but to resign and go to better paid jobs such as packing shelves in supermarkets.
4 ELECTRONIC TAGGING
Various rural crime groups have been making the perfectly sensible demand to introduce electronic tagging for all offenders on bail. The acting Justice Minister has demurred from the idea claiming the technology is not available, but most activists believe the Government simply doesn't want to spend the money.
The tagging of repeat offenders, people who continue to commit crimes of theft and robbery while on bail, would effectively help end that trend overnight. Tagging protects not only the public, but also the offender's civil rights. It would also free up considerable garda resources. If someone breeches their bail terms, the system is immediately alerted and the individual can be returned to prison.
5 BAIL LAWS
A recurring theme amongst rural crime activists is the perennially contentious issue of the bail laws which, despite several referenda over the past 20 years, are still seen as being too lax and in favour of the offender. Only time will tell if the latest legislative changes introduced by the outgoing minister will be effective or merely just window-dressing.
6 COLLECTION OF FINES
It has been proposed that in order to save garda resources, all fines imposed by the district court should be collected at source by Revenue and the Department of Social Welfare. Currently, it is estimated that millions of euros in unpaid fines which would fund the re-opening of garda stations remain outstanding.
7 TRESPASS LAWS
Farmers across the country are demanding a complete root and branch revision of trespass laws which enable them to use force if they find people on their properties with no legal authority to be there.
8 NON-NATIONAL CRIMINALS
One of the more controversial remedies to the problem concerns the non-national offenders with suggestions they should be repatriated to their home countries if convicted of violence or repeat offences. In the case of EU nationals, it has been suggested they carry an endorsement preventing them from returning to Ireland for a prescribed period.
9 TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
An offender who is convicted of an offence involving driving or being a passenger in a vehicle, which has been involved in a crime, should be automatically prohibited from driving for a mandatory period after conviction.
10 MANDATORY SENTENCING
A charter of the most common types of specific offences committed by rural criminals, such as the theft of machinery, metals and oils, should be enshrined in legislation with a mandatory sentencing policy.