Crime focus: Farmers living in daily fear of being robbed band together and fight back
Neighbouring farmers are organising themselves into "buddy networks" in a bid to catch criminal gangs stealing their property.
One group of farmers from the Cashel area of Co Tipperary say they formed their network shortly after the opening of the M8 motorway led to a sharp increase in burglaries.
"We have been operating the buddy system since around 2009. It involves a network of neighbours who call each other if any member of the group needs help," said Michael Ryan, a tillage and beef farmer from Templenoe who has been robbed six times in recent years.
"When someone spots anything suspicious he phones or texts a number of selected neighbours and they in turn alert others and the gardaí - we can rally up to 12 men to surround a place in minutes.
"No violence is used and we stand around the offenders and order them off the property or keep them busy while we wait for the guards.
"It works very well because it means that a man isn't left in danger to stand up to the thugs on his own - it is the only effective way that we can protect ourselves and our neighbours."
In one incident, the buddy group came to Michael's assistance when he found a gang of thieves on his property.
The thugs, all members of the Travelling community from Dublin, had left a trail of break-ins in their wake, hitting properties in Carlow and Kilkenny before moving on to Tipperary.
"The majority of the people who have come to rob me and my neighbours are members of the Travelling community and we know who they are," said Mr Ryan.
According to the farmers, the worst offenders involved in rural crime in Tipperary, Kilkenny, Carlow and Laois are from Dublin, Carlow, Limerick and a number of towns in Tipperary.
The gangs use the illegal hunting method known as "lamping" as a cover to select and reconnoitre farms which are then targeted for robbery.
This involves trespassing on farm land using high-powered lamps to startle rabbits, foxes and badgers which are then hunted by dogs.
"It is an excuse to come and pick out places to rob," said Mr Ryan.
"We have caught some of these boys mooching around farm yards checking how to get out and in and picking out what to take.
"A few days or weeks later they come back and take what they want."
According to Mr Ryan and his neighbours, the gangs leave open gates and knock down electric fences while "lamping".
"We need the gardaí and the judiciary to fully enforce the laws against trespass because this is nothing but a cover for criminal activity," said Mr Ryan.
"We need more gardaí on the ground to make life every bit as uncomfortable for the thieves in the same way that they make our lives uncomfortable and fearful."
One of Mr Ryan's nearest neighbours was effectively cleaned out two years ago when thieves hit his farm shortly after men were spotted lamping on his land.
Noel O'Connor lost a Jeep, cattle trailer, quad sprayer, a ride-on mower, power washers and a log splitter. The thieves also drained the diesel tank and smashed gates and wire fences. The total loss was close to €20,000.
"I called the gardaí that morning and they didn't turn up for over two hours, and when they came they didn't bother even looking for fingerprints," said Mr O'Connor.
"At one stage they got a lead on where most of the stuff was being stored, but by the time they raided the place it had all been moved.
"Every night of the week I look up at the farm yard and land to see if there are people out lamping because that means that they are getting ready to rob the place again. That is no way for people to live."
Mr Ryan and his neighbours have criticised the proposed new burglary legislation allowing for tougher sentences for repeat offenders as "window-dressing".
"By the time the lawyers and judiciary are finished with it, it will all be watered down," he said.
"Every farmhouse in my area has been affected by crime and people are living in fear.
"The Government have to ensure that cases involving these people are fast-tracked through the courts, and why shouldn't their social welfare payments be cut?
"It is ludicrous to think that the criminal who invades our property has more rights than we do.
"If I shoot him or beat him he can sue me, and if he falls and hurts himself then I am also liable. That is sheer madness."