WHILE Justice Minister Alan Shatter and garda representatives were locking horns last week, business people in rural areas were contending with yet another night of ram raids and burglaries, which they say is threatening to put them out of business.
Overnight on Tuesday – after Mr Shatter had been greeted with silence and a walk-out at the garda sergeants' and inspectors' conference in Sligo – a gang known to gardai as the 'Audi Gang' carried out a series of raids in Kilkenny and Laois.
They ransacked and robbed shops and filling stations in Ballyragget and Graiguemanagh in Co Kilkenny and in Crettyard, Co Laois. Gardai said the raids were typical of what is now happening nightly across the country.
The shop in Ballyragget was robbed in identical circumstances two months ago, a week after the local garda station had been closed.
On that occasion, the gang – travelling in a silver Audi car –attacked two gardai in a squad car who attempted to arrest them.
Last Wednesday morning, the gang carried out robberies at two filling stations and a convenience store, as well as two burglaries at private houses. On an earlier overnight crime spree on February 4, the gang hit five businesses in as many hours in Laois, Kilkenny, Wexford and Offaly.
A shop owner who asked not to be identified because of the fear of reprisal told the Sunday Independent that the raids were threatening to put people out of business and that people were going to have to arm themselves because the lack of garda resources.
"We have been hit four times now. Twice we were robbed during opening hours with guns and knives and twice now they have come at night. They broke down the shutters and cleaned us out.
"A few years ago when business was thriving you could contend with it but nowadays you question whether it is worth keeping open.
"The gardai have been great, but they do not have the resources to tackle these people. It is all over the country.
"We used to have a squad car within 10 minutes but when we rang the station we were told the nearest car was was 30 minutes away."
The raids on Wednesday came four days after Fr Pat O'Brien was tied up for an hour and his parochial house at Cahirlistrane, Co Galway was ransacked by four men.
Fianna Fail's justice spokesman Niall Collins has said the disturbing increase in violent crime emphasises the need to protect community garda resources and support gardai on the frontline.
He added: "The bottom line is that Minister Shatter's policing policies are not working. Communities feel more vulnerable than ever and these latest CSO statistics confirm why that is.
"People just cannot understand how the minister can justify dismantling the community garda infrastructure and undermining frontline members of the force when violent crime is increasing and we clearly still have a major burglary problem in some parts of the country."