Garda cuts hit home as gangs target the most vulnerable
URBAN criminals are taking advantage of improvements in the road network to strike out at rural communities around the country.
Over the past two months, travelling gangs have been lured out of their city lairs by the prospect of lucrative pickings in rural areas that are most likely to fall victim to the impact of the cutbacks and garda station closures.
Despite the big successes scored by the gardai against the burglars since the start of Operation Fiacla – the nationwide crackdown on the mobile gangs – last February, criminals appear to have been emboldened by reports of garda cutbacks.
As the recent spate of burglaries around the country shows, no part of the State is safe from the travelling gangs, who lie low in city hideouts before setting out on sprees in high powered vehicles that cannot be matched for speed by the vast majority of garda vehicles.
Instead, local officers have to use what the authorities now term 'smart policing'.
In one operation, gardai targeted a car, which they believed had been used in a total of 80 burglaries in the south east and eastern regions.
It was eventually intercepted with the help of vigilant members of the public.
Meanwhile, gangs based in the North are proving a major headache for gardai policing border counties.
"The boys who attacked us were probably back in Derry in 10 minutes," said Eric Steele (69), who fought off five masked raiders who attacked him and his 75-year-old brother Jim at their home in Manorcunningham, Co Donegal this week.
"I don't know what could be done about it, but something has to be done."
In the past two weeks, Greta Lilly (96), John Gallagher (69), Phyllis McGee (77) and Bernie Doherty (80) have also been subject to violent burglaries in the country.
Fianna Fail TD Charlie McConalogue met 20 crime victims in Manorcunningham just a month ago, all robbed within a few weeks of each other.
"There needs to be a seamless policing service where one force is ready to step in when the other needs help," said Mr McConalogue.
"It's a race to the Border that gardai simply cannot win."
Local councillor Paul Canning lamented garda staffing levels in the county.
"There are 16 border crossings along a 10km stretch between Derry City and Donegal alone," he said.
The crime works both ways; the same gangs use Donegal as their escape route when stealing north of the Border.
When patrol cars reach the Border they have to stop; and just hope colleagues on the other side are available.
Recent flag protests in Belfast has drawn PSNI officers away from the Border, showing a lack of resources is a two-way street.