Rural Crime: 'I never thought I'd be going to bed with a gun,' says widow (71)
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The 71-year-old widow who sleeps with a gun beside her bed; the mother whose voice trembles with anger as she recounts the day a van rammed her car full of children; the farmer who spotted a child's footprint in spilled diesel after his yard was burgled, a young thief trained in by his father.
These were among the 1,500 people who crammed into a Tipperary hotel for three hours last Thursday night to protest at crime in their communities, each one testament to the plague of criminality.
The Garda Commissioner has sought extra funding from the Department of Justice for a new anti-burglary initiative that will deploy the same tactics it uses to fight organised crime against burglars roaming the Irish countryside.
The initiative is expected to be launched after Tuesday's Budget, but its scope is dependent on how much funding it gets.
It will use covert and overt surveillance, targeted stop and searches, and armed regional response units patrolling the motorways in high-power vehicles. Twelve Audi Q7s are already on order at a cost of €700,000.
A dedicated team of data analysts will identify burglary "hot spots" to intercept and prevent future crimes.
The rise in burglaries has been matched by an increase in gun licences, with 205,000 firearms certificates issued by the end of 2014, compared with 178,000 in 2013.
However, the overwhelming demand from Thursday's "Save Our Community" meeting, organised by concerned locals, was not for guns but for stricter bail laws, electronic tagging, removing the entitlement to free legal aid for repeat offenders, more gardai, more patrols and a more visible presence in local communities.
These are some of their stories.
Timmy McCarthy from Mallow tried to trap raiders in his farmyard: His father lives in a house in the yard, while he lives just further on. One night last November he heard noises.
"I rang my father and told him I thought there are people in the yard, I could hear banging. I told him not to turn on a light, phone all the neighbours, lock the road down and phone the guards.
"I said I'd lock the road from my side. I jumped into the jeep with another son of mine. We landed over into the yard within a couple of minutes.
"There were three thugs inside in the car and they tried to get out past the jeep. They then rammed the jeep and jumped out of their car and took off."
The culprits got away. Timmy said the biggest problem is demand for stolen goods. "Who is buying the diesel? " he asked. "Who is buying all the stuff? If people couldn't sell it, they wouldn't be doing it."
Mary (71), a widow who lives alone in Tipperary, was burgled four years ago: Her brother is a former senior garda.
"What they took were material things. They belonged to my late husband. I live on my own now. And I suppose we put a few things in place. We have an alarm in the house and I have two dogs and they are the best alarm," she said.
"It is not nice living on your own in rural Ireland anymore. I have all the soaps on at night now because I stay up - I might go to bed around 4am, which means you don't get up that early.
"I saw ministers here tonight, and I'd love to send a letter with them: 'Dear Enda and Ms Fitzgerald - you have failed us. You have failed to take action. You have closed the garda station at night in (her local station).'
"We ring Thurles and if there's a car available it will come out, but that's if the car is running that night. Otherwise you may take the law into your own hands.
"I never thought I'd be going to bed at night with a gun in one corner, and cartridges in the room next door ... I have a gun and I have a licence. I don't know how to use it, but I'll learn very quick if I have to."
Barry O'Gorman, from Thurles, has been burgled twice this summer. "The house was burgled once in June and once in August. We came down on June 8 to the farmyard and almost every door in the farmyard was open. The first thing that struck me was the smell of diesel. They broke into the diesel store and spilled diesel everywhere.
"They stole all our welding equipment, drills, saws, tools. Three of our neighbours in a line were burgled that night, and a substantial amount of tools taken from them as well.
"The sad thing about it is there was a small child involved, judging by the footprints in the diesel he was about five or six. Everywhere the child went, his father's footsteps were in front of him. So that child was afraid ... We have children as well, five or six. Where should they be at that hour? In bed. They are being taught to steal.
"On the second occasion in August, the workshop was busted open again. I couldn't believe it. On the same night, three other farmers were broken into, another big haul. The value of the stuff was €10,000 for a couple of hours work."
Martina Cummins and her young family from Thurles were rammed by a suspicious van: "In April 2011, I collected my son and we were driving down the road. We saw a garda pulling in a car because obviously it looked suspicious.
"We passed it by and I was driving on down the road and, suddenly out of nowhere, this big red van with a tradesman's rack on the top ploughed into the whole side of my car. I had my newborn baby, my 15-year-old, my 14-year-old and my four-year-old in the car.
"It is a night I will never forget. The culprit was never found and every red van I see with a roof rack on it gives me this flash back to that night. I am sure they (the gardai) did try their best, but it felt like someone had to die before someone takes it seriously."
Margaret from Tipperary had all her jewellery stolen: "I am not safe anymore. They broke into my husband's sheds, got two nail bars, prised open the back window, got in. They emptied the fridge freezer.
"What I didn't realise until afterwards is that people keep money and jewels in the freezer. I don't. I don't have that much. They took whatever jewellery I had, and whatever money. They went across the road to my neighbour's house to do the same thing."
Sean Harty from Thurles sees no sense in how gardai are deployed: "Last Saturday was the Labour Party convention in the Anner Hotel. It took place in this very room. And unseen were members of the army response unit, some with machine guns.
"One of them was outside my friend's house ... and some were hiding in the bushes around the Anner. There were also 20 uniformed and undercover gardai here in the Anner, and more uniform gardai down in the square.
"I know for a fact that the same night there was a break-in out the road in one of the bungalows. A couple came home to find their house ransacked and broken into. This makes no sense."