Rural crime: 'We think the army should be brought in'
Rural homeowners feel gardaí are not getting support, writes Paul Williams
The value of the tools stolen from Paul Lynch's farm was estimated at around €7,000 - but to him they were priceless.
In 1973, Paul lost an arm in an accident on his land near Mountmellick, County Laois.
Over the past 42 years, he built up a collection of specially adapted tools which allowed him to work. But in the early hours of January 17 this year, thieves - who had obviously kept his home and farm yard under surveillance - made off with welders, angle grinders, air tools, and assorted equipment.
"The tools they took were made specially to suit me, and were adapted so that I would not have to be calling neighbours to help me when I was fixing machinery in the yard," Mr Lynch explained.
"They took all the better quality stuff and left the rest … it will take me years to replace a lot of the tools and now I have the extra expense of going to a local garage to get stuff fixed."
When thieves stole his tools, they also took something even more valuable to this quietly spoken, hard-working family man - his peace of mind.
The robbery, which involved at least three people using either a van or 4x4, took place between 2.30am and 8am on that cold winter's morning. Mr Lynch knows this because everything seemed fine when he took a walk around the yard beside the family home at 2.30am, as he did most nights.
It had been snowing, and when he discovered the robbery had taken place the next morning, there were boot prints clearly visible where one of the thieves had been watching Paul's home.
"One of them had been standing in the shadows watching the house and the doors to make sure no one came out and disturbed them - that is what really hurt me, you feel in lock-down because you're not secure.
"Before this, I was never nervous or afraid to go out at night - but since this happened it is always in my mind that someone might be there when I walk around a corner.
"These people would have no scruples about hitting you, because they are not going to leave empty-handed."
Mr Lynch lives along a quiet country lane a few miles from Mountmellick, just off the winding main road that leads to Portlaoise. Like many other areas of rural Ireland, it is regularly plundered by gangs of roaming criminals who appear unafraid of being caught.
Mr Lynch said: "People are really worried. They go out in the morning and don't know what will be missing. The gardaí are doing their best, but they don't seem to be getting any help. I think at this stage it is time to bring in the army.
"The Government should also re-open Spike Island to put these boys in. The least people should expect is to be protected by the State," he added.
The problem of crime gangs targeting farmers across the country has been escalating in the past two years as Government cutbacks to garda budgets began to bite.
"It has become very serious, whether it is the theft of tools, livestock or machinery, there is no end to it and it appears to be getting worse," said Pat Hennessy, the chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) in Co Laois.
"I have been the chairman of the Laois IFA for the past three years and in the past year and a half the amount of robberies and burglaries has been increasing steadily," he said.
"It has gotten very serious and farmers feel so helpless that nothing is being done or nothing can be done about it."
The IFA chairman said that there were two main reasons why rural crime was spiralling - farms are easy targets for thieves and there is a chronic lack of gardaí.
"Rural areas are very isolated and when the farmers are asleep at night or away in the fields their yards are open and it is not possible to secure them, so they are seen as easy targets," he explained.
"Another serious problem is the closure of the local garda stations and there is not a presence of gardaí on the ground.
"They are doing what they can with the resources that they have," Mr Hennessy added.