GARDAI have warned angry residents they can only use 'reasonable force' to take on burglars after a spate of attacks on the elderly.
The residents have started to go on night patrol in an area where five pensioners were robbed. One victim has since been admitted to hospital suffering from shock.
George Moore (87) was tied up and threatened at his home in Co Donegal. He is being treated at Letterkenny General Hospital.
More than 900 people packed into a hall in the village of Manorcunningham for the second time in two weeks to hear of a text alert community watch scheme being set up in every townland in east Donegal.
Sgt Maurice Doyle explained how the scheme worked to the crowd – but one local farmer took the microphone to ask for a definition of 'reasonable force'.
"If you see someone taking your trailer and you grab your firearm and go out and use it, will you get yourself in any trouble?" asked the man.
Sgt Doyle replied: "I know where you are coming from; but I cannot condone what you are saying to me there. You have to work within the law."
Another resident asked: "If two or three boys broke into this hall, can you hit him a slap, or do you have to leave them?"
Again Sgt Doyle insisted: "You can only use reasonable force to the level being used against you."
Residents' leader Tony Morning told the Irish Independent that local men were now "out and about" to reassure elderly residents after a spate of attacks.
"We're calling in to check on people at night, to make sure they are all right," said the businessman.
Money raised at the public meetings has already led to sophisticated alarm systems being fitted in the homes of seven pensioners – including Mr Moore – and more will follow, he said.
But he said the 'lack of compassion' from the Government towards victims needs to be addressed.
"Our Taoiseach should be here meeting these poor decent people who have been terrorised in their own homes," said Mr Morning, who has left his trailer manufacturing business for the past four weeks to work on the alarm scheme.
Fianna Fail councillor Ciaran Brogan said a resident of each townland in Donegal should sign up to the early warning Text Alert Scheme, designed to warn people of suspicious activity in their area.
"This should be done across the county, as these dreadful crimes against the elderly have taken place almost everywhere," he said.
Sgt Doyle confirmed that no arrests have been made in relation to the spate of break-ins in east Donegal.
Friends of Mr Moore say he is 'struggling' to get over the attack on him at his home at the end of January.
"He worries about the burglars coming back," said one elderly friend.
Residents from across Donegal are due to meet at the same resource centre in Manorcunningham next Monday.