'They could be in a suit by day and in a balaclava at night'
Rural homes under surveillance by criminals
Rural homeowners are being targeted by criminals who put their properties under surveillance during the day by pretending to be legitimate traders.
Campaigner John Tully says that gangs are constantly scoping the countryside, on the lookout for easy prey or valuable machinery.
"They could be the man wearing a suit during the day but wearing a balaclava at night," he said.
"These people are getting local information."
But Mr Tully warned that the number of people living in rural communities who do not report suspicious activity was "massive".
He added: "I'd ask people not to give up, because if they do, these savages will win."
Rural crime remains a huge political issue, not least because of the lack of Government action to address the problem.
Last week, a farmer who has been hit with a wave of burglaries told how other farmers in the area were now going on armed patrol at night in order to defend their properties.
Clive Clarke (36) works as both a farmer and a butcher with his father. The family farm has been targeted by burglars six times in the last 13 years.
On Tuesday night, €13,000 worth of equipment - including quad bikes, trailers, money, a tractor, road diesel, meat and butcher's knives - were taken from his premises in Barna near Moneygall.
"There's people cracking up," he told the Irish Independent.
"If it's not the rain or bad prices, it's someone stealing your stuff. What's next? How can you take it?"
Mr Tully is urging residents of small towns and villages to get over their fears of being targeted by criminal gangs and to band together.
"It's up to people power," said the 53-year-old founder of the Save Our Community group.
The group was formed after his village of Littleton, Co Tipperary had been targeted in a crime wave that saw practically every local farm and business raided by roaming gangs of thieves in recent months.
His movement sparked similar meetings among rural communities living in fear of criminal gangs, amid a lack of garda resources nationwide.
But Mr Tully said that since then the number of raids on local businesses in his community had dwindled, which he believes is linked to locals standing up and being vigilant.
"A lot of people are afraid to say or do anything," he said, before adding that community was the key to preventing further crimes, despite the palpable sense of fear that exists in many rural areas.
"I spoke with 16 people today, including a bachelor farmer in his 60s, who had his farm ransacked after they broke into his shed by kicking down the door.
"He said, 'I'm afraid. I stay sitting up in a chair until 2am because I'm afraid.'"
Mr Tully said that criminals were feeding off that fear.
However, he said it was up to local residents to know the patterns of these criminals and to report to the gardaí any suspicious activity or person that they see.