'I will never get over my husband being beaten in front of me, my kids looking on'
This week, seven thugs were given long sentences for a terrifying raid on an isolated family home. While it was a particularly despicable crime, it follows a shocking pattern of robberies that have traumatised rural Ireland.
The almost unimaginable ordeal suffered by the Corcoran family in Co Tipperary will sicken even the most desensitised bystander in a society inured to violence by an endless diet of stories depicting man's capacity for inhumanity to man.
In the early hours of November 21, 2013, Mark and Emma Corcoran and their three little daughters - then aged 8, 6 and 2 - were traumatised beyond belief when their peaceful home was invaded by a Dublin gang of thugs who had been roaming the countryside.
The catastrophic incident left this family, especially the children, with psychological scars that could take a lifetime to heal.
And it has served to focus national attention on the spectre of the crime gangs that have become the scourge of rural Ireland.
The seven robbers who were each handed down justifiably exemplary jail sentences for this outrage, were among a hardcore of a dozen or so dangerous gangs that have been terrorising the people of rural Ireland, especially in recent years.
Over the past several weeks the Irish Independent has been reporting on what can only be described - based on the testimony of the victims - as a rural crime epidemic.
And this Government, whose enthusiasm for austerity left the gardaí hopelessly under-resourced, must shoulder some of the blame because the result has been that these crime gangs feel they can now operate with impunity.
In this case the gardaí from Dublin and Tipperary have done society a huge service by catching these callous criminals and bringing them to justice.
I was sitting in a bar the other evening when the first details of the Corcoran's ordeal were reported on the Six One News.
A middle-aged man sitting nearby spontaneously muttered to no one in particular: "F***ing bastards…scumbags…"
His visceral reaction to what these thugs did to this family reflects what every decent, taxpaying citizen in this country feels about this case.While it may ruffle the fluffy plumage of the thought police who enforce a zero-tolerance policy of political correctness on the silent majority, the word scumbags is the most effective word to describe what these thugs did.
Even though the victim impact statements from the parents and two of their children were read to Clonmel Circuit Criminal Court in the impartial monotone of a hardened copper, it was impossible to avoid the horror of what those words conveyed.
Detective Sergeant James White's words evoked the poignant image of three innocent little children being roused from their sleep by the sounds of breaking glass and blood-curdling shouting by strange men in masks.
It gives us just a fleeting appreciation of the unimaginable terror and confusion that enveloped the minds of these little children as they watched their daddy lying on the ground covered in blood, with his hands tied behind his back, being beaten and shouted at by men brandishing guns and knives.
"The eldest two children were awake and in the hallway… They had a clear view of what was going on. They could see what was happening to their father. They could hear the raiders making threats," Det Sgt White told a hushed court room after the seven thugs first pleaded guilty this week.
The eldest child said in her victim impact statement: "I thought my Daddy was going to die when the robbers beat him up. There was blood everywhere. I don't feel safe at home any more. Whenever I hear a bang, I think the robbers are back."
And when the horror attack was over the youngest child was found in her cot "shaking with fear" and "rocking herself and her teddy".
Mark Corcoran's description of his eight-year-old's reaction is justification enough as to why the "scumbags" responsible for this crime should serve every minute of their sentences.
"My eldest daughter was standing over me, crying 'Daddy is dead'. I can only describe it as like being at my own funeral, without being dead."
In her statement, Emma Corcoran said the happiness and memories from the house in which she'd grown up herself as a child had also been robbed from her that night.
"I will never get over seeing my husband being beaten in front of me that night and my kids looking on. My kids wake up every night with nightmares and live in fear of what happened," she said.
The seven men who participated in the robbery were all from a mixture of Travellers and members of the settled community who lived in Dublin.
They had been known to gardaí for some time as being one of the so-called country gangs based in the greater Dublin area using the country's motorway network and high-powered stolen cars to target vulnerable rural victims. It is highly likely that Mark Corcoran, who owned a gym-equipment-supply company at the time, was singled out after being identified by an accomplice of the gang who lives in the area.
On that fateful night the gang left Dublin and travelled in convoy to Co Tipperary, stealing a car in Castlecomer in Co Kilkenny en route.
That night Mark Corcoran was sleeping in a back room at the family home at Burnchurch, a rural area outside Killenaule in Co Tipperary, because he had to be up extra early and didn't want to wake his family.
Sometime around 3am he was awoken by men in balaclavas, one carried a large knife, another a shotgun and a third a handgun. They shouted "where is the safe?" and "where is the money?"
Mark Corcoran was dragged into the living area of the house and struck in the face with the butt of a gun causing him a fractured eye socket.
His hands were tied behind his back and one of the raiders knelt on his back. He later told gardaí that he thought he was going to be shot.
The gang made no effort to remain quiet and the commotion they created woke the children, two of whom went into the hallway and witnessed the incident.
Emma Corcoran was awoken by the sound of the breaking glass and raised voices and dialled 999 before leaving her phone under the bed with the call still active.
"The one thing that is most clear in the 999 recording was the terrified screams of the children," Det Sgt White told the court this week.
At one point Emma Corcoran was dragged from her bedroom and saw her husband being beaten.
One of the gang threatened her, "we'll kill your f**king kids", which left her paralysed with fear that she and her children were about to be murdered.
Eventually, the gang left the house after taking €1,300 in cash and some jewellery.
The thugs also took the Corcoran's family car, a seven-seat Kia Sorrento and left in convoy with the Passat they had stolen earlier in the night.
Less than an hour later four members of the gang were arrested by a specialist anti-burglary unit from Dublin.
The rest of the gang were arrested some hours later when the same garda unit chased the Corcoran's car which was surrounded at Newland's Cross, in Dublin.
The perpetrators tried to offer in mitigation the fact that they themselves were victims of dysfunctional family backgrounds.
But they do not deserve any kind of forgiveness or understanding after the evil they visited on the lives of innocent children and their equally innocent parents.
They were also suspected of similar crimes prior to this and would have gone out the next night and done the same if they hadn't been nabbed.
In his victim impact statement Mark Corcoran confessed to feeling an enormous sense of guilt because he had been unable to protect his wife and children.
Since this outrage he has had to close down his business. He and his family no longer feel safe in their home. The children live in fear of every noise.
When you put it all together, using the un-politically correct term "scumbags" to describe the people who did this somehow seems wholly inadequate.
Paul Williams has been highlighting the scourge of rural crime as part of a major campaign by the Irish Independent over recent months. On Thursday next he has been invited to chair a public meeting on the problem by the organisers of a campaign against rural crime, Save our Communities, which will be held at 7.30pm in the Anner Hotel in Thurles, Co Tipperary.