News Sinead Moriarty

Monday 1 September 2014

Terror of attack victim who can never go home is felt across rural Ireland

Published 22/01/2014 | 02:30

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Rural Ireland’s picture-postcard beauty is always a big draw for tourists but it has become a terrifying place for elderly victims of burglaries and robberies

What kind of heart-stopping terror would drive a 68-year-old man to pack up his belongings, abandon his home and cycle for eight hours to safety in the middle of the night? The fear of having his life threatened by lowlife thugs.

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In Irish schools today, anti-bullying campaigns abound. Children around the country are being taught how to be kind to their fellow classmates and how to defend themselves against bullying.

But what good will that do them when they grow old and a gang of thugs breaks into their home and terrorises them?

What possible campaign can be conjured up to help the elderly, the most vulnerable people in our society, to protect themselves?

How can these defenceless men and women shield themselves against people who will happily terrorise them for a few quid?

Two years ago, Michael McMahon, a bachelor, was living alone in a remote part of west Clare near Cree, with no electricity or running water.

One night, without warning, three lowlifes smashed in three of his windows and demanded money.

McMahon gave them everything he had. He kept his money in glass jars, which he handed out to them. The three jars contained roughly €4,000 in cash.

The thugs promised not to return; one of them even said 'sorry' and handed back €150. How sweet.

Mr McMahon could now rest easy, after all the promise of a criminal is always golden. After they left, Mr McMahon tried to board up his windows with blocks and bits of turf. It makes you want to weep to think of the poor man, trying to protect himself.

Four nights later, the gang was back. As if they hadn't terrorised him enough, this time they pretended to have a gun and threatened to shoot him.

The poor man opened the door and let the men into his house. He handed over €3,000 that he had just withdrawn from the bank.

But that wasn't enough.

One of the gang located his bank books and saw that he had €50,000 left in his savings account. The money was an inheritance he had received from a relative in America.

The men told the elderly farmer to withdraw the cash on Monday and they'd be back to collect it. Their parting comment was to threaten him, saying that if he contacted the police, the thugs promised they would come back and burn his house down.

This helpless man, alone in the middle of the night, having been terrorised twice, saw only one option - to flee his home, never to return.

He packed up a few meagre possessions, climbed on to his bicycle and cycled for 30 miles. The journey took him eight hours. His destination was the safe haven of St Joseph's nursing home in Ennis.

The nursing home staff, shocked to see a man in such a state of fear, urged him to complain to the gardai, which he did. Gardai mounted a surveillance operation outside McMahon's home on the Monday but the robbers never showed.

No doubt they had been tipped off by the same scumbag who told them that Mr McMahon had cash in his house. It's now two years on and Mr McMahon, a fit and healthy man, is still living in a nursing home because he is too afraid to go home.

He is not alone. Last summer, a woman in her 80s and her deaf husband were assaulted and robbed at knife-point by a gang.

There are numerous other instances of old people assaulted and even murdered in various parts of the country.

These and the many other brutal attacks against the elderly that took place last year have raised anxiety levels across rural Ireland.

Eamon Timmins, head of advocacy at Age Action, said crime and security was among the top three issues aired on that organisation's information line. Timmins has urged communities to become more proactive in tackling it. He added that with the loss of garda stations and community gardai, people are feeling more vulnerable.

"We need people to set up Community Alert and Neighbourhood Watch, to look out for their neighbours, to identify suspicious activity, to create a sense of solidarity that might deter criminals."

It has taken two years for the McMahon case to come to court.

Two years for justice to be served. The stark reality for Michael McMahon is that he will probably now never return to the place he once called home.

Irish Independent

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