Time to stand up and protect the elderly from attack
Published 22/09/2015 | 02:30
On a weekly basis now we are hearing of sickening stories of violent attacks on elderly people in rural and urban communities around Ireland.
A particularly heinous case which made headlines recently was of a fragile 89-year-old Bray pensioner, Eva Sutton, who was brutally assaulted in a terrifying ordeal by two men as she slept in a downstairs room in her home. They then ransacked her house and stole her jewellery.
The callous assault left Eva with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken nose, extremely serious injuries in a woman of that age. You would have to have a heart of stone not to have been moved by pictures of her injuries and her bruised face published in newspapers.
A week earlier another 89-year-old woman suffered a broken pelvis after an attack outside her home in Limerick city when she returned from her weekly outing to bingo. The thief fled the scene with the woman's handbag. All he got for his trouble was €20 in cash.
And at the end of August 62-year-old Co Limerick man John O'Donoghue died of a heart attack after discovering intruders outside his home in broad daylight.
I was talking about this over the weekend with a pensioner relative who lives on her own a small village in the midlands.
It was sad to hear her speak of the fear that is stalking the close-knit community she lives and grew up in. She herself is reluctant to go away and leave her house untended due to the fear of a break-in. There has been a spate of burglaries in the area in recent months.
"People are locking their doors early," she said. "They won't open them after nine o'clock at night, and many are afraid to leave their house. Even when they go out during the day for a short while, maybe to the shop at the end of the village, they lock up."
Isn't it outrageous that Ireland has come to this? Traditionally Irish homes had an open door policy. But people who have given their lives to family, community, and jobs, and who have contributed to the country through paying taxes and giving service, are now spending their last years feeling vulnerable and in fear.
The elderly are easy targets for cowardly criminals and bullies who prey on the most vulnerable in our society, and for what in many cases is just a few quid. But there is no sign of any specific measures from the powers that be to take action and protect them.
Unfortunately Irish crime statistics don't break down the number of burglaries and assaults against the elderly. We only know what we hear anecdotally and from what we read and hear in the media. Statistics in the UK, which is also experiencing an increase in this problem, show a massive 75pc rise in these types of attacks over the past five years. Some 14,000 crimes against the elderly were reported to police in 2014 - up from 8,000 in 2010. This is despite overall violent crime falling during the period.
There are some things as a country that we can do to help tackle this situation. A most obvious step is to beef up the number of gardaí on the beat. Under the current government 139 rural garda stations have closed. An elderly aunt was home from abroad for two months this summer and was amazed that she didn't see one garda on the streets in her village or local town in that period.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald recently blamed the burglary epidemic sweeping rural Ireland on the "appalling" economy the Government inherited from Fianna Fáil.
It is easy to try to score political points. She has only committed to recruiting 500 more gardaí next year - way below what is needed to make any real impact. And there are no plans to reopen garda stations despite demands from people living in rural areas.
A second measure would be to send out a strong message to those who carry out violent acts against the elderly that their vile actions will not be tolerated and will be severely punished. Currently 75pc of all burglaries are repeat offenders - so there is seriously something wrong with our sentencing policies.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman, Niall Collins has proposed a minimum jail term of three years for crime against the elderly in the Assaults on Elderly Personas Bill 2015 launched in February. This would be a good start.
Thirdly there is a lot that local communities can do to mind and cherish the older population in their midst. Community text alerts in operation in many parts of Ireland are a great idea. But we must collectively be more vigilant. Make sure that our older realtives and neighbours are secure and safe.
Politicians should take note because people are living longer, and the so-called "grey" vote will be crucial at the next election and in elections beyond. Ignoring the issue of attacks on our elderly could be costly.
It would be great if instead of politicising the issue that an all-party approach was agreed to try to solve the scourge of crime against our elderly.