'We're under threat... we want this to stop'
The depth of anger over rural crime should give Enda Kenny food for thought
Published 11/10/2015 | 02:30
The organisers estimated that there were 1,500 people wedged into the function room of the Anner Hotel in Thurles on Thursday night.
The hotel staff and observers outside the room reckoned that several hundred more, who couldn't get in, crammed into the bars and other conference rooms to watch the debate on TV screens.
Cars were parked up to a mile away from the venue as men and women of all ages from all over Tipperary and surrounding counties came to share their experiences, and express their anger and dismay.
They came from as far as Slane, Co Meath and Mallow in Cork.
For almost three hours, the men and women of rural Ireland held the microphones in faltering hands to share harrowing stories of being robbed and terrorised in their homes.
They spoke of living in fear and having a gun beside the bed.
When asked would they condone the shooting of an intruder by a home owner with his licensed firearm, there was no equivocation in the show of raised hands.
The display of people power at the "Save Our Community" meeting, organised by a group of crime victims, should send a shiver of fear through the collective spine of the current Government, especially Fine Gael.
The depth of anger over crime might even give Enda Kenny food for thought as he ponders the date for an election.
Having covered this issue in the Irish Independent over recent months, what has emerged - apart from the palpable sense of fear - is a perception that the grassroots supporters have been forgotten.
The law-abiding, loyal citizens - the silent majority - are angry that they have been taken for granted by a Government that puts the economy before the people it serves.
The people living in rural Ireland are justified in their belief that their way of life is under threat and that their plight has been ignored.
The closure of post offices, banks and garda stations - focal points of community life - is proving detrimental to our small villages and towns.
When gangs of feral thugs began taking advantage of a depleted, under-resourced garda force and descended on the countryside to rob homes, businesses and farms, it was the final insult.
And on Thursday night, this huge gathering spoke with one voice to declare that they have had enough.
The politicians in attendance were requested by the organisers to sit and listen to what they people had to say: there would be no grandstanding or electioneering tolerated at this venue.
When they had taken on board the concerns of the people they could talk to them after the meeting.
The visceral public reaction to the horrific ordeal suffered at the hands of violent thugs by the Corcoran family in their home a short distance from Thurles, was still raw.
The people expressed their solidarity and support for the family with lengthy, resounding applause.
Kieran Cleary, the Corcoran family's lawyer, showed his determination to appear as a guest speaker when he discharged himself from hospital a few hours earlier.
Still wearing his patient wrist band, he spoke passionately about the need for the community and gardaí to work together.
And the tough legal veteran, who has practised law in Tipperary for over 40 years, was in no doubt that if the bail laws were more rigorously enforced for repeat offenders, then the crime rate would drop dramatically.
The audience gave Mr Cleary a rousing, standing ovation when he passionately declared: "I want this to stop…I don't want my grandchildren growing up in this kind of society."
There were many sad and painful stories told but one in particular stood out.
Mary, an elderly lady who is living alone, said her peaceful world was thrown into chaos as a result of a burglary at her home.
Her voice trembled as she described how she cannot sleep at night and keeps a shotgun beside her bed.
Another 70-year-old lady said she came home to disturb burglars in the process of ransacking the house. Two years later, she was still in fear.
Micheal Clohessy said his garage in Littleton had been broken into and vandalised 14 times over the past five years.
He held a sheaf of crime victim letters he received from the gardaí after each incident and declared that he would prefer letters telling him what was happening with the cases.
Among the other solutions suggested were the electronic tagging of suspects on bail and stronger trespass laws.
Assistant Commissioner Jack Nolan and Chief Supt Catherine Kehoe - the officer who led the Corcoran home invasion investigation - acknowledged the level of public fear but claimed that the gardaí are making progress on tackling the gangs.
On the issue of resources, they could only go so far as admit that they are "finite". The truth is that as servants of the Government they cannot openly admit that they are under-resourced.
This is another reason why the gardaí should be answerable only to a truly independent police authority, where there would be more transparency on such issues.
The most recent crime statistics illustrate the need for more stringent bail laws.
They showed that over 600 burglary offences were committed every month last year by people on bail.
And it is fair to assume that many of the victims were in the Anner Hotel on Thursday night.
If you have a story or opinion about rural crime, email email@example.com