Farmers pushed to the brink by thieves and cattle rustlers
A sharp rise in livestock rustling and machinery theft is pushing farmers in border counties to the brink of bankruptcy.
Well-organised crime gangs with local knowledge and assistance have been taking cattle and sheep from farmyards on both sides of the border on an almost weekly basis.
Some farmers in Cavan, Monaghan and Louth are so afraid of encountering the thieves that they take shotguns with them when checking on their farms.
The issue is one of the topics to be discussed tonight at a public meeting focusing on rural crime in the north-east, which is being held in the Knightbrook Hotel in Trim.
"The counties in the north-east have a more serious problem than most other regions in the country, with gangs coming across the border to steal at will, robbing houses, farms and business premises," said Ronnie Owens, chairman of the organising committee for the 'Save Our Communities' meeting. "These gangs are very dangerous, as shown by the murders of two of our gardai, and we have been told how some farmers are arming themselves to protect their property.
"There is also an element of fear among people in the border counties that if they speak out they will be targeted by these gangs again," he said.
In the Ballybay area of Monaghan, several members of the extended Moffett family and their neighbours have had more than 100 animals stolen in the past decade.
On September 11, eight bulls worth up to €12,000 were stolen from a shed owned by James Moffett. A nephew had six cattle stolen last year and a niece lost seven.
"Over the past 10 years or so, over 100 cattle have been stolen within a seven-mile radius of my home," he told the Irish Independent.
"We believe that this is all part of a well-planned operation where they target farm machinery and livestock which they quickly dispose of. They (thieves) re-tag the cattle even before they leave the yard, so that if they are stopped they have valid documentation and then the border makes rustling very valuable," he added.
On September 15, five cattle were stolen from a farm owned by an elderly couple nine miles from the border near Castleblayney.
John and Bernadette Burns believe they had been under surveillance by a locally based gang who were familiar with the layout of their farmyard, which is some distance from their home.
The total financial cost of the livestock and the trailer was around €10,000. Previously, thieves had taken equipment such as cattle drinkers, electric fences, tractor parts and diesel.
Apart from the huge financial loss, there is also the added fear that the couple were being monitored by the gang.
"They had to be watching us because no one would have known about the trailer except the place had been under surveillance," said Mr Burns.
"Here in Monaghan, we can see for ourselves how the garda presence has dropped, especially since we also lost our local station.
"The border is the big problem and I think our animals were slaughtered in the north fairly quickly after they were taken."
The latest Save Our Local Communities meeting takes place from 7.30pm tonight, in the Knightbrook Hotel in Trim.
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