Farm Ireland

Saturday 25 November 2017

Living in fear of crime: 'I am afraid to go down the yard at night for fear of being attacked'

Pierce Malone on his farm at Ballypickas, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Pierce Malone on his farm at Ballypickas, Co Laois. Photo: Alf Harvey.
Martin Owens: 'The one night I was not near the yard, they struck. They must have been watching the shed'. Photo: Alf Harvey
Victim: Kilkenny farmer James Hennessy. Photo: Alf Harvey
Counting the cost: Pierce Malone, from Ballypickas, Co Laois is paying €5,000 in farm insurance after six raids on his farm in the last decade. Photo: Alf Harvey

Pierce Malone lives in fear of the next raid on his farm.

The dairy and beef farmer from Ballypickas, Co Laois has been targeted by gangs six times over the past decade with the latest raid occurring in April.

"I'm afraid to go down the farmyard at night for fear of being attacked. You are afraid that you will meet someone with a gun," he told the Farming Independent.

In the latest raid, the contents of his van, including welders and grinders to a value of €15,000, was taken.

"When I saw the van emptied in the yard the next morning I was afraid to go near the parlour in case they had taken the milk robot as well," he explained.

"They even took the chrome bumper from my jeep and I suppose that's gone straight to the scrap yard. These guys are professionals and they have a market ready before they commit the crimes."

His farm was first raided 10 years when he was attending a family confirmation. It was a house robbery and it had a traumatic impact on his family.

In subsequent incidents quads, trailers and farm machinery tools were stolen - he also had his diesel lifted in another midnight raid.

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"There was about €1,000 left of a €3,000 fill but the insurance didn't cover that because there was no sign of forcible entry," he said.

He took the precaution of erecting electric gates at his farm but to no avail. "They seem to be able to come across the ditches and out again. I don't know who are carrying out these crimes and it seems to me the gardai don't either.

"When is this crime going to be tackled? My farm insurance at this stage is over €5,000 a year. It's all very disheartening," he added.

Martin Owens, who runs a 180ac mixed dairy and beef farm at Crutt near Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, is also convinced that the criminals involved are professionals with quick access to markets.

He had his machinery shed robbed of its contents - grinders, welders, air guns and chainsaws - three months ago with the raiders even taking two of the children's buggies which were the shed.

"It was a late night job. I was dealing every night that week with calving and wouldn't you know it the one night I was not out near the yard they struck. They must have been watching the yard.

"The shed is at the bottom of the yard so it is not obvious from the road so it must have been well planned," said Martin.

"But this is happening all over the place. I have a friend over in Ballylinin (Co Laois) who had his shed cleaned out two months ago and to top it all the criminals also took the wheels from his two parked up tractors," said Martin.

James Hennessy, also from the Castlecomer area, is another victim of multiple robberies.

He had a horsebox stolen a few years ago and last week, the joinery workshop run by his brother John and nephew Adrian on a site on the family's suckler farm, was cleaned out.

"They broke down the joinery doors and took over €5,000 of wood from place and then went up to the main yard and took a lawn mower and what tools were there."

Raid pattern

A similar pattern of raids is apparent in Munster. Gerald Quain, who runs a dairy farm on the Croom Road outside Charleville in Co Limerick - a victim of rural raiders himself - said local farmers are ready to "rise up" unless something is done about these criminals.

An ICMSA officer, he has heard dozens of stories about rural raids in the general Limerick region.

"The raid at my place happened on the longest day last June. I was away at a farmers' meeting and the son was at a Macra meeting when it happened.

"We were only away for two hours that evening and when we came back everything was taken. Grinders, a road tank, diesel and even 40 six-foot posts which were drying out after being creosoted. Can you imagine taking 40 posts which have just been creosoted?"

He pointed to the legal maxim of no thieves without receivers and he urged farmers to consider what they are buying.

Paddy Byrne, president of Muintir na Tire, said they had recorded - working alongside the gardai -a 20pc drop in crime in areas where they have run pilot text alert operations.

He said they are looking at proposals to extend the system. "There is a fear out there. It gives people some sort of a sense of security," he said on the text alerts. "It gives them a contact point."

Gardai said Operation 'Fiacla' targets criminals travelling to regions to rob, with more than 4,000 arrests last year.

A spokesperson said that more than a million text messages had been sent alerting people to criminal activity since the set up of the Community Text Alert System in 2013.

Gardai pointed out it had launched Theft Stop, with the IFA to tackle theft of farm machinery, by marking it with a unique ID.

Gardai said they consider the population, crime trends and the policing needs of individual areas when it comes to deploying officers.

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