Gardaí investigate dissident links to pre-dawn attack at property repossessed from farmer

Three security guards hospitalised and dog killed

Images may be of eviction in Roscommon
Images may be of eviction in Roscommon *DO NOT USE YET
Spark: Still images from a video of the eviction of the occupants of the house last Tuesday
Probe: Gardaí at the house at Strokestown. Photo: Brian Farrell
Spark: Still images from a video of the eviction of the occupants of the house last Tuesday

Robin Schiller, John Mulligan and Ian Begley

Gardaí are investigating a dissident link to a violent incident at a house in Co Roscommon which was at the centre of a "heavy-handed" eviction last week.

Yesterday morning, a group of more than 20 men raided a property in Falsk, Strokestown, armed with baseball bats and targeted security men hired to guard the farm and house on the land.

Eight security workers were injured - three of whom were hospitalised with serious injuries - while a dog was killed and four vehicles burnt out.

Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice condemned the violence but also criticised the "ugly eviction" of a local farmer at the property last Tuesday.

He said people in rural Ireland were frustrated at the scale of evictions and "have reached their breaking point".

An incident room has been established as part of the investigation while gardaí are appealing for anyone with information in relation to yesterday morning's incident to the contact them.

A senior source said the pre-dawn attack was being treated "very seriously" and efforts were ongoing to identify those involved. No arrests have yet been made.

Gardaí are following a number of lines of inquiry, including whether some of those involved had dissident links. The attack was described as "well-planned and organised".

Two of the security guards were released from hospital yesterday. The dog belonged to the security company and had to be put down after sustaining serious injuries.

The same property was at the centre of an eviction last Tuesday during which a farmer was removed from the property.

Local gardaí were present "to preserve the peace". A spokeswoman confirmed two minor assaults were reported and are currently under investigation.

The farmer at the centre of the eviction is not suspected of any wrongdoing in relation to the violent incident at his former home.

He has financial difficulties which stretch back almost a decade and include a more than €400,000 settlement secured by the Revenue Commissioners against him in 2015 for the under-declaration of VAT.

Land Registry records for the Falsk property also show that more than €18,000 was secured in a judgment in December 2008, which was subsequently registered against his property. That judgment was obtained by a local company which operated a quarry at the time.

In 2015, Revenue secured a settlement totalling €429,501 against the evicted man as a tax defaulter for the under declaration of VAT. It included €177,000 in tax owed, almost €75,000 in interest, and more than €177,000 in penalties.

In January this year, a judgment mortgage was secured against the man in the Midland Circuit Court by Cabot Asset Purchases (Ireland).

In 2004, the farmer had secured a mortgage from IIB Homeloans, the Belgian-owned lender that rebranded as KBC in 2009. In 2017, it emerged KBC Bank Ireland sold a chunk of loans to credit-servicing and debt-collection firm Cabot Financial Ireland, a unit of the US-based Cabot group.

A spokesperson for KBC last night said: "We are aware of the situation in Roscommon and that the matter is being dealt with by An Garda Síochána. Unfortunately, we cannot provide comment on individual cases."

Mr Fitzmaurice told the Irish Independent "violence won't solve anything" but banks must find alternative means to handle rent arrears.

"While I don't condone any type of violence, I believe the very ugly eviction of this family in Strokestown sparked a great deal of anger from local residents.

"A lot of people in rural Ireland have had enough of evictions and vulture funds and won't stand idly back and watch families being kicked out of their homes," he said.

"If you look at the history of Ireland, the issue around land and property runs very deep in rural Ireland, which is something not everyone understands.

"People are just frustrated and are at their wits' end. I warned a year ago that mass evictions will lead to these types of incidents and I fear that this is only the beginning."

Irish Independent