Gardaí 'powerless' to prevent farm trespass
Farm bodies seek overhaul of 'wholly inadequate' trespass laws after spate of incidents
Greater restrictions on trespassers and a special task force on rural crime are being demanded by the country's farming organisations.
The appeals follow a spate of incidents with gangs intruding on lands around the country, and the admission at a farmer meeting last week that gardaí were relatively powerless in the action they could take against trespassers.
Over 100 farmers present at an IFA meeting on rural crime at Nenagh expressed disbelief when informed by senior garda officers that there is no provision in criminal law against trespass unless there is proof of "intent to commit a crime".
Reacting to the admission, ICMSA president Pat McCormack said the legal position on trespass was "wholly inadequate".
"Far from protecting farmers and landowners, the law seemed to facilitate the most threatening form of trespass," Mr McCormack said.
"I think that many people will be genuinely bewildered to learn from veteran gardaí that in the event of them being called to scenes often involving a large group of men and dogs trespassing on farmland, that they [the gardaí] have to have proof that the group 'intend to commit a crime', and without that, effectively become bystanders," he said.
The ICMSA leader said a change in the law was needed urgently to restore confidence in rural policing.
A commitment to "examine" the law on trespass has been given by Fianna Fáil in the wake of recent incidents.
Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Justice and Equality, Jim O'Callaghan, told the Farming Independent that the party "recognises the legitimate concern of farmers who cannot avail of the criminal law to force trespassers off their land".
"Our law views trespass as a civil wrong rather than a criminal offence. Although this is a complicated area of law, Fianna Fáil will examine whether steps can be taken to give greater protection in our law to property owners faced with trespassers who refuse to leave their land," Mr O'Callaghan said.
Meanwhile, the IFA has outlined its concerns to Garda Commissioner Drew Harris and called again for the establishment of a special task force on rural crime.
IFA deputy president Richard Kennedy committed the support of the 946 IFA branches to the gardaí in facing the challenge posed by gangs targeting rural areas. However, he said communities needed to see more gardaí on patrol.
Mr Kennedy confirmed that the concerns of farmers had been discussed at an IFA meeting with Commissioner Harris, and a commitment to review progress in February had been received.
At the Nenagh meeting, Crime Prevention Officer Sergeant Tom O'Dwyer, urged farmers "to take security [on their farms] much more seriously" by securing valuable property in sheds and clearly marking property.
He said gardaí last year displayed hundreds of stolen items that had been recovered. However, Sergeant O'Dwyer said the absence of proof of ownership, through an identifying mark or a purchase receipt, meant that only three items were returned to their farmer owners.