Sunday 21 January 2018

Rural Ireland is refusing to accept being left by the State to face crime alone

Paul Williams (right) with Robert O'Shea, Paul Lynch and John Tully during an Irish Independent debate on rural crime Photo: Frank McGrath
Paul Williams (right) with Robert O'Shea, Paul Lynch and John Tully during an Irish Independent debate on rural crime Photo: Frank McGrath

Paul McWilliams

As many as 2,000 concerned citizens are expected to turn up at the Anner Hotel in Thurles tonight in a stark representation of growing fears about rural crime.

This "monster" meeting was organised by a group of victims - businessmen, farmers and private citizens - who first contacted the Irish Independent last July.

John Tully, Robert O'Shea, Michael Clohessy and others told a startling story of how practically every property in a 10-mile radius of the village of Littleton in Tipperary has been robbed - some several times - in recent years.

These men were angry and fed up, but determined not to accept the lack of garda resources and the Government's neglect of law enforcement in rural Ireland.

What immediately became clear was that this is much more than a phenomenon affecting the denizens of one hamlet on the old Cork to Dublin road.

The chronic cutbacks in garda budgets have hit every police district in the country.

Crime gangs began to realise that rural Ireland, left largely bereft of gardaí, presented them with limitless opportunities.

That is why the Irish Independent launched a campaign to highlight the true extent of this crisis, a crisis that neither Government nor gardaí can hide from any longer.

By the first week in August, the overwhelming response we received was proof that this is a national issue.

The prevalence of the problem in every county in the country is corroding the fabric of rural life and no one is immune.

The men from Tipperary who organised the Save Our Community meeting are insisting that this will remain a non-political forum.

Public representatives will be respectfully requested to sit and listen to the people. There will be no room for political grandstanding.

Over the past few months, I have travelled around the country, meeting the victims of rural crime - and the overwhelming sense one gets is of despair and hopelessness.

During a packed debate on crime in the Irish Independent stand at the Ploughing Championships, I posed two questions to the crowd. Would they support any farmer or rural dweller who used a licenced gun to either kill or injure an intruder on their property? Almost every hand, with the exception of the senior gardaí present, was raised.

When I asked then for a show of hands from the audience to indicate if they knew their local garda - only three people responded.

Ten years ago, most of those present would have known their local guard.

But they have been gradually pulled back into larger urban centres, while hundreds of others were encouraged to retire early.

All these issues are building a mountain of distress and frustration, which has eroded the peace that has characterised pastoral life for centuries.

Tonight, however, in Thurles may prove to be the beginning of an unprecedented fightback by the hitherto silent, law-abiding majority.

Tonight’s public meeting takes place at the Anner Hotel, Thurles, at 8pm

Irish Independent

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