A SPATE of cattle rustling in the midlands, as well as in Tipperary and Galway, has led to calls for a major revamp of garda resources.
With prime beef cattle now worth up to €2,000 a head, cattle thieves are making massive profits stealing stock from isolated farmsteads in the dead of night.
The Fine Gael Party chairman, Charles Flanagan, has called for new Garda mobile units, promised by the Justice Minister Alan Shatter, to be used to combat the growing phenomenon.
Responding to concerns, Mr Flanagan said that the new fleet of mobile units should concentrate on isolated rural areas and prioritise night-time patrols.
Up until now, cattle rustling has mainly been a Border phenomenon, according to IFA sources.
But Deputy Flanagan says that counties further south are also being targeted by criminal gangs.
"Laois is suffering from serious issues in this regard," he said.
"There has been a spate of rustling incidents, midnight stuff. Young farmers are being particularly badly hit. A big loss of cattle can wipe them out financially.''
Mr Flanagan was responding to the theft of an estimated €8,000-worth of cattle from a farm owned by James Conroy at Currans Cross, Mountmellick, in the early hours of a Monday, October 21.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Mr Conroy said the theft "was a serious blow".
"There were 10 cattle in the field, and the rustlers separated the best five from the lighter ones.''
The rustlers were so effective that Mr Conroy thought the cattle had broken into one of the neighbours fields.
"I went off looking for them," he said.
Mr Conroy added: "These fellows were no clowns. It was in the night, the field is a mile and a half down the road and they still manage to leave back the five lightest ones and take the cattle that were going to slaughter in a week or so.''
He added: "I'm at the full loss of them. Cattle aren't insured for rustling."
He urged farmers to be vigilant. "The people who took those were no fools to themselves. They had the place well watched."
One IFA source told the Sunday Independent those involved in rustling are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
"They are not hit-and-run merchants," he added.
The IFA has also advised farmers to be extra watchful, especially in relation to outlying farms.
Farmers should "make sure gates are locked and make it is as difficult as possible for thieves to get in."
"If you see trucks or jeeps with trailers out late at night, take down the registration number," the IFA advises.
The chairman of the Laois branch of the Irish Farmers Association, Pat Hennessy, said the rustlers were "ruthless and knowledgeable", and also warned that the rustling of cattle posed health risks for consumers.
"Stolen cattle cannot be sent to licensed slaughter houses. They have to be taken to out-of-the-way slaughter houses to be chopped up and sold out of vans. The bones are then dumped in out-of-the-way and obscure spots.''