Fear and anxiety stalk the county while the politicians do nothing
In a passionate and angry cri de coeur, GAA icon Eugene McGee examines how gangs are giving the two fingers to gardai as they plunder his native county
Longford would be regarded as a typically rural county with no major town or city bigger than a population of 10,000. In times long past, therefore, it would have been seen as an idyllic place to live from the point of view of personal security, safety in one's home and a general lack of serious crime. But no longer.
Living as we do within about 90 minutes of Dublin, Longford has become a convenient base for many criminals, large and small, who may be feeling pressure from the law in the capital and make the easy sortie to our territory instead.
They, along with our locally based criminals, combine to ensure that no part of our small county escapes the malaise of rural crime that infests the rest of the countryside.
Emptying domestic fuel-tanks, cattle rustling, stealing copper piping, removing fireplaces in empty houses, and, of course, threatening old people in their homes, thereby leaving lasting physical and psychological damage. The list goes on and grows apace.
It might surprise some people that criminals born and reared in Dublin would even know how to find rural Longford, let alone be familiar enough to select potential crime scenes.
But they have 'spotters', local, petty criminals who mark the cards for the far-away criminals. The latter commit the offences and then are gone off at high speed in stolen cars to sort out their ill-gotten goods.
Time and again local politicians and gardai have urged CAB to investigate the finances of these criminals locally who make fortunes and own numerous large and small houses in prime areas of Longford, only to be told that CAB are over-burdened with work in other areas. Maybe they will have to become even more successful at their criminal activity to qualify for CAB attention?
Often these local big-hitters make use of smaller criminal local fry to do their nasty work. The latter are familiar figures in courts who avail of the bail laws and Free Legal Aid to give the 'two fingers' to gardai.
Nowadays the 'Big Fish' operators in these parts are franchising some of their illegal assignments for smaller criminals, particularly in drug dealing which is as big in Longford as in every other county.
The District Court has been tightening the screws on these local criminals which is welcomed by the local community.
The glaring question, however, to be faced up to by law enforcement people is how is it that people who have never worked a day in their lives, and have no intention of doing so, can have exotic lifestyles, own large SUVs, stage massive family events and own large houses?
CAB, how are you?
Thankfully, being mainly rural people, the locals are fighting back. The Text Alert system is very successful all over Longford and undoubtedly has thwarted a lot of crime. Particularly in places out the country where houses can be 1,000 metres or more apart, this service is critical and an added bonus is that it has improved communications between the public and the gardai for the mutual benefit of both. There are plans afoot to expand this scheme, which will be very welcome.
The new superintendent in Longford garda station, Fergus Treanor, is taking a direct, personal interest in coping with this type of rural crime and better-quality garda cars are now on stream and far more checkpoints are in place nowadays.
Money in the form of cash and jewellery are the prime targets for criminals in the Longford area, and it seems there is never any problem disposing of their ill-gotten goods, with many so-called 'respectable' people asking no questions when goods they suspect have been stolen are offered to them for sale.
Changed times in rural Ireland in that regard also.
Despite the constant news about criminal activity, many residents are still not taking it seriously and many obvious precautions are being ignored.
Houses with no alarms or no light left on at night, refuse bins left out in early morning indicating that the residents will be away for the day, and several other such mistakes are making life easier for the robbers, unfortunately.
Obviously many older country people in Longford are scared at night in their own homes, but their neighbours are usually extremely caring and watchful, which is where the Text Alert comes in.
This is one of the built-in consolations of living in rural Longford, plus the fact that being a very small county geographically means garda visibility is more obvious than in many other larger counties.
It all helps - but fear and anxiety still stalk this county and what those people are crying out for is politicians who have the guts to take criminals head on with more severe legislation to curb easy bail applications, jail sentences with very limited remission, more money spent on gardai and some garda stations to be returned in use for really remote areas.
Sadly, our politicians in every party 'TALK' about these things at home and nod their heads, but then slink away on the subject when they reach Dail Eireann.
Eugene McGee is an All-Ireland-winning football manager and former managing editor of 'The Longford Leader'