'Gangs are quite sophisticated in how they organise themselves' - Micheál Martin on Offaly farmer attack
THE attack on an Offaly farmer by a burglary gang has been described as "very serious and unacceptable" by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
The minister was responding to claims in the Dáil that marauding gangs are changing their methods to outwit gardaí and operating with impunity.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said there has been "a very significant increase in the number of homes in rural areas being attacked and burgled".
He said people had "listened in horror" to the story of 54-year-old Richie McKelvey who was assaulted in his home in Brosna, outside Birr, Co Offaly earlier this week.
Gardaí have appealed for information on his four attackers, saying they had Munster accents and used a high-powered 4X4 vehicle.
Mr Martin said: "The gangs are well known to the Garda. They have become quite sophisticated in how they organise themselves. Apparently they no longer use the motorways but use the older primary routes."
He said rural communities "do not feel secure".
"They do not believe enough is being done. CCTV is very limited on motorways. The Garda presence is historically down.
"Many rural Garda stations are closed. They have not had the same fortune as Stepaside," Mr Martin added in reference to the station in Transport Minister Shane Ross’s constituency which is to be reopened.
Offaly TD Carol Noland said that while official figures don’t point to a rise in burglaries, the reality on the ground is different.
She claimed Garda cars are parked outside stations in Offaly "because there are not enough gardaí to drive those cars and to patrol areas".
Tipperary TD Mattie McGrath said: "The perpetrators of these crimes are operating with impunity."
In response the Justice Minister said Operation Thor, which targets these criminals, "is continuing unabated".
Mr Flanagan said €3m is available for CCTV over the next three years. "I advise communities that they should consider making appropriate application to my Department.
"I am anxious to ensure that this money is expended, particularly across rural areas," he said.
The minister disputed that Garda cars are sitting unused. Commenting on the incident in Birr, he said: "There is a determination on the part of local gardaí, with whom I have spoken, to bring the perpetrators to justice."