Sunday 25 August 2019

Garda crackdown on rural crime slammed as 'a cynical stunt'

Ronnie Owens of ‘Save Our Local Communities’, in the Brú na Bóinne car park at Newgrange
Ronnie Owens of ‘Save Our Local Communities’, in the Brú na Bóinne car park at Newgrange
Malachy Sullivan at Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth
Paul Williams

Paul Williams

The latest garda crackdown on rural crime has been slammed as "a joke" and "a cynical stunt" by the organisers of a second major meeting on the issue, this time due to take place in the north-east.

The much-hyped 'Operation Thor' has also been described as an effort by the Government to distract public attention from the problem of rural crime until after the General Election.

The next 'monster' meeting to highlight the scourge of rural crime and the chronic lack of garda resources in the north-east of the country will take place in the Knightsbrook Hotel in Trim, County Meath next Tuesday, November 24.

The initiative is a continuation of the national debate on rural crime, which was launched last month at a meeting in Thurles, County Tipperary under the banner of the 'Save our local communities' campaign. That meeting attracted over 2,000 people.

Organised by a group of concerned citizens from Louth, Meath, Monaghan, Cavan and Westmeath, the Trim meeting will highlight the fact that two gardaí have been murdered in the northeast region, which borders 'lawless' south Armagh.

All public representatives are being invited to attend but, as with the Thurles gathering, they will not be allowed to address the audience.

The organisers have also revealed that representatives of senior garda management will be invited to attend - but they also will not be given an opportunity to speak.

"We heard and examined the comments made at the Thurles meeting and agreed that they had nothing much to offer anyone, so we want them to come and listen to the people, rather than upset them," said Ronnie Owens, the chairman of the organising committee.


"We have been working closely with our friends in Tipperary, who first set up the 'Save our Communities' initiative and the meeting in Trim is the continuation of this nationwide campaign. This is a non-political forum for the decent law-abiding citizens, who have had enough.

"We travelled to Thurles to attend that meeting in October and were very taken with the overwhelming expression of anger and fear. It is a sad reflection on the way the ordinary decent people in this country are suffering because of a breakdown in law and order.

"We have to do something to confront the entire political establishment before the election, because if they are allowed off the hook until after the election they won't give a damn about us," Mr Owens said.

"This Operation Thor is just a temporary knee-jerk, cosmetic exercise designed to give the impression that something is being done."

Mr Owens's farm, near Slane, Co Meath, has been targeted by thieves on five occasions in recent years.

He said: "My story is the same as all the other people who have been telling their stories around the country; the thieves took away valuable tools and equipment, including a trailer and chain saws.

"Around 4am one morning a few months ago, I disturbed two burglars in my yard, who then ran off; they were in the process of pushing a wheelbarrow full of tools out to a waiting van.

"All my neighbours and friends have been targeted on several occasions.

"The situation is so bad that the first thing tourists see when they visit the Newgrange heritage site is a big sign, warning them that there are thieves operating. That is some advert for modern Ireland."

Businessman Malachy Sullivan, who is also a member of the organising committee, said it would be setting out a list of demands, which are extensions of those first outlined in Thurles.

They include the immediate roll-out of electronic tagging for all repeat offenders on bail and a major increase in the number of gardaí operating in the north-east.

"We have already had two gardaí murdered up here. And there is a stretch of the Border with south Armagh which is not being patrolled and the most dangerous gangs in the country can do what they like.

"I spend every day of the week travelling throughout the midlands and the north-east in my business and everywhere I go I hear stories of how people are being robbed blind while gardaí do not have the resources to do anything about it.


"Operation Thor is nothing but a joke - it is only a temporary measure intended to kick the can down the road for six months to get garda management and the Government off the hook and the far side of an election.

"The Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice must think the ordinary country people are terribly stupid - this operation is a cynical stunt."

He added: "Why was nothing done about this problem until the Irish Independent sparked a nationwide debate about rural crime?

"The answer is that the people who manage the gardaí were hoping that no one would notice what was going on."

Irish Independent

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