A GANG of masked raiders locked a terrified woman in her bathroom with her dog after they escaped with thousands of euro in cash and cigarettes from her business.
Four masked men, armed with crowbars, forced their way into the rural home of Shirley Bergin (50), in Cullahill, near Durrow, Co Laois, at 11pm on Monday.
The raiders, who had Dublin accents, then ordered Mrs Bergin to open Bergin's Cullahill Service Station, which is adjacent to her home.
The raiders took cash, but it is understood that cigarettes made up the majority of their haul. They later returned to the family home where they imprisoned the victim in a bathroom. She was traumatised but escaped physical injury.
It's understood her husband, Paschal Bergin, had gone to buy a ticket in a lottery draw in the local pub when the men broke in. Mrs Bergin eventually freed herself and alerted gardai.
Gardai are conducting inquiries and reviewing CCTV footage as part of the probe.
They believe the four men escaped in a black Audi A4 in the direction of Abbeyleix at about 11.50pm.
The raiders are thought to have carried out surveillance on the premises prior to the raid. They knew that Mr Bergin was out at the time and the gang avoided domestic CCTV cameras by approaching from fields to the rear of the house.
The four men cut a neighbour's wire fence before forcibly entering the property through a back patio door.
Although Mrs Bergin and her husband declined to comment on the robbery yesterday, staff restocking cigarettes at the service station said "everyone is shaken" by the events.
Laois Fine Gael councillor John Bonham labelled the culprits "thugs".
He said: "Times are hard enough without this kind of terrorism being inflicted. Maybe it's time to go back to what is done in the Isle of Man -- stripping and whipping."
He described Cullahill as a "small local farming community, a great community, a close- knit community of decent people". Mr Bonham said he would be calling Justice Minister Alan Shatter to introduce emergency legislation as there "needs to be an example made of these people".
Gardai are appealing to anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the Cullahill area to contact Abbeyleix garda station on 057 8730580.