'Nobody is immune' to rural crime epidemic
Communities have been told to stick together to tackle the growing scourge of rural crime.
Small communities must support each other through text systems and other methods of personal supports, Paul Williams, Special Correspondent with the Irish Independent, told a gathering in Naas.
He was speaking ahead of the launch of the Skoda 'Nation Talks' event in Sheehy Motors last night.
Mr Williams has been travelling around the country reporting on the issue of rural crime for several months for this paper.
He believes the crisis is now "seriously undermining the whole fabric of the rural community" in Ireland.
"Where neighbours worked together and rambled into each others yards and each others houses, now they have to ring and make an appointment, because they are afraid," he said. "In another way, a positive aspect to it is that communities are pulling together. For example, in Tipperary the neighbours have set up an informal text alert system.
"What rural crime has served as is a catalyst to highlight and put a sharp focus on the way people in rural Ireland feel like they have been taken for granted and have been ignored.
"These are the silent majority, the decent, law-abiding people," he added.
"A lot of farmers that I have spoken to have talked about arming themselves with their shotguns at night, and going out patrolling their lands with their guns, because these same people are living in fear. These same people are saying they are driven to this because they have no back-up or support."
This message was echoed by Darragh McCullough, Deputy Editor of Farming Independent, who hosted last night's discussion.
He believes that everyone is vulnerable and that it can be tackled through a heightened sense of vigilance and awareness. The presenter of RTÉ's agricultural affairs show 'Ear to the Ground' is encouraging farmers to use "covert markings" on their property, and to register on a free internet database in a bid to help abate crime and recover stolen items.
He has also been a victim of crime, with equipment stolen from his Co Meath farm four years ago.
"I have had first-hand experience of the frustration of rural dwellers," he explained.
"It wasn't even the value of the laptop that they stole, but it had all my farm accounts and payroll on it. And, of course, I didn't have a back-up, so I spent weeks trying to pull stuff together again.
"The fact is that nobody is safe, in the broadest sense of the word, and nobody is going to be immune to this. The only way we can tackle it is by being more vigilant and being more aware."
He is encouraging farmers to sign up to the 'Theft Stop' online database initiative, where users receive a unique identification number to mark their property with upon registration.
"Farmers are also being encouraged to put on covert markings with the same code. The code sticks with everyone then, so it's traceable. I think it's a really good idea. It is free and it is a way of trying to tackle this whole problem," he added.
The scheme was piloted last year in Tipperary by gardaí and the Irish Farmers' Association. It was rolled out nationally after being launched at this year's Ploughing Championships.
This comes after more than €1.7m worth of property was stolen from farms last year.
The 'Nation Talks' series is a national roadshow which will travel around the country and host discussions in both urban and suburban communities.