Sunday 25 February 2018

Rural crime: 'It's just like everybody here is suddenly living in prison'

Over 1,500 people attend rural crime meeting in Thurles

Francis Burke, secretary of Save Our Community, journalist Paul Williams, Robert O’Shea, chairman of Save Our Community and committee member Kathlyn Hanlon at last night’s meeting
Francis Burke, secretary of Save Our Community, journalist Paul Williams, Robert O’Shea, chairman of Save Our Community and committee member Kathlyn Hanlon at last night’s meeting
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

More than 1,500 people united in a remarkable show of defiance against marauding gangs spreading terror among farming families and the elderly.

They attended an emotionally-charged meeting in Thurles, Co Tipperary, where concerns over rural-based violence has reached unprecedented levels.

A new organisation called 'Save our Local Community' has now been formed, following a dramatic rise in crime in the county.

A number of speakers spoke passionately about a new sense of fear now stalking rural areas. And with some senior garda officers present, they demanded increased policing - and stiffer jail sentences - for the new style of criminal now targeting the farming community.

Last night's meeting was told how some families have been the victims of a series of burglaries, with thousands of euro worth of property stolen.

The meeting, in the Anner Hotel, was chaired by the Irish Independent's special correspondent Paul Williams.

Read more: 'Three guys jumped us - all you could see was their eyes'

Many farmers in the Athnid area near Thurles have been targeted by criminal gangs in recent months.

And a number of families living within a one-mile radius of each other have been hit at least twice since early June.

Thousands of euro worth of expensive tools, and other farmyard machinery and equipment, as well as diesel, have been stolen.

The meeting was told that this crime wave is causing serious financial and psychological strain on "ordinary, law-abiding, citizens".

The lack of gardaí - and crime prevention measures - in rural areas was highlighted as a major problem.

Barry O'Gorman, a dairy farmer, warned that dangerous criminals are taking advantage of the lack of rural policing.

However, he insisted local communities are determined to organise a united front to tackle this growing crime wave.

Read more: New breed of burglars: volatile and dangerous

He described how many families are taking "drastic measures" to protect both themselves and their property, impacting heavily on the fabric of country life.

"For example, a lot of people are getting automatic gates - it's suddenly like everybody is living in a prison," he said.

"Sometimes the gates into a farmyard are closed at all times - and are only opened when a family knows exactly who wants to enter. Neighbours can't come to visit casually; they have to ring in advance and almost have to make an appointment in the interest of everybody's safety.

"It has really upset how we live - and how we interact with those who live near us."

Mr O'Gorman demanded a complete overhaul of the judicial system, saying our current bail laws are too lenient.

He called for the introduction of a 'three strikes and you're out' approach - similar to the legal process in a number of US states.

He said this would "put manners" on repeat offenders.

Read more: Save our Local Community: Tipperary rallies together to fight against rural crime

This ruling was first introduced in California and Washington in the early 1990s, with the objective of increased mandatory jail sentences, for those guilty of repeated crime.

"We need something like this here in Ireland. It which would act as a real deterrent," he said.

"The Gardaí are doing their job and are getting convictions. But ensuring certain criminals receive proper jail sentences remains a problem."

Mr O'Gorman said that on the first occasion he was robbed, a gang also stole property belonging to four other farmers living nearby.

He believes the footprints of a child were left at the scene, showing that a youngster was involved in the burglary.

Read more: Rural Ireland is refusing to accept being left by the State to face crime alone

"Three or four other farmers were also hit; we are all within a few fields of each other. The gang obviously had their homework done beforehand."

In total, nearly €3,000 worth of his property was stolen, with neighbours reporting thefts worth €12,000.

However, despite escalating concerns over crime, he stressed that farmers should not take matters into their own hands, although shots have been fired to deter potential robbers.

"Using a gun is not the answer. It's not in our nature to shoot at anybody," he added.

Irish Independent

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