Save our Local Community: Tipperary rallies together to fight against rural crime
The spectre of rural burglaries and break-ins - which have spread terror through many parts of the farming community - will not be solved without greater Garda resources.
That was the clear message from a special public meeting in Thurles tonight - attended by over 1,500 people - amid increasing concerns over the escalating rural crime rate.
Locals are particularly concerned that well organised gangs have targeted a number of isolated farms.
Valuable property has been stolen - leaving family members traumatised by the experience.
A new organisation called 'Save our Local Community' has now been formed, following a dramatic rise in crime in County Tipperary.
A number of speakers spoke passionately at tonight's meeting about a new sense of fear now stalking our rural areas.
And with some senior garda officers present they demanded increased policing - and stiffer jail sentences - for the new style of criminal now stalking parts of rural Ireland.
The meeting was told 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 Irish Independent Security Editor, Paul Williams.
Many farmers in the Athnid area near Thurles, have been targeted by marauding criminal gangs in recent months.
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 this crime wave is causing serious financial and psychological strain on "ordinary, law-abiding, citizens".
The lack of Gardai - and other crime prevention measures - in rural areas was highlighted as a major problem.
Barry O'Gorman, a dairy farmer, warned dangerous criminals are taking advantage of the lack of rural policing.
But he insisted local communities are now determined to organise a united front to tackle this growing crime wave.
He described how many families are taking “drastic measures” to protect both themselves and their property.
But this has all has impacted 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 interests 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, for recidivist criminals.
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.
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 criminal behaviour.
“We need something like this here in Ireland. It which would act as a real deterrent.
“The Gardai 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.
“They hit us one after the other. It emerged a child was involved in the burglary on me. Footprints were left behind which definitely didn’t belonging to an adult.
“The second night they hit me they also got another neighbour across the road.
“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 property was stolen from him.
“Two of my neighbours had €12,000 worth of stuff taken. When you add it all up, it’s a lot of money," he added.
But 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. But I certainly hope the judicial system will change before it comes to that.
“We cannot ignore the fact there is so now much anger and fear in our communities."
Local farmer, Francis Burke, whose property has also been targeted by criminals, said many in the area feel they are being let down by the lack of Garda manpower.