Rural Ireland under crime siege
Latest attack has heightened fears in communities that feel abandoned by the State and gardai
A TERRIFYING attack on two elderly brothers in their home in Williamstown, Co Galway has sent shockwaves through yet another rural community.
The brutal assault on Michael and Owen Kelly in their remote farmhouse is frighteningly similar to the recent incident in which three elderly siblings were tied up, attacked and robbed in the east Limerick village of Pallasgreen.
The brothers, both in their 80s, suffered minor injuries during the three-hour ordeal before the intruders escaped with only a small sum of money.
However, the attack has left the elderly pair, who live in the townland of Ballyroe, just outside Williamstown, traumatised and has caused great upset among the local tight-knit community.
Labour Party senator Lorrain Higgins said: "A robbery such as this is an affront to all basic human dignity and it offends us all, attacking as it does one of the most vulnerable sections of society."
Fianna Fail justice spokesman Dara Calleary was critical of what he considered to be the lack of interest shown by Justice Minister Alan Shatter and has called on the Government to do more to ensure that elderly people are protected.
"I think it's incumbent on the Government to ensure that older people are protected and the minister is not showing particular interest, in my opinion."
Williamstown local priest Fr Francis McGrath said a meeting had been held in the parish only two weeks ago to discuss setting up a community-alert programme following a recent similar incident in Ballygar.
The situation mirrors that of Pallasgreen, Co Limerick where teenagers are reportedly asking parents if they can stay with family outside the locality, while other residents are leaving, such is the level of fear permeating the community following an upsurge in crime in the rural area.
Just weeks before the violent burglary on the elderly Creed family, more than 250 residents had attended a crisis meeting called by local IFA representative David Thompson to discuss a crime wave in and around the village.
"The situation was getting out of hand and the gardai seemed unable to handle it," said Mr Thompson.
Residents expressed serious concern that in the face of increased crime, garda numbers were being reduced, stations were being closed or were operating under reduced opening hours and phones were being taken from garda officers in an effort to cut costs.
Locals voiced frustration at what they felt was a lack of consideration for the victims of crime while, in the view of residents, criminals appeared to get all the benefits of free legal aid and a lenient justice system.
The crimewave, which saw a series of burglaries of homes, workplaces and farms, is not confined to east Limerick, however.
Mr Thompson believes that Pallasgreen has been disproportionately affected and targeted by what he thinks is an organised gang.
Tools, machinery, farm gates and even telephone cabling were stolen in a spate of robberies. More worryingly, however, were several incidents of aggravated burglary in which victims, including a teenage girl, were allegedly tied up and threatened at gunpoint, indicating that it is not only the elderly who are at risk.
This, said Mr Thompson, had left locals fearful, especially at night time.
The increase in the value of scrap metal has led to an emerging trend in targeted burglaries nationwide and gardai are advising house owners, estate agents and letting agents to be vigilant. Vacant premises are reportedly being stripped for their copper pipes and tanks, with isolated areas highlighted as being particularly at risk.
Mr Thompson has called on the Government to consider closing off the market and to take control of the sale of scrap metal. He also says that the selling of cabling should be prohibited to reduce this type of crime.
Gardai say they are adapting to changing circumstances and are looking at new ways to engage communities.
Meanwhile, residents of Pallasgreen -- similar to the residents of Williamstown -- are in the process of developing and implementing a system to protect local homes, businesses and residents.
Mr Thompson is suggesting the implementation of a text-alert system and has called on the Garda Commissioner to review the research from recent pilot studies.
He wants to see registered phone holders located throughout carefully mapped districts linked to gardai, so that alerts can be sent rapidly throughout the community should a crime take place or suspicious activity be seen. He says that this will only work if gardai are allowed to co-operate.
He said: "The residents of Pallasgreen are having to pay for government inefficiency with their money, their property, their nerves and possibly, if nothing is done, their lives."
Cllr Mary Harty, cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council and a native of Pallasgreen, said the recent wave of crime was something very new for the community, despite its proximity to Limerick city and that it had created an atmosphere of anxiety.
She said: "Lots of people are living in rented accommodation that people wouldn't know. Be bold. Go out there and introduce yourselves and look out for elderly residents."
One man was arrested last week in relation to the latest aggravated burglary in Pallasgreen and gardai are appealing for information in relation to the Williamstown incident.