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Thursday 17 January 2019

'Vigilantism will not be tolerated in this State' - Justice Minister 'deeply disturbed' by attack at repossessed house

  • Three security guards hospitalised and dog killed in 'violent' incident

  • Justice Minister to issue report on operation of private security firms in January

  • Farmer had been evicted from same property last week

Some of the burned out vans and cars in the yard of the house which was the scene of an eviction in Strokestown last week. Photo Brian Farrell
Some of the burned out vans and cars in the yard of the house which was the scene of an eviction in Strokestown last week. Photo Brian Farrell
Spark: Still images from a video of the eviction of the occupants of the house last Tuesday
Probe: Gardaí at the house at Strokestown. Photo: Brian Farrell
Spark: Still images from a video of the eviction of the occupants of the house last Tuesday
Images may be of eviction in Roscommon *DO NOT USE YET

JUSTICE minister Charlie Flanagan has warned that vigilantism “cannot and will not be tolerated in this State”.

His remarks come following a violent incident at a house in Co Roscommon which was at the centre of a "heavy-handed" eviction last week after a farmer was removed from the property.

Some members of the family, who had been evicted from the house on a court order last Tuesday, returned to the house this evening.

Mr Flanagan condemned the violence that occurred at the house Falsk, Strokestown early on Sunday morning.

He said a Garda investigation is underway and it is important that this can take its course.

He added: “While I do not wish to comment on any individual case, I wish to stress that violence is never justified.”

He said that the Gardaí are the sole legitimate guardians of the peace in this State and are charged with upholding the law.

Mr Flanagan said they are required to do this in accordance with the law and if anyone has a complaint about Garda actions “they can and should go to the independent complaints body – GSOC.”

He added: “I am deeply disturbed by the thinly veiled references to vigilantism that have been made in recent days in social media and elsewhere.

“This is a very dangerous road to go down and vigilantism cannot and will not be tolerated in this State.”

“While very conscious that the full facts of this particular case are not in the public domain, it is clearly deeply distressing to see a family lose their home, particularly at this time of year.

“I hope the situation can be peacefully resolved through dialogue and mediation.”

Yesterday morning, a group of more than 20 men raided a property in Falsk, Strokestown armed with baseball bats and targeted security men hired to guard the farm and house on the land.

Eight security workers were injured - three of whom were hospitalised with serious injuries - while a dog was killed and four vehicles burnt out.

Gardaí are now investigating a dissident link to the violent incident at the house.

Minister Flanagan insisted the government is committed to helping borrowers in mortgage arrears to achieve solutions and pointed to Abhaile, a support service for those in arrears.

“I am aware that there is some disquiet about private security operators who, from time to time, are employed by third parties to enforce Court orders.

“I recently requested that my officials examine the regulation of these operators with a view to bringing them within the remit of the Private Security Authority.

“I expect a report from an intergovernmental group, chaired by a senior official from my own Department, in January.”

Local gardaí were present at the eviction last week "to preserve the peace".

Gardaí confirmed two minor assaults were reported and are currently under investigation.

The farmer at the centre of the eviction is not suspected of any wrongdoing in relation to the violent incident at his former home on Sunday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today also "condemned unreservedly" what he described as a "very highly organised, highly violent vigilante attack" in Roscommon.

The incident, which saw around 20 masked men launch an attack on guards at a home outside Strokestown, should not have happened regardless of the background, the Taoiseach said.

Speaking in Dublin today, he said he was "very concerned" be the development.

"I don't think anybody likes to see somebody being evicted or losing their property, especially in the run up to Christmas.

"But if it was done on the basis of a court order i can only assume the judge heard all sides of the story and made the decision that he did," Mr Varadkar said. 

However, he added: "Leaving aside the reasons for the eviction I think all of us have to condemn unreservedly the use of violence. In this instance, individuals being injured, an animal was killed, property destroyed. It would seem that it was very highly organised, highly violent vigilante attack.

"That's something that beholds all of us to condemn without reservation."

Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice also spoke out against the violence but also criticised the "ugly eviction" of a local farmer at the property last Tuesday.

He said people in rural Ireland were frustrated at the scale of evictions and "have reached their breaking point".

An incident room has been established as part of the investigation while gardaí are appealing for anyone with information in relation to yesterday morning's incident to the contact them.

A senior source said the pre-dawn attack was being treated "very seriously" and efforts were ongoing to identify those involved. No arrests have yet been made.

Gardaí are following a number of lines of inquiry, including whether some of those involved had dissident links. The attack was described as "well-planned and organised".

Two of the security guards were released from hospital yesterday. The dog belonged to the security company and had to be put down after sustaining serious injuries.

The same property was at the centre of an eviction last Tuesday during which a farmer was removed from the property.

Local gardaí were present "to preserve the peace". A spokeswoman confirmed two minor assaults were reported and are currently under investigation.

The farmer at the centre of the eviction has financial difficulties which stretch back almost a decade and include a more than €400,000 settlement secured by the Revenue Commissioners against him in 2015 for the under-declaration of VAT.

Land Registry records for the Falsk property also show that more than €18,000 was secured in a judgment in December 2008, which was subsequently registered against his property. That judgment was obtained by a local company which operated a quarry at the time.

In 2015, Revenue secured a settlement totalling €429,501 against the evicted man as a tax defaulter for the under declaration of VAT. It included €177,000 in tax owed, almost €75,000 in interest, and more than €177,000 in penalties.

In January this year, a judgment mortgage was secured against the man in the Midland Circuit Court by Cabot Asset Purchases (Ireland).

In 2004, the farmer had secured a mortgage from IIB Homeloans, the Belgian-owned lender that rebranded as KBC in 2009. In 2017, it emerged KBC Bank Ireland sold a chunk of loans to credit-servicing and debt-collection firm Cabot Financial Ireland, a unit of the US-based Cabot group.

A spokesperson for KBC last night said: "We are aware of the situation in Roscommon and that the matter is being dealt with by An Garda Síochána. Unfortunately, we cannot provide comment on individual cases."

Mr Fitzmaurice told the Irish Independent "violence won't solve anything" but banks must find alternative means to handle rent arrears.

"While I don't condone any type of violence, I believe the very ugly eviction of this family in Strokestown sparked a great deal of anger from local residents.

"A lot of people in rural Ireland have had enough of evictions and vulture funds and won't stand idly back and watch families being kicked out of their homes," he said.

"If you look at the history of Ireland, the issue around land and property runs very deep in rural Ireland, which is something not everyone understands.

"People are just frustrated and are at their wits' end. I warned a year ago that mass evictions will lead to these types of incidents and I fear that this is only the beginning."

Irish Independent

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