Thursday 21 November 2019

Jim Cusack: Lack of back-up for gardai allows roaming gangs to strike at will

Jim Cusack

THE planned closure of 100 garda stations, on top of the 39 announced last year, may have grabbed the headlines but gardai say it is the depletion of the fleet of vehicles which is the main contributory factor in the rise of rural crime.

Entire rural garda divisions covering large areas with populations of more than 100,000 may have as few as five cars available between 2am and 7am, the time when many of the robberies and home invasions are taking place. Budgetary cuts mean that although the Government has said that €3m would be spent next year on buying 170 new cars, gardai say that 600 cars have been taken out of commission this year because of age, high mileage or damage.

Gardai also say that their job in rural Ireland is increasingly dangerous at night due to the lack of "back-up". Support in Dublin and other cities' may be only minutes away but in the heart of rural Ireland, it might be two hours.

In recent weeks, gardai at checkpoints have been confronted by gangs, and have been attacked and faced down while trying to carry out searches. In one instance in the midlands last month, a Garda patrol which had stopped two men suspected of burglaries was forced to back down when four other cars containing extended family members arrived and threatened violence. With no back-up, the gardai were forced to let the two men go, sources say.

It is this lack of back-up support in country areas, where small numbers of gardai are on duty and fewer squad cars are available, which is both prompting the rural crime wave and also endangering gardai's lives. Rural gardai are also vulnerable in that they are often well known, and their homes and families are identifiable.

There has been a steady and worrying increase in burglaries and robberies, ranging from home invasions to highly sophisticated late-night robberies of businesses by gangs equipped with electronic alarm-jamming equipment.

The worst of the crimes, however, are the home invasions of elderly people, which are apparently on the rise again. Recently, the home of Nellie and May Curtain, aged 88 and 86, in Kilrush, Co Clare, was ransacked by a gang who tore up floorboards looking for the sisters' savings. They subjected the elderly women to an hour-long ordeal, screaming at them and threatening them with a knife before leaving with only €100 in cash. The sisters had to find their way in darkness to a neighbour's house to raise the alarm.

In the early Nineties, there were similar attacks on the homes of elderly people in isolated areas over a period of about two years, until gardai secured convictions. The recurrence of such robberies is almost certain to lead to deaths, gardai say.

The gangs involved are usually younger criminals, often, gardai say, from the Traveller community. Gardai say the gangs, who are stealing everything from diesel to farm equipment and scrap metal, are at the start of a trajectory to bigger crimes.

The more lucrative crimes involve late night smash-and-grab robberies of shops and businesses in rural areas. Last month, gardai seized hi-tech equipment for use in blocking alarm signals after three men, two with known criminal associations, were stopped at Dublin airport on their way back from China.

The seizures of the equipment came as gardai were investigating a nationwide wave of robberies of shops and warehouses where hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of euro worth of mobile phones were stolen in late-night heists in recent months. There is clear evidence in several cases that the robbers used electronic jammers to neutralise the alarm systems.

Late-night robberies of mobile phones shops have taken place in Ashbourne, Co Meath, where the same shop was robbed on August 20 and September 22; a phone shop in New Ross, Co Wexford, on October 2; one at the M1 Retail Park in Drogheda was robbed in August and September; one in Enniscorthy, Co Wexford on September 26; one in Carrick-on-Shannon on November 11; another attempted robbery which was interrupted in Roscommon on September 27; two shops robbed in Dundalk; another in Ardee, Co Louth and one in Limerick.

In a robbery in Roscommon on August 30, the thieves lifted a heavy manhole cover and cut phone lines to nearby shops. They then smashed their way in with the manhole cover and stole a large number of mobile phones.

Gardai believe that gangs from the settled and travelling communities were involved. They are also investigating links to a Nigerian gang here which specialises in the handling of stolen mobile phones. It is believed a large proportion of the stolen iPhones were sent to Nigeria where they are believed to achieve higher prices. They are also investigating Eastern European gangs of Roma gypsies who they believe now have links to gangs from the Irish Traveller community.

The high volume of robberies is likely to make law and order a key political issue in rural areas, particularly if there is a fatal incident arising from one of the raids.

There were signs last week of community and local political opposition to the station closures becoming organised.

Seamus Boland of Irish Rural Link described the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, as "condescending" in his attitude to concerns of a rural population beset by marauding gangs of robbers.

The secretary of the West Cork Communities Alliance, Margaret Peters, said the organisation would do all in its power to oppose the planned closures of 100 rural Garda stations nationwide, including the west Cork stations of Adrigole and Ballinspittle. Margaret Peters said: "These closures will strike a cruel blow, particularly to rural areas, where the community garda plays a pivotal role in keeping crime rates low."

However, in the past 10 years, rural crime rates have been steadily on the increase. In fact, the figures have risen by 60 per cent compared with 35 per cent for the country as a whole.

She said many national organisations including the Garda Representative Association, Muintir na Tire, Irish Rural Link and the ICSA have spoken out strongly against these station closures and called on the Government to rescind its decision.

"Despite all this, the Minister for Justice is not listening to the advice of the experts and his decision to close 100 more stations will have serious repercussions for rural communities," she said.

Seamus Boland, said: "The minister's actions represented the greatest single change in rural policing in over a century."

He called on all rural organisations and politicians to "link together and oppose these measures".

In his statement on the closures, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan acknowledged that "the minister's announcement represents the most fundamental restructuring of An Garda Siochana since the foundation of the organisation," adding that the programme would be "challenging for both the public and indeed for my own members of all ranks. However, these are challenges we must face together".

Willie Gleeson, president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), criticised the closure programme saying: "The public will suffer as a result of further Garda station closures, while service delivery from our members will be greatly affected."

The latest round of closures comes after 39 of the 704 stations were closed in Dublin as well as in rural areas. In his Dail address announcing the closures Mr Shatter said the existing network of small stations was based "on decisions made in colonial times by the British government" when the network of Royal Irish Constabulary stations was set up to counter rural insurrection.

He said that many of the stations were part-time and only had a minimal garda presence. "A single guard sitting for three hours a day in a garda station doesn't in fact contribute anything of major operational value in terms of crime protection or crime detection," he said.

Stations due to close

Ballycastle station, Co Mayo

Kilconly station, Tuam, Co Galway

Menlough, Co Galway

Kiltullagh, Co Galway

Tynagh, Co Galway

Kilcolgan, Co Galway

Leenaun, Co Galway

New Inn, Co Galway

Shanaglish, Co Galway

Ballymoe, Co Galway

Lahardaun, Co Mayo

Blacksod, Co Mayo

Ballyglass, Co Mayo

Ballyvary, Co Mayo

Hollymount, Co Mayo

Quin, Co Clare

Inagh, Co Clare

Broadford, Co Clare

Main St, Mountshannon, Co Clare

Doonbeg, Co Clare

Kilmihil, Co Clare

Labasheeda, Co Clare

Ballintober, Co Roscommon

Ardagh, Co Roscommon

Ballinalee, Co Longford

Newtown Cashel, Co Longford

Ballyforan, Co Roscommon

Knockcroghery, Co Roscommon

Shannonbridge, Co Offaly

Ballycolla, Co Laois

Ballinakill, Co Laois

Donard, Co Wicklow

Hollywood, Co Wicklow

Kill, Co Kildare

Ballymore Eustace, Co Kildare

Ballitore, Co Kildare

Crossakeel, Co Meath

Kilmessan, Co Meath

Ballynahown, Co Westmeath

Castletown Geoghegan, Co Westmeath

Finnea, Co Westmeath

Rathowen, Co Westmeath

Bawnboy, Co Cavan

Shantonagh, Co Monaghan

Redhills, Co Cavan

Stradone, Co Cavan

Corrinshigagh, Co Monaghan

Newbliss, Co Monaghan

Aclare, Co Sligo

Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon

Easky, Co Sligo

Cloone, Co Leitrim

Dromod, Co Leitrim

Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

Dromahair, Co Leitrim

Glenfarne, Co Leitrim

Cliffony, Co Sligo

Malin, Co Donegal

Annagary, Co Donegal

Glencolumbkille, Co Donegal

Brockagh, Co Donegal

Church Hill, Co Donegal

Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow

Ballyragget, Co Kilkenny

Johnstown, Co Kilkenny

Inistioge, Co Kilkenny

Ballyduff, Co Waterford

Stradbally, Co Waterford

Kiltealy, Co Wexford

New Inn, Co Tipperary

Grangemockler, Co Tipperary

Terryglass, Co Tipperary

Rear Cross, Co Tipperary

Dundrum, Co Tipperary

Barrack St station, Co Cork

Anglesea St station,

Mallow Rd, Cork

Rathduff station, Grenagh, Co Cork

Ballinspittle station, Co Cork

Adrigole, Co Cork

Meelin, Co Cork

Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry

Valentia Island, Co Kerry

Beaufort Co. Kerry

Kilgarvan, Co Kerry

Lauragh, Co Kerry

Brosna, Co Kerry

Abbeydorney station, Co Kerry

Camp, Co Kerry

Fenit, Co Kerry

Galbally, Co Limerick

Kilfinnane, Co Limerick

Mary St station, Mary St, Co Limerick

Kilmeedy, Co Limerick

Kill-O-The Grange station, Rochestown Ave, Co Dublin

Stepaside, Co Dublin

Tournafulla station,

Co Limerick

Kilchreest, Co Galway

Lahinch, Co Clare

Castletown, Co Limerick

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss