It's not burglary. It's home invasion
So, it has come to this? Have we really reached such a crisis point in our society that this is the course of action that locals feel obliged to follow?
The 'this' in question is the news that local residents in Donegal have taken to organising their own night-time patrols to ward off home invasions against elderly neighbours.
The phrase 'home invasion' has, of course, negative connotations – it all sounds very American and hyped up and a bit overblown; the kind of language you'd expect to see from a hang 'em, flog 'em merchant, a law-and-order nut who wants to corral every concerned citizen into some sort of private militia designed to take on the evil-doers. But how else could you describe the case of George Moore, the 87-year-old currently recovering in Letterkenny hospital after being tied up, beaten and terrorised in his own, isolated house.
That isn't 'just' being burgled and finding some of your possessions gone – although that is bad enough – but having your whole sense of privacy and security ripped from under you.
In fact, you just have go through any of the recent stories – five pensioners terrorised in their own homes in Donegal alone in recent months, and they are not the victims of some unfortunate statistical anomaly.
No, they are just the most obvious examples of a pattern of devastating destruction that is known in all 26 counties of this country. Ireland has seen a litany of crimes committed by several distinct but active gangs, which have left irrevocably broken lives in their wake.
With the police seemingly powerless to stop the criminals, and the courts – rightly or wrongly – now perceived as more interested in the rights of the criminal than the victim, it should come as no surprise that 900 people crowded into the village hall in Manorcunningham last Thursday to vent their rage at the predicament they find themselves in. And, inevitably, the local sergeant who attended the meeting, Maurice Doyle, was at pains to point out to these ordinary punters that they must "only use reasonable force" in any attempts they might make to subdue someone who breaks into their property.
Um, define reasonable force?
When one farmer asked just what level of force is permissible, he was told that: "You can only use reasonable force to the level being used against you."
While that may seem as if the sergeant is effectively siding with the criminals, he is actually doing the residents a favour – because that's how the courts will see any defence of property that leaves the criminal injured.
Nobody wants to advocate mob justice, and the idea of people banding together at night to patrol their area is something that would normally be worrying in the extreme – but as the residents quite rightly point out, what else are they meant to do?
And how, with all due respect to the sergeant, is an ordinary citizen meant to appropriately calibrate the severity of his response in relation to any force that might be used against him? After all, it's safe to assume that the average career criminal is likely to be pretty well versed in violence. And the ugly reality is that if a homeowner had to think about what was an acceptable level of force when he found himself in a scuffle, he'd probably end up dead.
It may not be a popular idea, but the introduction of a form of another American creation, the 'Stand Your Ground' law, might help to at least clarify things – both for the homeowner and the person who would break in.
Obviously, the reputation of 'stand your ground' in the States has taken a buffeting in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial when he was found not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin. But it would be nice to see the authorities issuing stern warnings not to the homeowners, but to the criminals. After all, seeing as they have chosen to place themselves outside the law through their actions, they can have no complaint if a terrified farmer shoots them.
After all, that is where the phrase 'outlaw' comes from – if you choose to ignore the responsibilities of acting within the law and the law returns the favour by lessening its reponsibilities towards you.
After all, you pays yer money, you takes yer chances...
THINGS TO DO IN ATHLONE WHEN YOU'RE DEAD...
As part of this column's ongoing and seemingly futile attempts to inject some common sense into the national debate, I'll be in Athlone Institute of Technology tomorrow, debating the motion: "This House Believes That Freedom of Speech Allows The Freedom To Offend."
Without wishing to give away any spoilers, I'll be arguing for the motion, alongside RTÉ's Paddy O'Gorman.
Being a proper grown- up journalist and all that means that O'Gorman is understandably reluctant to share a platform with iSpy. But I have Snoop hostage and he won't see his dog again until he appears.
I guess I'm a hardliner.
Things kick off – although hopefully not literally – from 4pm tomorrow in the AIT...
CAN SOMEONE GET RTÉ A MAP?
The national broadcaster has always displayed an obsession with the North, and a strange aversion to accepting that it's a different country. And so, on the evening bulletin last week, the Northern Bank raid was described as "the largest bank robbery in the history of this country".
Silly me – there was I thinking that Belfast, where the robbery occurred, is actually part of the UK and not the Republic of Ireland.
You live and learn, I suppose.