Saturday 24 August 2019

Rural crime means we just don't feel safe in our homes any more

Locked doors, alarm and dog on patrol. It's my routine now

Living in terror: Sunday Independent journalist Claire McCormack can only sleep with her Rottweiler on patrol such is her fear of burglars PHOTO: Gerry Mooney
Living in terror: Sunday Independent journalist Claire McCormack can only sleep with her Rottweiler on patrol such is her fear of burglars PHOTO: Gerry Mooney

Claire Mc Cormack

I can't sleep soundly until I know the house alarm is set, my Rottweiler is on patrol and my bedroom door is locked.

This is a new routine.

Night after night I end up telling myself, 'Claire, just get up and lock the door, it's better to be safe than sorry'.

Some might find all this unnecessary, but the threat of rural crime can really play on your mind - especially at night-time.

My ears are always perked, if the dogs are barking I'm wondering why, when I hear boy racers zoom down the road outside my heart starts beating faster. But sometimes the silence is the worst. I find myself twisting and turning, with all sorts of scenarios and escape routes already prepared in my head.

Get out the window, slide down the roof, then either run out onto the main road to flag down a car or sprint through the fields to a neighbour's house to raise the alarm.

My phone - I find myself making sure it's charged before I nod off in case, heaven forbid, the unthinkable occurs.

But do I need to be this anxious?

According to the latest crime figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) 176 burglaries occurred in my native Co Westmeath from January to June this year. Down the road, in the Roscommon-Longford Garda Division, there were 122 burglaries in the second quarter of this year alone - an increase from 90 in the same period last year.

Nationally, there were 28,830 burglary and related offences between June 2014 and June 2015 - an increase of more than 8pc.

Although burglaries in the Lake County are at the lowest rate in more than a decade - my fear of rural crime still persists, and I know I'm not the only one.

Every other day we hear alarming stories of people throughout rural Ireland - young and old - keeping shotguns, bats, hurleys or some other form of weapon beside their bed.

Sadly, many of these have already been victims.

Last week, at an Oireachtas Justice Committee meeting, Muintir na Tire - the national organisation promoting community development in Ireland - identified media hype on crime as a major problem in contributing to rural fears. Diarmuid Cronin, Southern Regional Development Officer for community alert said there has been an "over-egging" of the situation.

"All of rural Ireland is not undergoing the problems that exist in certain particular defined areas, it's not universal across the entire countryside. . . the situation generally is at the opposite end of the spectrum," he said.

The general reaction of most individuals in the countryside has been to organise themselves into community groups in conjunction with An Garda Siochana.

That's not to say that there isn't a need to take reasonable precautions - such as locking my door.

However, far more extreme measures are being taken too.

The rise in burglaries has been matched by an increase in gun licences, with 205,000 firearms certificates issued by the end of 2014, compared with 178,000 in 2013.

Over the past six months I've heard many people weigh up the pros and cons of bringing a shotgun into the home. But is having a gun in your home going to solve anything? Will this attitude make guns appear more socially acceptable? What happens if that gun lands in the wrong hands?

As garda stations are few and far between in rural Ireland, Muintir na Tire have smartly suggested other imaginative ways of reducing and deterring rural crime. The group has recommended a crack down on social welfare entitlements being claimed by criminals, a deduction of legal fees from a criminal's benefits, the removal of a criminal's assets, their fancy cars and driver's licences.

"Why should society pay their enemies who are preying on the vulnerable," said Mr Cronin.

Although sensationalised media coverage of rural crime can heighten concerns, it doesn't fully explain the widespread predominance of the fear factor.

The most recent study on 'Fear of Crime' was carried out by the Department of Justice and the Centre of Ageing Research and Development in Ireland (CARDI) in 2010.

It found that while statistics show older people are less likely to become victims of crime than other groups, their fear of crime is significantly higher.

Isolation, lack of control, and a general perception that older people are not valued in society all contributed to this finding.

It also revealed that if worry manifests it can reduce the level of participation in physical activity, social interaction and can lead to further isolation.

But most of all, the study emphasises that feeling safe in your home is just as important as being safe - we must strive to achieve both in our battle for rural Ireland.

Sunday Independent

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