The alarming activities of feral criminal gangs who roam the countryside preying on innocent victims was once again highlighted in unequivocal terms last week. Armed with a shotgun, handgun, and machete, seven thugs terrorised Mark and Emma Corcoran and their three young daughters during a violent robbery, which took place at their home in Tipperary on the night of November 20, 2013. The details of this devastating attack has shocked Ireland and the idea that such violence and brutality could be witnessed by three children is sickening and extremely frightening. Indeed, if it was not for the fast thinking actions of Mrs Corcoran to make a 999 call and leave her phone active under her bed, these criminals may still be walking our streets today and inflicting further mayhem on rural Ireland.
Despite this (relatively isolated ) case where the thugs were apprehended, these gangs appear to think they can operate with impunity with little fear of the rule of law. It is believed there could be up to a dozen Dublin based gangs whose sole modus operandi is to target homes and businesses down the country. Their criminal activities been made considerably more straightforward due to the improved motorway network which links the west of Ireland to the capital in a little under two hours. The gardai are doing their best, working within a limited budget, but can our Government shoulder some of the blame for the escalation of rural crime? Although there has been additions to the force recently, with 550 new recruits due to leave Templemore next year, it is fair to say that the gardai were left under-resourced during the economic crisis. The closure of small local Garda stations has left the people of rural Ireland angry and bewildered, and indeed questioning the attitude of those make these types of decisions.
East Galway based Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has very strong views on the Government's position in relation to rural crime. He is laying the blame squarely at the State's door and is completely disgusted at the closure of Garda stations. He believes the connection between the people and the gardai has been lost.
"There is a lack of gardai in rural areas - there needs to be more feet on the ground, it is as simple as that. The closure of the rural stations has been a disaster because the figures will tell you that €500,000 is what has been saved - I can guarantee that there has been a lot more than €500,000 euro worth of property stolen from people around the country. We are now policing from a distance, nobody knows the guards anymore, back in the day everyone knew their local guard and he had vital local knowledge of the area and its people. I know these stations were not open 24/7 but there would be a garda living in the house attached to the station who would always come out day or night and could be with you in five or 10 minutes. There is a sense of security in knowing there is someone near you."
Deputy Fitzmaurice - who is currently a TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim, but will be running in the Roscommon-Galway area in the next election - wants more resources to be pumped in rural stations. "Take the Tuam District for example, it stretches from Headford down as far as Ballymoe, it is about 50 odd miles. Generally there is one sqaud car out at night. If the guards are called out to something in Headford and there was a robbery in Ballymoe, by the time they would make it down there, the robbers would be at home in bed."
Growing alarm among rural people about the level of crime
The TD acknowledges the fear that is out there, especially among the older generation who may be living alone. "I know a house where there is an elderly person living and they have ten locks on the door, now is that the way we should be treating our elderly? Should they be living in such fear? You could go to the door of an elderly person's house and they are afraid of their life to open it because of what is going on. There are people inside in their beds with a stick or a gun beside them because of the fear that is out there. We should judge ourselves on how we treat our elderly and it is a very sad situation that this is now the reality in rural Ireland.''
He believes the Community Alert scheme needs to be expanded between villages as there needs to be more co-ordination to keep tabs on these travelling gangs, and any suspicious behaviour that may arise. "We need to get the word out to a wider radius of people if somebody spots something. The majority of parishes are only four or five square miles. These gangs are travelling at high speed and can move through different areas in no time."
He also wants further patrols around the crossing of the Shannon. "It is my job as a politician to keep piling on the pressure about this issue. If you think about it the West of Ireland is not a difficult area to police because most of these scumbags are coming out of Dublin. There aren't that many exits across the Shannon and how come we cannot have a bit of monitoring in the form of checkpoints and cameras? One time there was a checkpoint in Lanesborough nearly every night of the week."
Fighting fire with fire
Deputy Fitzmaurice does not own a gun, but says if he was targeted by robbers he would use every means available to him to fend them off. "If your life is at risk, you are going to fight to survive, and if you're facing a situation where there's a scumbag in your house, your first instinct is to protect yourself. If a few of these lads got a bit of a fight back from people they would soon sit up and listen. People are not going to be driven out of rural Ireland, therefore we must fight fire with fire. I am not going to let someone come in to my home and take everything I have, or I don't think anyone else is either. We are going to defend ourselves as best we can. If I was confronted and had to save my family, I would use whatever I would have to use - be that a stick or a cattle stunner or whatever. It would be either me or them, and I tell you it would be them before it would be my family.''
The straight talking politician is unafraid to air his views on Mayo native Padraig Nally, who was jailed for shooting dead Traveller John 'Frog' Ward, before his conviction was quashed and a retrial found him not guilty of manslaughter. Mr Nally believed Mr Ward was attempting to rob his property at the time of the incident. "I think Padraig Nally was 100 per cent right. The man was staying abroad in his shed for years, wasn't he justified by the courts in the end. If somebody has a gun in their house these criminals mightn't be half as fond of calling in.''