Tom Turley believes that rural crime is the single biggest topic that will dominate the agenda in the forthcoming election. The Eyrecourt farmer attended a meeting in Thurles a fortnight ago, which was organised by the Save our Communities organisation, to discuss the issue. The event, which was chaired by crime journalist Paul Williams and attended by 1,500 people, giving a snapshot of the depth of feeling, the anger, and the frustration that is out there among the terrorised population of rural Ireland.
Mr Turley says the message from the meeting was that people have had enough. “We heard heart rending stories from people around that area, but it is symptomatic of every area around rural Ireland today. It was very emotive. One elderly lady told how she stays up until nearly 4am because she can’t sleep. She sleeps in one room with the gun. The lady said she wasn’t able to use it, but that she was prepared to learn very quickly if an intruder comes in to her home. Another woman, who lives on her own, told a story of coming home from the supermarket. Her house had been ransacked, from top to bottom. While she was coming in the back door, the raiders ran out the front. They had used a crowbar to get in. She’d had a room locked upstairs and they’d used the same crowbar to get in there and left it upside down. She says when she comes back from doing her shopping now, she’s afraid they are going to ambush her.’’
Farmers spoke of having spent up to €15,000 protecting their premises, and in some cases to no avail. “One farmer detailed how he had installed security gates, but the second time he was robbed, they came in through the ditch.”
A gun providing a sense of security?
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.
Another straw poll was done at the Thurles meeting asking people if they would be prepared to shoot an intruder. A high percentage of attendees put up their hand. It is an indictment of our State and the times we are living in that this is now the reality of rural Ireland. Mr Turley says it was an eye-opener “That was the most frightening aspect of it for me. People are gone so afraid now that they will shoot, they are prepared to take the law into their own hands to protect their property. Is it going to have to come to that before the politicians will wake up to this. They are the ones that can give the Gardai the resources.”
Mr Turley is lamenting the loss of the sense of community. “That the sense of neighbourliness is gone. One time there was lots of visiting, now people are too afraid to open the door at night. In a lot of cases, houses have electric gates. You need to make an apointment to see your neighbour now because of the fear that is out there. There was another straw poll taken at the meeting asking how many people knew their local guard- the poll revealed not that many. There was also a poll asking how many people knew their local guard 10 years ago and I’d say the majority of people in the room put up their hand.’’
There were numerous suggestions at the Save our Communities event as to what can be done to apprehend these maurading gangs. “Electronic tagging was one of the big proposals. These repeat offenders need to be tagged, so at least gardai are in a position to trace their movements, and question what a criminal from Dublin was doing making his way to Galway at 2 o ‘clock in the morning. There were suggestions also about the Army being brought in to lock-down roads, if a call comes through that these gangs are on the loose. There are judicial issues around the use of the Army but where there is a will, there is a way.”
He says the issue of free legal aid was something which was raised on numerous occasions. “The idea that the criminals - most of whom are already on the dole - are also claiming free legal aid is driving people out of their minds. Victim’s spoke about it being similar to being robbed twice. Your possessions are stolen, then your taxes are used to pay to represent the person who robbed you in court.’’
There is no doubt that until our politicians and law-makers stand up and be counted, and start implementing some drastic measures that are going to catch these gangs and prevent them from operating with impunity, this problem is only going to get worse.’’