Farmers blasted Garda management on Monday for “non-existent” response times to their calls about rural gangs trespassing on their lands and thieving expensive farm equipment and intimidating and assaulting farmers.
However, a representative of the Garda Commisisoner Drew Harris advised farmers or anyone else who may have a licenced firearm “not to take the law into their own hands”.
Upset farmers expressed their fears at the Annual General Meeting of the Irish Creamery and Milk Suppliers Association, (ICMSA), held in Limerick, Monday.
Mary Kissane, (73), a farm widow from Tarbert, north Kerry, said cattle rustlers stole five of her cows last Friday night, and claimed it took Gardaí five hours to visit the scene after the theft was discovered the following day.
A tearful Ms Kissane, who lost her husband Jim, (86), to cancer and dementia earlier this year, said the theft left her in fear of being targeted by the criminal gang again.
“My son rang the Gardaí at 1.10pm, and they came out at 6pm, they said there was some accident they had to go to first, and they looked around the farm, it was dark at 6pm and there was no sign,” said Ms Kisanne.
“I’ve been through the mill and this is now after happening to me, there are no garda stations in any of the villages now, they only come for an hour a day now, they’re part-time.”
Ms Kissane said the nearest manned garda station to her was about 12 miles away and there should be more Gardaí present in rural communities “to make the people aware there is a guard present in the locality”.
Limerick County Chairman, ICMSA, John Bateman, (60), from Meanus, Co Limerick, said gangs have been roaming his and his neighbour’s lands without fear of being caught, as there was “no response” from Gardaí to their calls for help.
Roaming gangs are robbing “anything they can sell” including livestock, pet dogs, strimmers, electric fences, vehicles, water pumps, welding equipment, quad bikes, trailers.
“The problem is they are getting more aggressive, and when you stop them they tell you to, ‘f**k off’- and when you’re confronted by seven of these guys in a remote field, it is not funny,” said Bateman.
“It’s quite frightening – if you ring 999 you expect somebody to come to your aid, but Garda response times are nonexistent.”
Willie O’Donoghue, 60s, Waterford ICMSA, said he was prepared to use his legally-held rifle “if I have to” in defending himself.
“If someone breaks into the house, and I’m put into a corner, and they have a firearm I won’t back-off,” said Mr O’Donoghue.
Assistant Garda Commissioner, Paula Hillman, who addressed the farmers meeting, said: “We do recognise the issue that some people don’t feel safe in their surroundings and in their houses, but we can work with the (ICMSA) to provide reassurance, and see what we can do to help build that confidence and reduce that fear of crime.”
She advised farmers or anyone else who may have a licensed firearm “not to take the law into their own hands”.
Representing the Garda Commissioner, Drew Harris, Ms Hilman said, despite the farmers expressed fears, Gardaí “have seen a decrease in burglary right across the country, in rural areas as well”.
She said Gardaí launched “Operation Thor” last month focusing “targeting travelling criminals who commit this type of offence”.
Crime prevention officers, community Gardaí, and Garda TEXT Alert systems, “allow people to report crime” as well as enabling them to have a “partnership” with Gardaí.
Ms Hilman said she was “not aware” of any plans to reopen closed rural Garda stations as “we have community guards all over the country” who are accessible to the public.
“The important thing for us is how we advertise where they are and how local communities know”.
“It is about giving Gardaí equipment, including vehicles that are visible. We have also introduced garda clinics, as well, where people can go to at certain times of the week, so there are other avenues that we can use to be out in communities without necessarily reopening the garda station.”
“If there are areas where we hear people don’t have that information, we will come back with that information and build those relationships.”
ICMSA President Pat McCormack said: “Since mid-year, the issue of intimidation of landowners, assaults and thefts have come to the fore, and the State needs to take note and act.”
“Farmers are being openly threatened in their own yards and fields by groups of men who often are brazen enough to post clips of themselves trespassing and threatening the farmers on social media .”
“If a tenth of regulation and enforcement that’s heaped onto farmers was directed at these gangs roaming around the country the problem would be solved in a month.”