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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 15 October, 2019
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Fear and isolation in rural Mayo: 'It’s something no policeman could do anything about. It’s a horrible, terrible thing'

After a tragic shooting in Ballyhaunis, Mayo locals tell TheJournal.ie about their fears around rural crime.

A broken community alert sign close to the scene of the shooting.
A broken community alert sign close to the scene of the shooting.
Image: Garreth MacNamee

LESS THAN 24 hours before Brendan Kilduff was fatally shot in a remote townland outside Ballyhaunis, Co Mayo, he attended a beef protest with the man who is now suspected of shooting him dead. 

The area of Aghamore has been plunged into grief and shock at the news that a well-known and respected farmer in his 80s was arrested over the sudden death of Mr Kilduff. 

The two were friends, according to locals in the town. They are said to have regularly met for tea and a catch up. Kilduff, according to the locals TheJournal.ie spoke with in Aghamore, was acutely aware of his friend’s age and vulnerability. Because of this, he would regularly check in on his well-being, according to locals.

It is now being investigated if his good nature and concern for his friend tragically resulted in his death. Gardaí believe that the man in his 80s thought the victim was an intruder. The octogenarian has since been released, with a file being sent to the DPP.

When TheJournal.ie visited Ballyhaunis yesterday, it became clear that this incident has led to more discussions of rural crime. Locals spoke of their worries that a farmer living on his own may have felt such fear that he was about to be robbed that he fired warning shots in the direction of a vehicle which entered his land.

Gardaí believe that the man, who has worked as a farmer all his life, fired a number of warning shots in the direction of a vehicle which had entered his land shortly before midnight last night. 

One of the shots struck the victim and he was killed.

A man who was carrying out repairs to a local pub in Aghamore told TheJournal.ie he knows both men. Despite his reluctance to give us his name, he spoke about how Kilduff regularly helped his friend move cattle from his yard, and said that the two were always on hand to help each other out. 

“It’s something no policeman could do anything about. It’s a horrible, terrible thing.”

‘This area needs more guards’

However, when asked about the garda presence in the area and the vulnerable people living in the community, the man described how isolated he and his neighbours are when it comes to crime or suspicious vehicles in the area. 

“They’re nowhere to be seen at all. This area needs more guards. We have the text alert system here but sure that’s of no use if there’s someone outside your door looking to get in or looking for money. There are plenty of people in Aghamore and around here that are old and need help from their neighbours. I’ve no doubt that they’re scared or worried about people coming to their doors.”

Speaking about the arrested man, the local said: “He had no family of his own, no children or anything like that. But he has two siblings. I believe they’re looking after him now.”

Noirín Murtagh, who is from the nearby Carracastle area, told TheJournal.ie that the two men involved in this week’s tragedy were friends and were often seen around the area together. 

“I don’t know the older man that well but I’d have known Brendan from about the town. Shocking sad thing to happen. It’s the way it’s gone. People are afraid of what’s out there. There’s not a sinner about that place during the night. It would be nice if the guards could be about but you could be an hour waiting or more if your house has been robbed. I can only imagine if you’re living on your own and you’re that old.” 

According to a joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice in March of this year, cutbacks to policing during the recession had a huge impact on rural Ieland, with community policing described as having been “undervalued and marginalised” as a result.

A significant number of stations were closed during the recession and have yet to be reopened. Members of that committee recommended that more community gardaí be deployed to the areas concerned.

These thoughts were echoed by Garda Representative Association member for the Mayo region, Rónán O’Grady.

He said that the distinct lack of manpower in the region is crippling the area and making it easier for criminals to act. He said that in the district of Ballyhaunis, there can be just one regular garda unit to cover the space of over 20 miles and that between Ballyhaunis and Swinford, there is just one active garda unit which is able to respond to calls. Aghamore would come under the Ballyhaunis district.

He told TheJournal.ie: “The lack of manpower is a huge thing. The county is huge but it’s not densely populated. There are large swathes of ground to be covered and not enough people to cover them.

“That district covers from the Galway border to Sligo to the Roscommon border. While the amount of garda cars isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of manpower. 

“For example, if there’s a guard in Ballyhaunis, there’s nobody in Swinford actively out and about. That’s what we’re against and that’s what’s worrying people.  

“There have been thefts in that area but there’s only so much you can do with what you have. It’s a huge county and it needs more attention than it’s currently getting.” 

IMG_0328 The road leading down to the scene of the shooting - still blocked off by gardaí.

O’Grady added that the issue of garda numbers is experienced across the county of Mayo as well as other rural regions. 

“It’s not a problem solely in Mayo, it’s all across the region and it’s something we’ve been calling on to be looked at properly for years,” he added.

There has long been a discussion over the lack of gardaí in rural areas and news that a number of divisions will be amalgamated together in the coming two years is causing concern in garda circles.

‘We look after the vulnerable and the old people here’

Pat Chambers is a member of the Irish Farmers’ Association in Mayo. Based in Newport, he has experienced firsthand what rural crime can do to an area. 

The theft of machinery and burglary of homes is always of a concern to the farmer, especially one who is a pensioner and living on their own, Chambers said. 

He called on gardaí to “step up” and bring more officers onto the streets of rural Ireland to combat crime that leaves older people isolated and vulnerable.

He told TheJournal.ie: “A lot of older farmers are living alone. They’re very concerned and they’re frightened of what is outside their front door. It’s the truth. We have a great community in Mayo where we always go and check in on the neighbours, see if they have everything they need, especially those who we know wouldn’t get many visitors. We look after the vulnerable and the old people here.

“We’d be very much in favour of more garda getting onto the streets and patrolling the rural areas. We will always be encouraging that. I’d especially like to see them around nighttime when these robberies are taking place.” 

Earlier this week, the newly established National Rural Safety Forum was launched at the National Ploughing Championships in Carlow. It is hoped that through the sharing of information and the marking of expensive property that theft can be reduced and that farmers can have expensive equipment and machinery returned to them in the case of a theft. 

Members of the forum include: 

  • An Garda Síochána
  • ICSA (Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers Association)
  • AFI (Age Friendly Ireland)
  • IFA (Irish Farmers Association) 
  • Foróige ICA (Irish Country Women’s Association)
  • Muintir Na Tire CCMA (City & County Managers Association) 
  • Department of Justice and Equality
  • GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) 
  • Macra Na Feirme Neighbourhood Watch
  • ESB Networks 

The establishment of the forum “is a positive step that will help in the fight to eradicate rural crime”, according to the IFA. The organisation’s Deputy President, Richard Kennedy (co-chair of the Forum) speaking at the launch of the forum said:

Ongoing engagement between An Garda Síochána and IFA on rural safety and rural crime highlighted how dominant the issues of rural isolation, fear of crime and lack of support were in rural Ireland. We agreed that a national collaborative effort to address this was badly needed. Today is the formal launch of this effort, the National Rural Safety Forum.

Investigation continues

The investigation in Aghamore is still at a very early stage. Gardaí are following a line of inquiry that at the time the pensioner had fired his gun, he did not know the identity of the person who had entered his land. 

The incident occurred at 11.55pm on Tuesday in Aghamore, Ballyhaunis in Mayo.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene, which was preserved for forensic tests. 

Garda management said that they constantly review resourcing across the country.

When asked about resourcing issues previously, the Garda Press Office said: “Local Garda Management closely monitors the allocation of Garda personnel in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a District, Divisional and Regional level, to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.“ 

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