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Dublin: 11°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Living in fear: Garda cutbacks are deeply felt in rural Ireland

Strong local communities are needed to tackle the increasing threat of rural crime, Darragh McCullough writes.

Darragh McCullough

RURAL CRIME IS not a new issue, but it has certainly been making the headlines over the past few weeks.

Why? Because more and more people in isolated areas are living in fear due to the culmination of cutbacks to Garda resources in rural areas over the past seven years.

In many parts of the country, the local Garda stations are either opening for a reduced number of hours a week, or they have been closed altogether.

This means that the vastly reduced number of gardaí who are on duty in these areas are over-stretched and under-resourced, which is essentially leading to greater freedom for criminals to operate.

For me, personally, although my farm is just 40km from Dublin, the cutbacks to Garda resources in my locality are deeply felt.

While Balbriggan is the nearest town to my home, at 4km away, if I ring Balbriggan Garda station in case of an emergency, I will be re-directed to the guards in Ashbourne which is three times further away, because officially I fall under their jurisdiction.

In the past, Laytown Garda station would have been my port of call, but it is now only open a few hours each day.

The situation is very difficult for gardaí also, who desperately want to do the best job possible, but that is being made extremely difficult by the system that is being placed upon them.

This scenario is echoed all over the country and, as a result, people are living in fear.

About four years ago, my own farm was broken into and my work laptop was taken, which contained all the payroll and farm accounts.

While the laptop was only worth a couple of hundred euro, the information contained on it was invaluable and the hours and hours I spent trying to retrieve data and back things up was soul destroying.

I was lucky. I had a small break-in and things were taken, but nobody was hurt.

Too often, we are hearing horror stories of elderly people being tied up and brutalised, sometimes to the point of death.

The fact that so many rural communities are now more accessible than ever, thanks to the much-needed improved motorway network, means that criminals can get away more easily and more quickly than ever, and that is also exacerbating the situation.

This issue has been bubbling along for many years and the recent media attention should be used as an opportunity to communicate ways that we, as communities, can tackle the problem and provide support for those who have been affected or who potentially could be.

Steps to deal with rural crime

Firstly, community alert is vital. Thieves target areas and when they have exhausted that area, they will move on.

Strong local communities are deterrents to thieves, and it is everyone’s responsibility to create these kinds of community networks.

If you are living alone or in a particularly isolated area, make sure you have an arrangement with a neighbour, friend or family member to call in and check on you a few times a week.

Likewise, if you live near someone who could potentially be vulnerable, make it your business to check on them regularly.

For every community that has a strong alert system, there’s another one that doesn’t, and it is that community that will be the next target for thieves.

Secondly, I cannot stress enough how important it is to never keep cash in your home.

If thieves get a whiff that you have cash in your house, they will stop at nothing until they are sure they have bled you for every penny, and will come back repeatedly until they’re sure you have no cash left.

Realistically, we cannot completely eradicate rural crime. That would be impossible.

But what we can do is take steps to protect ourselves against it and, in the event that we are broken into, do what we can to avoid being hurt.

My advice to anyone targeted by burglars would be to do everything in your power to ensure that they leave your property as quickly as possible.

If that means handing over your car keys and bank cards, then so be it.

They are replaceable and the banks and insurance companies have structures in place to help you deal with that. The most important thing is that you are safe.

Darragh McCullough is the deputy editor of Irish Independent Farming and a presenter of Ear to the Ground. He will MC a public seminar on the topic of rural crime, hosted by Škoda, at Sheehy Motors, Naas, at 7pm tonight.

The event will also be addressed by crime author Paul Williams, and will be the first in a series of Škoda-hosted ‘Nation Talks’ which will be rolled out across the country in the coming months to discuss topical issues in suburban and rural Ireland. Email rsvp@skodaevents.ie. to register for free admission.

About the author:

Darragh McCullough

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