Call for rural dwellers to be proactive in reporting suspicious activity

Rural dwellers need to be more proactive in reporting any suspicions of criminal activity, according to Joe Parlon, former Offaly Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) chairman who chairs Community Alert in Aghancon, part of the Coolderry parish.

Parlon also chairs the local men’s group in which Richard McKelvey, the farmer who was recently attacked and robbed by a gang at his home, is involved. A recent meeting held in response to the savage attack highlighted the “shocking fear” that is evident in the area, he said.

Richie was locked in his bedroom at the time of the attack. It is like being in jail. I know of another couple where the woman is afraid to go out for fuel at night because she is terrified. People are prisoners in their own homes.

Parlon called for more joined up thinking in rural areas, particularly in linking Community Alert areas. “We are on a border area, with three Community Alert schemes. We get text alerts as far as Edenderry, which is 60 to 65 miles away, but not for Roscrea, which is four miles down the road,” he said.

While suggestions had surfaced around the country that night patrols should be introduced on rural roads, Parlon said he wouldn’t be in favour of that. “The Gardai are completely against that and I am against that,” he said.

“I am calling on people to support the Gardai more and report anything that they think is suspicious. During the past week we had a robbery and the vehicle involved was seen that day. The people thought it looked a bit suspicious but didn’t take its number, nor ring the Gardai. They forgot about it.”

Parlon said that people would have to take a more co-operative approach to combating crime in rural areas.

The chief superintendent attended a meeting locally and had a document with him indicating that only one crime had been reported in the area in the last 12 months. I had drawn up a list showing that 32 people had been robbed in the last three years.

If people don’t make people aware of criminal activity in their areas, the Gardai will not be in a position to allocate resources, Parlon said. He welcomed the recent announcement of a Garda task force to tackle rural crime and said that CCTV cameras at key junctions could assist in a crackdown on crime.

While welcoming the funding for community CCTV, he contended that the application process is a “red tape nightmare”, requiring sign-off by the Garda commissioner.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said there are no delays on the department’s side in relation to the CCTV grant aid scheme which was launched in April 2017 to assist community groups in the establishment of CCTV systems in their local areas.

Under the scheme, eligible community groups can apply for grant-aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed CCTV system, up to a maximum grant of €40,000.

On approval of the grant, the applicant will receive an up-front payment of 50% of the grant, with the balance to be paid when the system is fully operational.

“This scheme is based extensively on the previous grant-aid scheme operated by Pobal on behalf of this department between 2005 and 2013 under which some 45 community-based CCTV systems were established, operating in a mix of urban and rural environments,” said the spokesperson.

Among its key requirements, these CCTV schemes must:
  • be approved by the local joint policing committee;
  • have the prior support of the relevant local authority, which must also act as data controller, as set out in the Garda Siochana (CCTV) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 289 of 2006), for the establishment of community CCTV systems generally; and
  • have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner, in accordance with Section 38 of the Garda Siochana Act 2005.

“Unfortunately, the number of applications received to date is well below expectations. To date, six applications have been received, in addition to a significant number of inquiries about the scheme.

“As these applications were incomplete, they were returned to the applicants concerned to enable them to provide the information necessary to qualify for grant aid,” said the department spokesperson.

“Guidance is available to help local groups in both rural and urban areas to apply for this important funding and the department is keen to ensure that groups take full advantage of the availability of this funding.”