A young Co. Limerick farmer who asked trespassers on the family farm last Thursday to leave the property was chillingly threatened not to disturb them, or they would return and break her neck.

Trespassers accompanied by lurcher dogs under the guise of hunting are an ongoing issue for Louise Crowley and her father, on their dairy farm in Croom. They have had gates stolen in the past. Trespassers and being threatened are nothing new for many farmers.

“We have always had people coming in. It started off as once or twice a year but it really escalated during Covid. A lot of it was that they knew Gardaí couldn’t come out and approach them during the pandemic,” said Louise.

“Unfortunately, it seems to be the case that I’m on my own a lot of the time when they arrive. I approach them and ask them to leave. Last Thursday when I was threatened, my dad had gone out for five minutes. I was in the shed and could see them heading for the yard.

“During the summer they came in so close. They walked right through stripwire and asked, ‘Do you need a hand with that?’. I have recorded them while sitting in the jeep and they have tried to take the phone off me,” Louise said.

Louise reports all incidents of trespassing and being threatened to Gardaí. “They are usually gone before the Gardaí arrive. The Gardaí will come out, but they are just as frustrated as we are.

“People say we should get a gun, but I would be very afraid to do that. We have heard all the stories on how things can go wrong in situations like that. We don’t want to resort to doing that.”

As county secretary of Limerick Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Louise said that IFA is well aware of the issue: “In September, we had a big meeting on the problem, with over 300 farmers present, as well as the Garda superintendent and IFA solicitors. However, there is very little that can be done because there are too many grey areas,” she said.

“A Garda recently told me, that all they can do is check their vehicles and maybe seize them if they aren’t taxed. But in one case where a Garda seized a vehicle, they stole a vehicle from a nearby farm.”

The closure of rural Garda stations has been blamed by many for the increase in rural crime. “Our local station is only open for a couple of hours. If I ring them, I will probably be transferred to Askeaton, which is over half an hour away,” Louise said.

“I was on the RTÉ programme ‘Upfront’ with Katie Hannon, recently, talking about the issue, and I got over 400 messages from people all over the country as a result. A lot of women are afraid to confront them. I’m probably a bit more stubborn, but I worry in case they do something,” she said.

The dark winter nights make the situation more difficult but it’s a year-round headache, according to Louise: “During calving in the spring, I don’t feel comfortable walking across the road – even though it’s only a one minute walk, so I drive. You are always on edge as they seem to know the names of landowners. Something concrete has to be done. It’s awful.”