Farmer fightback: ‘We can’t wait until laws are changed’

Stronger laws are needed to favour land owners over criminals – but in the meantime, there is plenty that can be done to tackle rural crime, according to Richard Kennedy.

The deputy president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) has been vocal on the topic of rural crime, having attended IFA meetings on the issue in Nenagh and Swords in recent weeks.

Kennedy – who also met for talks with the newly-appointed commissioner of An Garda Siochana Drew Harris – discussed the matter with presenter Claire Mc Cormack on tonight’s episode of FarmLand.

When asked if farmer frustration at what are viewed as laws that favour the criminal over the land owner are justified, the deputy president agreed – to a point.

Frustration

“The frustration is justified – but I think maybe to a lesser extent, because I think rural crime can be handled – and particularly trespass.”

Kennedy explained that the Gardai do have other avenues to pursue criminals through when it comes to trespassing, noting that many of the cars used by trespassers with lurcher hounds often have no tax or insurance.

“The guards can hassle these criminals,” he said.

The guards can do a lot even though the law doesn’t entirely favour the land owner.

“But look, in the long and medium term, the laws should be changed to favour the land owners over the criminals.

“We’re pressing that all the time but at the same time I don’t think we can hide behind that; I think there’s a lot that can be done before we come to that stage.”

Kennedy highlighted that visibility of guards throughout the country will be key to bringing down criminality, adding that – in this respect – there is a lot to be done.

Following on from his meeting with Commissioner Harris last week, Kennedy explained that the meeting was at the commissioner’s request.

He said that, at the meeting, the IFA pressed for more Garda visibility, and better co-operation between Gardai from different districts to tackle crime. This he believes has happened as it is.

Task force

“Another issue we put forward was a task force to complement the Gardai in an area where there would be serious criminality and we would have a task force that would go into the areas and help out the local Gardai.

“That would be moving around the country and it would be solving crime as it went. We had seen an example of that in the UK where it worked quite well.

It would consist of four, maybe five, people of Gardai that would be specially designated to go into an area where there is crime happening and it isn’t being solved by the regular number of Gardai.

“So they would go in and obviously they’d be given whatever equipment was required, whether it was more cars or Land Rovers or whatever in order to stay in the area and solve the crime in the area,” Kennedy explained.

When asked if progress is being made with rural crime, the deputy president expressed his confidence that there is, adding that more Gardai will become available in the near future which will help increase visibility throughout the country.

“I think we are seeing the start of progress in this area. The commissioner did say to us before we left that he would meet us again in three months to look at what progress was being made.

“I think the culture in the Gardai is starting to change as well – there is a sea change, and I’m optimistic about it.”

Mark farm equipment

Regarding what farmers can do to protect themselves from farm theft and intimidation, Kennedy said that farmers must engage with the Gardai.

“The first thing I think is farmers should report everything that they see as suspicious in their area to the Gardai. There was a problem in the recent past or over some time now that crime wasn’t reported because there was no response. I believe there will be a response from the Gardai now and I think you should report everything.

“The other thing is people make reasonable efforts to secure their own property.

Always mark your own property – that’s the message I would give to everyone – because the guards from time to time do find stolen property; and the difficulty they have is they can’t find an owner for it because it’s not marked.

I am confident that there is going to be progress and we will support the guards in every way we can,” he said.

When questioned on whether he agrees with proposals such as that from rural group Save Our Local Communities, which called for repeat offenders to be tagged with electronic trackers, Kennedy said:

“There’s no doubt that repeat offenders and people who are out on bail – something has to be done about that.

“The people who have a number of crimes committed and they’re out on bail – that needs to be handled.

“Dealing with bail laws and all that – it needs to be done – but we can’t wait for those laws to get active on dealing with criminal activity in rural Ireland.”

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