Frustration: ‘The criminal has more say and sympathy than the farmer’

A  palpable sense of frustration was felt during a packed meeting of North Tipperary Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) on the issue of rural crime.

Held earlier tonight (Monday, November 5), the meeting organised a panel of speakers underlining the severity of the issue.

A number of points of frustration were highlighted by the gathered farmers, with lax laws and cards being stacked in favour of criminals being chief among the complaints on the night.

Issues around laws on trespassing were voiced by many also.

Chaired by North Tipperary IFA chairwoman Imelda Walsh, the meeting featured a panel including: IFA deputy president Richard Kennedy; Garda Crime Prevention Officer for North Tipperary Sgt. Tom O’Dwyer; Sgt. Declan O’Carroll of Nenagh Garda Station; security systems expert Marc Rohmoune; and victim of rural crime Clive Clarke.

Marking property

The local Gardai underlined the importance of crime deterrents such as secure locks, sheds, gates and alarm systems – however, special attention was paid to the matter of marking one’s property.

This is done to ensure that, should stolen property be recovered, the rightful owners will be able to prove without difficulty that they own the items.

Sgt. O’Dwyer highlighted that last year between 300 and 400 items were recovered – but only a handful could be successfully claimed due to lack of proof of ownership. Keeping records of one’s property, including make, model number and other details, was also strongly recommended.

Clive Clarke – who has been a victim of crime six times over – dismissed securing items, saying that if criminals want something bad enough, they’ll take it.

Describing security as building a jail for oneself, Clarke pulled out his keys, saying: “There’s 37 keys and every one of them has a lock – it made no difference.

One of the previous times we were broken into they beat the dog to death; the other dog had to be put down after it.

“They failed to get in the back door of the house so they broke a solid teak door down, knocking with sledge hammers.

“A lock will only stop an honest person,” he said, though he noted that marking property is important, adding that many criminals are so brazen that “they won’t even wash off a marker”.

‘Guards no longer visible’

Richard Kennedy stressed that more Gardai are needed on the street: “Guards are no longer visible,” he said.

“The IFA completely supports the Guards – but they have to get back our confidence,” he said, adding that a number of farmers had lost confidence in An Garda Siochana due to perceived lack of action following farm thefts.

Kennedy said that a specialised task force should be established by the Gardai to tackle individual cases of rural crime with undivided attention, similar to what has been successfully implemented in the UK.

The deputy president had come from a meeting with new Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, from which he was confident that progress had been made.

Legal loopholes

During the question and answer session following the speaker presentations, gathered farmers voiced their key concerns on the law – particularly in terms of trespassing.

“The criminal has more say and sympathy than the farmer,” one farmer said, highlighting that many criminals get free legal aid and are “out on the street the next day”.

It was noted that trespassing on a farmer’s land is not technically illegal, with criminal law requiring proof of criminal intent to be deemed an offence – something that is hard to prove.

Similarly, farmers learned, damage caused by trespassers on farms must be proven to have been caused with “criminal intent” for perpetrators to be blamed.

Intimidation

A number of farmers spoke of the intimidation and blatant threats committed by trespassers on their lands.

Farmers who came all the way from Macroom detailed how they had been threatened on their own land of “consequences” if they did not allow trespassers to come and go as they pleased.

This followed five men in three vehicles taking a group of dogs onto the land, including a van without tax or insurance – with no action taken on the matter, they said.

County chairperson Imelda Walsh noted that the packed attendance highlighted how strongly everyone feels about the issue.

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