Midlands counties come under the spotlight for rural crime

The midlands counties of Laois and Offaly have come under the spotlight this week due to the “acute” level of rural crime taking place in recent years.

Turning the focus on the area, Newstalk programme The Pat Kenny Show has investigated the prevalence – noting a 6% jump in burglaries in the Laois/Offaly region, according to the Central Statistics Office. Some 650 cases were recorded in 2017 – up 36 cases from the previous year.

Ransacked

The show talked to Kevin Scully – a farmer and business owner from Vicarstown, Co. Laois – who gave an account of how his house was broken into back in January.

The family home was ransacked, with money stolen and the security alarm smashed from the wall.

“This is a common occurrence – an everyday thing – now in rural Ireland. No money can buy the sense of security in your own home.

There’s no deterrent. If they were caught red-handed in our house, it’d be a bigger cost on us than them getting away – because they either go get off through the legal system or go to jail; but we, the taxpayer, foot the bill no matter what way it turns.

“I have to spend money on security in my own home, alarms – they have no costs, no consequences either, no comeback.”

Motorway network

It was noted that the motorway network that spans throughout counties Laois and Offaly – a “labyrinth” of high-speed roads – facilitates criminals with a quick getaway.

The aggravated assault and burglary of the home of Offaly farmer Richard McKelvey was also mentioned, where criminals used both motorways and local knowledge to carry out the crime.

Local criminals

However, Graham Kavanagh – crime prevention officer for Laois/Offaly – noted that often it is local criminals who are committing the crimes.

He said: “There is one thing that we are continuously telling people when we go out to meetings; it’s not always the Dubs coming down to rob you, it’s not always the people from outside the area.

“A lot of the time when we actually catch the people, it’s our own indigenous criminals using the backroads. They have the local knowledge, they know the area, and they’re going in and stealing stuff from people.

“Then when we do find the property and recover other property, we find that – sometimes – it’s the people from our own communities that are buying the property off them.

So, it’s not always the travelling criminal coming into the area; a lot of the time, it’s our own.

Garda Kavanagh stressed that the “best CCTV any community has” are the local people that are on the road every day.

“If there’s someone in the area and you don’t know them, give us the opportunity to come out and investigate – or try and stop and identify who they are. That simple act alone might put them off doing anything; we know who they are now.

Importance of reporting

“If you are a victim of crime, report it. There’s no point in not reporting it,” Kavanagh said.

He added that when Gardai devise checkpoints in an area, they target their checkpoints or patrols in the area where they see the crimes happening.

“We’re not out to be constantly catching the decent road-user, the decent people, for road traffic offences. Our job is to try and police an area.

“People posting about where Garda checkpoints are [located are] rather naively sharing information, because that information can be seen by everybody – particularly our local criminal elements that’d be involved in crime; they’ll see that there’s a checkpoint location and they’ll avoid it.

You just don’t know who else is on the road when you’re flashing the lights or sharing stuff on social media that there are Guards around and they’re doing checkpoints.

“When it comes to fear, it’s a fact that the fear of crime is far more prevalent than the crime itself. But people need to know what’s going on as well.”