RTÉ's Miriam O'Callaghan in Offaly to speak with victims of rural gang crime
Miriam O'Callaghan visited Offaly on Thursday night as RTÉ's Prime Time focused on rural crime and the decision of communities to take matters into their own hands to fend off gangs.
The broadcaster was in Coolderry, close to the area where Richie McKelvey was badly beaten with iron bars by a vicious gang on November 4. Ahead of her live interviews with local people, the programme featured a piece by a reporter who visited Cavan and Tipperary.
In Cavan local people have taken it upon themselves to mount patrols to police their own areas. Reporter Fran McNulty found that people in Cavan say that the local station can be an hour away and it was the only way people felt they could respond. They set up the Swanlinbar Protection Group.
Sean McMahon of the Anglo Celt newspaper said that there is now 'zero crime' in Swanlinbar in west Cavan. He said it was more about crime prevention. He said there have been inquires from other parts of Ireland to find out how people have responded.
"They must be doing something right if crime has evaporated," he said.
RTÉ reported that the Ballyconnell station was now only open part-time. It was also reported that 10 garda stations have closed in Cavan, Monaghan and Leitrim in recent years.
This was contrasted to Stepaside Garda Station in Dublin which is to be reopened following the intervention of Minister Shane Ross. Two garda stations are located 10 minutes from Stepaside.
RTÉ also visited Michael Sheehan, an agricultural contractor in Clonmel who has been a victim of crime.
"People will start taking the law into their own hands and that is not going to be a nice situation," he said.
Another local said that somebody is going to assault a raider because of the level of crime but John Sheehan said farmers would have no choice but to come together.
Speaking to Miriam O'Callaghan in Offaly, Joe Parlon, IFA treasurer, said Richie McKelvey was a 'prisoner in his own house.'
"There is huge fear out there," he said.
Mr Parlon went on to say that people have started bringing shotguns to the bedrooms because of the fear. He welcomed the setting up of a Garda taskforce for Laois-Offaly.
Tom Standish, a local businessman said he had been broken into 12 times in the past five years and has problems getting insurance. He said the crime 'only came when the motorways came'. He said cameras will have to be placed at the motorway exits. He recommended that people not use shotguns.
"It would make matters worse," he said. He added that people use personal alarms.
He said the nearest garda station closes at 9am in Roscrea which means gardaí have to be called from Portlaoise or Abbeyleix.
Aishling Meehan, an agricultural solicitor, said the lack of reporting means the full extent of crime is not apparent. She said it takes something like the attack on Mr McKelvey to happen for things to change.
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan was interviewed in the RTÉ studios later in the programme. He said he knew the people of south Offaly and has visited Cavan and said people are not right to take the law into their own hands.
"I really don't believe that the best way to go about this is to set up groups that are almost paralegal," he said.
He admitted that the State must give a better response to rural crime.
"I am not satisfied that we are doing enough," he said.
He asked rural communities to work 'in harmony' with the gardaí.
He said rural crime was one of the first issues he discussed with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar when appointed justice minister.
Asked about the reopening of Stepaside Garda station he said rural and urban stations were not a 'like for like'. He said rural garda stations were not the 'exclusive answer' to crime.
He pointed to increased numbers in the garda reserve as something that would help.
He agreed that the policing of rural gangs should be intensified in line with the efforts made by gardaí in bringing to an end the Kinahan Hutch feud.
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