'Someone in Offaly is going to get shot' - Offaly's rural crime in focus
The issue of burglaries and rural break-ins in Offaly has been highlighted in a Newstalk report on the Pat Kenny show. Reporter Richard Chambers visited both Laois and Offaly to speak to locals about the impact of rural crime.
Richard introduced his research with a synopsis of the types of crimes and the areas they are being carried out, including Cloghan and Portarlington. He mentioned how houses, farms and businesses premises have been the subject of criminals in both counties.
Chambers visited John Leahy in Coolderry where the Offaly County Councillor and Renua leader pointed out the many escape routes available to criminals around the area. Coolderry is located centrally to the N52, N62, N65, M7 and M6, connecting the rural Offaly area to most of the country.
"No matter what way you go, you're going to meet a motorway, and that is probably the reason Offaly and the Midlands have been targeted. In a high-speed vehicle at one in the morning with no traffic, you can get from one end of this county to the other in 25 minutes," Leahy explained.
He mentioned the positives of the Garda Community Alert scheme which comes at a cost of around €10 per year to the people using it, but Leahy estimated that around €250,000 has been raised through this money and called for more resources to tackle crime.
He explained that community groups like the one in Coolderry are fundraising around €20,000 each for CCTV cameras to combat the type of rural crime that sees roaming gangs targeting outlying villages in Offaly at night. He said the grant system in place for these camera networks are too restrictives, taking up to a year to implement.
Leahy said: "There used to be a time you could turn the key in anyone's door and say hello, but that has been taken away from us in rural Ireland. People at the doors now are asking you three or four times who you are."
"People are ringing their neighbours now to let them know if they're going to call up for fear of startling someone and maybe the alarm goes off or the dog barks and someone comes out with a shotgun. We're not far away from a situation where a neighbour, on a friendly call, and someone get frightened and someone gets shot," Leahy said.
"Some might say that's fear-mongering but that's the level of fear that's out there," John continued.
It was revealed that there has been a 6% jump in burglaries in Offaly and neighbouring Laois in the last year, and once of the 650 burglaries recorded in the division in 2017 was an aggravated raid on the farm of Richie McKelvey, not far from Coolderry.
Richard Chambers also spoke to Richie's sister, Annette Meacle, at the gates of Richie's farm. She explained how the intruders broke in and beat her brother before stealing from his property and locking him in an outhouse.
Annette said the ordeal is both physical when it happens and psychological in terms of the fear left behind and the memory of the raid. "People talk to him about it too all the time, and that can be difficult to deal with," Annette said.
Since that raid, gardaí have set up a new task force to tackle burglary crime in Laois-Offaly and the unit have made a number of arrests. The unit is made up of a sergeant and eight gardaí who set up armed checkpoints and focused solely on this type of crime.
Speaking to Richard Chambers, Laois-Offaly Crime Prevention Officer, Sgt. Graham Kavanagh said that it's not always travelling gangs from Dublin or elsewhere in the country carrying out these burglaries, as often times when gardaí catch the culprits, they are local criminals with knowledge of the back roads and people in the area.
He also said people posting warnings about checkpoints on social media is also helping criminals evade garda attention.
Newstalk will continue to focus on rural crime in a series of reports over the next few weeks.
You can listen to Richard Chamber's full report from Laois-Offaly here.
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