IFA calls for harsher sentencing to combat rural crime

Launch of pre-election submission geared to focus political minds on 250,000 farm votes

The next government should introduce more severe sentencing for repeat offenders in an attempt to tackle perceptions of rising crime rates in rural Ireland, the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) has said.

At the launch of its pre-election submission designed to focus politicians’ attention on the estimated 250,000 farming votes, the association leadership said communities urgently needed to feel the issue is being addressed.

The document focuses on other key issues in the agricultural sector including restoration of cuts to disadvantaged areas, stronger Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) budgets and bolstering “fair and viable” commodity prices.

However, IFA deputy president Tim O’Leary said the issue of crime and security was having a detrimental impact on rural culture.


“It’s almost unacceptable now to arrive after dark into a strange house and to arrive at houses that are locked,” he said.

“That’s such a change in rural Ireland’s society in the last 10 years. There is a requirement for government to give a reassurance to people that this is being addressed.”

Whatever about the escalation or otherwise in actual incidents, Mr O’Leary said there was a “perception in rural Ireland now, and particularly among older people, that they are not secure anymore”.

Recent statistics demonstrating an increase in burglary rates since 2007 have applied in the main to urban areas.

Nevertheless, IFA national chairman Jer Bergin said: "We are getting increased feedback from our members on the ground, clearly a huge, huge issue, particularly over the last couple of years.

“Clearly, [there is] demand on the legislation side for stiffer sentences, more direct action by the criminal justice system to deal with repeat offenders,” he said.

“Whether that’s tagging, whether that’s more consecutive sentences, all those sort of areas [should be considered] to keep people who are repeat offenders away from rural Ireland.”

Wish list

In other areas, the IFA is pushing for an annual expenditure of €580 million, from national and EU funding sources, on farm schemes, the restoration of cuts to disadvantaged areas and €250 million for the low carbon, agri-environment or Glas scheme.

The farming lobby also advocates stronger EU Cap budgets, targeted payments for low-income sectors and vulnerable regions, the pursuit of fair commodity prices, improved access to new export markets, better infrastructure and taxation measures to improve profitability and foster the next generation of farmers.

In the aftermath of the recent COP21 environmental conference in Paris, the association said the next Dáil must pitch a “robust defence” of Ireland’s interests in trade policy and climate change negotiations.

Noting the country’s position as a “global leader” in sustainable food production, the pre-election document flags the COP21 decision “that food production must not be impacted when addressing climate change”.

Mr O’Leary said he had no doubt the farming community would embrace demands of climate change policies so long as the onus is not placed on one industry.

“Once we get a clear and understandable direction on where we need to go on this global climate change, farmers will respond,” he said.

“Once they know what’s required and once they understand that it is a reasonable approach and that a single sector isn’t being targeted or being victimised.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times