Fear far outstrips reality of violent burglary statistics

Proposed sentencing guidelines a response to inordinate concern created by high-profile cases

Dubliner Thomas Flynn outside Cashel District Court in 2013. He and six others terrorised a family in Co Tipperary during a violent burglary that year.  Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Dubliner Thomas Flynn outside Cashel District Court in 2013. He and six others terrorised a family in Co Tipperary during a violent burglary that year. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

 

If there’s a poster boy for thugs preying on people in their own homes in rural Ireland, it has to be Dubliner Thomas Flynn.

From Moatview Avenue in Coolock; Flynn’s scream was captured by Press 22’s Liam Burke outside a court appearance in 2013.

He was part of a seven-man gang, armed with guns and a machete, that broke into the home of the Corcoran family in Co Tipperary in November 2013, and terrorised them during a violent burglary.

The Corcoran children were aged eight, six and two at the time. Their screams could be heard down the line when the family managed to call 999.

John Corcoran, their father, was taken from his bed and struck in the face with the butt of a gun, leaving him with a shattered eye-socket.The gang told the couple “we’ll kill your f***ing children” unless they produced money for them.

The gang members were caught and jailed for between 12 and 20 years. It took two years to get to court and some of their sentences were reduced on appeal, developments some members of the public find hard to understand.

The DPP has now asked the Court of Appeal to set down sentencing guidelines for violent burglary cases; the sort that have some in rural Ireland living in fear.

There is a dearth of information about the frequency of these kinds of crimes in the State, with burglaries involving violence or the threat of violence contained in the aggravated burglary category in official crime statistics.

Between 2003 and 2014 the number of offences nationally ranged from 270 to 370 a year but there is no clear long-term pattern. The only exception was 2016, the last year for which figures were available, when some 215 aggravated burglaries were recorded, the lowest since the Central Statistics Office (CSO) began compiling crime statistics. That drop flies in the face of the widely held view that people being terrorised in their homes is a regular occurrence.

Using the 2014 crime statistics and population figures the CSO determined the average burglary rate across the State was 599 crimes per 100,000 people per year. These are regular burglaries, rather than aggravated ones.

Of the 22 Garda divisions outside Dublin, 14 had a burglary rate below the national average. All six Dublin divisions were above that average with the south central and north central divisions recording a rate more than twice the norm.

If burglaries are falling, except for in Dublin, what has created a belief that rural Ireland is in the grip of a violent burglary epidemic?

It is hard to say but it could be fear of crime rather than crime itself.

Garda public attitude surveys have consistently shown a very low belief among Irish people that crime is a serious problem in their locality but they strongly believe crime is a very serious problem nationally.

In the third quarter of last year, for example, just 3 per cent of people believed crime was “a very serious problem” in their locality. While 31 per cent of the same sample believed crime nationally was “a very serious problem”.

The DPP now appears to be asking the courts to reflect the reality – that fear of falling victim to aggravated burglary, and not just crime itself, undermines people’s wellbeing. It clearly believes those who create that fear need to pay for it.