Garda figures on crime trends tend to be very problematic

Can we believe the statistics? And is burglary really just a rural problem?

Garda figures on a range of subjects have proven problematic in recent years. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Garda figures on a range of subjects have proven problematic in recent years. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

News that the number of burglaries recorded by the Garda last year remained close to record lows will be greeted with some scepticism.

The public narrative – largely driven by the media – on rural crime in recent years has been dominated by fears of marauding gangs targeting vulnerable people, especially living in isolated areas.

In November, for example, bachelor farmer Richard McKelvey (54) was dragged from his bed in the early hours by a gang of men who broke into his farmhouse at Brosna near Birr, Co Offaly.

The four-man gang badly beat him and his sheepdog before tying up the farmer and leaving him in a barn.

The attack was, sadly, typical of many burglary-based crimes that have caused outrage in recent years. Local communities and other groups have called for action from the Garda.

After the attack on McKelvey, the Irish Farmers’ Association called for rural Ireland to get its fair share of resources.

Lock the doors

At a public meeting in Coolderry Hall, Co Offaly, local people spoke of having to lock the doors of their bedrooms for fear of burglars during the night.

However, according to Garda figures, burglaries fell by 30 per cent in 2016 to a low not seen since modern records began. And last year, while the burglary rate increased again by about 3 per cent, it was still close to those record lows.

But can we believe the statistics? And is burglary really just a rural problem?

Garda figures on a range of subjects have proven problematic in recent years. Problems over the incorrect categorisation of homicides resulted in the Central Statistics Office (CSO) suspending the publication of any new crime statistics.

The CSO is still working with the Garda and Policing Authority to resolve the issue. The CSO told The Irish Times it hoped to resume publishing crime data in the first half of this year but could not be more specific.

Elsewhere, the Garda Inspectorate three years ago found some crime types to be underestimated in Garda figures . Some offences reported by the public had not been recorded.

Theft and related offences were out by 27 per cent, sexual crimes counted wrongly by a margin of 5 per cent and burglaries recorded wrongly by a margin of 18 per cent.

Geography

The suggestion burglary is a mostly rural issue is also not borne out by geographic crime trends.

Per capita figures from the CSO show Dublin has by far the worst burglary problem. The Dublin south central division had 1,414 burglaries per 100,000 population in 2014; the highest in the State.

The top four divisions in the list were Dublin divisions. Then came the Louth division in fifth place – with 846 burglaries per 100,000 population – followed by the remaining two Dublin divisions.

The Dublin Region, made up of the six Dublin divisions combined, had 955 burglaries per 100,000 people in 2014, 50 per cent more than the next worst affected regions; the Eastern Region and South Eastern Region.

The Dublin Region burglary rate was more than treble the Southern Region and far in excess of double the Northern Region and Western Region.