Report on crime reveals ‘startling’ results in rural areas

‘Agricultural Crime in Ireland’ survey shows concern over mobile gangs in secluded areas

A  Save Our Community meeting in Thurles:  report on agricultural crime shows there were a total of 652 incidents of theft reported by 351 respondents. Photograph: John D Kelly

A Save Our Community meeting in Thurles: report on agricultural crime shows there were a total of 652 incidents of theft reported by 351 respondents. Photograph: John D Kelly

 

Two-thirds of farmers have been the victims of crime, according to new research examining criminal activity in Irish agricultural communities. In an era of ageing population and deepening rural isolation, the farming community is seeing an increase in crime and a growing perception of its threat. Some believe this has been aggravated by the closure of rural Garda stations.

Agricultural Crime in Ireland, the first of three reports compiled by the Waterford Institute of Technology on behalf of the Irish Cattle & Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), looks at how criminal activity affects not just individual farmers but the broader community. It is the first time the extent and nature of agricultural crime has been measured, its authors say.

The ICSA believes the “startling” results indicate a problem far more serious than reflected in official Garda statistics.

Damage to property and theft are the most common types of offence experienced by landowners, while fraud and assault are also reported

“They would also suggest that the courts have adopted a far too lenient approach to offenders, particularly to repeat offenders,” says ICSA president Patrick Kent.

“The rural community believes that the judicial system provides virtually no deterrent to this type of crime.”

Damage to property and theft are the most common types of offence experienced by landowners, while fraud and assault are also reported in a sample of 861 agricultural households surveyed between January 2014 and May 2016.

Neither violence nor arson is found to be a statistically significant feature among the experiences of farmers, their families or workers. However, about 40 per cent have had property stolen, and the report notes a high level of repeat targeting.

Animal theft

There were a total of 652 incidents of theft reported by 351 respondents. Of these, 191 respondents experienced just a single incident, while the others had two or more incidents where property was stolen.

Machinery, equipment and vehicles make up the majority of thefts (48 per cent), followed by chemicals and tools (32 per cent) and livestock and animal feed (19 per cent).

Agricultural diesel appears to be the most sought-after bounty by thieves, accounting for one-fifth of all stolen property, almost twice the rate of electrical tools.

While the report does not give details of crimes, ICSA rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock said many farmers did not report stolen goods as they believed it would do little good. There is also concern around the phenomenon of mobile gangs targeting secluded properties.

“They seem to be very well-organised. They are coming sometimes on long journeys because we have a great motorway system in Ireland. They come down the motorway, veer left or right and then it’s more or less hit and miss” whether you are raided, he said.

Mr Sherlock said he believed much of the stolen machinery from farms left the country. Levels of concern were evident from meetings he attended around Ireland, he said.

“At every meeting I go to, at some stage rural crime comes up,” he said. “A lot of older people feel very isolated in their homes. We are an ageing population and a lot of people are farming the land, and their sons and daughters are abroad.”

Criminal assault

Forceful or threatening robberies made up a small proportion of overall thefts, but 14 incidents were reported in the ICSA survey.

Forty-three respondents said they or someone on the farm such as a family member had been subject to some form of criminal assault; nine of these had been so on multiple occasions. Of a total of 60 incidents, the majority (50) related to people being threatened with violence, compared with nine actual physical assaults.

Many of the trespass offences included illegal hunting, fishing and rubbish dumping

There were 73 incidents of fraud carried out on 50 farmers, with 11 farmers saying they have been defrauded on a number of occasions. Such incidents mainly relate to being sold counterfeit farm goods, although the sale of stolen farm goods and forged documents were also reported in the survey.

Almost 40 per cent of participating farmers had experienced some kind of vandalism, criminal damage or trespass (VCDT).

The results indicate a “chronic” level of such offences with “an extensive level of repeat victimisation”, the authors say. Just 164 of 711 incidents of VCDT reported during the survey period were standalone crimes.

Many of the trespass offences included illegal hunting, fishing and rubbish dumping. Destruction and injury to farm property included damage to livestock, farm vehicles, equipment and tools, fences and gates and farm buildings.

The survey recorded 34 incidents of arson on farms (5 per cent of overall crime) during the period.

The report “tells us there is a high level of crime in rural Ireland”, Mr Sherlock said. While the closure of rural Garda stations has been a cornerstone of the debate, he said many were unlikely to ever reopen but could be effectively replaced by a community garda in every area.

“If you have a local guard that knows everybody, they will know what’s going on and, more importantly, they will know who shouldn’t be in the area,” he said.