Sombre mood in locality in aftermath of attack on Tom Niland

Age Action urges older people not to be ‘disproportionately afraid’

During its January meeting , the big issue for the Skreen-Dromard community council in west Co Sligo was how quickly badminton and social dancing could resume in the local hall as Covid restrictions ease.

But when community representatives met last Tuesday night, the mood was sombre. The sole item on the agenda was how to respond to the savage attack on their neighbour, Tom Niland.

However, there are fears now that publicity surrounding the case is causing as many problems as it solves, with Celine Clarke, head of advocacy at Age Action, warned against "sensationalising what has happened".

People must be informed about the brutality involved in the attack, and, equally, it must be noted gardaí have raised concerns about the number of burglaries in which older people are being targeted.


However, Ms Clarke said: “It is important that we keep perspective on this as well. We do not want to create a situation where older people lock themselves back up in their homes, as they had to do because of Covid-19.

“People have lives to live. They should not be disproportionately afraid because of these attacks.

“It is really important that we don’t cause people unnecessary panic, but rather just become more vigilant in the community as a whole, because anyone can be a victim of crime.

“We need to be careful about making people appear more vulnerable, just because of their age. That would be wrong.”

Vanessa Clarke, community development officer with Muintir na Tire, said widespread coverage of incidents such as the attack on Mr Niland causes unease among older people.

“But the likelihood of an older person being attacked in their home is no greater than a younger male being attacked on a night out. In fact, it is more likely the younger person would become a victim,” she said.

While it was natural for older people to identify with someone in their own age group who has been attacked, it is important to “help allay that fear, empower and give a sense of security”.

Such assaults are “sporadic”, and communities would feel safer if there was “higher visibility of gardaí” with more “feet on the beat”.

“There is a perception that older people are more likely to become victims of these sorts of crimes, whereas the reality is pretty much the opposite.”


Back in Sligo, local council chairman James McLoughlin, who has known Mr Niland for 55 years, said there is a huge desire amongst locals to help the Garda’s investigation.

Hundreds had wanted to search for Mr Niland's stolen mobile phone, or anything else dumped by his attackers on the 25km route from Mr Niland's home on the N59, to the scenic spot beside Lough Easkey in the Ox mountains where his discarded wallet was found.

In the end, it was agreed in talks with gardaí that 15 volunteers would take part in helping officers comb the area before the end of this week.

Allister Kee, who set up a text alert scheme in the area nine years ago, spoke of fear, especially among those living alone in the wake of the attack.

"The whole place is on edge," said Mr Kee, who revealed a surge in queries about personal alarms since the events of January 18th. "We have had up to 30 inquiries since this happened."

Mr Niland's cousin Michael Walsh said he would be telling the retired farmer about the community's outrage and concern while visiting him in intensive care.

“I will talk away to him, and take his hand and tell him such a one was on the phone, and I’ll tell him about the outcry in the community because I think Tom would be glad to hear that.”

Every time he visits him, he looks at his cousin’s battered face and “and I call his name and hope for any roll of the eye beneath the eyelid which would be fantastic”.

While there has been no change in Mr Niland’s condition, Mr Walsh said the fact he was still breathing “even with the help of a machine” meant that “he is still there and so we have to keep hoping”.