Rural crime: Where fear and alarmism meet

There is certainly room for more efficient, effective police work. But a climate of fear is in nobody’s interests

 

Few crimes attract more public opprobrium than assaults on older people in their homes. Physical injuries inflicted on vulnerable people during the course of burglaries is bad enough, but the long-term effects on these victims can be horrendous as they find it difficult, or even impossible, to return to their homes and feel safe again. Such crimes are relatively rare but they have a corrosive effect on society in general and on the quality of life of people living alone in urban and in isolated rural areas.

The murder of 78-year-old Rose Hanrahan during a break-in at her home in Limerick city last week was an extreme event and is currently being investigated by the Garda Síochána. A successful prosecution in the case may, however, do little to reduce the fear generated among her neighbours by the realisation that an individual or individuals in the community could do such as thing. During the past year, a number of older people have been subjected to serious assaults and extreme verbal threats during the course of burglaries. In spite of alarmist publicity, most of these have occurred in urban areas.

During the last general election campaign, rural crime and the closure of more than 300 Garda stations in 2013/2014 became a major issue. Negotiations on a programme for government brought a commitment to reopen six stations. Subsequently, crime rates in those areas were shown to have fallen. Similarly, political talk about soaring crime rates and an upsurge in violent rural burglaries proved to be unfounded. Research by the Waterford Institute of Technology showed that violent crime was not a “significant feature” and that most offences involved vandalism and the theft of machinery, livestock and agricultural diesel.

The notion of city criminals using motorways and high-speed vehicles to target the occupants of isolated farmhouses has grabbed the public’s attention on both sides of the Border because of extensive thefts of machinery and livestock. It has led to demands for the installation of CCTV cameras on motorways to automatically record vehicle plate numbers and for the electronic tagging of repeat offenders. A Government pledge to make €1 million available for community CCTV schemes here is at present being examined on grounds of legality by the Data Protection Commissioner.

A fall in the number of gardaí and changes in society have contributed to greater anxiety in rural areas and amongst older people. But exaggerated claims concerning their vulnerability and crime rates causes further damage. The statistical reality is that, in spite of recent dreadful events, the incidence of burglaries has fallen dramatically. There is certainly room for more efficient, effective police work. But a climate of fear is in nobody’s interests.

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