Countryside 'could be turned into prison camp' due to farmers' crime fears
Ireland's countryside could be transformed into a "prison camp" because of a siege mentality taking grip among farmers, it has been warned.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) told a parliamentary watchdog that electric gates, CCTV cameras and other security measures are being erected "all over the place" over fears of marauding criminals targeting rural homes.
Eddie Downey, the IFA's president, said break-ins in the countryside are not only devastating families but are having a ripple effect right throughout entire communities.
"There is an almost siege mentality in rural Ireland now," he told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.
"When you switch on your alarm at night, you feel not quite like you're in a prison but that you are locked in here, it is creating a real fear factor.
"Electric gates are going up all over the place, CCTV cameras everywhere.
"It is an absolutely genuine fear."
The IFA represents 90,000 farmers throughout the republic.
Mr Downey said his organisation was extremely worried about reports of farmers going to bed with shotguns.
"That's very worrying for us, the idea that people would live like that, it is extremely worrying," he told TDs and senators investigating the scale of rural crime.
"If we don't address these issues, it is going to lead to a situation we don't want to see developing.
"We would certainly be very worried that people would take the wrong action at particular times."
Mr Downey said the IFA also found it frustrating that repeat offenders were getting out of custody on bail.
Some career criminals were treated before the courts as if their 100th crime was their first, he told the hearing.
"There has to be some form of ratcheting up here, so repeat offenders have to be dealt with more severely," he added.
Jer Bergin, IFA national treasurer, said there had to be solutions to a perceived rural crime wave other than technological security measures.
"The way forward is not turning Ireland into a prison camp," he said.
"We want to avoid that."
Mr Bergin said the problem was cross-border but while there has been some co-operation between the jurisdictions more needs to be done.
Increasing theft of livestock and equipment can be financially devastating to small farms around the country, said Mr Downey.
There have been 48 reported cases of cattle rustling, one of those in Westmeath involving as many as 100 cattle, he told the parliamentary watchdog.
While he accepted the numbers were not huge, he added such thefts had the potential to wipe out a small farm, as well as wreak havoc with the country's traceability system.
Criminals involved in the rustling must have in-depth livestock knowledge to deal with and dispose of the cattle, he added.
The IFA is looking at anti-rural crime initiatives in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.