Belfast Telegraph

OAPs living in fear as number of home raids escalates

By Greg Harkin

The elderly and isolated are living in fear following the escalation of violent burglaries in recent weeks.

The latest pensioner to be attacked and robbed in her home was frisked by the raiders for her panic alarm.

And there are fears unscrupulous raiders are checking death notices to ransack empty homes.

This surge in crime has been accompanied by the shutting of garda stations and uncertainty over garda budgets.

Phyllis McGee (78) was targeted for a second time when she was attacked as she arrived home from Mass.

She was thrown to the ground by burglars, who threatened to set her home on fire.

The latest attack comes amid fears of up to 1,500 cuts in garda numbers this year.

Ms McGee's local station in Pettigo, Co Donegal, has not opened since November when the sergeant there retired.

Senior gardai fear they will have to cut more staff to stay within their budgets in 2013.

Community leaders echoed calls for Justice Minister Alan Shatter to increase garda numbers in a bid to stem the rural crime wave.

There have been dozens of high-profile burglaries in recent weeks, many at the homes of older people or those living alone. Priests, farmers and rural shopkeepers have also been hit.

Seamus Boland, the CEO of the Irish Rural Link network, said people in rural communities were "very, very fearful that there is no proper policing policy at all now".

Fianna Fail TD Michael Kitt said: "Our community alert schemes are highlighting cases of burglaries on a constant basis and yet we're dealing with the closure of rural garda stations.

"My concern is that one of the downsides of the better roads is that it also makes it easier for criminals from Dublin to target vulnerable rural communities."

"When someone is attacked like this, they attack an entire community -- and we are not going to stand idly by," said community activist Lawrence McManus, who is a friend of Phyllis McGee.

Ms McGee has said she won't leave her home.

The gang ransacked it before she was able to walk to a road and wave down a passing car.

The thieves, all wearing hoods and in their 20s, made off with a small sum of money.

In November's attack, Ms McGee was threatened before thieves took all her money.

Michael McMahon, a local councillor, said: "It's the same in rural communities across Ireland. People are living in fear.''

"This was a despicable act against a defenceless elderly lady," said Supt Leo McGinn, who is leading the investigation.

It came just less than a week after eight homes were robbed on the same day 40km away in the Convoy/Raphoe area and eight days after the robbery of Greta Lilly (96) in Buncrana.

But the problem is not confined to the north-east.

Gangs of raiders are monitoring death notices in order to ransack empty homes.

A number of vicious burglaries have put communities on edge, with a priest viciously assaulted after stumbling upon a gang of three raiders earlier this month.

Fohenagh parish priest Fr Christy McCormack was assaulted in the second raid on the parish within a fortnight.

Another priest fell victim to a break-in while saying Mass. Fr William Hennessy's home in Knocklong, Co Limerick, was targeted.

"The alarm went off and my neighbours were across pretty quickly so they had to flee empty-handed," he said.

Gangs have targeted up to 15 parochial homes and churches since November.

The Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly has warned priests not to leave valuables or money in their homes.

There were three violent robberies in one weekend in Offaly, with a 74-year-old woman left "highly traumatised" after being assaulted at home in Tullamore.

A shopkeeper in Clonbullogue near Edenderry fought off four attackers armed with a samurai sword, nail bar and screwdriver.

And a female shop assistant was assaulted by a man who robbed a convenience store in Tullamore.

Burglaries have soared by an estimated 30pc in rural areas in just six months, as Dublin gangs exploit improved road access.

A gang last week hit properties in Bandon, Ballineen, Ballydehob, Skibbereen and Dunmanway. The gang then carried out a terrifying aggravated burglary against brother and sister Dan and Mary Crowley, both in their 80s, at their farmhouse at Ballyregan outside Kinsale.

Widow Bridie Leahy (90) was found by her niece lying on the floor of her bedroom in a distressed state after a burglary at her Listowel home last week.

An earlier spate of burglaries in the south-west has been linked to a criminal gang from outside the area.

Several houses were raided and cash and valuables taken.

Burglaries of the homes of elderly people in Waterford city have been described as an "almost daily occurrence" in recent weeks.

Last week, a man was beaten up when he refused to give money to two people wearing balaclavas who called to his home on Clodagh Road.

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