Rural crime now costs €2.4 million a year, with farming victims each losing an average of €4,300, Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice Jim O’Callaghan has claimed.
He said a large number of farmers have had machinery and equipment stolen, with gangs “casing’’ rural communities and observing where it was stored before raiding the farm.
“This problem is faced by all members of the farming community and it is becoming more significant,’’ he added.
“New measures are needed to deal with it.’’
Mr O’Callaghan, who raised the matter in the Dáil with the Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, reflected the growing concern of farming organisations about the vulnerability of their members to crime.
A recent report by the Waterford Institute of Technology on behalf of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) found two-thirds of farmers had been the victims of crime.
The ICSA has claimed the problem is far more serious than reflected in official Garda statistics.
Damage to property and theft were the most common types of offence experienced by landowners, while fraud and assault were also reported in a sample 861 agricultural households surveyed. Neither violence nor arson was found to be a statistically significant feature among the experiences of farmers, their families or workers. However, about 40 per cent had property stolen, and the report noted a high level of repeat targeting.
Some 652 incidents of theft were 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.
Mr O’Callaghan said his rural party colleagues had raised the issue with him, pointing out crime had become a major problem in the communities they represented.
Mr Flanagan said he was aware of the impact of crime on rural communities, including the serious damage done by organised gangs engaged in burglary and other offences.
An additional €88.5 million had been allocated for Garda overtime this year, he said. He said more than 720 new Garda vehicles had come on stream since the start of 2015 and €46 million had been provided for under the capital plan 2016-2021.
Mr Flanagan said under the Garda’s national anti-crime strategy, Operation Thor, there had been more than 74,000 targeted checkpoints and 52,400 crime prevention patrols across the State.
This concentrated policing activity had produced in the region of 4,400 arrests and 4,900 charges covering a range of offences which, in addition to burglary, had included handling stolen property, possession of firearms and drugs offences, he said.
Mr Flanagan said it was encouraging to note Central Statistics Office (CSO) burglary figures had shown a 30 per cent decrease for the 12 months of 2016 when compared to 2015.
Mr O’Callaghan said while Operation Thor had undoubtedly been a success, the problem had not been solved.
He said he believed the figures, when broken down, would not show a decline in the number of burglaries in rural communities.