People are so terrified of being broken into that they are keeping loaded shotguns in their bedrooms at night.
That's according to a west Offaly farmer who was one of almost 300 people who packed into Cloghan Community Hall on Tuesday night for a meeting to discuss what most people see as the region's growing crime problem.
Speaking at the meeting, Belmont farmer Ray Walsh revealed that earlier this month he had been “robbed” for the third time.
The only way to deter criminals from targeting rural communities is by getting more guards on the ground, he said. If that doesn't happen, he warned that there will soon be a repeat of the 2004 incident in Mayo where farmer Padraig Nally shot father of 11 John Ward, who had been trespassing on his property.
“Most of my neighbours at this stage are completely terrified. Most have a loaded shotgun in their bedrooms at night.
“It is only a matter of time until we get the same situation that we had in Mayo [with Padraig Nally in 2004]. That's not the solution to the problem but that's what's facing us.
“Until there are more guards in the area, the situation is not going to change. Local guards are doing the best they can but there isn't enough of them there.”
A number of local victims of crime spoke during the meeting, which was attended by a number of senior local gardai, as well as Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy and county councillors John Clendennen, John Leahy and Eamonn Dooley.
Moystown dairy farmer Kevin Heavin was broken into last year and his con saw and chainsaw was stolen.
He said that farm machinery and tools wouldn't be attractive to criminals if there wasn't such a large demand for it.
“My understanding of theft is that it is a supply and demand situation. If they didn't have the market there wouldn't be half the break-ins.”
Mr Heavin also said that should be tighter controls on people selling second hand goods at markets across the country or on websites.
“They have no evidence of a receipt. People are out there buying stolen property.”
Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy said that the large crowd at the meeting showed the level of concern amongst people about crime. However the overwhelming support for gardai among attendees was palpable, she said.
While garda numbers had fallen during the recession due to a lack of funding, she said that over the next four years garda numbers will increase to 21,000, which will included 4,000 reserves and 2,000 administration staff.
Cllr Eamon Dooley said that garda numbers in Ferbane had fallen from one sergeant and five guards to one sergeant and one guard.
“Nowaday’s people don’t feel safe. Burglars feel safe because the guards are not there.”
Cllr John Clendennen said that he would like to see a minimum of two guards in every station. He also urged people to report all crime “no matter how big or small”.
Cllr John Leahy said that there should be tougher penalties for repeat offenders. Referencing Renua’s support for a three strikes style policy, he said that this would act as a powerful deterrent.
Superintendent Martin Cashin from Birr station addressed the meeting on behalf of the gardai. While the gardai are conscious of people’s concerns, he said that he had compared Birr District to other similarly sized districts in the gardai’s Eastern Region including Trim and Baltinglass. He said that “relatively speaking” crime levels in the Birr district are at the “lower end” in the Eastern Region.
Supt Cashin also revealed that Laois/Offaly needs 50 additional gardai to reach its optimal staffing level.