September 5: Urgent need to stand by rural communities

THE powerful, moving words of Fr Tony Ryan, parish priest for Doon, in lamenting the tragic death of his parishioner John O’Donoghue last week, will have resonated all over Limerick. Described as a quiet and gentle man, who could never in a million years have imagined that he would one day be the subject of national media headlines, John collapsed and died after the massive shock of discovering two intruders in his home. “He did not deserve his life to end under these awful circumstances,” said Fr Ryan, who expressed the hope that John’s death would not be in vain, as it had raised awareness among politicians of the need to increase the garda presence in rural communities, “to reassure all who feel so alone and vulnerable”.

THE powerful, moving words of Fr Tony Ryan, parish priest for Doon, in lamenting the tragic death of his parishioner John O’Donoghue last week, will have resonated all over Limerick. Described as a quiet and gentle man, who could never in a million years have imagined that he would one day be the subject of national media headlines, John collapsed and died after the massive shock of discovering two intruders in his home. “He did not deserve his life to end under these awful circumstances,” said Fr Ryan, who expressed the hope that John’s death would not be in vain, as it had raised awareness among politicians of the need to increase the garda presence in rural communities, “to reassure all who feel so alone and vulnerable”.

We absolutely endorse those sentiments. The situation as it stands is entirely unacceptable, for a number of reasons.

Frequently, this newspaper reports on a spate of burglaries committed by defendants over a short period of time. The law as it exists now virtually encourages these miscreants to go from house to house, causing havoc and terror, because they know that even if they are eventually apprehended, their multiple crimes will effectively be treated as one offence. In such circumstances, why would they not take the view that they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb?

Not before time, the Department of Justice has confirmed that it intends to do something about this. A new bill, it is hoped, will allow judges to impose consecutive sentences for multiple offences like domestic burglaries.

There is also a pressing need to toughen up on repeat offenders who – appallingly – continue to receive bail while committing further offences when they are at liberty. Again, we have seen far too many examples of this reported on our news pages.

The closure of rural garda stations, such as the one in Doon, was met with great dismay by communities across Limerick and it has been said by many this week that the chickens have been coming home to roost ever since. Had Doon garda station remained open, it is a moot point as to whether its existence might have acted as a deterrent to the men who raided John O’Donoghue’s home. Such crimes are routinely committed within short distances of garda stations open for many more hours than was the case at the Doon station. However, what is beyond dispute is that garda patrols in remote areas are being drastically affected by low policing numbers. At off peak times, it is not unusual for as few as 10 gardai to be on duty to cover the entire County Limerick area, from bases at Newcastle West and Bruff.

For vulnerable, elderly people living small communties, the sight of a garda patrol car at regular intervals offers a level of reassurance that cannot be overestimated. It has the same effect as the proverbial “bobby on the beat” beloved of English people, yet also something of an endangered species as the paperwork piles up.

The people of Doon must live in the knowledge that their nearest full-time station lies in the town of Bruff, 18 long miles away. The fact that the Bruff district has a total of one detective is hardly likely to make them feel more secure in their homes.

“The people of Doon have been badly let down by our politicians,” Fr Tony Ryan has stated.

A few days after he said that, the national media headlines had moved on to cover the political damage done to Taoiseach Enda Kenny by the publication of the Fennelly Report into how Commissioner Martin Callinan left his job last year. That story will blow over soon enough, but the fear of ordinary people in rural communities will go on. The deficiencies in the justice system and the level of policing available to small communities must be comprehensively addressed, and urgently, by those in a position to make a difference.