THERE is something worryingly wrong when elderly people in County Limerick are taking to their beds with loaded guns a few feet away. The much respected Cappamore man Paddy Ryan (‘Luke’) states that to be the case in this week’s special focus on rural crime in the county. In that same East Limerick community, there is a need for two men to stand and watch over a car park while bingo is played in the nearby community centre.
Such a drastic security measure would have been unthinkable in the past, but opportunistic criminals have made it necessary today, alas. When people cannot relax while playing bingo – fearful that they may return to smashed windows in their cars – it is truly a sorry and utterly unacceptable state of affairs.
It is not that long since the closure of a number of County Limerick garda stations. Reassuring noises were made by people in high places when these measures were announced, for budgetary reasons – along the lines that people could still rely on a garda presence provided by the nearest stations remaining open.
If a public opinion survey were conducted in the villages now deprived of a garda station, and the question was asked as to whether they now feel less safe in their homes, we strongly suspect the answer would be yes. Likewise if the survey was extended to ask if the punishments meted out by our courts are often insufficient deterrents.
Mercifully, we have in very recent times been spared the kind of shocking crimes that caused outrage in Limerick not long ago, when decent people were subjected to dreadful ordeals in their own homes. And yet any kind of crime perpetrated on private property can be very scarring for the victims.
The reports on pages 8-9 also demonstrate, however, that strong communities working closely with Limerick gardai can make a difference in fighting crime.
Community action alert schemes – a means for people to report suspicious activity to their neighbours and then pass it on to gardai – can be highly effective. United action by concerned citizens will always make a difference in making communities safer places.
Without wishing to sound alarmist, it is abundantly clear that many people in rural locations particularly have never felt more vulnerable. In reporting that situation in some detail this week, we hope to encourage more of the kind of activity that has led to some Limerick villages hitting back with a decisive response aimed at protecting upstanding citizens.
Next week we begin a new series called Communities Fighting Back. We will highlight the good work of towns and villages – and also city districts – in fighting back not just against increased criminality, but against the withdrawal of key local services such as post offices, banks and places of employment.
In doing so, we hope to show that good people rallying round each other can make a huge and positive difference.