THE armed regional response unit has been deployed in East Limerick following five hay barn fires in three weeks – which have caused panic amongst farmers.
Chief Superintendent David Sheahan confirmed to the Limerick Leader that a special policing plan has been put in place to “allay any fears that may exist in the community”.
A criminal gang is being blamed locally for carrying out the random revenge arson attacks after a stables in Oola, which they were reported to be using, burnt down on September 2.
The Sunday World reported that vigilantes burnt down the stables in retaliation for the death of John O’Donoghue in Doon. The 62-year-old suffered a heart attack after confronting intruders days before the fire.
However, gardai have played down links to vigilantism, saying “scene-of-crime investigators couldn’t find anything suspicious” at the stables.
On the night of September 27 – the same day that the newspaper report appeared – two bullocks were killed in a hay barn fire at Clonlusk, Doon.
Then in the early hours of Monday morning a blaze broke out in a barn a short distance from the late Mr O’Donoghue’s home. The third one took place at Ballyvalode, Oola this Tuesday morning. The three highly respected farmers lost hundreds of bales of hay and saw their sheds gutted. Two more hay barn fires occurred in Castleconnell and Murroe on Monday, September 21.
Chief Supt Sheahan said the special police operation in the Doon area and east Limerick, which commenced on Tuesday evening, “will include the regional response unit from Limerick being out there on a regular basis”.
“The traffic corps and other units from Limerick city will also be paying particular attention to the area. It will be in place for the foreseeable future to allay any fears that may exist out in that community,” said Chief Supt Sheahan, who will also be meeting with locals.
He says gardai are following a number of lines of enquiry.
“We’re endeavouring to get to the bottom of this. We’re trying to establish the linkages between the various incidents and then find out can we establish who is responsible for these actions,” said Chief Supt Sheahan.
The head of the Limerick garda division asked all farmers in the locality to be extra vigilant in the days going forward and if they see anything at all of a suspicious nature to contact the gardai in Bruff or Henry Street on 061 382940 or 061 212400.
“We are looking for the public’s assistance to help us in any way they can in respect of the activities going on out there,” he said. As Chief Supt Sheahan is from a rural background he said: “I have great sympathy for the people out there and particularly the farming community for what they have been experiencing.”
One local farmer spoke to the Leader on condition of anonymity because he is afraid his hay barn will be targeted if he goes public.
“You would be worried about going to sleep at night and everybody is the same but you can’t watch them 24 hours a day. Every farmer has a gun.
“It is crazy what is happening here. There hasn’t been one hay barn fire in Doon in over 10 years and now three in a week. People don’t know what is going on, who is doing this or why?
“The three farmers affected are the most upright members of the community you could meet - your heart goes out to them. Everyone is just worried that a house will be next but it was good to see all the guards around last night,” he said this Wednesday morning.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell said he has spoken to the chief superintendent and arranged a meeting with the acting superintendent in Bruff, Inspector Luke Conlon.
“The situation is very serious. I am going to update the Minister for Justice on this. I have brought it up in the Dail twice in the last two weeks that extra gardai were needed for east Limerick.
“It is causing extreme worry and anxiety amongst people in the area and we need to put a stop to it.
“The most important thing is that an operation has been put in place - the burnings can not be allowed to continue,” said Deputy O’Donnell.
Fianna Fail justice spokesperson, Deputy Niall Collins said the situation in east Limerick is reaching crisis point and fears someone may be seriously injured or killed if the fires continue.
“There are farmers out there who can’t sleep and are up checking their hay barns two or three times a night because they are worried they are going to be next.
“I welcome the extra garda patrols but the reason that they are needed is because the Government allowed the rural parts of this country to go un-policed for so long. They have given free rein to the criminal fraternity by closing garda stations, closing Templemore for a time and under-resourcing the gardai.
“Now they realise the error of their ways but it is the people of rural Ireland and east Limerick who have paid the highest price,” said Deputy Collins.