Rural crime is on the rise in Ireland. Farmers especially can be targeted because of the high value of machinery they possess, and the isolated nature of farms, writes Karen Walsh
Many farmers do not report crimes, and stolen property is often never recovered.
An increase in crimes results in an increase in insurance claims, and in turn leads to higher insurance premiums for farmers.
It is important that farmers insure their property, including valuable equipment.
It is also important for farmers to install CCTV and to ensure that gates and entrances are locked at night and when not in use.
It is highly advisable to mark all equipment.
This ensures that if the stolen property is recovered, it is distinguishable from other, unmarked stolen property.
Farmers should also keep oil tank openings padlocked, in order to avoid fuel being stolen, particularly in the winter, when hours of darkness are longer.
It is advisable to set up a community text alert system consisting of a text network where neighbouring landowners can alert each other to the presence of suspicious activity in an area, such as people walking over lands, and cars parked on isolated roads, etc.
More and more often, people are reported to be parking on rural isolated roads and entering fields, often with dogs, to travel over the lands on foot. The owners of the lands over which these people trespass often report goods and equipment stolen later in the year.
Farms really provide an ideal place for robbery, due to their remoteness.
With increasing rural crime, and feweer Gardaí in rural areas, it is even more important to ensure that farmers take all measures necessary to safeguard their property.
It is particularly important for farmers and landowners to remember that a person trespassing on land is not necessarily committing an offence, unless they have entered the land with the intent to commit a crime, an element of the offence which is nearly impossible to prove, unless they have committed some offence while on the land.
In such cases, it is advisable to report the incident to the Gardaí, and to note any relevant information, such as the car make and model, or the registration number, and to furnish these to the Gardaí.
If any of your equipment is then subsequently stolen, this information will really help the Gardaí in investigations.
It cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to mark property. Much of the stolen farming equipment that is recovered by the Gardaí is indistinguishable, as it is not uniquely marked.
With the increase of rural crime, more farmers are insisting upon obtaining firearms in order to enable them to defend their property.
However, this is an area for caution.
Article 40.5 of the Irish Constitution provides that every citizen’s dwelling is “inviolable” and “shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law”. The protection of the dwelling was placed on a statutory footing with the Criminal Law (Defence and the Dwelling) Act 2011, which recognises that force, in respect of defence of the home, can be justified in certain circumstances.
To be protected by this legislation, the person defending their property must believe that the person against whom force is used is a trespasser intends to commit a crime.
In order to access a firearm in this country, it is necessary to obtain a licence. Holding a firearm without a licence is a criminal offence, and this licence is not granted for use for personal protection.
It is an offence to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life, and this includes pointing a loaded gun at someone. It is certainly an offence to shoot over someone’s head. Even though the shot may not be intended to injure the intruder, accidents happen, and in and of itself, it constitutes an offence.
It is thus highly inadvisable to use, or threaten the use of a firearm. When confronted with a trespasser, it would be more prudent to tell them to leave, and let them know that the Gardaí will be contacted immediately.
- Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Web: www.walshandpartners.ie