THERE has been a major surge in cattle rustling north and south of the border, according to new statistics.
Animals have been stolen from farms in all but two of the 32 counties over the past year, with Monaghan, Limerick, Mayo, and Meath topping the list for incidents in the Republic.
The statistics from the North show that District Veterinary Offices in Dungannon, Omagh, Newry, and Armagh had the highest numbers of cattle reported missing or stolen.
Wicklow and Wexford were the only two counties to have escaped the multi-million euro crime blitz.
Cattle-stealing incidents were once largely confined to the border counties, but have now spread across the country.
A total of 17 bovines were reported stolen in Kerry in the past two years, as well as five in Cork, 10 in Tipperary, and one in Waterford.
Raiders operate in fields beside remote country roads under the cover of darkness.
The extent of the activity in the 26 counties was reflected in figures given by Agriculture, Minister Simon Coveney in a written Dáil reply to Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.
A total of 431 bovines were reported stolen in 2012 and in the 11 months up to Dec 5 this year, with Monaghan (61), Limerick (51), Mayo (43), and Mayo (38) and Laois (37) at the top of the list.
Mr Coveney said any incident involving stolen cattle should be reported to the gardaí, as they have primary responsibility for investigating such matters.
Where necessary, his department through its Special Investigation Unit will assist gardaí. This could involve liaison with cross-border colleagues.
A cross-border liaison group comprising the SIU, gardaí, and the PSNI liaise and investigate the theft of livestock on an all-island basis.
Mr Coveney said stolen cattle cannot be traded legally in the State, as all bovines must bear official ear tags.
The cattle must be properly registered and be located on the Department’s Animal Identification and Movement database in the herd of the individual moving or selling the bovines.
“When cattle are reported as stolen to my department, they are marked on the AIM database as being stolen on foot of a garda report,” he said.
“If these animals are presented anywhere in the State for sale, slaughter, or export they are checked against the database and will be rejected at these outlets and an investigation initiated.”
Meanwhile, statistics from the North’s Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle O’Neill in the Northern Assembly in September revealed that a total of 8,891 cattle were reported missing or stolen in the North over the last three years.
Ulster Unionist Party MLA Robin Swann warned that organised crime gangs may be involved with the theft of cattle across the North.
Mr Swann said cattle-rustling costs the agriculture industry millions of pounds and leaves farmers unsure whether animals are secure on their own land.
“While Northern Ireland may be aware of the scale of the problem of fuel-smuggling and laundering that occurs in certain areas, I am sure that it will come as a surprise to many that so many cattle are disappearing from our farms,” he said.
Meanwhile, the discovery of a number of carcasses near the border in Co Louth two months ago raised fears that they may have come from an illegal meat boning plant.
Reports that the carcasses were expertly butchered led to suspicions that the meat was intended for human consumption.
The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association said gardaí need better resources to deal with the problem in the counties along the Border.
Connaught/Ulster vice president John Flynn said there has been a significant increase in crime in the border region.
Stealing livestock is part of a bigger picture involving the theft of diesel and machinery and other high-value items.
“It appears that the criminals involved are highly organised and have strong local knowledge and it is clear gardaí need far better resources to tackle this,” said Mr Flynn.
The Ulster Farmers’ Union has urged farmers to be vigilant and take precautions to protect their farms from thieves. Premises should be well lit and have gates and doors securely locked.
Barclay Bell, deputy president, said rural crime is not a seasonal issue. It happens all year round but there is more opportunity for thieves this time of year.
“Farmers are already aware of this important issue but we are urging them to be extra vigilant and to take those extra simple steps to ensure their livestock, machinery, and equipment is protected from thieves,” he said.
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