While burglaries and robberies in rural areas, on farms and homes isolated from neighbours and services, have always been a problem in Ireland, it seems that this was the year when the countryside community shouted “stop”.
To quote The Shawshank Redemption, farmers and their associates have decided it’s time to get busy living or get busy dying, and they’ve chosen the former.
The Government has introduced a number of policy changes to try and do its bit to prevent and combat crime in rural areas, but farmers themselves have also decided to get pro-active and do whatever they can to protect themselves, their families, and their livelihoods.
One of the planks in the Irish Farmers’ Association’s campaign is the Theft Stop programme.
It was piloted in Donegal two years ago and has spread to other counties, including Tipperary and Clare where William Shortall, originally from New Inn, but now living near Nenagh, is the IFA’s regional development officer.
Mr Shorthall recently held an IFA meeting on a farm where members could avail of the Theft Stop “marking” process, whereby the unique ID number they get after registering on theftstop.ie is stencilled onto their vehicles, while the system was explained to them in detail.
Despite the “horrendous” weather, thanks to Storm Barney, the meeting was a “great success,” according to Colin Connolly, the IFA’s recently-appointed rural crime-prevention executive.
As Mr Shortall explains: “Seven or eight members brought different trailers and we stencilled them there for them.
"It’s something that’s picking up around the country.”
The ID number is stencilled using black spray paint and acts as a disincentive to thieves to steal the trailer, or whatever piece of equipment is marked, as the numbers are kept on a database allowing anything stolen to be tracked and more easily traced by gardaí, in the event of a theft.
“I’ve been 11 years with the IFA and this is probably the most positive initiative we’ve had during that time.
"It’s all to make it as difficult as possible for thieves to steal the jeeps and equipment.
"One of the things the guards will tell us is that thieves don’t want to take stuff that’s marked.
“We hope that the more people find out about it, the more will register.”
Of course, another aspect to the theft of farm machinery is that the items need to be sold by the thieves once they’ve been stolen, or else the exercise is fruitless from their point of view.
“People have to be aware when they’re buying these things, lads wouldn’t be stealing stuff if there wasn’t a market for it.
"If there’s nobody there to buy it, it won’t be stolen. The guards would be very particular about that. If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.”
Mr Shortall also points out that there’s also an element of personal responsibility.
“The onus is on everybody to look after their property as much as they can, to make it as difficult as they can for these people… It’s not just as simple as lighting up a yard.”
Colin Connolly elaborates: “By examining the environment we live in and looking at our property from the viewpoint of the criminal, we can afford ourselves and our family greater personal protection.
"You may never have been the victim of a crime, and perhaps you never will be, however, being aware of your environment and being prepared can afford you a greater sense of personal security.”
One of the reasons for the proliferation of farm-targetted theft is the development of the motorway network, giving easy access to rural spoils in counties bisected by the motorways.
An unintended consequence of the road improvements is “organised and opportunistic thieves travelling long distances to commit crimes in rural communities and in many cases being long gone before a crime is even discovered.
“Theft of machinery and farm equipment has continued to be a problem for rural dwellers. In many cases, these items are not missed for a number of days.”
In such instances, being registered on theftstop.ie makes it easier to track stolen items.
“Theft Stop asks for details such as the make, model, colour, Registration and it gives the user a field to enter any other relevant information that identifies their property.”
They an also upload a photograph of the marked item, adding to the ways in which it can be tracked.
If a farmer does have an item stolen, they are advised to contact the gardaí first of all and ask for a theft report number, then get in touch with the Theft Stop team who will verify the incident with the gardaí and then add it to a “stolen items” section on the website.
According to Mr Connolly, this makes it “extremely difficult” for the criminals to move the goods on and increases the possibility of eventually returning them to the owner.
The crime prevention executive, and the IFA in general, are encouraging people buying farm items to look for a Theft Stop number and turn this into normal practice.
“If not, ask yourself, why not? Put yourself in the shoes of a victim of theft.”