Details of the events leading to the death of Paddy Barry, the 82-year-old Waterford pensioner, are still very sketchy.
He called the gardaí to say that his home had been broken into and he was able to direct them to his house. He did not say that he had actually been attacked, but when the gardaí got to the house they found him unconscious with serious injuries.
He never regained consciousness before dying in the early hours of yesterday morning. What can be said for certain is that somebody broke into his home and this in itself should be considered an affront to any civilised society.
There has been wild speculation and assorted rumours since the break-in, with suggestions that three men were involved and that he suffered a broken arm, both of which have since been discounted. There have even been suggestions that he was not actually physically attacked. These matters will have to be determined by the postmortem.
The act of breaking in the front door of any elderly person living alone is tantamount to an attack not only on that person, but also on all elderly people living alone.
Paddy Barry was a proud, determined man who was not about to be driven from his home by thugs who prey on elderly people. He insisted on his independence by living alone in his family home, but he was obviously acutely aware of the dangers.
He had an alarm fitted to the house, and he locked all the doors within the house, and frequently locked himself into the room. He was not physically capable of defending himself, so he had his son bring him a can of Mace from the US that he kept on his sitting room table for protection.
Paddy Barry was from a generation that grew up in this country at a time when people did not have to lock their front doors at night, much less live in the fear of having to protect themselves within their own homes. This is an indictment of our society.
Elderly people have effectively become prisoners in their own homes. This is not confined to Waterford or other cities but to every town and village in the country. Even in isolated rural areas people are living in terror of unknown visitors. Paddy Barry’s death will further fuel fears among elderly people.
In recent years there has been much outrage about paedophilia, but attacks on defenceless old people are every bit as reprehensible. The Government has suspended grants to provide elderly people living alone with personal alarms. Of course, in the case of the late Mr Barry he had a personal alarm, so what happened to him becomes all the more frightening.
Fianna Fáil came to power more than a dozen years ago promising zero tolerance. The late Mr Barry’s family are justifiably outraged at suggestions that the Minister for Justice will not be able to introduce new legislation to tackle this vile kind of crime until next year.
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