I thank the committee for the invitation to address it today. As the Chairman said, our president, Joe Healy, has been held up, but we hope he will get here before we finish. I understand he had a meeting with the Tánaiste at Iveagh House this morning and that meeting was held up due to the Tánaiste having an interview on "Morning Ireland". He will try to get here as soon as he can. As the Chairman said, I am joined by Barry Carey, the IFA crime prevention officer.
The committee is aware of the real anxiety among the farming community and rural communities generally over crime in the countryside. Theft of valuables from rural homes and of livestock and machinery from farms is a major concern. Many farmers and other rural dwellers are living in fear for their personal safety and the safety of their families. That is why it is so important that this is addressed as a matter of urgency.
Farm crimes reported include instances of farm machinery being reported as stolen and vehicle theft; theft of livestock, including instances of cattle rustling; and burglaries and break-ins to farm houses. We believe there is considerable under-reporting of rural crime, in particular for the theft of machinery, fuels and other items from farmyards and lesser break-ins to the family home. The increase in the theft of agricultural equipment and livestock can be financially devastating for farmers, who, like all rural dwellers, are very vulnerable when it comes to criminality.
This vulnerability is compounded by geographic and service isolation. It is the IFA's contention that rural dwellers and farmers are not guaranteed the same level of service and security that applies in urban areas.
There is also a requirement for the more accurate reporting of crimes committed in rural areas. All vehicle crimes are recorded on the PULSE system as "Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle". The IFA has called for the separate classification of rural crimes to give a more accurate account of the problems that exist.
Earlier this year, we made a submission to the Policing Authority on the policing plan for 2019 in which we set down key priorities and made recommendations on organisational development and capacity improvement, confronting crime, roads policing, and community policing and public safety. The IFA also presented the proposals to the Commission on the Future of Policing.
Over the past year, several serious incidents have occurred on farms. The quality of crime investigations in such incidents needs to be addressed. Some alarming issues were noted across various districts, such as slow responses; boundary issues where incidents have occurred within a short distance, perhaps 1 km, of a Garda station and are passed on to a station 22 km away, as a result of which culprits and persons of interest were not apprehended; a quite apparent lack of knowledge of industry, farming and rural practices by investigating members during follow-up investigations; and no report back or incident updates to affected persons. To address these issues and to improve the quality of crime investigation, the IFA recommends that An Garda Síochána be given the necessary resources and training on the nature, structure and profile of farming, agriculture and rural life. The IFA has offered to assist in supporting the development of a module and recommends that a separate rural, farming and agricultural unit be included in recruit training at the national Garda College.
Throughout 2017, there continued to be an increase in thefts of livestock, machinery, tools and equipment. Cross-Border crime continues to be a major part of this. Items recovered by An Garda Síochána in Ireland have come from the UK and Northern Ireland. Items stolen in Ireland have been intercepted en route to Northern Ireland. The IFA recommends additional support in the form of a more streamlined crime reporting system, immediate sharing of intelligence, and information exchange which would increase the level of visibility and awareness, particularly where agricultural crime has been reported in Border areas. The IFA believes that greater interagency cross-Border co-operation between the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs in Northern Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, customs on both sides of the Border, An Garda Síochána and the Police Service Northern Ireland, PSNI, would be instrumental in tackling this type of cross-Border crime.
As we approach Brexit D-Day, there is a requirement for a full review of all operational structures. Should border controls for trade and immigration be reintroduced, additional resources will be required, such as an increase in manpower, vehicles, aircraft and technological equipment, such as CCTV systems for vehicles. In addition, equipment will be required to ensure facial recognition to observe, monitor and manage all the Border crossings by An Garda Síochána, in conjunction with other agencies.
The level of sophistication of cybercrime, both here in Ireland and internationally, is of great concern to all communities. The IFA believes it is important for An Garda Síochána to be fully resourced on all aspects of the risks associated with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine's payment systems, specifically, the increasing volume of farm business now carried out online.
The IFA has been proactive in the area of crime prevention in joint initiatives with An Garda Síochána, such as Crimestoppers, community text alerts and Theftstop. The IFA recommends that An Garda Síochána engage with rural communities more frequently to promote a greater awareness of crime prevention so that there would be a national and local communications plan using television, radio and print to demonstrate crime preventation measures, give updates on current crime trends and highlight successful preventions, convictions and prosecutions; and continued engagement with communities through meetings, events, rural shows.
There is a major requirement for the development of a national strategy around community visibility and supports available to local communities. The recent success of Operation Thor is proof that intense patrolling of national primary routes is vital in the fight against crime. The identification of road networks used by criminal elements and the ease with which they can travel from city to city in short periods must be curtailed. The IFA recommends the greater use of community CCTV schemes supported by the Department of Justice and Equality which would give An Garda Síochána greater coverage of specific areas. Remote visual monitoring and in-station viewing would also be effective tools in combating crime.
The lack of Garda presence or patrols in certain communities is affecting public confidence. The IFA's network of 946 branches has made it known that the lack of Garda visibility in rural Ireland is worrying. There is a need for greater patrolling of rural Ireland. Farmers need to see a greater presence of An Garda Síochána on the road. The IFA proposes the deployment of additional resources in terms of manpower, vehicles and equipment. This can be achieved by increasing the Garda Reserve to achieve greater community engagement and thereby supporting An Garda Síochána with local involvement and assistance in the overall community policing plan. In the UK, the various police constabularies have exactly the same rural crime issues as we have here in Ireland. To address this, a small but effective rural crime task force has been established within the police forces to tackle specific issues. The National Farmers Union has been actively engaged at community level in supporting this initiative by assisting the task force with intelligence and reporting of suspicious activities. I am calling for the support of the committee to establish a similar type of Garda operation to tackle rural crime in Ireland which would provide for additional Garda presence and resources in rural communities; the targeting of criminal gangs operating in rural communities; a review of sentencing for rural crimes and repeat offenders; a review of bail conditions for repeat offenders; a review of Garda divisional boundaries; and a national Garda policy on criminal lurking and trespass.
The IFA will continue to campaign for support from elected representatives and Government to protect rural dwellers and businesses. Today we are seeking further engagement from this committee on the IFA's activities on rural crime prevention, together with its support for the IFA's initiatives in this area. We look forward to a constructive discussion with the committee.