30 January 2014 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Armed robbery, diesel laundering and the theft of livestock were identified by Fine Gael councillor Hugh McElvaney on Monday as the three major streams of serious criminal activity afflicting our county and Border region.

Colr McElvaney’s accurate observation was made during a Co Monaghan Joint Policing Committee discussion on the sharp increase in cattle thefts in the county during 2013.

It was an interesting and illuminating debate, showing the value of the JPC structure as a forum for broadening public awareness of, and giving vent to public concerns about, law and order issues of contemporary concern to our communities.

Some good proposals were made at the meeting – if implemented, they might not end the plague of livestock theft overnight but they would endow the Gardaí with better resources to tackle the problem, see some of the regulations governing the movement of cattle tightened, and give farmers the reassurance of access to affordable insurance cover and compensation if they were to fall victim to what Colr Robbie Gallagher described as “a disgusting crime against farmers and rural Ireland”.

But would we see more arrests and convictions of the rustlers if the JPC’s proposals were acted upon?

Monday’s debate was anchored by the concern, expressed most forcefully by Sinn Féin’s Brian McKenna, that no one has so far been made accountable for this escalating form of crime, despite what are obviously intensive investigative and preventative efforts by the Gardaí on this side of the Border and the PSNI in the North.

It is a concern that has also manifested around the other forms of organised criminal enterprise in our area.

While Gardaí and Revenue ‘swoops’ have put a series of diesel laundering plants out of operation, none but the small fry ever seem to be caught in the net of culpability and made amenable to the courts.

The bringing to justice of those who perpetrate armed robberies is also largely an unrealised objective of law and order endeavour and public desire, a deficit that has been highlighted by the fact that a year has now gone by since the callous murder of Detective Garda Adrian Donohoe without any arrests having been made in connection with his killing.

One assessment made of this situation sometimes prompts fault-finding with the effectiveness of our policing, mitigated by criticism of Minister for Justice Alan Shatter for not providing the Gardaí with enough manpower and other resources to better balance the battle with organised criminality.

The detailed report given to Monday’s JPC meeting on cattle theft crimes in this county in recent years and the response made to them by the Gardaí, and the detail which has emerged in recent weeks about the scope and thoroughness of the Gardaí’s efforts to bring the killers of Detective Garda Donohoe to account, make the perspective of policing inadequacy a difficult one to sustain.

The recent recommencement of Garda recruitment is perhaps an acknowledgement that the physical presence of our police force, particularly in rural locations, has slipped to unacceptable levels – and this newspaper adheres to the argument that reduced Garda patrols and accessibility in countryside communities has created an atmosphere of insecurity inimical to the public good.

But it is patently obvious that considerable co-ordinated efforts are being mounted by those charged with security responsibilities on both sides of the Border to deal with major criminal offending – the fact that these are not manifesting in more arrests and court appearances by the major players in the crimes invites a conclusion that makes the public perspective on the issue a decidedly less comfortable one.

We are forced to confront the reality that public co-operation in the investigation of these crimes is being withheld, allowing the perpetrators to function with a license that undermines the assertion that we are, in this part of the country, a generally law-abiding society.

As Colr McElvaney and JPC Chairperson David Maxwell observed in Monday’s discussion, the theft of livestock and the manufacture and transportation of illegal fuel are not crimes distinguished by stealth – both involve the passage of large vehicles along public roadways and, certainly where the movement of cattle is concerned, conspicuous activity and noise.

The turning of a blind eye and ear to such suspicious pointers to wrong-doing is one thing, the decision of a self-serving moment, perhaps – providing a safe haven for criminals to carry out these activities and to blanket themselves from detection in a protective community silence after they have been committed is another, more grievous form of complicity.

The cross-Border context common to the forms of serious criminal activity in question explains to a pronounced degree why this lack of public co-operation exists – but it does not condone it.

For historical and ideological reasons a culture of non-compliance with statutory policing forces still pertains in many communities in the Border area.

We might point to recent political progress and say this outlook is anachronistic, but it is in some cases so deeply embedded, and reinforced, to render appeals to reason useless.

And a major source of reinforcement is undoubtedly the organised ranks of serious criminals who are now exploiting this mindset to their own profiteering ends.

The misguided loyalty that protects them from detection might eventually be expected to falter, but when it is refreshed by fear it is easy to see how an omerta has been created that makes the bringing to justice of those committing the current spate of serious criminal offending in our region an extremely difficult task for the policing authorities on both sides of the Border.

It is no disrespect to the members of Co Monaghan Joint Policing Committee to say that it will take collective action more broad-reaching than their remit to bring to any satisfactory end the types of illegality that concerned them on Monday.

But good people of principle and influence must start a conversation on how this culture of collusion can be banished from the area in which we live – otherwise our common aspirations to share a peaceful and mutually tolerant island will remain unrealised, and the spectre of organised cross-Border criminality will hang over us for a very long time to come.

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