Funding of €300,000 for a property marking service to help prevent theft, the extension of the text alert rebate scheme and the launch of a new Garda Síochána app to register personal property are among the actions being taken to tackle rural crime, according to Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne.

Minister Browne was speaking with Irish Country Living at the launch of the first Rural Safety Plan 2022-2024 last Wednesday at the National Ploughing Championships.

The plan identifies five main priorities for rural safety – community safety, burglary and theft, roads policing, animal crime and heritage crime- and outlines the key actions being undertaken in these areas in collaboration with various stakeholders.

Minister for State at the Department of Justice, James Browne, with Assistant Commissioner Paula Hilman at the launch of the Rural Safety Plan.

Minister Browne told Irish Country Living that while many of these initiatives are already ongoing, this is the first time they have been “pulled together” in one plan.

He acknowledged that there is a sense of fear in rural Ireland when it comes to crime, which he feels can be exacerbated by isolation.

“Unfortunately, in a lot of cases, you’re working on your own all day and that brings in an element of fear,” he said, adding that rural safety is not just about making sure that people are safe, but that they feel safe.

“I think that’s a huge part of it, because not feeling safe can really raise people’s anxiety levels and stress levels,” he continued.

Ploughing launches

As well as the plan itself, the Ploughing Championships saw a number of rural safety initiatives being launched, with much focus on €300,000 in funding over four years for a property marking crime prevention programme to be rolled out nationwide.

Operated by Property Marking Ireland (the trading name of not-for-profit Community Services Network) the service will allow members of the public to mark property, such as farm machinery, with small dots in the pattern of the owner’s Eircode; marking it harder for criminals to sell on and easier to return to the owner if retrieved.

“What the gardaí would say is this, that they actually do recover an awful lot of equipment, but find it next to impossible to return it to its actual owners,” said Minister Browne.

In a similar vein, he highlighted the Ploughing launch of a new Garda Síochána mobile app, which will allow the public to index and record personal items, from tools to farm machinery, with the ability to take photographs of the item, record receipts and registration codes and report if stolen. The app is available for free from the Google Play Store or Apple Store and can also be downloaded from the Garda website.

At community level, meanwhile, the minister announced the extension of the text alert rebate scheme, with €150,000 made available to allow text alert groups registered with An Garda Síochána to apply to Muintir na Tíre – who administer the scheme – for a rebate of up to €350 on their 2021 costs.

Criminal gangs

Speaking about other initiatives to tackle rural theft and crime, Minister Browne pointed to An Garda Síochána’s Operation Thor, which targets criminal gangs in particular during the winter.

He did acknowledge that the use of the motorway network by gangs is “very much an area of concern for rural community and the farming community”, but that counter initiatives include the updating of CCTV legislation in line with GDPR to ensure there are no challenges around “fair use”, as well as the continued rollout of licence plate recognition technology by gardaí to flag any issues that might indicate criminal activity, such as if a car has false plates.

“That’s in well over 100 garda cars already and the gardaí are looking at perhaps using that in fixed locations as well, but making sure that ultimately, every road policing vehicle has those,” said Minister Browne.

Other ambitions and actions listed in the Rural Safety Plan include the enforcement of littering legislation with a focus on fly-tipping, the promotion of crime prevention technology for animal theft, and the exploration of heritage crime (damage or loss to a historic environment) prevention techniques.

“I would encourage every farmer to read this,” said Minister Browne, “and what it says is that there is an awful lot of preventative measures and protective measures out there.”

The plan is available here.