Up on 350 concerned members of the community of South Donegal turned out to show their solidarity with the 77 year old Gerry McDevitt who was beaten at his home in Glenties on Thursday last.
This was the second occasion that the pensioner had been attacked and on Thursday last he was threatened and beaten by thieves who stole both cash and a legally held firearm and left him in a highly traumatised state.
Despite the incessant rain, there was standing room only in the ballroom of the Highland Hotel at the meeting which was organised by Brian Carr of the Glenties Community Action Group.
Mr. Carr said, “We have to establish a feeling of safety in this community for both young and old.
“Hindsight is great,. If we had put something in place when the Garda Station was downgraded this would never have happened.
“As a community, we have to apologise to Gerry McDevitt and all the victims who have been affected by these crimes.
Carr said that he had contacted the Minister of Justice, Alan Shatter’s office and the minister was not available.
Carr subsequently sent him an e-mail saying, “Last Thursday, Glenties came face to face with crime and an attack on the elderly. There is fear and anger here and the feeling here is that you are directly connected as a result of the downgrading of the Glenties District HQ.
“This was an open invitation to criminals. When the lights are turned off in the station so is our security.”
Mr. Carr said that he had invited the minister to attend the meeting but was told in an email that he “could not attend due to previous commitments.”
The minister expressed his regret over the incidents. He is in ongoing contact with the gardaí, he added, and they are determined to bring these criminals to justice.
Sgt. John McGroary, who has been stationed in Glenties for over 20 years, said that there was nobody more upset over this horrific crime than himself.
“This has had a traumatic effect on Gerry and I just hate to see things like this in the community.
Sgt. McGroary went on to ask for responsible media reporting of these incidents.
He said, “Glenties is not in lockdown and it is not closed. We are not living in a crime ridden area and I would like to get that message out there loud and clear.
“We had three burglaries in the last year as opposed to six in the previous year. One is too many, as we all know.
“The station is not closed. For 20 years, I rostered one member to sit in a chair in the front office 24/7. Those men are now sitting in the squad car instead.
“If you are looking for a passport form to be signed, you might not get it at exactly the time you want it but you will get a garda when needed.
“After the attack on Gerry McDevitt last week, there were two garda on the scene with in three minutes and two more minutes later.
“Six out of the ten gardaí in Glenties are living in the area and you should all make yourselves known to them. They are all here to help.
“The Garda Siochana are of the community and for the community. We need your help and cannot operate without your help.”
There were valuable contributions from the packed floor and from many of the public representatives present including Cllrs. Frank McBrearty, Seamus O’Domhnaill, Terence Slowey and local election candidates Seamus Rodgers, Niamh Kennedy and Ian Molloy.
The general feeling among those who spoke out was that as a result of the downgrading of the District HQ policing in the area had suffered and that resources were not on the ground. All speakers were united in praise of the local gardaí on the ground who were working to the very best of the their ability to ensure the safety of all.
It was pointed out that Donegal is an isolated border county with 6,000 km of roads and is practically impossible to police with the limited resources that are available.
Veteran politician Seamus Rodgers said that the community need to be the eyes and ears of the gardaí.
“The message must go out loud and clear - these thugs are not welcome here.
“This will lead to deaths, somebody will be killed. It is an open field for these thugs. We must all be vigilant and help out the gardaí in whatever way we can.”
Brian Carr told the packed room that a Community Text Alert system will be introduced into the area which will see around 300 people notified if there is a burglary or robbery in the area.
This system has already been rolled out in the Townawilly and Leghowney areas near Donegal Town.
Stephen McCahill who has been involved with the text alert programme in Ardara said, “ People have to be vigilant. This will happen again and again. All the gardaí in the world won’t stop it.
“There is an onus on the community to be alert and vigilant ; every must do their bit and keep their eye on their own patch”.
Concluding Brian Carr said, “It’s terrible that we have to organise a meeting like this in Glenties but we must show these thugs that they are not welcome in Glenties.”
A further meeting ill be held on March 5 in the Nesbitt Arms in Ardara.