The Ulster Farmers’ Union has hosted its inaugural rural crime conference ‘Tackling Rural Crime in Northern Ireland – Working Together’ at the Crumlin Road Gaol, welcoming nearly 140 people from across Northern Ireland all with a particular interest in the issue of rural crime.
UFU president Ian Marshall said that the fact that they had such a big turn out goes to demonstrate how important this issue is to people in rural communities.
He added: “Our aim with this conference was to raise awareness about rural crime and highlight the impact on individuals, businesses, and communities. We had a number of farmers’ share their experiences of being victims of rural crime and it is often this human element that gets lost when we are talking about the facts and figures of rural and agri-crime.
“Also, we wanted to bring together the key players in tackling rural crime such as the PSNI, the Department of Justice (DOJ), representatives from local Policing and Community Safety Partnerships (PCSPs), DARD, insurance companies and farmers to discuss this important issue and our hope is that this is a starting point for future cooperation.”
UFU deputy president Barclay Bell, who has been a driving force behind the conference, said: “We took inspiration from rural crime events across the water and we are delighted with the result.
“Rural crime continues to be a blight on rural communities and while there is some good work going on at a local level we still believe that there is inconsistency across Northern Ireland and we want to see a more joined up approach for tackling rural crime.
“The conference has taken place against the background of looming government budget cuts and further pressure on already stretched resources. Our hope is that this conference is a spring board for future endeavours and partnership working with farmers, PSNI, PCSPs, DARD and the Department of Justice to help find meaningful and effective ways to tackle this important issue,” said Mr Bell.
“There is frustration in the farming community as to how agri-crime is dealt with on the ground in some areas and we believe things can be done better.
“For example, there is farm specific training for police officers taking place in some parts of Northern Ireland to help them better understand the practical workings of a farm.
“However, there are things farmers can do themselves to protect their livestock, machinery, equipment and property such as: reporting all incidences of theft and any suspicious behaviour to the PSNI; ensuring premises are well lit; and gates and doors are securely locked.
“The UFU members can also take advantage of our range of security related affinity deals to help protect their property such as: 20% the Cesar datatag; 15% off Tracker unit and installation; 10% discount on the Block Stem security device; and discounts on GuardCam and Mercury Solutions CCTV.
“Overall, the conference was a success and the UFU will continue to work on building strong relationships with key partners such as the PSNI, DARD, PCSPs and DOJ. Rural crime is not an issue that is going away and it needs to be a top priority not only for farmers but for our partners too. With this in mind, the UFU is encouraging members to get involved with their local Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP). One of the main aims of these groups is to identify and prioritise issues of concern, such as rural crime, and create plans as to how these issues can be tackled at a local level. A fresh round of recruitment is set to begin shortly for local PCSPs and the UFU is encouraging interested members to submit applications.”
Speaking at the conference Justice Minister David Ford said rural crime not only damages farm businesses but also has a wider effect upon farming communities and the rural economy.
He added: “Today’s conference provides an opportunity to consider the impacts of these crimes, and what further actions we can take to tackle them. I want to thank the UFU for organising this conference on such an important matter.
“I am encouraged that the latest twelve month figures show a 9.6% reduction in agricultural crime in Northern Ireland, but I recognise there are still ongoing concerns, particularly about the theft of machinery and livestock.”
Mr Ford continued: “Government and the police cannot tackle rural crime alone. We need farmers to play their part too, not least by learning about new approaches and new technology to protect their farms. So I’m encouraged by the take up of TRACKER devices, provided by the Rural Crime Partnership at a subsidised rate, which are now protecting £3million worth of machinery.
“We will use the conference to listen to farmers’ views and concerns, and I hope they leave the conference with improved knowledge on how to protect their families and their farms.”
Alliance Down Councillor Patrick Clarke has welcomed Justice Minister David Ford committing to reducing rural crime levels.
Councillor Patrick Clarke stated: “Rural crime greatly impacts on rural farming communities and the rural economy and can damage farm businesses. I welcome that the Department of Justice are committed to tackling rural crime in Northern Ireland.
“The Department of Justice has been working with key stakeholders including the Ulster Farmer’s Union to raise awareness regarding the impacts of rural crime and what further measures which can be taken to address.
“Over the last twelve months there has been a 9.6% reduction in agricultural crime in Northern Ireland however there are still concerns in regards to the theft of agricultural machinery and livestock so we need the farming community to continue to protect their farm such as tracker devices to protect their machinery.”
The UFU would like to thank the Department of Justice and NFU Mutual for their financial support for the conference. They would also like to thank all the speakers for their valuable contributions and to all the delegates for attending.