The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has warned that organised crime gangs are becoming increasingly involved with the theft of cattle across Northern Ireland.
Robin Swann MLA was commenting after he secured figures from DAERA which revealed that almost 11,000 cattle have been reported either as lost or stolen over the last three years.
Robin Swann said: “Cattle can and do disappear for a host of genuine reasons. They can fall down steep drops when grazing and others can even be swept away in flood waters.
“No one however thinks 10,755 cattle have succumbed to such unfortunate events in just the last three years. The reality no doubt is that a large number were stolen.
“After hearing of a growing number of reports of livestock thefts in recent weeks and months I asked DAERA for the number of cattle registered on APHIS that have been reported missing or stolen over the last three years. I was shocked by the response I received, “ said Mr Swann.
“Cattle rustling is nothing new to Northern Ireland but the problem is evidently getting worse. According to the DAERA response in just 2018, 3,838 head of cattle disappeared. In 2011/12 the figure was a full thousand fewer at 2,807.
“It makes me mad when farmers contact my office after they’ve had cattle stolen. Many of those being lifted are quality animals that have been specifically bred and reared on the farm and worth considerable sums of money, only to end up being stolen by thieves cowardly operating under the cover of darkness.
“Rather than being simple opportunist thefts however, I suspect a large number of these cattle are being stolen to order.
“From discussing the problem with different contacts in the PSNI I believe many of the people behind the thefts are now part of wider criminal gangs,” he continued.
“Once the cattle are stolen their tags are usually changed quite quickly before they are later smuggled with fake documentation into factories in the Irish Republic.
“For those that aren’t shipped across the border they are most likely slaughtered in rudimentary backyard processing facilities. The meat from those premises could end up just about anywhere I fear.
“With the disarray in our public finances locally the PSNI are also finding it increasingly difficult to do all that they want to. Even the number of officers has long since fallen below what we officially need just to deliver the minimum standard of service.
“Whatever we decide to do though, for as long as we continue to do nothing different and little else other than hope for something to change, the criminals will continue to have the upper hand, “ concluded MLA Swann.