By John Drennan
Cattle rustling has now escalated into a national rather than just a border phenomenon, according to new figures secured by the Fine Gael party chairman Charlie Flanagan.
In the wake of growing concerns in the farming community over the rise of cattle rustling, Mr Flanagan has asked the Garda Commissioner to set up a "special garda division" to deal with the issue.
Mr Flanagan told the Sunday Independent that provisional data from the Department of Justice indicated that "cattle rustling has almost trebled in 2013, when compared to 2012, and that this is now a national problem".
Mr Flanagan noted that "in 2012, 130 cattle were stolen but in the first 11 months of 2013 the number of cattle stolen has increased to over 300, spread across 20 counties".
The only counties that did not experience incidents of cattle-rustling in 2013 were Wicklow, Wexford, Kilkenny, Offaly, Longford and Dublin.
The Fine Gael chairman warned "people can no longer say that rustling is a border issue when only six counties have escaped the attention of the rustlers".
Mr Flanagan added that "rustling is a particularly damaging activity for the farming community since it is impossible to insure cattle".
There was, he said, "a pressing need for the farming organisations to, in conjunction with the insurance companies, set up a compensation fund for affected farmers".
He also warned consumers that "there are real health dangers involved in cattle-rustling; animals are being killed in unlicensed, non-regulated, disused abattoirs".
This, he added, "is now a burgeoning industry rather than a country and western style frolic; consumers need to be careful to ensure they are purchasing beef with traceability".