By Jim Cusack
A farmer had his livelihood wiped out last week after 75 cattle and 25 sheep were stolen from his lands near Kilbeggan.
The latest livestock heist comes as incidents of cattle rustling have increased dramatically - especially in border areas.
Some 700 cattle have been rustled in Co Armagh alone from January to April this year, according to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland.
The total given for all rustled cattle in the Republic for the same period is given as 59.
In all, the Republic's Department of Agriculture puts the total for rustled livestock at 859 since the start of 2010.
But those figures do not include last week's robbery on the farm in the midlands.
Niall Dillon (34), a full-time farmer and cattle transporter, said thieves must have been watching his movements and his premises after 100 animals valued at around €100,000 were stolen overnight on Wednesday or on Thursday morning, from the lands in Cornaher, Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath.
The first sign he had that anything was amiss was when he noticed that the lock had been cut on the gate leading into the farm that he had rented 4km from his home.
Like a lot of people I would have thought that a lock was enough," Mr Dillon said. "I noticed nothing over the past few weeks but they have to have been watching the place," he said.
The farmland is close to the N6 old Dublin Road between Kilbeggan and Tyrrellspass. It is believed the 100 animals were stolen between 9pm on Wednesday and 1.15am on Thursday.
Mr Dillon said CCTV footage from the Tyrrellspass area had captured a lorry and single trailer, and also a lorry with a double-decker trailer that may potentially have been involved.
In Northern Ireland the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) admits a total of around 3,000 animals stolen each year since 2010. But the figures for Armagh indicate that the illicit rustling and slaughtering trade is booming around the Border area.
The illicit trade is a major concern to the industry on either side of the Border given the concerns over Ireland's meat safety record in relation to the spread of animal diseases including BSE and the discovery of horse and other non-regulated meat into the human consumption and export market. Figures recorded over the past five years show that rustling appears to be increasing significantly. The Armagh figures show: 497 cattle thefts in 2010-2011; 342 thefts in 2011-2012; 389 thefts in 2012-2013; 629 thefts in 2013-2014 and 666 up to the end of April this year.
Figures provided by the Department of Agriculture in Dublin for livestock rustling over the same periods appear to show that the Republic has a far less serious problem. The Department figures provided on Friday put livestock rustling at: 2010-2011, 180; 2011-2012, 133; 2012-2013, 319; 2013-2014, 165 and 59 up to the end of April this year.
Sources say there is now a 'corridor of lawlessness' along the Border and that this is allowing for all sorts of criminality including rustling to take place. One illegal plant was uncovered and closed down with the seizure of equipment in south Armagh last year.
However, local farmers say that there is evidence of the illegal butchering of animals going on and that a large amount of animal bones and offal was dumped at Ballybinaby on the Louth-Armagh border earlier this year.