Justice Minister says ‘no plans’ to change trespass laws despite farmer fears
‘Farmers want there to be consequences for people for being on their land’
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said that he has no immediate plans to change the law regarding trespass on farmland.
His decision is in the wake of concerns raised by the Irish Farmer’s Association, that if farmers identify people trespassing on their land, it is not considered a criminal offence.
Speaking in the Dáil on the issue, Minister Flanagan said that the general legal position in respect of trespass is that it is a civil wrong and, for the most part, can be addressed by means of a civil remedy through the courts.
He said he acknowledged the interest of various farm and rural organisations, particularly the IFA, on this issue. However, he said there are already significant legislative provisions and penalties in place relating to trespass.
The Minister said the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, contains provisions specifically relating to the unauthorised entry onto and occupation of land, including farmland.
He said the law provides for offences relating to illegal trespass and occupation of land which result in a range of specified adverse consequences.
Such land includes privately-owned land and public land provided or maintained by a statutory body. The legislation empowers An Garda Síochána to direct trespassers to leave the land concerned and, if necessary, remove any object belonging to them from the occupied land.
A person who is guilty of an offence under this part of the act is liable on summary conviction to a fine of up to €4,000 or a term of imprisonment, or both, the Minister said.
He also highlighted the the Prohibition of Forcible Entry and Occupation Act 1971 which he said also contains provisions relating to trespass.
Under this Act it is an offence to forcibly enter land, including buildings, or remain in forcible occupation, or to encourage or advocate the commission of such an offence. A person found guilty under the act is liable to a fine, a term of imprisonment or both.
Fianna Fail’s Spokesperson on Justice, Jim O’Callaghan said the Minister’s comments do not take into account the reality of what is happening on farmland.
“Farmers find that when people trespass on their land, they have no remedy in the criminal law.
“When they contact members of An Garda Síochána, they are told that officers can only intervene if there is a threat to commit a criminal offence or if criminal damage has been done.
The type of remedy that farmers want is to be able to tell people trespassing on their land to leave and that there will be consequences if they do not do so.
“They want there to be consequences for people for being on their land,” he said.
Deputy O’Callaghan said that while there may be a civil remedy available it that requires farmers to institute proceedings against unknown individuals who then have to be brought before the courts.
“Farmers have to apply for injunctions before a civil court restraining those persons from coming back onto their land. That is a very complex and detailed process.
“Farmers require greater protection than that being afforded to them at present,” he said.
In September, a Dublin farmer suffered a violent and attack when he confronted a number of men who were trespassing on his land.
Father-of-three Pat Walsh (47), from Lispopple, Swords, suffered four cracked ribs, a dislocated shoulder and needed stitches to his face after he was kicked repeatedly on the ground about 150 metres from his home.
It followed another incident in which a farmer in St Margaret’s, who found men illegally dumping on his land, went to ring the gardaí, but was run over by the van as they struck the gate.
In the same area, another farmer approached men with dogs on his land and he was also assaulted and threatened at knifepoint.
Farmer John Smith told the senior gardaí at a recent meeting on rural crime that if they don’t take efficient measures to combat rural crime then someone will take the law into their own hands, referencing the Padraig Nally-John ‘Frog’ Ward case in 2004.
“If you don’t take some sort of action, you’re going to have what happened in the west of Ireland,” he said.
“Somebody is going to lose the head and then you will have to deal with the guy that took action. If you don’t nip this thing in the bud, that’s what’s going to happen.”