I’m too scared to show my face, they might come back and kill me
Locals living in terror… but when will their Garda station reopen?
PENSIONER John Byrne tentatively agrees to a silhouette picture. The frail and nervous 68-year-old had his life turned upside down when three men burst into his home as he was getting ready for bed. The event is on his mind ‘constantly’ and he ‘shakes’ with fear when he recalls their threats to come back and ‘kill him’ if he lied about having no money.
The retired council worker had been quietly enjoying his retirement in rural Co. Carlow, after over 40 years working in a meat factory and later in the county council.
That was until eight months ago when the men burst into his isolated home by prising open his back window with a screwdriver. They shoved him into his bathroom and locked the door. There he stayed for more than nine and a half hours, ‘sure’ they would carry out their threat to kill him.
Soon after, Mr Byrne fled his home and sought refuge in a care home. He now has a panic button strapped to his wrist. ‘They destroyed my life. I think about it every minute of every day,’ he told the Irish Mail on Sunday.
‘I lived in that house for 40 years but I couldn’t live there any more. They told me they would be back – that frightened me worse. I am a nervous sort of a lad anyway, so this really knocked me. I had a dog but I had to give him away. This place wouldn’t have suited him. I was very sorry to say goodbye.’
Mr Byrne decided to tell his story in the hope it will put pressure on the Government to reopen his local Garda station at Leighlinbridge.
Another man who wants the station reopened is Art O’Connor, who runs the local post office. He was robbed three times in two months last year and, in one horrifying incident, was struck on the head with either a hammer or an imitation firearm. He told the MoS he was ‘lucky to be alive’ after two raiders burst in with a hammer and a gun. Agreeing that the motorway has resulted in some of the crime in the area, he said he is ‘lucky to be alive’ after his ordeals.
‘The first guy sentenced for raiding my shop got a total of seven years,’ he added, ‘but the sentences were to run concurrently and he was out in a year. It’s a joke.’
Leighlinbridge Garda Station – which is among more than 130 stations
‘I was too afraid to live in my house any more’
closed around the country – has been named in an interim Garda report recommending its reopening because of an increase in population, its proximity to the M9 and vulnerability to mobile criminals.
Also named in the report was Stepaside in south Dublin – the constituency of Transport Minister Shane Ross – which the Government reopened head of the other stations named in the report. These include Leighlinbridge, Donard in Co. Wicklow and Rush in north Dublin.
John Byrne knows little about the politics involved in reopening Garda stations but feels strongly about Leighlinbridge. He told the MoS he has not seen a Garda in the town since the station closed in 2013 and that seeing it reopened would give him ‘peace of mind’.
‘We’d all love to see it open,’ agreed Mr O’Connor.
Other locals, while hopeful, couldn’t help being sceptical.
‘Will the station ever open?’ asked one man, who didn’t want to be named. ‘I’m not so sure – we don’t have a TD in the town.’
wrecked life: Pensioner John Byrne thought he was going to die