At its January meeting, the big issue for Skreen-Dromard Community Council in West Co Sligo was how quickly badminton and social dancing could resume at the local venue as Covid restrictions unfold relax.
But when community representatives gathered last Tuesday evening, the mood was grim. The only item on the agenda was how to respond to the savage attack from their neighbor, Tom Niland.
However, there are now fears that the publicity surrounding the case is causing as many problems as it solves, Celine Clarke, Advocacy Manager at Age Action, warned of “the sensationalism of what happened “.
People need to be made aware of the brutality involved in the attack and similarly it should be noted that the gardaí have raised concerns about the number of burglaries in which elderly people are targeted.
However, Ms Clarke said: ‘It’s important that we also keep perspective on this. We don’t want to create a situation where the elderly lock themselves in their homes again, as they had to because of Covid-19.
“People have lives to live. They should not be disproportionately afraid because of these attacks.
“It’s really important that we don’t cause people unnecessary panic, but rather become more vigilant in the community as a whole, because anyone can be a victim of crime.
“We have to be careful not to give the impression that people are more vulnerable just because of their age. It would be a mistake.
Vanessa Clarke, community development manager at Muintir na Tire, said the widespread coverage of incidents such as the attack on Mr Niland is causing unease among the elderly.
“But the likelihood of an older person being attacked in their home is no greater than a young man being attacked at a party. In fact, the younger person is more likely to become a victim” , she said.
While it was natural for older people to identify with someone in their own age group who has been abused, it is important to “help alleviate that fear, empower and provide a sense of security “.
Such assaults are “sporadic”, and communities would feel safer if there was “greater gardaí visibility” with more “feet on the beat”.
“There is a perception that older people are more likely to be victims of these kinds of crimes, when the reality is pretty much the opposite.”
Back in Sligo, local council chairman James McLoughlin, who has known Mr Niland for 55 years, said there was a huge desire among locals to help the Garda investigation.
Hundreds of people had wanted to search for Mr Niland’s stolen mobile phone, or any other items thrown by his attackers on the 25km road from Mr Niland’s home on the N59 to the scenic spot next door of Lough Easkey in the Ox Mountains where his discarded wallet was found.
Ultimately, it was agreed in talks with gardaí that 15 volunteers would be involved in helping officers comb the area before the end of this week.
Allister Kee, who set up an SMS alert system in the area nine years ago, spoke of fear, particularly among people living alone following the attack.
“The whole place is nervous,” said Mr Kee, who revealed an increase in inquiries about personal alarms since the events of January 18. “We’ve had up to 30 inquiries since this happened.”
Mr Niland’s cousin, Michael Walsh, said he would speak to the retired farmer about the community’s outrage and concern when he visited intensive care.
“I’m going to talk to him, take his hand and tell him so-and-so was on the phone, and I’ll tell him about the outcry in the community because I think Tom would be happy to hear that.”
Every time he visits, he stares at his cousin’s bruised face and “and I call his name and hope for an eye roll under the eyelid which would be fantastic”.
Although there was no change in Mr Niland’s condition, Mr Walsh said the fact that he was still breathing ‘even with the aid of a machine’ meant that ‘he is still there and so we have to keep hoping”.