Cattle thefts across Newry and Armagh have hit epidemic proportions, according to the latest statistics.
There has been a sharp rise in the number of animals being stolen across the constituency over the past three years.
In fact, official figures provided by Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill on the floor of the Assembly 3,534 stolen over the past three financial years – growing year on year.
The number of cattle reported missing or stolen in the Armagh divisional veterinary office (DVO) area was 389 in 2012-13; 629 in 2013-14; and 666 in 2014-15 – a total 1,684 for the three years.
The number of cattle reported missing or stolen in the Newry DVO area was 406 in 2012-13; 947 in 2013-14; and 497 in 2014-15 – adding up to 1,850 over the same three year period.
The information was provided in response to a question from Newry and Armagh Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy.
In providing the most up-to-date numbers, Minister O’Neill explained the process.
“Under the Cattle Identification (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2012, keepers must report cattle that are lost or stolen in writing to DARD within seven days of the event being noticed,” she said.
“Information on stolen animals or animals reported as missing is kept on the Department’s database, the animal and public health information system (APHIS). APHIS does not differentiate between missing/lost or stolen animals. Those two categories are recorded collectively on APHIS.”
The Minister said the PSNI actively investigates reports of stolen cattle and added: “I encourage any keeper who suspects that an animal has been stolen to report it to the PSNI as soon as possible so that a full investigation can be carried out.”
Mr Kennedy said Newry and Armagh DARD veterinary offices “consistently report the highest numbers of stolen or missing cattle”, and added that “the proximity of the border to each office is clearly not a coincidence”.
“Would the Minister support a National Crime Agency investigation into those organised crime gangs?,” he asked.
Minister O’Neill said she would “support any action that helped to remove the criminality that is in our society”.
And she added: “That is an issue that has been raised consistently; I have raised it at the North/South Ministerial Council.
“Whilst we have joined-up working between the PSNI and an Garda Síochána, there are opportunities for us to work more effectively together in dealing with any criminality, whether in relation to any type of rural crime or, in this instance, cattle theft.”
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