herald

Monday 18 December 2017

It beggars belief

One minute this 'lame' beggar is hobbling, the next he makes a Lazarus-like recovery in a scene that highlights our laws which leave gardai powerless to act

Talk about being caught on the hop. One minute this beggar is limping along with a crutch, moments later his disability seems to have mysteriously disappeared.

He preys on the kindness of strangers in Dublin city by appearing to need the use of a crutch before dropping his hobble and moving on.

However, gardai are virtually powerless to deal with street beggars because no legislation has yet replaced the Vagrancy Act, which was deemed unconstitutional three years ago.

He was pictured outside the Dublin Tourism Office beside Suffolk Street, limping around with his blue crutch and bent over to give the appearance of an injured or disabled man.

But minutes earlier, he had been standing upright chatting to a female friend, with no visual signs of pain or disability.

The Herald's pictures show this man to be exaggerating his condition and appealing for sympathy from passers-by as by yesterday he was back again, this time operating along the city's quays.



Heartstrings

The begging gangs often target tourist hotspots where they feel they can tug at the heartstrings of our visitors. Dublin's Lord Mayor Gerry Breen told the Herald that since the Vagrancy Act was deemed unconstitutional in 2007 there has been very little that can be done to combat the problem of street begging.

In March 2007, the law preventing begging was struck out by the High Court after a young Dublin man charged with begging on Parliament Street in the city three years before that challenged part of the 19th century act.

Niall Dillon claimed that part of the act breached his constitutional right to freedom of expression and his right to communicate.

Mr Justice Eamon De Valera found that the section was unconstitutional because it interfered with the constitutional right of freedom of expression and freedom to communicate with other people. Section 3 of the Vagrancy Act, which was introduced in 1847 at the height of the Famine, had provided that anyone begging or placing himself in any public place, street, highway, court or passage to beg or gather alms, committed an offence punishable by a maximum sentence of one month in prison.

"New legislation is on the way, but it takes political will to implement it," said Mayor Breen of Fine Gael.

"At the moment there are organised groups engaging in begging, and it shows the city in a bad light not only for tourists but for its own citizens as well. It has become easy for these people to use such tried and tested methods of making money in this town, and until there is a time when action can be taken it will continue to be a problem as more and more people come here and engage in begging."

A garda spokesman told the Herald that there was little that could be done about street beggars unless they were causing a breach of the peace or an obstruction.

"There is a new bill in the pipeline and hopefully new legislation will be implemented soon," said the spokesman.

"But until that time we can only really act in situations of obstruction, such as at ATMs, or where there could be a public order offence."

Pat Hayden, of the Dublin Tourism Office, said there was a general policy of moving people on, be they traders or people looking for money. "But we can only move them so far and then they are in areas we cannot control," he said.

"Our security staff know most of these people now, and most know they can't operate here, but we always have our eyes open for more."

hnews@herald.ie

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