herald

Tuesday 21 August 2018

New law will target packs of organised beggars on streets

GANGS of beggars are arriving in Dublin city centre "in packs" every day, a councillor has claimed.

The "professional" operators are being dropped off in the city in the morning and then collected later in the day, Cllr Nial Ring said.

He made the comment as organised begging became a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of €200,000.

The prohibition is in the new Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, which aims to deal with the problem of aggressive or intimidating begging.

Up to 20 Roma gypsies are begging on one of the capital's main thoroughfares during daylight hours, Cllr Ring insisted.

"It has gotten very bad near the Pro Cathedral. The priest congratulated the guards in Store Street, because the guards go in now during Mass and keep an eye on the known beggars," he told the Herald.

"Local people in the area have been saying that they're actually seeing people being dropped off and directed for begging.

"Locals have told me that there was a crowd left off at Temple Street hospital and sent off in all directions, and then collected on Moore Street or Parnell Street."

The legislation was brought through the Dail by former Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern before his retirement and has now been enacted.

Dublin's Lord Mayor Gerry Breen has welcomed the legislation, saying the public should be able to feel safe in the city centre. However, charitable groups have said the laws go too far, pointing out most people beg out of necessity.

The new measures will allow gardai to move on anyone begging near ATMs.

"Under the new law, a person who begs in an aggressive, intimidating or threatening manner will be guilty of an offence," the current Justice Minister Brendan Smith said

"New powers will enable gardai to direct anyone begging near ATMs, night safes or shop entrances to leave the area."

Tone

The legislation was necessary after the High Court ruled that the old law, dating from 1847, was unconstitutional.

Two new offences have been created, one of organising or directing begging and another of living off the proceeds.

They carry penalties of up to five years imprisonment or a fine of €200,000, or both.

Mayor Breen said there was an entitlement by people to "feel safe and secure on the streets. Unfortunately, over the last three plus years, that right has been eroded by the incidence --- and also the tone -- of begging."

But the charity Leanbh, which works with child beggars, disagreed, saying the laws were too far reaching. "From our experience around 90pc of people who are out begging every day, are there because they have no other way of getting money to cover their day-by-day living expenses."

hnews@herald.ie

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