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Begging crackdown law comes into force

Tough new laws to stop aggressive begging, which came into force today, are in the public interest, the Government has claimed.

Gardai will now have the power to move on people asking for money near ATMs, night safes, vending machines, shop fronts or outside businesses.

And anyone found running an orchestrated begging ring, forcing others to beg or living off the proceeds can face up to five years in jail and, or, a €200,000 fine.

Brendan Smith, Justice Minister, said giving gardai the power to take on-the-spot action against street beggars was a more effective way of dealing with the problem.

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

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

"I believe that power will be all the more effective because it is directed at specific locations. By avoiding the need for prosecutions and sentences, it represents a more effective way of dealing with the problem."

It will also be an offence to obstruct people or vehicles when begging. Anyone convicted of the harassment offences or the obstruction could be hit with a fine and, or, one month in jail.

The tough laws were introduced by former justice minister Dermot Ahern last year and have been signed into law President Mary McAleese. The provisions are contained in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2011.

Minister Smith added: "I am well aware that those who beg are often coping with severe personal circumstances, but I feel the public want to see that the public order aspects are addressed.

"I am very pleased with the approach taken in this new legislation.

"It is focused on begging when it becomes a public nuisance, while also ensuring the people involved were given ample opportunity to avoid a prosecution for a criminal offence."

The Government said new legislation was necessary after the High Court found old laws, dating from 1847, were unconstitutional.

The old legislation was struck down in 2007 after Niall Dillon challenged the 19th century Vagrancy Act, brought in at the time of the Famine, after being charged with begging on Parliament Street in Dublin.

The High Court ruled the law was too vague and incompatible with constitutional provisions allowing free speech and freedom to communicate.

PA Media