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Gardai left powerless to fight begging

GARDAI were left "powerless" to deal with aggressive begging by organised gangs of eastern European gypsies over Christmas due to the continued absence of legislation promised two years ago.

Gardai say there was an influx of gypsies over December, in an apparently well- orchestrated campaign to target Dublin, which remains the only major European city where police have no powers to tackle beggars. The anti-begging legislation introduced in November 2008 remains under consideration though the Department of Justice has said it will be implemented next month.

Dublin's Lord Mayor, Gerry Breen of Fine Gael, who had been calling for the introduction of the legislation, said he had most recently been informed by the Department of Justice that the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill would be passed into legislation next month. The bill replaces the Vagrancy Act which was ruled unconstitutional by the High Court in 2007. Gardai detected a range of crimes committed by the gypsies, including a woman who was prostituting her 15-year-old daughter in Dublin city centre, an ATM skimming device, organised pick-pocketing and other forms of larceny, all associated with groups of Roma gypsies.

Gardai said aggressive begging was the biggest problem during daytime hours.

At nights, teams of professional pickpockets working with women selling roses were targeting people in and around pubs and clubs. City-centre gardai had to use the Casual Trading Act to detain the rose-sellers during the hours between 11pm and 3am and this led to a dramatic drop in the number of thefts of purses.

During Christmas week gardai were called to a lane off Moore Street, behind O'Connell Street, by a member of the public who witnessed a young Roma girl engaging in a sexual act with a man while her mother stood nearby. Gardai detained the 15-year-old and the man but the mother escaped. The girl was placed in the care of the HSE but escaped shortly afterwards. She was discovered by gardai later at a house on the North Circular Road and again placed in care but escaped again. Her whereabouts are not now known.

The electronic skimming device was located and removed by gardai from Store Street Station at a Bank of Ireland ATM in Talbot Street. Garda said no money was taken from any accounts. The main banks, including Bank of Ireland, have installed electronic devices to prevent the copying of cash cards used in ATMs and this has cut down on the swiping crime which has been exclusively organised by eastern European gypsy gangs.

Gardai admit they are having severe problems in dealing with foreign organised criminals. Despite making repeated arrests for theft and other crime they find the suspects received automatic bail and continued committing offences. Many stay in Ireland carrying out repeated crimes up to the time they are facing imprisonment and then leave.

Gardai also suspect many are availing of the free flights back to their native countries being supplied by the State under a voluntary repatriation scheme brought in to assist foreign workers who have lost jobs and are unable to avail of benefits here. The scheme, known as the EU12 Repatriation Function, provided temporary accommodation and free flights for around 700 people last year, the majority of them Roma gypsies returning to eastern Europe. Almost all would have travelled here on Ryanair flights or on buses or vans from eastern Europe.

Gardai say the entire involvement of gypsies in begging and crime here is organised by gangs based in Roma centres in eastern European countries. Beggars have often to hand over their entire takings or face beatings or worse. One 50-year-old beggar, Eugenia Bratis, from Romania, was stabbed to death in Phoenix Park after she had failed to turn over money in August 2009, gardai believe.

Two men took her to the park, stabbed her and left her body in a sleeping bag which she had been carrying, apparently as a lesson to others.

Gardai also say the abandonment of girls who have not been married at a young age is also a serious problem. They suspect the 15-year-old who was being prostituted by her mother may have been previously raped, and so not eligible for marriage under Roma social rules.

Another young Roma girl who had been abandoned here, Mariora Rostas, 19, was working as a beggar and street prostitute when she was abducted and murdered in January 2009.

At the time she had been trying to support herself and younger brother, both living rough in Dublin.

Sunday Independent