Wednesday 22 November 2017

Crackdown on nuisance begging

Anne Campbell

Beggars on the streets of Dundalk who are deemed to be aggressive - intimidating people or putting members of the public in fear - could be given ASBOs by Gardai, it has been revealed.

Plans for dealing with those who harass people for money on the town's streets were given by Chief Superintendent Sean Ward at the Joint Policing Committee meeting in Dundalk last week after the issue was raised by Cllr. Maeve Yore.

The independent councillor said she had contacted Gardai in Dundalk in 2014 about the presence of people begging aggressively on the streets of the town. And while Gardai told these people to move on, which they did, they often returned when officers went away.

In July, Cllr. Yore said Gardai told her it was a European human rights issue which prompted the councillor to write to MEPs including Marian Harkin, Mairead McGuinness for clarification.

Following questions in Leinster House, the MEPs said it was not in European law.

Cllr. Yore said she has heard stories from people about being harassed, being blocked from going into premises and people standing in the way of legitimate charity collectors.

CS Ward High Court decisions meant the laws around begging had been modified, but no-one is allowed to beg outside ATMs, banks and retail premises. Organised begging by groups of people is also prohibited.

And under the Criminal Justice Act, the intimidation of members of the public, is against the law.

Gardai in Louth have been working on the issue and are to introduce anti social behaviour warnings . Forms can be served by Gardai on people who are begging aggressively and if the person who got the form continues to behave like that, Gardai will be able to go to court to get an ASBO, banning people from a particular area of a town.

If this is flouted, Gardai can seek through the courts a custodial sentence of up to three months.

CS Ward said: 'It's a new process and it takes time to bed down. If a member of the public feels intimidated, the person who's doing it can be served with this form and start the process'.

And he made an important distinction: 'If a person is begging outside, on a bridge say, and not abusing anyone or putting them in fear, then there is no issue'.

In addition, the people who make complaints to Gardai about aggressive begging are not obliged to come to court.

Cllr Yore thanked Gardai for response and after the meeting, she said she encourages people across the County to report incidents where they feel threatened or intimidated by collectors.

She said she wanted to point out that vital fundraising for local sports clubs, community groups and local charities will not be affected by this scheme.

Irish Independent

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