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Finally, new laws are on way to crack down on pushy plague of beggars at bank ATMs

The Minister for Justice has introduced a new Bill to put an end to the plague of beggars at ATMs and stores across the country.

For the past three years, the authorities have been almost powerless to deal with the epidemic of outstretched hands and plastic cups.

A walk through any shopping precinct has been a minefield of intimidation and nuisance for any pedestrian.

The scene has been the same in practically every city and major town in the country since a High Court ruling in 2007 that the Vagrancy Act of 1847 was unconstitutional.

Some extended family groups set up their own lucrative "pitches", working on a roster basis, with supermarket entrances the most prized.

The Dublin City Centre Business Association has been lobbying with its sister groups in Cork and Galway to ensure any new law has teeth and is enforceable.

It opposed the initial draft of the Bill on the grounds that begging would only have been outlawed if it was deemed "aggressive".

While more content with the new Bill, they are carefully watching for any amendments which might dilute its powers.

The traders successfully argued that it was "aggressive" to a woman to be confronted by a beggar at night at an ATM machine.

"We have to protect the tourist trade and those who frequent the pavement cafe from the stream of passing beggars and the general public going about their business," said Tom Coffey of the DCCBA.

"Begging is a tax-free business with a large number of immigrants coming into the country specifically for this purpose. Some of them commit offences before leaving the baggage hall at the airport."

While a date has not been set for a debate in the House, Minister Dermot Ahern is hopeful of its early passage into law.

While begging will not be illegal in future, the key element of the new legislation is that an offence is committed where it involves harassment, intimidation or obstruction.

Begging will not be allowed:

  • Within 10 metres of a business premises entrance or dwelling.

  • Within 10 metres of an ATM.

  • Within 10 metres of a vending machine, eg at The Luas.

  • On roads or at motorway junctions.

The law is aimed at ending the practice of beggars interfering with the public to an extent where customers are deterred from entering a premises because of their presence.

Breaches of the new law will result in a penalty of a maximum term of imprisonment of one month and/or a fine of up to €400.

Failure to comply with a direction from a garda to move on will on conviction be liable to a maximum fine of €300.

Minister Ahern said: "This Bill gives us a modern and reasonable solution to a problem we cannot ignore."