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Keep these roadside beggars off our cars urge furious drivers

OUTRAGE is growing over gangs of aggressive Roma "windscreen washers" who are frightening city centre drivers with their demands for cash.

Our pictures show one group operating in the north inner city and a frustrated motorist who stood up to them when they washed his car without permission.

The menacing washers even turned their aggression on the Herald's photograpers as they snapped them on a street.

The culprits approach women because they are seen as soft targets, said witnesses, while professional drivers like taxi drivers are largely ignored.

The incident in our pictures happened at the junction of the Quays and Queen Street, where five beggars were washing windscreens. They ordered Herald photographers to stop photographing them.

Calls have been made for a garda clampdown on the problem, as well as tough new laws outlawing begging.

North inner city councillor Christy Burke said the health and safety issues alone should be enough to ban the windscreen washing practice.

Cllr Burke (Ind) said the groups were targeting women, many of whom were frightened into giving money.

"Begging should be banned completely," he said. "Particularly in its aggressive forms. This is an orchestrated organisation and I believe it is a very healthy and wealthy one. I have no doubt money is being made.

"I see it as a health and safety issue. It's an accident waiting to happen having these people approach moving traffic. If I hit one of them, you can rest assured they will have my registration and insurance and they will be making a claim."

A garda spokesman said while new legislation was passing through the Oireachtas, beggars could be prosecuted for public order offences.

"If individuals are standing around say at traffic lights causing an obstruction, they are requested to move on under the Public Order Act," a spokesman said. "If someone demands money with menace this will be fully investigated if a complaint is made."

The Government has been called on to outlaw street begging amid fears that gangs demanding money are ruining trade and tourism. Businesses are demanding action as the streets are increasingly plagued by aggressive, mainly foreign-national beggars.

The problem has been escalating since the law making begging illegal was struck down in 2007.

New legislation is currently before the Oireachtas, but there are mixed views over its potential to deal with the problem.

"We want it to be made illegal to beg in public places, particularly near ATMs and shops," said Dublin City Business Association CEO Tom Coffey.

"This has become an organised, tax-free business for those involved, and it is undermining and ruining tourism in the city.

"The legislators need to do their job and bring in proper legislation to ban this begging."