Our capital city belongs to its citizens. ALL of its citizens. Rich and poor. Working and jobless. Healthy and sick. Domiciled and homeless. Each and every one of us has the right to walk the streets of our city for our own purposes.
That right has been gradually eroding, in recent times. Law-abiding folk rushing to work find themselves tripping over beggars, cross-legged on the pavement. Families headed for a particular shop or cinema encounter men with their hand out, looking for a few euro for a cup of coffee.
In the good old days (like four years ago) people had a choice. They had enough money to give to a beggar, or not give to a beggar, as they chose. If they didn't give the handout sought, they could justify it to themselves easily enough. ("He wouldn't spend my five euro on a cup of coffee, he'd spend it on drink or drugs. So it would be a waste of time to give him money. Only encourage him.") Or they could blithely move on, uncaring. Neither option is open, these days. People who don't give to beggars, when importuned, know the likelihood of a comeback.
The comeback can take several forms, of which the easiest to handle is the low-volume pursuit, where refusal to accept a negative leads the pursuer to continue to quietly beg. Tougher to handle is the spit in the street or the yelled four-letter words that pursue the non-giver, identifying them to everybody within a square kilometre.
It was inevitable, given the downturn, that we would have more genuinely destitute people who would take to the streets with their begging bowls. And let's face it, we tolerate (even if we don't like) charity bucket collections where young people in t-shirts bounce up alongside your car at a traffic light, inviting you to contribute to this or that good cause.
We must be wary of our own kick-the-dog instincts. We must not, in examining this problems, stereotype or caricature or ghettoise poor people trying to get help in difficult times.
But we must, first of all, acknowledge the damage done to our beautiful city. Tourism is one of Dublin's greatest markets, particularly when other possibilities have closed down, and no tourist could fail to feel intimidated, as they walk through our beloved Strumpet City right now.
Because it's become a Strumpet on steroids -- full of rage and threat. Weird, when the stunning Convention Centre has just opened in Dublin Docklands, that business people attending conferences there would have to pick their way through threatening, dirty strangers demanding money from them.
Bottom line? It's bad for tourism and lethal for business tourism. All we need is for some international publication of clout, like the Sunday edition of the New York Times, to devote the front page of its travel section to a piece about Panhandling Dublin, and yet another stream of income for the city bites the dust.
Back in the days when Rudy Giuliani was a relatively new mayor of New York, his police commissioner sent New York's finest to war against squeegee men. You know the guys who come up to your car and squeegee the front window clean, whether you want them to or you don't, and then demand money? It was decided, at the time, that the squeegee men had to go, because "this is the type of activity that is generating fear."
Having cleared the streets and bridges of squeegee men, the administration announced that virtually all of the squeegee men had outstanding warrants for more serious crimes.
Therein lies the core of our current problem. It's not just about sweeping the streets of intimidation.
It's about getting a handle on preventing the intimidators -- whether they're poor or addicted -- from destroying our capital city.