Law targets unruly beggars in Ireland
With the Celtic Tiger faltering, some say the crackdown will only add to the misery of the poor.
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"People are losing jobs and are unable to pay rents or mortgages. The number of people we deal with is going up all the time," he says. "What's important is to provide support and help for people. I don't think a hard-line criminal justice solution is going to achieve anything in the long-term."Skip to next paragraph
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The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which helps those in poverty, has reported that more than a quarter of its calls are from people who have never requested aid. Those seeking help include foreigners drawn to Ireland during the recent boom.
"Many workers from Eastern Europe who lost jobs in the construction sector don't have a lot of savings to fall back on, or a social network," says Roughan McNamara, with Focus Ireland, a charity that helps people it describes as "out of home."
The Department of Justice has defended the new antibegging legislation on the grounds that begging is often accompanied by intimidation and threats. Officials say the laws are not meant to target genuine cases of hardship.
Of particular concern is the use of children in begging. Announcing the legislation, Minister Ahern said it was "very distressing to witness young children effectively forced onto the streets to beg by sinister adults."
Scant hard data exist on the extent of orchestrated begging here. A spokesperson from the Garda [police] says, "as with any major city, Dublin has people begging on its streets. ... There is an element of organization involved."
Leanbh (the Gaelic word for child) is a service run by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children that addresses child begging. Manager, Adriana Fechete says that the organization has no evidence of organized begging, although there have been isolated instances where Leanbh volunteers noticed adults watching over children begging.
But children are already protected by existing legislation, says Ms. Fechete. Under the Children Act of 2001, it's illegal to allow or place a child at risk through begging. Under the new legislation, parents of child beggars could be sent to jail. "Criminalizing the parents should only be used as a last resort," she says.
Of the 5,000 estimated to be homeless in Ireland at any one time, only a small percentage actually sleep on the streets, according to Focus Ireland. One such person is a man who gave his name as Francis. On a recent night, as temperatures dipped near freezing, Francis was making his bed on a cardboard mattress and dirty, damp blankets in an office doorway in Dublin's city center. Beside his bed was the slightly crumpled plastic cup he has been begging with throughout the day. Homeless for nearly 18 months, Francis says he's noticed more people begging recently.
Francis sleeps in the same spot each night, but he's on the move during the day. "The security guards come out of the shops and tell you to go away," he says, adding that he typically wanders to an area away from businesses, "but even there the police move you along."