Almost €1.74 million was paid out from the court poor box to various charities in 2018, according to figures released by the Courts Service.
The sum is made up of contributions mainly in District Courts from individual offenders in mitigation or in lieu of conviction.
The hundreds of charities to benefit are at the direction of individual judges and in 2018 they ranged from cancer support organisations to local branches of St Vincent de Paul, as well as mountain rescue teams, Olympic boxing and GAA clubs. Some of the largest donations have been to international charities. Unnamed individuals also benefited.
The €1,736,538 figure does not include practices in some courts requiring individuals to make payments directly to named charities.
The scrapping of the poor box system and its replacement with a more transparent auditing system with money to go to victims of crime was recommended almost 20 years ago by the Law Reform Commission. In 2014, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan ruled that the use of the poor box for penalty point offences was specifically barred under the Road Traffic Act 2010.
Legislation to abolish the court poor box was promised early last year. The Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill is in train, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday.
In 2015 and 2017 more than €2 million was distributed to charities via the poor box system and since 2014 more than €9 million will have been paid in.
The court poor box has been used extensively in District 17 court office, representing contributions from the District Courts in Killarney, Tralee, Dingle, Kenmare, Cahersiveen and Listowel, traditionally accounting for the greatest single share of the overall figure donated each year.
In 2018, Tralee accounted for more than €458,250 or more than a quarter of the total, almost €1.74 million. In contrast, Clare’s Ennis office total contribution towards six charities, mainly local, in 2018 was €3,750.
The Tralee contributions were distributed across 66 beneficiaries with the bulk of the money going overseas. The Society of African Missions was last year assigned €116,200, followed by Sightsavers International with €60,000 donation and €50,000 to the Christian Blind Mission. The local Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse centre, which has consistently called for a greater share, again received just €250. Five contributions ranging from €100 to €10,000 were made to unnamed individuals from the court poor box in Kerry.
Two years ago the council wrote to then Judge James O’Connor asking for a meeting on the matter, after a motion by Fianna Fáil councillor Niall Kelleher called for funds to be distributed locally.
When the 2019 figures are issued, they are likely to show a change in the application of the poor box. Judge David Waters, who is now the presiding judge in District 17, has been directing first-time offenders to contribute to the Garda Benevolent fund, in the case of public order offences and to the Cuan Mhuire addiction charity in the case of drugs and drink offences. Sums asked are €200 and €300 and individuals must make the payments themselves and bring in a receipt as proof before their matter may be struck out.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said yesterday it was taking some time to draft new legislation because of the considerable changes involved in modernising the law for community sanctions.
The new statutory Reparation Fund to replace it will be more centralised, more transparent and will apply only to minor offences dealt with by the District Court. It will see a greater role for the probation service and community service, the department said.