Courts Service defends use of poor box as almost €1.3m donated last year

Beneficiaries include ActionAid Ireland, St Vincent de Paul and Ruhama Women’s Project

The president of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan: has described the use of the poor box as a very useful “disposal option” in appropriate cases. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The president of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan: has described the use of the poor box as a very useful “disposal option” in appropriate cases. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Courts Service has defended the operation of the court poor box as new figures show almost €1.3 million was donated in this fashion last year.

Some 724 charities, agencies and individuals benefited from the €1,291,397 given to the court poor box in 2015. These range from the Ballina Salmon Festival, which got €300 from the local court in Co Mayo, to the overseas charity ActionAid Ireland, which got €40,000 from the courts in Co Kerry.

The option of donating to the poor box in lieu of, or to mitigate, conviction and a fine is at the discretion of the presiding judge. In most cases, the judge decides where the money goes. There have been moves to scrap the poor box, which predates the State and whose origins are obscure.

The total collected in 2015 was down significantly on the previous year, when €2.18 million was advanced to mitigate penalties for mainly minor offences. This drop was largely accounted for by a decrease in Co Kerry.

In 2014, the Tralee office, which administers the courts of Killarney, Tralee, Listowel, Kenmare, Killorglin, Cahersiveen and Dingle, contributed €883,527, which was more than 40 per cent of the total.

Last year, the courts in the same district, which are presided over by Judge James O’Connor, contributed €131,570 to the total, still making it among the biggest contributors.

Local charities

Aside from ActionAid Ireland, other beneficiaries were the Columban Fathers in Ireland (€15,000), Oxfam Ireland (€17,150), St Patrick’s Missionary Society, Kiltegan (€11,000), Missionaries of the Poor (€12,000), World Vision Ireland (€10,000) and overseas volunteer agency Agapé Adventures (€10,000).

In Cork, most of the €126,348 generated in the courts went to local charities. Cork Penny Dinners got €13,150, the Cork Samaritans €12,800 and Cork Simon Community €17,120.

Several homeless charities benefited from the Dublin Criminal Courts of Justice. These included the Capuchin Day Centre (€23,730), the Fr Peter McVerry Trust (€21,635) and Ruhama Women’s Project (€11,200).

From the Portlaoise Courts Office, Médecins Sans Frontières received just under €20,000 of the total €50,200, with 21 other charities sharing the remainder. Across the State, St Vincent de Paul is one of the most popular nominees by judges; the Garda Benevolent Fund also figures frequently.

First-time offences

“When combined with the Probation of Offenders Act, it provides an option where some financial penalty is considered merited but a conviction and fine are not.”

In 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended a combined reform of the poor box and the Probation Act, and in early 2014 then minister for justice Alan Shatter proposed replacing it with a reparation fund for crime victims.

In 2014, the High Court ruled it should not be given as an option to avoid conviction in motoring offences involving penalty points and attracting mandatory penalty.

Earlier this year, former minister for transport Paschal Donohoe said he was “unequivocally against” use of the poor box by District Court judges in cases where penalty points might be imposed. However, the president of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan has described the use of the poor box as a very useful “disposal option” in appropriate cases.