New plan to take persistent beggars off Dublin streets
Initiative by council, Garda and city businesses aims to tackle ‘aggressive begging’
A young woman begging in Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Dublin’s 50 most persistent beggars are to be targeted for removal from the streets under a new initiative from the Garda and Dublin City Council.
Gardaí have identified this number as being responsible for almost half of all behavioural warnings for begging in Dublin; some of these may have received multiple warnings. Legislation from February 2011 made aggressive begging an offence liable for prosecution.
“We would see aggressive begging as begging which interferes with the right of passage or the quality of life of others,” Assistant Garda Commissioner John Twomey said. “In the last two months, gardaí have issued about 200 behavioural warnings for begging and 48 to 49 per cent of those are going to the same group of people.”
The activities of the group, who were almost exclusively homeless, were being dealt with as a criminal justice issue, when in reality their begging was a result of a number of problems, including addiction, Mr Twomey said.
“We feel the problem is that the whole issue rests with the criminal justice system, but a lot of these people are addicted to drugs and alcohol and require a multidisciplinary approach. The law will still be enforced but this is more than a criminal justice matter.”
People appearing before the courts in relation to begging offences generally receive fines which they cannot pay. They are then given a custodial sentence in lieu of the fine and are sent to Mountjoy Prison. Due to overcrowding they are often released after one hour.
“The whole process is futile, these people are in a perpetual cycle,” Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn said. “This isn’t really a criminal justice issue so it won’t be solved by a criminal justice response.”
The council, the Garda, city businesses and organisations which work with the homeless have agreed a strategy which will involve the development of case management plans for each individual involved.
“What’s needed here is an approach targeted towards the needs of each individual, almost a case of picking them off one by one,” Mr Quinn said. “Instead of getting people into the courts system, gardaí will use the power of arrest for referral to the appropriate agency.”
Gardaí on the beat would know most of the people involved in persistent begging by name, Mr Twomey said.
Where an individual has had previous interaction with a particular homelessness or drugs- related service, that agency will be the first point of contact.
From there a case plan will be worked out for the individual whether they require housing services, drugs rehabilitation, mental health services or other supports. If support funding is required, this will be provided by city businesses.
Dublin Business Improvement District and the Dublin City Business Association were supporting the initiative, Mr Quinn said.
Dublin City Council’s involvement will be led by assistant city manager Brendan Kenny.
“The services are there, it’s a question of connecting the people to the right services.
“Some people will avail of food or a shower, but not of the health services or the addiction services. Having a co-ordinated plan, driven by gardaí, means that people will be directed to the services they need.”