Traders in Cork have raised concerns about a group of Romanian men and women begging on the streets of the city centre in the run up to Christmas.
Cork Business Association president and English Market fishmonger Pat O'Connell said traders estimate there are up to 16 or 17 people involved in the operation, primarily men.
“They could be coming into us with €120 to €150 and they could be into two or three times a day and they’re five or six of them doing the exchange so it obviously is proving lucrative for them and it looks to be very organised with one set begging and then others collecting from them,” he said.
His comments come after Chief Supt Barry McPolin of Anglesea Street Garda Station revealed at a Joint Policing Committee meeting this week that they suspect a Romanian group is organising begging in Cork with members being flown in from Bucharest to Dublin and travelling to Leeside to beg.
"We have secured some evidence to suggest that some elements of these people who are involved in begging are organised. Some of the prosecutions which have now been dealt with involved people who had purchased flight tickets from Romania to here, and they had return tickets as well," he said.
Among those recently prosecuted for begging was Romanian national Grigoie Feraru (23) who pleaded guilty at Cork District Court to three counts of begging within two days. He received the probation act for one offence, a €150 fine on another and a suspended month in jail for the third.
Sgt Alan Cronin told Cork District Court that gardaí found an invoice on Feraru for return flights for himself and five others from Romania to Dublin. He told gardaí it was cheaper to book as a group and he had paid €185 as did the others, but he could not explain why the invoice was in his name.
A Garda source told The Irish Times they recently arrested a Romanian man for begging in Cork for the third year in a row. The man had arrived in December 2015 and 2016 to beg in the run-up to Christmas before leaving in January.