Poor box monies totalled €1.5m last year

Almost €400,000 out of a nationwide total of more than €1.5m was paid into Kerry District Court poor boxes last year.

Figures from the Courts Service show €1,533,610 went to charities nationally in lieu of fines or convictions for mostly minor offences across district courts in 2016, a rise of €200,000 on the 2015 figure. Sixty per cent involved road-traffic offences.

Almost one third of the poor box money, amounting to €394,080, was paid in District No 17 in Kerry presided over by Judge James O’Connor. This covers the courts of Killarney, Tralee, Listowel, Kenmare, Cahersiveen/ Killorglin and Dingle.

The figures show wide disparity in the amounts taken in per district court. Donations from defendants in Dublin amounted to almost €166,000, while Cork’s total came to €106,815. In Clonmel, Co Tipperary, the amount collected was €71,500 and in Limerick the figure was €60,104.

Defendants in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, paid just over €32,500 while their Co Donegal counterparts paid €11,000. In contrast, the total donated to the poor box in Roscommon amounted to €200. In 2016, hundreds of organisations, from animal charities to alcohol treatment centres, benefited.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the poor box funds last year was the St Vincent De Paul Society with many of its individual groups receiving amounts ranging from €100 to €3,000. The Capuchin Day Centre in Dublin was the biggest single beneficiary, receiving €57,785.

Other substantial contributions received include the Christian Blind Mission and Sightsavers International with each gaining €53,000. Others include Ethiopia Aid (€37,500), the Garda Benevolent Trust Fund (€28,900), and Dublin Simon Community (€25,325). The Irish Red Cross received €14,100. In Cork, most of the money was distributed locally. Among the main beneficiaries were the Cork Penny Dinners (€20,950) and the Cork Simon Community which received €18,250.

The almost €166,000 collected by the Criminal Courts of Justice office in Dublin was also distributed locally — with €9,245 going to the Merchants Quay project and €7,150 to the Peter McVerry Trust. Both Women’s Aid and the Rape Crisis Centre got €200 each.

According to the court service, the use of the poor box is at the discretion of the individual judge.

“The practice of courts directing that money be paid into a court poor box in lieu of or in conjunction with another penalty is a practice which predates the foundation of the State,” said a spokesman.

“The practice appears to go back in history and stem from judges’ jurisdiction at common law to exercise discretion in imposing a penalty, if any, and/or imposing other conditions i.e. donations to the poor box or to a particular charity.

“There are many reasons and instances why the Court poor box is used by judges. The accused may never previously have been before the courts, the accused may have pleaded guilty, a conviction might be inappropriate or might adversely affect employment, career or working abroad prospects, and/or the offence may be of a minor or trivial nature.”

The data released by the Courts Service does not show a breakdown of the offences where a donation ensures avoiding conviction and fine. A separate freedom of information request in the case of Kerry has also not yielded this information.

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