Gardaí have made 36 arrests for begging in Cork City so far this month as part of a crackdown on a new wave of ‘commercial begging’ activity in the city centre.
They have warned that arrests alone won’t eliminate the problem, with a high rate of recidivism and increased Garda activity in one area displacing the problem to other areas.
The arrests figure emerged yesterday during a meeting of the Cork City joint policing committee (JPC), which heard several calls for gardaí to adopt a more robust approach to tackling the problem.
Gardaí made several arrests in the city centre last Christmas of individuals as part of a wider operation targeting those involved in suspected organised begging activity.
One individual who was brought before the courts and pleaded guilty to three counts of begging within two days had an invoice for five return flight tickets to Romania.
Another Romanian man was arrested around the same time for begging in Cork in the run-up to Christmas for the third year in row.
The highly visible begging activity subsided earlier this year but has re-emerged in the city centre in recent weeks.
Chief Superintendent Barry McPolin told the JPC that gardaí are aware of the activity, and are targeting those involved.
He said the relevant legislation is prescriptive and that it can be difficult for gardaí on the ground to deal with the issue effectively.
Fine Gael senator Jerry Buttimer described this type of begging activity as a “blight on the city” and he urged gardaí to adopt a tougher approach.
"It’s imperative that we see action,” he said.
Fianna Fáil councillor Mary Shields urged people not to give money to those who come prepared to sit in doorways.
“These people are not really in need. They are commercially begging. But it’s the guys at the top who are behind them that are the real problem,” she said.
Inspector John Deasy said the issue is discussed at Garda meetings daily and is being tackled.
“We are arresting or moving people on,” he said. “We are trying to be proactive, and when shops or premises are open, we are moving these people on or arresting them where we can, so they are not impacting on business, or on people going about the city.
“But there is a limit on what gardaí can do where active begging is taking place, and where what is defined as begging is taking place. There have been 36 arrests in June already.
He said judges are aware of the commercial element of some of the begging activity in Cork, and that in some cases, prison sentences of up to the maximum of one month have been imposed.
Laurence Owens, the chief executive of the Cork Business Association, said some of those involved in this begging activity are “preying on the generosity” of Irish people.
“There are a lot of genuine people out there who need support from various services, but these people are not in genuine,” he said.
“We know it’s a commercial operation. It’s a terrible visual on the main shopping street of our city and we want action.”