Charity worker fined €150 for not filling out Census was helping homeless on the night

Charity worker fined €150 for not filling out Census was helping homeless on the night
Ashling Lowe. Photos: Seamus Farrelly

A charity worker has said she is willing to go to prison after refusing to pay a fine imposed on her by the courts for failing to fill in her Census form because she was out helping the homeless.

Ashling Lowe of Mornington Way in Trim, Co Meath was given eight months to pay a fine of €150 last June after she was convicted at Navan District Court for failing to provide the information on the Census of population form in April 2016.

Ashling was one of seven cases nationally brought before the courts by the Director General of the Central Statistics Office (CSO).

The mum of one is now awaiting her fate after receiving a warning notice on February 18 from the District Court Office in Trim.

The letter states: "You are hereby given notice that if you fail to make payment in full, enforcement processing will be commenced within 10 working days and you will be given notice to appear in court."

Ashling, who is still refusing to pay the fine, may be given a term imprisonment or a community service order to the maximum of 240 hours.

The court may also order for the fine to be deducted from her salary or pension or move in a receiver to take possession of her property to the value of the fine.

It says:

    "The court will impose one of the following orders if you fail to act:

  • An attachment of earnings order (for deductions to be made from your salary or pensions)
  • A recovery order for the collection of the fine by the receiver
  • A community service order
  • An order committing you to a term of imprisonment'

The letter sent to Ashling
The letter sent to Ashling

Ashling, who founded the Meath Food Bank and delivers supplies regularly to those in need both in the county and in Dublin, argues that she complied with the rules of the Census.

"The Census states that you must be in the house or in someone else's house on the night of the Census. I wasn't. I was out feeding the homeless who I firmly believe were enumerated incorrectly.

I feel I complied by the rules of the Census as I was out that night, carrying out my civic duty in helping others and now I've a criminal conviction for it.

"I'm not going to be bullied by any court. I believe that no enumerator took any information from any of the homeless rough sleepers who I spoke to on the night.

"I think the homeless figures were massaged to make it look like there are less homeless than there are. They can lock me up, but they won't get one red cent from me.

"I told the Census enumerator that I went to Dublin every Sunday night with food for the homeless and that I'd happily bring the form with me and fill it in if I came across an enumerator counting the homeless.

"I was all around Dublin that night and every rough sleeper I talked to said they hadn't seen anyone in relation to the Census.

Ashling Lowe
Ashling Lowe

"I felt that the enumerators weren't doing their job properly and as a protest of moral conscience, I decided not to comply with my legal requirement in order to highlight this issue.

"I believe there are a lot more homeless on the streets than were counted in that Census. I'm told that if an enumerator for the homeless can't engage with them, they just record their gender.

"This is wrong. We are all human beings and rough sleepers deserve to be counted and have details taken just the same as everyone else."

She added that she didn't mind paying the fine - on the condition it helped the homeless.

"In my estimate, there are now over 11,000 homeless on the streets.

I've no problem with a judge telling to spend the €150 on food for the Meath Food Bank to deliver to the homeless on the streets and those in food poverty in their homes.

The CSO say that Census 2016 figures record 6,906 homeless people, 73% of which are based in the Dublin region.

They added that there 123 rough sleepers counted on Census night, 102 of which were in Dublin. This count was carried out by the Dublin Regional Housing Executives.

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