By Eoin English
Fifteen people were arrested in Cork City centre over the weekend as part of an ongoing garda operation targeting suspected organised begging activity.
All were arrested in the central shopping district around St Patrick’s St and on its various side streets. Most of those who were detained are originally from Eastern Europe. A handful are Irish nationals.
Supt John Quilter said they were all arrested for obstruction.
In one case, a woman who was arrested in Cork had been arrested in Dublin just days earlier for similar reasons.
She had been released pending a court appearance and had travelled to Cork to continue begging.
The news emerged yesterday as the city’s business leaders raised concerns about a marked increase in apparent organised begging operations across the city centre.
Cork Business Association (CBA) president Pat O’Connell said that, as well as damaging the city’s image, CBA members have concerns that the practice could hit charity collections in the run-up to Christmas.
“I would worry from a Cork point of view that this activity will hit genuine charities like Share, Simon, or Penny Dinners,” said Mr O’Connell.
He said he spotted up to 15 individuals bedding down in the doorways of prominent shops on St Patrick’s St from about 6pm on Monday.
Up to six people slept overnight in the doorway of Penneys, three outside the Lifestyle outlet, and another person slept in the doorway of the Moderne.
Mr O’Connell said they seemed well equipped to spend a night sleeping rough.
Some had sleeping bags, all had several blankets, and they had placed sheets of cardboard and plastic on the ground.
He said he has also seen a man rousing the various rough sleepers at dawn and gather the group on side streets to the rear of Penneys, before they dispersed through the city to beg.
He said English Market traders have also reported younger people, with links to those begging on the streets, arriving into the market, and other local shops later in the day, seeking to convert coins into larger denominations.
He stressed that there are people on the streets who are in genuine need but he said: “I would warn people to think twice before giving money to these people who are involved in what appears to be organised begging.
“It is really unfair at a time when people are generous and thinking of others, that they would give to these guys and they may not be doing good at all. God only knows where the money is going. Is there a Mr Big somewhere who’s getting the cash? And that’s the problem — nobody knows where it’s going.”
Photographer Billy MacGill, who has an office on Oliver Plunkett St, said he has observed several incidents of organised begging, where various individuals move from location to location.
He said he has spotted one woman with an apparent limp, begging in the area, but has spotted her later in the day in another location — without a limp.
Supt Quilter said gardaí are aware of traders’ concerns and are devoting resources, when possible, and using the city’s network of CCTV cameras to identify and target potential suspects.
“It is a problem and we are taking a proactive approach to tackle it,” he said. “There are genuine cases, and we try to take a balanced approach. We have moved people on, but when we are satisfied that there’s an organised element to it, we will act.”