Offenders ‘should get vouchers not money’

IT IS “high time” those who spend their social welfare payments on drink and drugs should receive vouchers instead of cash, a judge has said.

“The sooner the day comes that vouchers and not money is handed out, the better,” Judge Seamus Hughes said at Mullingar District Court.

He was referring to “the majority, the more than 90% of young offenders who are not working, who are on social welfare and are committing public order offences”. He said they are using their social welfare payments to buy drink and drugs when it is intended to provide for “the basic necessities” such as food and clothing.

He was dealing with the case of a Co Westmeath man with an alcohol addiction who has amassed 27 convictions, many of them for public order offences.

Kevin McDonagh, aged 25, of 22 Grange Park, Mullingar, was in court to purge his contempt for disruptive behaviour at last week’s sitting of the court on July 21 when he was remanded in custody for seven days.

There were also suggestions that he had been under the influence when he made an obscene gesture at gardaí as they passed him at 11.20am the day before as he queued to sign on at Mullingar’s social welfare office.

McDonagh acknowledged that “hard-pressed” taxpayers, including gardaí make his social welfare payment possible and apologised for his behaviour in court.

Judge Hughes said there are no “checks and balances” in the current system and said “surely a system could be devised”, which would allow welfare payments to be made in vouchers that would be acceptable to supermarkets and for bill payments.

He referred to the case of another man who came before him recently and spent €120 of his €180 payment on heroin immediately after getting it.

McDonagh will complete 240 hours community service in lieu of a three-month sentence for threatening behaviour towards gardaí, with the judge noting it will give him an opportunity to “make better use” of his hands.

“I’ll be on your case,” he told the man, advising that he will be in jeopardy any time he appears before him before he is due to retire in 11 years.

“By the time you’re 36, I’ll have made a man of you.”

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