Chief Supt Barry McPolin told a meeting of the Cork City joint policing committee that gardaí found return airline tickets to Romania in the possession of members of a group who were arrested in the city recently for obstruction, and who were later prosecuted for offences under begging legislation.
“We have secured some evidence to suggest that some elements of these people who are involved in begging are organised,” said Chief Supt McPolin.
“Some of the prosecutions which have now been dealt with involved people who had purchased flight tickets from Romania to here, and they had return tickets as well.
"They were coming in and out, we believe, to use Cork as a base to get involved in begging activity.”
Cork District Court heard earlier this month that one of five Romanians who were arrested in the city for obstruction had an invoice for €1,110 for return flights for himself and five colleagues from Romania to Cork.
While some were fined, some got suspended sentences, and others got the benefit of the Probation of Offenders Act, they were all warned by the judge that any repeat offences would end in jail.
It is believed that some of those involved had arrived in Ireland through Cork or Dublin airports, and had dispersed to cities including Galway, Limerick, and Cork.
They are believed to have availed of the services of homeless charities, including Cork Simon, while begging on the streets, before moving on to other cities.
Business leaders in Cork city expressed concerns earlier this month about a marked increase in begging activity in the city centre.
Members of the Cork Business Association said it was clear people were coming prepared to bed down overnight in the doorways of shops on the city’s main shopping street to ensure they occupied prime begging locations the next morning.
CBA president Pat O’Connell said he has concerns that a ‘Mr Big’ is involved in the organisation of some of this begging activity.
Chief Supt McPolin said it is possible that an individual is co-ordinating some of this activity, but added: “At this point, we haven’t identified any particular one person — it may be organised collectively.”
However, he said gardaí would continue to work closely with the CBA and traders to identify those who are collecting money from the public without a permit.
“If people haven’t got a proper permit of licence to seek money from the public on the street, then quite obviously they are involved in begging and under the Public Order Act, 2011, we will enforce the full rigours of the law,” said Chief Supt McPolin.
“Unless people are within the confines of the law, they will be prosecuted.”
The law does not ban begging but offences arise when begging is accompanied by harassment, intimidation, assaults, threats, or obstructions of persons or vehicles.
“We are actively policing it,” said Chief Supt McPolin. “Several people have been before the courts and we will continue our enforcement as part and parcel of our aim to make the city a safe and welcoming place to visit.”