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On O’Connell Bridge at about 4pm last Friday, a tall thin man with dark hair sat wrapped in a sleeping bag to protect from the biting cold wind.
He was leaning against the wall of the bridge, with a paper cup out in front of him. A Garda approached him and asked him to move on “for now”. He agreed and she walked off.
“It’s like they’re moving people on so that you don’t get a glimpse of them,” says Kevin Mongan, as a small child throws a few coins in his cup.
Mongan said he thinks that Gardaí are directing people who are begging to move on more often recently.
“They are playing chess with people,” he says. “If you are on the south side they tell you go back to the north side, but if you are on the north side they tell you to head over to the south side.”
On Camden Street, the Gardai seem to have been more active than usual in recent weeks, which one person who begs there calls a “clampdown”.
A barrister says he has noted an increase in cases of people charged with begging-related offences in the District Court over the last six months.
The Garda Press Office said there isn’t a clampdown or specific operation being run at the moment.
But “Gardaí use the appropriate legislation on a daily basis to deal with aggressive begging throughout the country”, said a spokesperson.
South in the City
On Monday evening last week, a pair of gardaí were moving down Camden Street methodically. Up near Flannery’s they had one man face-first up against the wall, with his hands fastened behind his back.
Later, by the Centra, they were asking a man questions and he was rummaging through his pockets, looking for something. Later again, they were rummaging through the belongings of a man by the AIB bank at the corner of Harrington Street.
On another evening last week, they moved on a pair of women taking shelter in a laneway off Camden Street. On a third evening, they were patrolling the street yet again.
It’s not always illegal to beg, but begging can be an offence if it is aggressive, or organised, or causes an obstruction.
Mongan says that when he is begging he never asks people to donate. He just sits there with his cup, and it’s up to passers-by to decide whether to give something, which some do “out of the goodness of their heart”, he says.
However, barrister Donal Pattison says there seems to have been an increasing number of begging cases before the District Court in the last six months.
He is defending two or three per week, he says. Usually, the person before the courts is charged with causing an obstruction while begging.
Pattison says that on occasion he has successfully argued that his client was not causing an obstruction.
“I have had clients who were charged with obstruction on Mary Street, which is a 30-foot-wide pedestrian street,” he says.
Since the entire street is a pedestrian thoroughfare, he argued that the person begging was not causing any obstruction, as pedestrians could easily walk around them, he says.
Outside Fresh supermarket on Camden Street at around 5pm last Friday, a young man with an empty cup in his hand was just sitting down when a Garda car came around the corner and he jumped up.
“I’m an alcoholic so I need money to drink,” said Mark, who didn’t want to give his surname, as he feels ashamed of begging, he said.
He has based himself on Camden Street for the last three years, he says. There are familiar faces by now who will “always help you”, he says.
But in the last two weeks, the Gardaí have been moving on people a lot, he says. He has heard rumours of a specific clampdown in the city.
He recently got arrested, he says. He had been told to leave the vicinity and went over to the north side, he says.
But he needed to head back to the area to a hostel nearby – at which point he met the same gardaí and was arrested.
He doesn’t know where the others he would usually see begging there on Camden Street have gone. “They have all moved on because of the clampdown,” he says.
As he sees it, any clampdown on begging could lead to more crime. “It’s a weird situation, to be honest with you,” he says.
A Police Presence
A Garda spokesperson said that they closely monitor the allocation of resources and crime trends “to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public”.
“Because of the nature of their work, Gardaí deal with many on the margins of society and together with other State Agencies and NGOs we work to ensure positive outcomes for many venerable [sic] people. Our primary role is always the protection of life,” he said, by email.
There is a significant problem with begging in the city centre, says Tony Duffin of the Ana Liffey Drugs Project. “It’s complex. It’s not something that policing alone can manage,” he says, but policing is part of the solution.
Some of those who run and work in businesses on Camden Street said they were happy at the idea of more guards being around.
But they’re also conscious of, and sympathetic to, the wider question of where people are supposed to go.
Colin Dickson, one of the owners of the restaurant Green 19, said they have had problems in the past with drunk people trying to get into the restaurant and robberies.
“We do need more guards around,” he said. Since the Garda station closed on Harcourt Street a few years ago, there has been a less visible presence.
Further down the street, Jessica Lyndon says she gets the impression that some people who are homeless are being moved from the southside to the northside. “In my opinion, it’s a bit disrespectful.”
She has worked at different restaurants on the street – currently at Kamden Restaurant, but earlier at Eddie Rockets, she says – and hasn’t really felt unsafe because of people begging. “I’ve never had a problem here.”
She used to work at Eddie Rockets on O’Connell Street, too, and says there used to be more hassle there, she thinks.
Adrian Cummins, the chief executive officer of the Restaurants Association of Ireland, says that restaurants and their customers are increasingly targeted by aggressive begging in Dublin city centre, and he wants to see this tackled.
One member of the association recently had to hire security due to aggressive begging, Cummins says. “It is getting an awful lot more aggressive, and the volume of incidents is also increasing.”
“There is a lot of shame around begging, it is degrading,” says Tony Duffin, the head of the Ana Liffey Drug Project. “We need to all remember that,”
Once a person has begged for the first time, “they have lost some of their dignity, we have to help them to regain that”, he says.
The causes of begging are poverty, addictions, homelessness, and social isolation, he says.
Through working on the ground with people who beg, he has discovered that begging is not just about getting money, he says.
“It is about money, but it is also about human connections,” says Duffin. “You often see people stopping and talking to people who are begging.”
Ways to reduce begging include providing people with supports they might need for mental illnesses, addiction, or housing – as well as giving them ways to engage in meaningful activities, said Duffin.
It’s complex work, but the Ana Liffey Drug Project case-management team spend a lot of time getting to know people on the streets, he says.
In some cases, they have got people on methadone programmes, found them housing, and linked them in with other activities during the day.
That has reduced the number of hours they spend begging, he says. “I’ve spoken to people who now beg only at lunchtime, whereas before they begged all day.”
The authorities and the general public draw a distinction between types of begging, he says.
Aggressive begging and organised begging are not acceptable. “But people do have huge compassion for people in need, and that is why they give them money,” he says. “They want to see people getting the support and assistance that they need.”
The Ana Liffey Drug Project works with the Gardaí and Dublin City Council to try to find solutions, he says. “It’s not all doom and gloom. […] There is a lot of good work going on in Dublin at the moment, with a lot of good outcomes.”