The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D., today published the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010 which will reform the law on begging. This reform comes in the wake of the High Court’s judgement that the current law, which dates from 1847, is unconstitutional.
In line with that judgement, begging will now be an offence where it is accompanied by unacceptable conduct such as harassment, intimidation or obstruction.
The new powers included in this Bill will enable the Gardaí to direct persons begging within 10 metres of an ATM to desist and to move on from the vicinity. The Gardaí may also direct persons begging within 10 metres of the entrance to a business premises, where their behaviour or number is likely to deter members of the public from entering that premises, to move on from the vicinity. A failure to comply may result in an arrest and charge.
Minister Ahern said : "This Bill gives us a modern and reasonable solution to a problem we cannot ignore. I am confident this new power will be an effective addition to An Garda Siochana's enforcement options."
The new Bill will confront the nuisance caused by begging but does so in a way that is reasonable and effective. It will not criminalise anyone who is forced to ask for help (for instance, a late night traveller needing money to pay a bus fare), provided the person acts reasonably and peacefully. Asking for assistance will be an offence only if there is intimidation, harassment or violence.
29 January 2010
Note for Editors
· In the case Niall Dillon-v-the DPP the High Court found that section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 was unconstitutional due to its vagueness and lack of certainty. It was also held to represent a disproportionate interference with the Constitution’s provisions on freedom of expression and freedom to communicate. However, the Court stated clearly that there was nothing in its decision that would prevent the Oireachtas from enacting new laws to control begging.
· The Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010 provides for new statutory measures to deal with begging.
· The legislation results from the High Court judgement in the Dillon case in March 2007. The Court found that the Section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847, the provision that has traditionally been used to prosecute begging offences, was unconstitutional on the basis that the provisions were too vague, arbitrary and unspecific about the criminal behaviour which would constitute an offence of begging.
· The Court also judged that the constitutional right to free expression and communication, guaranteed by Article 40.6.1 being unreasonably curtailed by the 1847 Act.
· The Bill comprises five sections and in line with the Dillon judgement the act of begging in itself shall not be criminalised. Instead Section 2 of the Bill provides for an offence where begging activity is accompanied by threats, intimidation, violence or obstruction. The offence carries a penalty of a maximum term of imprisonment of one month and/or a fine of up to €400.
· More importantly, Section 3 of the Bill provides a new power to members of the Gardaí to direct a person to move on where they are begging in a specified manner or location that gives rise to a particular nuisance.
· Gardaí may direct a person who is begging to desist and to move on from the vicinity where -
1. the person is begging in a manner or location that would give rise to a reasonable apprehension for the safety or persons or property or for the maintenance of the public peace (e.g. begging from traffic on roads and motorways),
2. the person is begging within 10 metres of the entrance to a dwelling, an ATM or a vending machine.
3. the person is begging within 10 metres of the entrance to a business premises and the number and/or behaviour of the persons begging gives rise to a reasonable suspicion that members of the public are being deterred from entering that premises.
· Gardaí may also direct a person who is begging in a private place to leave that place in a peaceful and orderly manner.
· Failure to comply with a direction from a Garda under Section 3 shall be an offence and shall be liable to a maximum fine of €300 upon conviction.
· A Garda may require a person arrested for an offence under the Bill to give their name and address. Failure to comply with this request or to give false information shall be an offence and shall be liable to a fine not exceeding €200 upon conviction.
· All offences in the Bill are summary offences. Generally, modest penalties are provided for to ensure that the Bill is not seen as harsh on vulnerable people.