GARDAI have arrested 15 people in Cork city centre over the past few days.
The arrests are part of an ongoing garda operation targeting suspected organised begging activity.
All 15 people were arrested in the city centre around St Patrick’s Street and on its various side streets. A handful of the group are Irish nationals while most of those detained were of Eastern European origin.
The news emerged yesterday as business leaders in the city raised concerns about a rise in organised begging operations that they had monitored in the city’s shopping district.
Garda Superintendent John Quilter stated the people had been arrested on charges of 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 took the opportunity to travel to Cork to continue begging.
Cork Business Association president Pat O’ Connell expressed his concerns to the Irish Examiner that the organised begging was damaging the city’s image, and furthermore, that the practice could obstruct charity collections in the run-up to Christmas.
He said it creates a difficult situation for people who genuinely want to contribute to someone who needs it on the streets: “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.”
Mr O’ Connell said he spotted up to 15 individuals sleeping in doorways of prominent shops on St Patrick’s Street on Monday being roused at dawn by a man who then gathered them and dispersed them through the city to beg.
Traders in Cork’s famous English Market 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.
Supt Quilter said gardai are aware of traders’ concerns and are devoting resources, when possible, as well as 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.”