Traders in Cork city say they fear a return of organised begging this Christmas in the city centre.
Businessman Bill Twomey is calling on Gardaí and the City Council to take decisive action to tackle organised begging.
Begging became a serious nuisance in the city centre last year in the runup to Christmas. Beggars who did not seem to engage at all with local services appeared on the streets and Immigrant support group, NASC, raised concerns about vulnerable people being trafficked into Cork to beg for criminal gangs.
In recent days, beggars have once again appeared around the city and Mr Twomey, co-owner of Bean & Leaf cafe, is calling for the problem to be nipped in the bud.
“It was very slow last year,” he said. “I know the guards got stuck in eventually but it happened very late, they were there for all of Christmas.
Mr Twomey said that while the beggars occasionally come into his and other businesses, the most serious effect is on the atmosphere in town.
“What I am concerned about is the impact on Cork city centre in general,” he said. "Providing a comfortable, attractive place for people to come during the Christmas season is important. Walking down Patrick St and having lots of people asking for money and sleeping bags and cardboard boxes in doorways doesn’t provide a welcoming environment for families. In the evening time, it can be quite intimidating," he said.
The matter was raised at the Joint Policing Committee meeting this afternoon.
Garda Superintendent John Quilter confirmed they are monitoring the issue of organised begging in the city centre and said there has been an increase in arrests so far this year, with 144 people arrested compared to 100 for the same period last year.
"It is an issue but we are taking a balanced approach. The evidence seems to be that it is more indigenous people begging rather than an influx of people from outside the city," he said.
Supt Quilter said there has been "additional resources" dedicated to tackling the issue.
CEO of Cork Business Association Lawrence Owens welcomed garda efforts.
“We are pleased to note that additional Gardai will be allocated for the Christmas period which will be a great asset,” he said.
“We were also pleased that the extra bike patrol Gardai will also be retained for the City Centre. We are confident the extra resources will not alone be more visible to businesses but to the general public and as importantly keep issues under control before they develop.”
A Cork City Council spokesperson said begging was a Garda issue but that they would continue to work with them and keep doorways clear. “During the summer there was a co-ordinated and frequent effort to remove bedding and other items from doorways, streets etc in partnership with the Gardai and Housing,” a spokesperson said.
“This operation has continued and will continue into the new year.”
However, Mr Twomey has said he thinks a stronger response is warranted.
“Last year it started off with a handful,” he said. “I think they should send out a signal early that the city won’t tolerate it. As ratepayers, I think the Council maybe need to be a little more active in dealing with issues like this, that are very important.”