I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill, which addresses the outcome of the previous High Court judgment that held that part of the Vagrancy Act was unconstitutional. In view of that decision we cannot outlaw begging entirely. I am not sure we would want to do it anyway. The legislation is necessary because begging has become a problem. People are being intimidated by some of those begging. At times, one would wonder why some of them are doing it because in some cases no great need is apparent.
A number of shopkeepers have remarked on the fact that certain gangs of beggars tend to gather outside some retail establishments. The gangs are intimidating by virtue of just being there and are preventing people from going into the shops in question for that reason. I know of cases where the owners of such establishments have tried to move such people on. They might succeed for a short time but then the gangs come back again. There is nothing such people can do about it because the law in the area is not strong enough. The Bill, which is welcome, intends to provide for the deficiencies in the legislation as it has been harming business.
When I left Waterford yesterday to come to Dublin I drove past the GPO in Waterford where I saw a lady outside the front door with a begging cup in her hand. That in itself is intimidating to people who are going in and out of an establishment because the intent is to shame them into giving something to the person begging. I have no way of knowing whether the person needs such support. I have seen the lady in question in that location on more than one occasion which indicates that her activity is almost a job for her at this stage. It is important that we can deal with such situations.
Reference is made in the Bill to the fact that it will be possible to move people on from shop-fronts and also vending machines. One can ask whether a vending machine includes a parking meter. I do not know. There is no definition of "vending machine" in the legislation but I assume parking meters are included. One only has to go out the Merrion Street exit of Leinster House to see people sitting under parking meters staring at people putting money into them to park their cars. That is intimidating in itself. I hope parking meters are covered by the legislation.
Perhaps we are all at fault for subscribing to people who beg on the streets. I am sure many Deputies remember that a number of years ago there was a proliferation of children begging on the streets of this city and other cities and towns throughout the country. At the time, the ISPCC asked people not to give money to children begging on the streets. In many cases, vanloads of children were being distributed by adults in various places throughout Dublin and other urban areas. They were being exploited. The ISPCC's plea was heeded at that time. One no longer sees children begging on the street, by and large, although there will always be exceptions. It is not as common as it was a number of years ago because people have listened to what the ISPCC said about not giving them money and thereby brought an end to the practice. We could do the same in this instance, if we were to follow the advice we were given on that occasion.
Many of those who are involved in begging are foreigners. Although some of them are Irish, in my experience most of them are foreigners. Many of them come from countries that have a culture of begging. They are bringing that culture to Ireland by continuing to beg here. It is not part of our culture. We need to stamp it out as much as we can. The more money we contribute in these circumstances, the more people we will attract to Ireland to engage in this activity. We will probably be seen as a soft touch. I am not being uncharitable. I am as charitable as the next person. When I subscribe to various charities, as I am quite sure every Member of this House does, I know it will go to a particular cause and be used in the right way. That is how we should contribute in the future.
There is no great need to beg in this country. We have a very good welfare state here. People who might be down on their luck can fall back on jobseeker's allowance or some other social welfare payment. They may be entitled to medical cards or local authority housing. If they are on a housing waiting list, they can get the rent supplement allowance from the HSE. Plenty of supports are available to people. Many people who beg on the streets do not have a real need to do so, because we look after people fairly well in this country. Some genuine people may be involved in this activity because they are not aware of their entitlements. A girl who came to my constituency office earlier this week had no money. She has applied for jobseeker's allowance but, naturally, it will take a couple of weeks for that claim to be processed. She did not know what to do in the meantime. She was not aware that she could apply to her local community welfare officer to get some support in the meantime. I directed her to that service. I am sure many other people are not aware of their entitlements. They should get in touch with their local citizens information bureau, which can provide information and support.
No matter what one does, certain people will always abuse the supports that are available within the system. Community welfare officers do a wonderful job, by and large. They sometimes make payments to people who need to furnish local authority houses, for example. If one speaks to those who supply furniture and similar commodities, one will learn that some people refuse certain products or want more money for something better. They could probably have provided for what they needed in the first place. There will be abuses in every situation, regardless of what we do.
I am not sure if door-to-door begging, which was mentioned by Deputy Connaughton earlier in this debate, is covered in the Bill. While it does not happen as much as it used to, that does not mean it will not happen again in the future. A specific sector of our society was very much involved in this activity at one time. It does not generally happen in urban areas. I am afraid that if it is not covered in this legislation, it will return. This form of begging sometimes takes place in rural areas for a particular reason. Those involved in it may want to discover who lives in a particular dwelling, or how that building is laid out. In such circumstances, their ulterior motive may be to return to the location at a later date to commit a robbery. I would like some clarification on the question of whether door-to-door begging, which can be very intimidatory, is covered in this Bill.
The Irish Human Rights Commission has suggested that the levying of fines is ineffective. While it may be right in that regard, there has to be some sort of deterrent. As I argued earlier, the public can act as the biggest deterrent of all. Begging can cause great difficulties in tourism areas, for example. The new Waterford Crystal facility in my home city will open late next month. We hope the Viking triangle development in the old part of the city will become a big tourist attraction. If this legislation cannot deal with any vagrants or beggars who might come into that area, it will not be very helpful. When this legislation is finally passed, I hope it will give the Garda the tools it needs to allow these issues and problems to be addressed.