Jail sentence for habitual beggar on Galway’s streets

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A man who sat in a sleeping bag as he begged in Galway City Centre last December, had travelled specially from his home in Athlone to do so, Galway District Court heard.

In imposing a one-month sentence, Judge Mary Fahy said that she could not get past the fact that the defendant had been on bail at the time.

“He was three times (caught) in Galway doing the same thing, and on bail (at the time),” she said.

Romanian national, Petru Muntean (34), with an address at 85 Thornbury Drive, Willow Park, Athlone, pleaded guilty to engaging in begging, and obstructing the passage of people at Upper Abbeygate Street on Saturday, December 2 last, contrary to Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 2011.

Garda Mary Freeley had told the court that the city centre was particularly busy at the time when she observed the defendant in a sleeping bag by the side of the street.

The court heard that he had two previous convictions for similar offences, and one for handling stolen property. The latest one was imposed on December 4 last year – two days after he was caught begging by Garda Freeley.

“He was on bail when this occurred,” Judge Fahy remarked.

His solicitor, Elaine Murphy, said that her client told her he had come to Galway to sell the Big Issue magazine, but that this “didn’t work out.” She handed in a death certificate for the defendant’s aunt, whose funeral he had recently attended in Romania, the reason given for missing his initial court appearance.

“He comes up from Athlone, he’s not employed, he has no means, but he can go back to Romania to the funeral of his aunt at short notice,” Judge Fahy replied.

“We all know that it costs a lot of money to fly anywhere at short notice . . .  this occurred while he was on bail from this court for a similar offence, and he knew that.”

Ms Murphy offered her client’s apologies for his absence from court, and added that his pregnant wife was very anxious about the case. She asked that if a sentence was to be imposed, that the Judge would consider suspending it on condition that he stays out of Galway.

“I can’t make a fool out of the court by suspending it,” came the reply.

“He received a fine for €2,000 for handling stolen property, and he’s not employed. I’m sure it wasn’t paid. I can’t get away from the fact that he was on bail to be of good behaviour – he’s really tearing it now.”

The Judge proceeded to impose a one month sentence. Recognisances were fixed, in the event of an appeal, on his own surety of €200 and an independent surety of €300, half to be lodged in each case.

The conditions are that he must stay away from Galway City and County, pending completion of any appeal.