Eleven men and one woman – all with Dublin addresses – were brought before Galway District Court this week charged with obstructing the passage of pedestrians or vehicles while begging at various locations around the city centre in recent weeks.
Two were found with large sums of cash when arrested, while all claimed to have no source of income other than begging.
Five of the twelve received one or two-month sentences for begging because they had similar previous convictions and the rest had their sentences suspended on condition they stay out of Galway city and county for the next twelve months.
Judge Mary Fahy said it was obvious that begging was “a little industry” organised by others operating behind the scenes and she called on the State to find and prosecute those responsible. She said she suspected men – who had come to court with the group of 12 – were involved in some way.
The first defendant, Alexandro Szabo (39), 9 Island Street, Dublin 8, who claimed to have no source of income since arriving in Ireland from Romania four years ago, was found to have a social services card in his possession when arrested by Garda Nigel Silke earlier on Monday morning while begging in Eyre Square.
Another accused, Tiberiu Muntean (28), Flynn’s Hostel. Gardiner Street, Dublin, told Gardai when arrested on October 26 for begging at Eyre Square that he had no income at all since arriving in Ireland eight years ago with his wife and children.
Judge Fahy said judges were being told time and time again by defendants applying for Free Legal Aid that they had no income and yet, according to a statement of their means which had to be filled out when applying to a court for Free Legal Aid, they always stated they paid rent and had money for other expenses.
She said the State was tasked to find out if a person was in receipt of social welfare or not.
“The judiciary expects the State to make enquiries.
“They are all coming into court and saying they are not getting social welfare and yet they have social services cards. It has to be checked out. It’s quite clear instructions are being given (to solicitors) and things are said to the court that potentially are not true,” Judge Fahy said.
She noted that in Tiberiu Muntean’s case, he had stated his income was “nil” when filling out his statement of means form and yet he had also stated that he paid €75 rent per week to stay in a Dublin hostel.
“How can he have been living in Ireland for eight years with no income? Has he a social welfare card?” the judge asked. No one seemed to know the answer. He says he has no income and his only money comes from begging. I find that so hard to believe.”
She asked another beggar how he got the money to come to Galway and he said he had borrowed it from a friend. The judge asked him if he had travelled by bus or train and he said he had taken the bus.
“It’s a little industry. Paying for a bus or a train to come down from Dublin to beg on the streets of Galway. It’s organised and it’s up to the State to be making better enquiries,” the judge said.
Father-of-two, Calin Rostas (19), 426 North Circular Road, Dublin, had a large amount of cash on him when arrested by Garda Silke for begging aggressively from people near an ATM machine on Mainguard Street on October 20 last. He was released on his own bail of €230 cash from the Garda station that night.
The court heard he was arrested again for begging aggressively at the Spanish Arch six days later and had previous convictions for begging in Dublin.
His defence barrister, Gary McDonnell, told the court Rostas told him he was in this country for two years and was not in receipt of social welfare.
“We are told he’s not on social welfare. He is coming down from Dublin and sees begging as a legitimate way of getting money. Did he ever try getting a job? This type of behaviour is persistent and I find it very difficult to believe that if a person is not on social welfare that they can’t apply for a job if they wish to remain in this country because begging is illegal.
“It’s a growing industry in Galway and they are coming down in groups and the same address in Dublin is given for most of them,” Judge Fahy said before imposing two, one-month consecutive sentences on Rostas.
The court heard co-accused, Debican Rostas (22), Flat 7, 424 North Circular Road, had been given bail on October 21 for one begging offence and returned to the city two days later where he was caught begging again.
He had a sign with him which claimed he was homeless and he needed money for a hostel.
Judge Fahy said he was playing on people’s emotions by claiming he was homeless when that was not the case at all and she sentenced him to one month in prison for the second offence.
The judge took umbrage at the manner in which the group of accused men and their friends had acted in court all day, laughing among themselves and going in and out of the courtroom to take phone calls while other cases were being dealt with.
“They are disrespectful in the extreme and they think this is all a joke. When they get bail, they are back two days later. They pretend they are homeless while they have addresses in Dublin.
“What I suspect is that when someone gets a sentence, someone else with no previous convictions is recruited in to take his place. They think they are quite clever,” she observed.
The only woman in the group was Madalena Rostas (19), Flat 7, 426 North Circular Road. In reply to Judge Fahy through a Romanian interpreter, she said she had not spoken to her solicitor yet, so her case was adjourned to December 4 for hearing.
She had been arrested for begging at 1.50pm on October 26 last and following her release on bail from the Garda station, was arrested again for begging at 5.10pm that same evening.
Hearing that most of the offences involving all twelve people before the court, occurred within a six-day period in October, Judge Fahy said that showed it was an organised endeavour.
Sergeant Finbarr Philpott, prosecuting, explained that a system was in place whereby a different person would be assigned to beg in a different location and would be moved around.
Judge Fahy said the State should be finding out who was organising this system.
“There are people involved higher up the food chain and they are the ones who should be caught. Are people being trafficked to do this? It’s more serious to be using people to beg and it’s a criminal offence to beg.
“There’s no doubt about it but somebody is organising it so the State should be looking into it,” she said.
The court was told that Zabar Rostas (22), Flat 4, 424 North Circular Road, had €300 in loose change on him after being arrested on October 21 and again on October 23 for begging from motorists stopped at the busy traffic light junction at Terryland. He was fined €400.
Stanescu Rostas (38), Flat 7, 488 North Circular Road, who has 95 previous convictions for serious, multiple burglaries, was arrested for begging in the city on October 20 and again on October 26. He received two, one-month consecutive sentences.
Costica Rostas (45), of no fixed abode received a one-month sentence for begging on October 26. He had previous convictions for carrying a weapon, criminal damage, burglary and theft.
Cristan Rostas (36), Flat 7, 488 North Circular Road, was the last defendant to be dealt with. The court heard he had been found begging on October 26 and had previous convictions for begging.
Defence solicitor, Ronan Murphy said his client had been brought to Galway to beg.
Judge Fahy said the accused was able to give the name or names of the people who had brought him to Galway to the Gardai.
Mr Murphy said his client’s only income per week was €70 from begging and he was paying €20 per week to stay in the flat in Dublin.
“I wonder who they are paying rent to? How many people can stay in a house without causing a planning issue? Flat no 7 has been given by a number of people today,” the judge observed.
She sentenced the accused to one month in prison given his previous begging convictions.
The judge said this if a van or some other vehicle was being used in the commission of a criminal offence – that is, to transport people from Dublin to Galway to beg – then the Gardai should be looking for it.