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Connacht Tribune

Organised beggars operating a ‘little industry’, judge says

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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.

Connacht Tribune

Tests reveal high pollution levels close to Barna bathing spot

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New bathing water testing in Barna has revealed dangerously high levels of pollution at an inlet stream that discharges into the local pier which is a popular bathing spot.

Galway County Council confirmed that it had recently started sampling at Mags’ Boreen Beach in the village and at the inlet stream that feeds into the pier.

The results from May 26 show levels of E.coli at 198,636 cfu/100 ml and Enterococci at 2,900 cfu/100 ml at the stream. Cfu (colony-forming unit) is a measurement used to estimate the number of viable bacteria or fungal cells in a sample.

Mags’ Boreen Beach was 86 for E.coli and 7 for Enterococci at low tide.

The levels of both pollutants in the water for it to be deemed ‘sufficient quality’ are 500 and 185 cfu/100ml respectively.

E.coli is a bacteria that lives in the gut of humans and animals. Some types can cause illnesses such as diarrhoea, abdominal pain, fever and vomiting and can be life-threating to infants and people with poor immune systems.

Enterococci are bacteria which indicate contamination by faecal waste that can cause disease in the skin, eyes, ears and respiratory tract.

Galway County Council Secretary Michael Owens said the Council would continue to monitor water quality at these locations during the bathing season.

“The monitoring results for the inlet stream to the pier are concerning and may indicate a risk of poor water quality at the pier. Local people have noted that young people use the pier area for swimming,” he stated.

“The results of monitoring of Mags’ Boreen Beach indicates that the water quality was compliant with the standards for excellent water quality. Further sampling will be carried out during the bathing season.

“We will carry out further investigations to try to identify any sources of contamination in the catchment. We have already installed a sign at the inlet stream noting that the inlet stream is contaminated and may pose a risk to health.”

Chairperson of Barna Tidy Towns, Dennis O’Dwyer, said there had been a lot of speculation for years about the stream polluting the water.

“It’s extremely high but at least we now know that the stream has a problem while Mag’s Boreen Beach is safe,” he said.

“We will probably now ask the Council to go further upstream where two streams converge at Donnelly’s Pub, one under The Twelve Hotel and other beside the bus stop so we can eliminate if individual houses or housing estates not linked to the sewage pipes are causing the pollution.”

The group will also request testing at Barna Pier which is a popular jumping off point.

“It’s not a designated swimming area but people do swim there, including children. I don’t think anyone has ever been sick but we’d rather know because a lot of kids do jump in.”

Mr Owens said it can be very difficult to identify sources of pollution in a stream or river as it is generally a combination of multiple sources.

“The majority of properties in the village are connected to the public wastewater scheme, which is pumped to the Galway City public wastewater treatment plant. There is a possibility that some properties that should be connected to the public wastewater scheme are misconnected.

“Other possible sources in the catchment include private wastewater treatment systems connected to individual homes, housing estates and businesses and discharges from agricultural activities. Galway County Council intends to carry out inspections of private wastewater treatment plants in the area and will issue advisory notices if issues are identified.”

The catchment has been put forward as a Priority Area for Action for the next cycle of the River Basin Management Plan which is scheduled to commence in 2022. If this is approved, additional resources will be available for investigations in the catchment.

There is no requirement on the Council to notify the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the sample of concern was taken from an inlet stream. The local authority is required to notify the EPA in the event of non-compliances at all designated bathing areas. The inlet stream is not a designated bathing area as it is too shallow.

“If necessary, additional signs will be put in place at the pier,” added the County Secretary.

“The EPA advise that after a heavy rainfall event it is best to avoid recreational water activities at a beach or bathing area for at least 48 hours to protect public health. It is especially important in areas where sewage may pose a risk.”

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s delight at club’s first ever Irish rugby international

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Members of Monivea Rugby have expressed their delight at the naming of one of their own in the Irish team for this year’s summer series – with Caolin Blade looking set to be the clubs first to don the Irish jersey as a new era at his home club gets underway.

Blade, who is part of a 37-man squad named by Head Coach Andy Farrell this week that will take on Japan and the USA in two test matches in Dublin this July, exemplifies what can be achieved by a player from a small club in the West of Ireland, according to its recently appointed President Anthony Killarney.

“The sense of elation and pride in the club is immense, to see the Blade name on the Irish squad sheet. A very well-deserved achievement and timely indeed, based on his performances for Connacht.

“Caolin is showing such a great example – on and off the pitch – of what can be achieved through dedication and hard work to all the young players in Monivea RFC. We are all so proud today, and for this to happen as we approach our 50th year celebrations,” said Mr Killarney.

Caolin’s dad Pat was Monivea’s star player for years, he added, so to see his son rise up to international rugby was no surprise.

Blade’s naming on Monday coincides with a shakeup at the club that includes the election of a new committee aiming to grow the club and achieve the long-held goal of building a clubhouse.

As well as Mr Killarney becoming President, Carmel Laheen has been elected Vice President, while local councillor Shelly Herterich Quinn has taken the position of Chairperson.

Speaking to the Connacht Tribune this week, Cllr Herterich Quinn said she’d been involved in the club for almost ten years and was hugely honoured to take the role, as she paid tribute to the outgoing President, Pádraic McGann.

“I was delighted to receive the nomination for Chair from Pádraic McGann and I want to sincerely thank Padráic for everything he has achieved for rugby in Monivea over the past 49 years. It is absolutely true to say that without Pádraic’s grit and determination, we would not have a rugby club to go to every week, to play the game we love so much,” she said.

“2021 has been a significant years in more ways than one, but in particular here at Monivea RFC where one of the main figures in all things rugby for the last 49 years will take a back seat as we face into exciting times. Affectionately known as Mr Monivea, Pádraic McGann has been the driving force behind Monivea Rugby since 1972 which he founded, based on his love and enthusiasm for the game.”

The new committee comes from a wide variety of backgrounds, she said, and share a determination to build on the clubs successes – and to produce more players like Caolin Blade.

“The absence of a clubhouse is notable but we know that with the determination of the new committee, and the help of all our members, Monivea RFC will soon put down some solid foundations and continue to build on what has already been achieved in this wonderful club,” said Cllr Herterich Quinn.

“What better way to mark 50 years of rugby in the small picturesque village of Monivea than the opening of a clubhouse.”

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Connacht Tribune

Man jailed for using coercive behaviour to control family

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A man whose young children fear for their mother’s safety once he is released from custody, has been sentenced to three years in prison for using coercion to control his family.

Imposing the sentence at Galway Circuit Criminal Court this week, Judge Rory McCabe concurred with the findings of psychiatric and probation reports handed into court, that 49-year-old Paul Harkin posed a high risk of reoffending and of committing violence against his partner.

Harkin, a native of Derry who formerly lived with his wife and two children near Kilchreest, Loughrea, pleaded guilty before the court last January to knowingly and persistently engaging in behaviour that was controlling or coercive on a date unknown between June 24 and August 13 last year at an unknown location, which had a serious effect on a woman who is or was his spouse, and the behaviour was such that a reasonable person would consider it likely to have a serious effect on a relevant person, contrary to Section 39 (1) and (3) of the Domestic Violence Act, 2018.

Judge McCabe heard evidence at Harkin’s sentence hearing last week but adjourned finalisation of sentence until this week to consider the findings of comprehensive psychiatric and probation reports.

The court heard Harkin believed in several conspiracy theories and his coercive control of his wife and two young children, then aged nine and seven, escalated on the run-up to the children’s impending return to school last September as he feared they would be vaccinated against Covid 19, which he believed was a hoax.

He made veiled threats to his now former wife, Fiona Clarke, that he would burn their house down, and the homes of her extended family without warning, resulting in the loss of twelve lives, if she did not behave and do as she was told.

The court heard Ms Clarke went out to work while her husband stayed at home. He got her to withdraw money from her account on a regular basis and give it to him. He spent most days watching conspiracy videos on his phone and drinking beer, the court heard.

In her victim impact statement, which Ms Clarke read to the court, she said she lived in fear for the future when Harkin got out of prison.

“I went against Paul by speaking out and I am now terrified of the consequences. I don’t know if he will want revenge,” she said.

Detective Sergeant Paul Duane told the court that he arrested Harkin on September 2 last year.

He confirmed Harkin had previous convictions from Northern Ireland in 1998 for threatening to kill a former partner there, for two aggravated burglaries and causing criminal damage for which he had received a two-year suspended sentence.

Judge Rory McCabe said Harkin’s 1998 convictions showed he had ‘form’.

The judge placed the headline sentence at four-and-a-half years which he said, reflected the gravity of the offence, which carries a maximum tariff of five years.

Taking the early plea, Harkin’s expression of remorse, and his intention to leave the jurisdiction and go back to live in Derry as mitigating factors, Judge McCabe said the sentence he had in mind was three years.

However, he decided not to finalise the structure of that sentence until this week, stating this was a complex matter and he needed more time to consider the reports before the court.

Judge McCabe said an immediate custodial sentence was unavoidable and warranted when passing sentence this week.

The judge said he believed Harkin would make no effort to rehabilitate and it was his belief he would pose an ongoing risk of reoffending.

Imposing the three-year sentence, the judge directed Harkin to have no contact with the victims and come under the supervision of the probation service for twelve months on his release from prison.

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