This post is unfortunately coming a bit late because I have been out in the countryside for the Korean holiday Chuseok. This is similar to the importance of Christmas to most western countries, but without the religious revelry attached. This post is not about Chuseok though; if you want you can read more posts about Chuseok here.
I started writing this post last Saturday morning full of piss and vinegar after reading this article from that morning Irish Times. The story was titled ‘Call to speed up new begging law‘. The story goes into detail and shines a light on Dublin City Council‘s drive to introduce a law in Dublin where ‘begging’ is to be an offence you can be arrested for if carried out within ten metres of a business premises.
Before I go into too much detail about why I think that the implementation of this law is a disgrace, I want to ask have we finally sunk so low that we have found it reasonable to force those who have had to sink lower to have to bow lower again?
I’ve always believed that what Irish people have, and this is something many other nationalities lack, is an understanding for the plight of the common man. We have always respected those who do their best and come out fighting. We have always seen each other as equals, as people going about their business working for the good of themselves, and indirectly for the good of everyone else. But are people on the street still not fighting or have they given up and now resorted to scabbing off others? Does the City Council honestly believe that homeless people who have resorted to begging do so because it’s an agreeable lifestyle? Is Dublin the only city that struggles to care for a homeless population that has increased in the past few years?
Dublin has always had homeless people and this population has become more noticeable as the number of recognisably wealthy people has increased in the city. Why should we suddenly change our view and force the City Council to embarrass themselves internationally with a policy that displays ignorance, snobbery, and the lack of common decency many Irish people pride themselves on?
You can take my word for it, I’ve looked the other way, checked my phone, and blatantly ignored hundreds of people on the street. This doesn’t mean I want them arrested for being less fortunate than me. Last time in Dublin one man obviously distraught, begged me for some change and I looked away, he then shouted to no-one “Ah jaysus, has no one a heart anymore?” I bowed my head more and walked faster. Ten metres down the road I felt disgusted with myself. But this article is not about the dilemma of giving/not giving money to homeless people. It’s about homeless people not even being allowed to ask.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Mr. Gerry Breen, an unelected official (what I mean he/she is not elected to the position by the people, but by the councillors elected, this means the person is responsible to the councillors and not the electorate), has urged for the process of making begging illegal to be speeded up.
Firstly, the article quotes Breen, a resident of Clontarf (well known as the home of many celebrities and a distinct lack of homeless people – the sea breeze can be chilly at night), who looks forward apparently to the time when the Gardaí can “arrest [homeless] people who are begging right outside the front door of city centre businesses and make them stop.” Mr. Breen is probably unaware that once you are arrested, having to stop is the least of the individual’s worries. Perhaps the Lord Mayor doesn’t really believe that dignity and self esteem are necessary when one is homeless, so being arrested shouldn’t be a further worry for them.
I find it difficult to feel sorry for the people whom Mr. Breen is taking sides with. Whether or not begging is organised on a commercial level or not, it is the responsibility of the Gardaí to locate the ring-leaders and to apprehend and prosecute them, not to tar everyone with the same brush and then throw them into to already crowded cells with a slap on the wrist, not to mention some other custodial sentence or a large fine they cannot pay (well, they could probably pay the fine if they were allowed to beg, but that’s a different argument for a different day).
Breen really feels sorry for the people who are forced to look at the people reduced to begging. The poor people who have gone shopping to spend all their money, so sorry, sorry…sniff…I wish my shopping trip wasn’t ruined by the reality of people who can’t afford clothes and are often lucky to have a hot meal and a roof over their heads. Boo-hoo.
Regardless of the generosity of the Irish welfare system it is obviously insufficient to cope with caring for the people who make up the Irish people (and that included the people who aren’t from Ireland). Destitute people are forced to rely on charity from the common decency of people passing in the street. Even the statistics the man pulls out to fuel his attack have more flaws than the welfare system he believes should be sufficient.
Lets look at his statistics:
1. 83% of people surveyed (from god knows where) feel they “are bothered by begging outside of premises in the city centre”: Interesting. Do they have a statistic that shows what the people are bothered by? Is it the embarrassment and/or disgust with themselves for not being able to help them? Is it the embarrassment and/or disgust they feel when the person looks them in the eye and asks them for a simple cup of tea? Is it the embarrassment and/or disgust that they don’t actually carry coins with them because they make their wallet or purse feel heavy which means they can’t buy as much stuff?
2. 76% of people had the perception that the streets weren’t safe, even though there has been a 15% reduction in street crime: Even the street crime that does exist, how much of it has been perpetrated by people without a home or roof over their head? Granted there is an amount of people who do commit crime on the streets, but does everyone? Do all the people who ask for charity turn around and buy heroin or whatever other generalised misconception it is that Mr. Breen likes to confuse the information he is given with.
3. The location of drug dispensary clinics mostly in the city centre: This is purely coincidental. Dublin has had a serious drug problem since the seventies, and Mr. Breen must have been asleep or too busy worrying about Dublin Bay to notice this. Is Mr. Breen trying to express that every homeless person takes drugs? He is certainly suggesting this. Surely there are plenty who do, as living on the streets probably needs some form of relief and alcohol and drugs are the most readily available (there are no meditation centres, yoga classes or golf clubs opened yet). Dublin City centre is the most densely populated are in the country. If Mr. Breen walked away from Grafton Street and Dawson Street and looked around the areas near the public offices on Wood Quay, or around Thomas Street, Eden Quay, and many other locations, he would see a different population than his Brown Thomas loving neighbours. This has been like this for as long as I can remember.
If you’d like more information about the problems of drugs in Ireland, visit drugs.ie
In conclusion, I honestly believe that the way that the Lord Mayor is trying to pressure through this law is an absolute disgrace. This is further evidence for the necessity of an official elected by the people to represent the city, not some flash in the pan short term high-brow career councillor.
Are we to be made believe that the feelings felt by people who have had the misfortune of passing one of those misfortunate enough to have no home are what is most important in this debate? Has the erosion of the Celtic Tiger eroded our national pride and national sense of understanding that we are to let people like the Lord Mayor stand up and lecture about how disagreeable looking people who have to sleep in doorways are?
Let’s wake up Ireland and remember that the state of the nation exists beyond the broke banks and builders; people’s lives have been forgotten and if we don’t stick together we can only expect more crises, more poverty, more wondering where it all went.