A councillor who spoke of elderly citizens running the risk of a parking fine because they felt intimidated by “able bodied” beggars sitting beneath parking meters, failed in his attempt to introduce bylaws outlawing this practice at the first town council meeting of 2011.
Cllr Jim Henson was bringing a motion to the council that it “consider implementing bylaws to prevent begging at church gates and parking meters within its boundaries”, after a number of representations he received from constituents.
“I’ve seen elderly people afraid to go to the parking meter in Fair Green, and risk getting a parking fine, because of someone sitting begging beneath it,” said Cllr Henson, who then referred to there being competing gangs of professional beggars driving around the midland towns and hanging in an intimidatory manner outside St Mary’s church.
“We should respect the rights of the elderly to go to church witout having able-bodied men lying across the church wall”.
“We [the town council] can charge somebody for putting out a chair on the streets of Athlone, but can do nothing to somebody sitting on the path looking for money,” he concluded.
“The council cannot implement bylaws outside its remit,” town clerk John Walsh told Cllr Henson, referring to the fact that the crime of begging had been taken from the stature books last year by the Government.
However, in an offer of some consolation to Cllr Henson’s motion, Mr Walsh alluded to the powers of the 1994 Criminal Justice Act under which the various sections of public order offences are enforced and said: “Those causing a nuisance will be moved by Gardai”.
Mayor Sheila Buckley Byrne agreed this was the best way to go, and the motion was quietly defeated.