Mullingar’s District Court judge has said it’s “high time” that those who spend their social welfare payments on drink and drugs should receive vouchers instead of cash.
“The sooner the day comes that vouchers and not money is handed out, the better,” Judge Seamus Hughes said yesterday.
He was referring to “the majority, the more than 90 per cent of young offenders who are not working, are on social welfare, and are committing public order offences”.
He said they are using their social welfare payments to buy drink and drugs when it is intended to provide for “the basic necessities” such as food and clothing.
He was dealing with the case of a 25-year-old Mullingar man with an alcohol addiction who has amassed 27 convictions, many of them for public order offences.
Kevin McDonagh of 22 Grange Park, Mullingar was in court to purge his contempt for disruptive behaviour at last week’s sitting of the court when he was remanded in custody for seven days.
His solicitor Patricia Cronin admitted that he had been smelling of drink when she dealt with him that morning, on July 21, and said his chronic use of alcohol would be known to gardaí.
There were also suggestions that he had been under the influence when he made an obscene gesture at gardai as they passed him at 11.20am the day before as he queued to sign on at Mullingar’s social welfare office.
McDonagh acknowledged that “hard pressed” taxpayers, including gardai make his social welfare payment possible and apologised for his behaviour in court.
Judge Hughes said there are no “checks and balances” in the current system and said that “surely a system could be devised” which would allow welfare payments to be made in vouchers that would be acceptable to supermarkets and for bill payments.
He referred to the case of another man who came before him recently and spent €120 of his €180 payment on heroin immediately after getting it.
McDonagh will complete 240 hours community service in lieu of a three month sentence for threatening behaviour towards gardai, with the judge noting it will give him an opportunity to “make better use” of his hands.
He also said it would avoid “costing the taxpayer a fortune” by sending him to prison.
“I’ll be on your case,” he told the young man, advising that he will be in jeopardy any time he appears before him before he is due to retire in 11 years.
“By the time you’re 36 I’ll have made a man of you,” he concluded.