Fr. Michael Toomey, Ss Peter and Paul's, Clonmel, has contacted the Gardaí and local politicians about begging outside of churches in Clonmel
A Clonmel priest has claimed that foreign beggars are causing elderly parishioners to feel intimidated and vulnerable outside the town's churches.
Fr. Michael Toomey says he has been verbally abused by what he describes as "professional beggars", and fears that they if they continue to be unchallenged they may cause harm to someone.
A curate at Ss Peter and Paul's, Fr. Toomey has also expressed concern for the safety of the beggars themselves, following photos and comments posted on social media.
He says that he contacted the Garda Superintendent, District Mayor Catherine Carey and members of Clonmel Borough District Council earlier this week, having received a number of concerns from parishioners in Ss Peter and Paul's, and The Friary, about foreign beggars outside the churches, particularly during Mass times.
"Some of these concerns are from elderly parishioners who feel intimidated and vulnerable when passing by, or when they come into the church areas", says Fr. Toomey.
"I have noticed recently that this practice had stopped. However, in the last week, a new number of these people are now operating in the area in Clonmel and outside our churches.
"Many are aware that their intentions may not be legitimate, as it has been well publicised in the media in the past.
"I have also heard of these groups cashing in and exploiting the goodness and generosity of our citizens. I have seen them being dropped off and collected in expensive cars, and many people have commented about seeing them on their mobile phones and shopping in others towns".
Fr. Toomey said that while the church of course had the deepest sympathy for their situation, and would try and give them all the assistance it could, this form of begging was becoming more of an issue not just in the church areas, but in the town of Clonmel.
"On Monday, I asked the man outside The Friary to move along during Mass. He was the same man who I asked to move along on Saturday. He became very argumentative and called me all kinds of names, but then did move away when I said I would call the Gardaí.
"Later on another man – an elderly man who has a crutch and has been around for much of the time - approached me outside Ss Peter and Paul’s and started shouting all kinds of abuse, calling me horrific names and waving his stick as if to hit me.
"I have never spoken to him before, yet he knows that I have moved on members of his 'gang' from outside the church and The Friary.
"I am aware they are operating in other areas such as the car parks, outside McDonalds, Lidl, the TSB and Town Hall. But my main concern are the local churches where I have received great concerns and fears from people.
"Speaking with other local clergy and the Friars, they too feel helpless and are often frightened to ask them to move on.
"I am very worried that if they continue to be unchallenged they may escalate, and actually cause harm to someone".
Fr. Toomey said that he was also very concerned for the beggars themselves and was worried about some of the comments he had seen about them on social media.
"I am hoping that members of the local Borough Council and the local St. Vincent de Paul, and other groups who help the homeless and vulnerable, along with the Gardaí, can meet with us, to see if we can help them in any practical way.
"I know in the past they have refused, as it is perhaps more profitable to ply on the generosity of passers-by.
"In the parishes we are encouraging people to give them some food or hot drinks but to avoid giving money, as more often than not the people themselves are forced to hand this up.
"I hope we can highlight this in our town and try to bear Christian witness to help those in need, but in a practical long- term and legal way", Fr. Toomey added.