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Court-room ‘poor box’ doations raise €17m for charities with SVP receiving €1.1m

Figures on courtroom donations released for past 10 years as Department of Justice considers future of ‘poor box’ system

Michael McHaleIndependent.ie

Almost €17m as been raised from courtrooms across the country in the past 10 years, an analysis of “poor box” donations shows.

St Vincent de Paul (SVP) was the biggest beneficiary of funds, with more than €1.1m going to one of the oldest and largest charities in Ireland.

Poverty and homelessness charities were among the biggest beneficiaries of the court poor box, often used by judges to direct that minor offenders make donations in lieu of a conviction or stricter penalty.

Figures provided by the Courts Service for the years 2012 to 2021 show that, when combined, the eight regional branches of the Simon Communities of Ireland received €614,822, with more than half of that going to Cork Simon.

This was followed by Dublin’s Capuchin Day Centre, which received €527,986, the majority of which came from the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Sightsavers International and the Christian Blind Mission received €404,750 and €394,000 respectively, while the Garda Benevolent Trust Fund, which aids serving and retired gardaí and their families, was given €314,260.

SVP welcomed the funds, saying that the total received was not surprising given the charity “operates throughout the country with almost 1,200 local conferences, many of whom would benefit directly”.

“By the end of this year, SVP will have received over 200,000 calls for help,” the spokesperson added. “Primarily they come from people on fixed incomes, whether from state payments or in low-income employment.

“The requests are for a wide variety of help with food, fuel and utility bills, other cost-of-living expenses, back-to-school costs, clothing and unexpected expenses such as replacing or repairing household goods.”

Poverty and homelessness organisations shared more than €2.8m in donations.

Charities that help people abroad received over €2.2m including €292,500 for Ethiopia Aid and a further €271,759 going to Oxfam Ireland.

Health and disability-based charities received €1.4m, including cancer charities receiving €336,123 and mental health groups getting €540,971. Pieta House received €267,710, while the Samaritans took in €120,930.

More than 70 addiction treatment services received in excess of €900,000, while a dozen domestic abuse organisations accepted €142,860.

Other sectors that benefited included organisations supporting women in crisis, which received over €600,000 – this includes the Cuan Saor Women’s Refuge in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, which took in €120,850.

More than 100 youth groups received over €600,000, and hospices got more than €650,000.

A total of 70 older persons groups received donations ranging from €150 for a senior citizens party in Portlaoise to €26,960 for Lismore Senior Citizens in Cork.

Men’s sheds around the country received €74,000, while Meals on Wheels got €77,000, dispersed across 14 local groups. Lions Clubs also accepted over €103,000.

More than €2m was donated through the court poor box in each of the years 2012, 2014 and 2019, while the only year which had funds of less than €1m being dispersed was 2021, when Covid-19 lockdowns affected court sittings.

A total of 45 court offices around the country operated poor boxes, with Tralee, Co Kerry, getting the largest proportion of funds – more than €3.3m. In contrast, just €1,750 was administered through Cloverhill District Court.

Poor-box donations are used solely at the discretion of judges and mostly in the district courts. A 2004 review by the Law Reform Commission described the system as unfair for offenders who cannot afford to pay for donations, often facing convictions and stricter penalties instead.

It also raised concerns about a lack of accountability regarding how funds raised were spent, and recommended a new system be implemented in which money raised would go to the victims of crime.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the Government is currently reviewing the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014, which proposed abolishing the court poor box, and replacing it with a new Reparation Fund “to provide for a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation, applicable only to minor offences, and for the usage of that fund to provide services for the victims of crime”.

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