Image of elderly woman begging on Dublin street causes outcry

Woman, who is nearly 90, wasn’t homeless but couldn’t afford to feed herself or pay bills

The image of an elderly woman begging on a street in central Dublin has caused outcry online after the photographer revealed the woman was nearly 90.

Karen Smith from Drogheda was on her way to a protest in central Dublin last Saturday when she passed a woman sitting on the pavement outside the Bank of Ireland on College Green. Ms Smith told RTÉ Liveline how the woman explained she wasn't homeless but couldn't afford to feed herself or pay gas and electricity bills.

"I was walking by, we were heading to a protest around the corner form the Bank of Ireland near the Wax Museum and we had to do a double take because we couldn't believe what we were seeing," Ms Smith said. "When I spoke to her she couldn't afford to do anything other than pay rent. She was a lovely lady. It broke my heart having to leave her there."

Ms Smith believes the woman’s name is Maeve and has turned to Facebook to try and track her down.


"She seemed like a very independent lady, a lady who knew what she was doing but she had to do it because she had no other choice. Maybe she's on a pension. But a pension in this day and age is not exactly a lot of money, there's rent, there's bill, there's gas, there's ESB, there's water charges."

Ms Smith said she was shocked to see crowds of people walk by without noticing the elderly woman sitting on the pavement. She asked the woman’s permission to take her photo so she could send it to support groups for homelessness and elderly people.

“I’m very, very worried. In this day and age a lady that age should not be begging, she should be somewhere nice and warm with a cup of tea. Somebody should be looking after her.”

In its pre-budget submission released earlier this month, Age Action called on the Government to increase the State pension which has not risen since 2009, warning that pensioners were struggling to pay new taxes along with rising fuel and health costs.

“Pensioners in this country should not be forced to choose between paying for medicine and keeping the heat on,” said Justin Moran, head of advocacy at Age Action. “Older people spent a lifetime building this country. They shouldered their share of the burden of austerity. As the economy returns to growth, they have a legitimate expectation that the sacrifices they made will be acknowledged.”

Simon Community warned on Wednesday that rising rents were continuing to push people around the State into homelessness and said rent supplement must be increased and rent certainty introduced immediately.

Simon Communities spokesman Niamh Randall described homelessness in Ireland as a “humanitarian crisis” with 3,372 adults and 1,496 children currently in emergency homeless accommodation.

“It is essential that the Government does not lose sight of the ultimate goal which is to ensure that people who are homeless have access to long-term homes with the right support,” said Ms Randall. “We need ongoing action to ensure that housing is delivered to those who need it most. The biggest challenge right now is access to appropriate, affordable housing and, unless urgently addressed, more people will suffer, more people will end up homeless and the trapped in emergency accommodation.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast