Ireland plans to impose tough new penalties on beggars for the first time since the Potato Famine 160 years ago. Justice Minister Dermot Ahern says the measure is necessary because of the growth of professional begging gangs who harass pedestrians. Children often are involved. Ahern says a bill will make begging punishable by a maximum â‚¬700 (US$900) fine or a month in prison. Irish police lost their legal authority to arrest beggars after the nation's second-highest court declared the previous law unconstitutional. The High Court ruled two years ago that the 1847 Vagrancy Act was too vague and it conflicted with the 1937 Irish Constitution's clauses on freedom of expression and communication. Britain passed the 1847 Act to combat begging as famine swept Ireland.