Government has ‘complete lack of empathy’ for returning Irish emigrants
Car insurance costs, farm payments and access to credit particularly affect rural returnees, Oireachtas told
More than 300,000 Irish-born people have left the Republic since 2006, and another 100,000 from Northern Ireland.
“Obstacles” hindering Irish emigrants from returning to live in Ireland must be addressed to encourage more to move home from abroad, an Oireachtas committee has heard.
The cost of car insurance, high rents, access to credit and patchy broadband coverage are issues that concern all returning emigrants, but those moving back to rural Ireland are particularly affected, according to Ciaran Staunton, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR).
Presenting to the Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr Staunton said there was “a complete lack of empathy from Government agencies across the board for the plight of returning citizens”.
The letters he has received in response to queries he put to various Government departments on the issue are “appalling”, he said.
More than 300,000 Irish-born people have left the Republic since 2006, and another 100,000 from Northern Ireland, Mr Staunton told the committee. Rural areas have been most affected, with one in four households losing a member to emigration.
As the economy improves in Ireland, and political uncertainty - particularly in the US with the new Trump administration - threatens to affect the status of the Irish in other countries, more and more Irish emigrants are looking to return home, he addded.
“Economic recovery has not been evenly distributed across rural areas,” however, which makes it very difficult for people to move back to live on their family farm.
The cost of car insurance is a particular issue, with applicants losing their no-claims bonus if they have been living abroad for a number of years.
Mr Staunton cited the case of a friend, who had expected to pay €400 a year for car insurance on returning to Ireland after 10 years in the US, whose premium cost €1,900.
If they have done their driving test in the US, for example, their licence is not recognised in Ireland and they have to pay thousands of Euro for driving lessons and can’t drive on certain roads, he said.
While agreements are in place with some countries, including Canada, for reciprocal recognition of driving licences, this needed to be rolled out to other jurisdictions also, he said.
Irish people who have been living illegally in the US and want to return to live in Ireland face particular challenges, according to ILIR.
To apply for top-up payments from the National Reserve, farmers must show recent tax returns, which undocumented people returning from the US won’t have, Mr Staunton said.
Opening a bank account is a problem for returnees as you have to have utility bills in your name.
“It is easier for an illegal to open a bank account in America than it is if they return,” he said.
They also have difficulty when applying for a loan, as the US credit rating is not recognised in Ireland. Returning emigrants are also disqualified from the new Help-to-Buy scheme, which allows first-time buyers to claim a tax rebate of up to €20,000.
Karen McHugh of Safe Home Ireland, an organisation supporting mostly elderly Irish people to return from abroad, said they have seen a drop in applications in recent years, which they attribute to obstacles around “driving, housing, social protection, employment, healthcare”.
She said Safe Home Ireland has arrangements in place with local housing authorities, the Department of Social Protection, and the banks, to provide assistance for the over-60s looking to move back.
“It is possible to address the barriers; we have done it for a certain cohort,” she said.
“When families want to come back, when young people want to come back…it is not straightforward at all. The goodwill needs to be there.”
She said the Government has stated that it wants Irish emigrants to return home. “But what are we doing to actually make it happen?”
Sinn Féin spokesperson for the diaspora, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, said it was “clear that the Government do not have the will to tackle the many issues which are stopping Irish citizens abroad from coming home”.
He said issues with opening of bank accounts, the recognition of qualifications, credit ratings, no claims bonuses, access to housing, healthcare, and eligibility for agricultural schemes which were proving to be obstacles for returning emigrants were “basic things which the government could address immediately”.
Mr Ó Clochartaigh also criticised the Government for lack of progress on the issue of voting rights for emigrants in Presidential elections, which the Citizens Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of in 2014.