Returning Irish 'denied welfare'


Returning Irish emigrants are being refused vital social welfare payments because of an “increasingly strict interpretation” of the residency requirements, Fine Gael social protection spokesman Michael Ring has claimed.

Figures obtained by Mr Ring through parliamentary questions showed a significant increase in the number of Irish people being refused access to payments such as carer's allowance and jobseeker’s benefit over the past two years because of a failure to satisfy the habitual residency requirements.

Irish citizens refused social welfare payments for failing to satisfy the habitual residency condition totalled 738 last year, 985 in 2008, 373 in 2007 and 480 in 2006.

The condition was introduced in 2004 as the Government opened the labour market to workers from new European Union states.

It was intended to safeguard the social welfare system from abuse by restricting access for people who are not economically active, or who had little or no connection with the country.

Mr Ring said Irish people were being unfairly denied State support as a result of a “crude cost-saving measure”.

“Irish people returning to live in Ireland on a permanent basis should have no difficulty in claiming State support. But the reality is very different with growing numbers of Irish people being refused essential State supports.

“Irish nationals, some of whom left as recently as 18 months ago, are feeling totally abandoned by the State because of what appears to be an increasingly strict interpretation of the habitual residence condition.

This includes people returning to Ireland to care for sick or elderly loved ones, even though they are saving the State large sums of money by providing voluntary care,” the Mayo TD said.

“The dramatic increase in refusals seen in recent years raises serious questions about the treatment of the thousands of Irish people who have been forced to leave the country in the last few years, but who may wish to return to home to their families in the near future,” he added.

In a statement today, the Department of Social Protection said exempting Irish nationals from satisfying the habitual residence condition would be contrary to the equality principles that Ireland has adopted in equality legislation.

"It would also be contrary to EU law to exempt Irish nationals from the HRC and not exempt other EU Nationals on the same basis," it said.

"However, Irish nationals returning to live in Ireland on a permanent basis should not experience difficulty in demonstrating that they satisfy the requirements of the habitual residence condition," it added.

Last month, the chief executive of the Carers' Association, Enda Egan, raised concerns about Irish people returning from abroad to care for elderly relatives being refused carer's allowance.