Student has ‘no option’ but to commute between Germany and Ireland due to gap in disability support

Evelyne Cynk (35) says her right to freedom of movement as an EU citizen is not being upheld

A German disability activist with cerebral palsy says she has “no option” but to begin commuting between Ireland and Germany from next week to begin her studies at UCC, as she risks losing her disability supports if she moves to Ireland.

Evelyne Cynk (35) from Bochum in Germany, says her right to freedom of movement as an EU citizen is being infringed upon, as neither the German nor Irish state is willing to fund her personal assistance support if she moves to Cork to pursue her studies and a career as a writer.

Ms Cynk was accepted on to UCC’s creative writing master’s programme in September 2021, but has been unable to take up her place for the past three academic years, due to the obstacles regarding her disability supports.

Ms Cynk is a wheelchair user, and requires 24 hour personal assistance support. However, German authorities have told her that under national law, if she moves to Ireland she will no longer be entitled to funding for personal assistance support.


She has also been informed by the HSE that it does not have the available budget to fund her support package.

Ms Cynk plans to begin commuting between her accommodation in Germany and Cork this weekend, paying rent in both countries, ahead of the academic term starting on Monday, January 8th.

“Physically it’s going to be a lot of exhaustion, but if I don’t have any other choice, I will do that, and hope that the funding will facilitate at some point,” she said.

In a statement to The Irish Times, a spokesman for German state funding provider Landschaftsverband Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) said a person could get financial support for studying abroad if they met certain requirements and retain their habitual residence in Germany. But if Ms Cynk wished to emigrate permanently she would need “to apply for integration assistance in the country she wants to live in – in this case Ireland”.

A spokesman for the HSE said that although it does not comment on individual cases, disability services delivered by and on behalf of the health service are “subject to funding available”, with funding resources allocated based on the assessed need of each service user and to “best meet the needs of the population”.

He added that between the HSE and other Government departments and services, “there is a collective effort being made nationally and regionally to fundamentally reform how we deliver services for people with a disability and our commitment to uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of People with a Disability”.

The latest European Disability Strategy, adopted in March 2021, specifically states that “persons with disabilities should enjoy all rights on an equal basis with others, notably when moving to another member state”.

Ms Cynk said her situation was just one example of how people with disabilities in the EU were unable to enjoy their right to free movement when they came up against national laws that restricted the provision of disability supports.

“We are basically forced to stay in the country we are currently living in and we can’t take any opportunities. I’ve had several work offers [in Ireland] which couldn’t happen because of this entire issue,” she said.

Ms Cynk has a bachelor's degree in creative pedagogy as well as a qualification as a clerk and accountant. She also works as a team co-ordinator for the German care company that provides her personal assistance, as well as freelancing on the Stinging Fly literary journal’s diversity action group.

As a self-published author her first dream is to be a full-time writer, but Ms Cynk said that for now all she wants is the opportunity to emigrate to be able to take up educational and work opportunities, and “become as self-sufficient as possible and not reliant on the state”.

“A disabled person in need of [personal assistance] support is basically restricted from moving country and emigrating to Ireland. I’ve been robbed of my freedom,” she added.

Ms Cynk is seeking organisations who may be interested in taking on her case pro bono, or who could help sponsor her care to move to Ireland. She has also set up a GoFundMe page for those who wish to support her campaign.

She has visited Leinster House and been in touch with a number of Irish politicians regarding her case, including Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe.

“Evelyne is stuck between two stools, essentially ... It’s a harrowing case because she’s a bright young woman who should be able to move around Europe to complete her studies but is currently unable to do so,” he said.

“I think from a rights perspective she should be entitled to support in Ireland, but legally there’s a bit of a gap here at EU level, meaning that certain people with disabilities are not able to move to other member states and transfer their rights to supports and services,” he added.

Mr Cuffe said he hoped to submit a question to the European Commission this month regarding the freedom of movement for EU citizens with disabilities such as Ms Cynk, and added that if all avenues were exhausted at a national level, Ms Cynk’s situation could be a case for the European Court of Justice.

Having already been in correspondence with the HSE regarding Ms Cynk’s case, Mr Cuffe said he would also “try and raise the case at a higher level within the HSE to see if there might be a change of heart or a change of mind”.

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Ellen O'Regan

Ellen O’Regan

Ellen O’Regan is an Irish Times journalist.