Two welfare staff suspended amid €1.2m fraud claims

Gardaí investigating staff who worked in community welfare services

Two Department of Social Protection employees have been suspended amid claims they misappropriated €1.2 million in taxpayers' money.

Niamh O'Donoghue, secretary general of the department, told the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee yesterday that gardaí were investigating the claims.

The two staff members who had been working in community welfare services are alleged to have given payments to individuals who had no entitlement to them over a six-year period.

One of the employees is alleged to have claimed more than €1 million. Both staff have been suspended without pay since late last year.


Ms O’Donoghue said the alleged misappropriation of funds was unearthed as a result of new internal anti-fraud controls.

She added that the alleged fraud occurred prior to responsibility for community welfare services moving from the Health Service Executive to the Department of Social Protection in 2012.

In a separate case, an employee was dismissed last year after it emerged the individual had wrongly been in receipt of welfare benefits over several years.

Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell said these sums were "staggering", and found it incredible that so much money could be fraudulently taken over a long period of time without it being detected.

Ms O’Donoghue said it was a situation that had caused shock in the department and was “absolutely atypical”.

Overall, Ms O’Donoghue said the department has taken numerous steps to improve its ability to tackle social welfare fraud and reduce payments made in error.

This includes the addition of gardaí to investigation teams and making better use of data to assess risks.

Last year, it is estimated that about €127 million in payments were linked to fraud and error. The Department paid out about €20 billion in welfare payments during 2013.

The committee also heard further details regarding welfare payments made to an individual who had in excess of €400,000 in investments.

The case, highlighted by Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton last week, was discovered in the course of a data sharing exercise with the Revenue Commissioners, which provided information on investment interest payments on sums in excess of six figures.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent