FOREIGN UNEMPLOYED workers in Ireland could be given a lump sum payment of up to six months' worth of unemployment benefit if they agree to return home, Fine Gael TD Leo Varadkar has suggested.
"Is there an opportunity to give them three to six months of benefit?" he suggested at the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
The number of foreign unemployed workers in Ireland now stands at 16 per cent of the total on the Live Register - exactly proportional to the numbers in the workforce.
The proposal is based on a Spanish model announced recently where unemployed foreign nationals from 20 countries have been offered €18,000 to go home on condition they do not come back for three years.
The Dublin West TD insisted that a lump-sum benefit payment should not be used "to force them" to return to their home countries, "but as an option".
Describing Mr Varadkar's intervention as "very, very dangerous", Fianna Fáil Meath TD Thomas Byrne said "voluntary repatriation is a new low by Fine Gael".
Later Mr Byrne said: "This comes in the dishonourable tradition of the British National Party. They are the only other party supporting voluntary repatriation."
Fás director general Rody Molloy said EU nationals in Ireland were entitled to "exactly the same rights" as locals.
Irish people working in other EU countries could not be discriminated against either.
He would be "very nervous" about doing anything that "should in any way suggest" that foreign nationals were not welcome in Ireland, even if that was not the intention of the proposal.
He said there was a danger that even a voluntary programme could be misinterpreted and "then you would run into issues about how voluntary it is".
Brid O'Brien, the head of policy and media of the Irish National Organisation of the Unemployed, said she would be "very concerned" if "different categories" of unemployed were created.
It emerged last month that the Department of Social and Family Affairs had scrapped paying dole payments directly into claimants' bank accounts in an attempt to curb fraud by foreign and Irish workers who have quit Ireland after losing jobs here.
Since then claimants have had to sign on at post offices weekly - rather than have the payments made automatically into their bank accounts - rather than signing on once a month as happened before.