Returned emigrants refused welfare payments
Returned emigrants refused welfare payments

A record number of Irish citizens were refused social welfare payments by the 26-County administration last year because they failed to satisfy increasingly bureaucratic residency requirements.

There was no explanation for the steep rise in the refusal rate in 2009.

New figures show 738 Irish citizens, most of whom are returning emigrants, were refused access to payments such as disability allowance, carers allowance, jobseeker’s benefit and the State pension.

Irish citizens refused social welfare payments because of a failure to satisfy habitual residency requirements totalled 424 in 2008 and 373 in 2007.

A requirement to be ‘habitually resident’ in Ireland to qualify for welfare was introduced on May 1st, 2004, causing increasing numbers of Irish citizens unable to afford food or shelter.

At the time the Dublin government claimed the new rules should not prevent Irish emigrants, many of whom left the country during the 1980s recession, from returning and claiming welfare assistance.

“I expect that the majority of returning Irish nationals will meet the ‘habitual residence’ condition due to their family connections... It is difficult to envisage circumstances where a returning Irish national would not meet this condition,” said then social and family affairs minister Mary Coughlan when she announced the scheme in March 2004.

Under the new rules welfare officers must consider: length and continuity of residence in Ireland or other parts of the Common Travel Area [Ireland and Britain]; length and purpose of any absence from Ireland or the Common Travel Area; nature and pattern of employment; ‘main centre of interest’; and future intentions to live in Ireland as it appears from the evidence.

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain said the crackdown was causing great hardship to many.

“The Government is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The result is a denial of desperately-needed benefits to people who have committed no fraud at all,” said Mr O Caolain.

Crosscare Migrant Project, which is helping several returned Irish emigrants who have been refused welfare, said it is unacceptable that people who emigrated from Ireland because there were no opportunities are being told to “go away” by the 26 County state.

“It also begs the question: what will happen to the people who are leaving now . . . will the Irish State tell them to ‘go away’ when they return?” asked Joe O’Brien, policy officer at Crosscare.

“When I went to the social welfare office in December I was told I’d have to live in the country for two years before I would qualify for anything,” said one returned emigrant.

“This is where my family is and I’ve really decided to come back from the US because I want to spend more time with my son, who I was only reunited with in 2007,” said Jacqueline Sanzone, from County Sligo.

“I don’t know why they are giving me such a hard time,” says Ms Sanzone, who has no income, no greater asset than her car and needs to provide for her daughter, who returned with her to Ireland.

She was also refused a medical card despite suffering from Crohn’s disease.

“I want to get a job and I have experience of working as a medical assistant in the US. But I’m spending all my time trying to sort out these welfare issues,” she says.

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