WHEN Penny Fennessy’s elderly father suffered a stroke she gave up her life in England and moved to the small town of Clogheen in Tipperary to care for him.
Although otherwise in good health, since his stroke, 63-year-old Patrick cannot drive or walk very far.
Penny and her father share his one-bedroomed cottage at the foot of the picturesque Knockmealdown Mountain.
Despite caring for her father on a 24-hour basis, Penny has been turned down for a carer’s allowance.
As a result Penny and her father are being forced to survive solely on her father’s pension and emergency welfare payments.
Despite being assured she would qualify for the allowance before she left England, Penny has been waiting almost a year for an appeal against the decision to refuse her the allowance.
Penny is just one of thousands of returning Irish or family carers who have been denied vital welfare payments due to the habitual residence condition (HRC) — legislation which was brought in to prevent welfare tourism.
Since the legislation was implemented in 2004, at least one returning Irish citizen has been refused assistance from the state every day due to an apparent failure to satisfy the HRC.
From 2004 until the end of 2009, at least 3,407 Irish people have been refused welfare upon arrival back in Ireland. This is despite assurances from several ministers that the clause would not affect Irish people returning home.
The latest pledge came in February when Minister for Social and Family Affairs Mary Hanafin stated in the Dáil: “Irish nationals returning to live in Ireland on a permanent basis should experience no difficulty in demonstrating that they satisfy the requirements of the habitual residence condition.”
However, the clause is increasingly affecting a range of people, from young people returning to seek work to adult children moving to Ireland to care for ageing parents.
According to the Carers Association, the HRC should immediately be waived for family members who return to Ireland to provide full-time care for relatives.
Applying it to such people, they say is “impractical, narrow minded, unfair and unreasonable”.
The head of the association, Enda Egan, said a detailed submission had recently been made to Minister for Social Protection Eamon Ó Cuív, at his request.
Crosscare Migrant Project, which works with intending, existing and returning Irish emigrants, as well as with new migrants in Ireland, said the issue has become the number one policy area of concern this year and there are new cases emerging every week.
A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection said exempting Irish nationals from satisfying the habitual residence condition would be contrary to equality legislation.
Ms Fennessy, however, disagrees, and speaking in her Tipperary home as her father naps in another room she reveals how she feels welfare officers are not looking at individual cases on their merits.
“I am not trying to scam the system. I am part of the community here and have moved everything I own here,” she said.
“Anyone looking at my evidence can see I am here to stay.”
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