For anyone to think that a son or daughter returning home from abroad to look after an infirm parent is engaging in a form of welfare tourism is not only absurd and insulting but also dangerous.
Penny Fennessy returned home to care for her 63-year-old father, who suffers from the effects of a stroke. They are now forced to live on his old-age pension and an emergency welfare payment, as she has been refused a carer’s allowance, due to the habitual residence condition introduced in 2004.
There is something radically wrong with a system that denies €200 a week to a woman who comes home from abroad to look after her father. If he had to go into a nursing home, this would cost society much more and the help would not be nearly as beneficial to him.
The restrictive condition was introduced to stop what has been called “welfare tourism,” which is the abuse by people coming to this country just to collect welfare.
A number of cases were exposed during the grounding of flights as a result of the volcanic ash. Some people had been availing of cheap flights to fly here in order to collect unemployment assistance, while they were actually living and even working abroad.
Such abuse should be stamped out, but we need to ensure that people with genuine entitlements are fairly treated. The Department of Social Protection stipulates that various factors need to be taken into consideration, such as where close family members live, the length of residency in Ireland, and the length and reason for living abroad, the reason for returning, as well as the person’s future intention of living in the Republic.
It should never be considered an abuse of the system if a son or a daughter returns to help an infirm or elderly parent. Several ministers stated that the clause would not affect Irish people returning home. Then Social and Family Affairs Minister, Mary Hanafin, stated emphatically in February of this year that “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”.
The Government seems to have little difficulty finding money to facilitate those who were responsible for the current financial mess, but it has been cutting back savagely on vital assistance to highly vulnerable people who had no responsibility for what has happened.
Closing the respite house run by the Brothers of Charity in Clonile, Co Limerick — to save €100,000 annually — is a disgrace. The house provided a welcome and justified break for those looking after family members with intellectual disabilities.
If the state were to provide the kind of service that those family members provide around the clock, seven days a week, it would cost a great deal more. Thus, this is not a real saving but another sordid example of callous administrative indifference.
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