Over 3,000 returning Irish emigrants are being refused social welfare payments (known as 'the dole' in Ireland) because of erratically enforced 'habitual residency' requirements stipulating that you have to be resident in the Republic for two years before you can make a claim for payments.
According to media reports, this is causing great hardship.
Joe O'Brien, the policy officer with Crosscare, an Irish NGO working with Irish migrants, says that the welfare officers themselves often apply the laws incorrectly, and may be causing even more hardship than is necessary.
The habitual residency requirement was necessitated by Ireland's membership of the European Union (EU), and it's believed that the requirement is in place to deter foreign workers from claiming Irish government handouts without having any intention of being a long term resident in the country.
This is yet another example of Ireland's membership of the European Union causing complications domestically.
The Irish Government is between a rock and a hard place on this issue.
It can't really create an exemption from the residency requirement to Irish citizens, as this would probably be viewed as discriminatory under the European Union law which Ireland has incorporated into its Statute Book, yet the current situation is unnecessarily harsh on returning Irish emigrants who now find that despite being in need of government payouts to survive, they no longer qualify.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, but it's one which must be fixed. If not we risk compounding the Irish emigration problem with a reduced immigration one, worsening an already out-of-control net migration figure.
At a time when Ireland is undergoing a massive emigration problem it's now being faced with another problem: the returning of previous Wild Geese is now losing its luster somewhat because of these controversial welfare requirements which disincentive the Irish to return home. Not that all Irish emigrants need social welfare, of course, but it's a safety net that should be there for all citizens of a country, and in the current economic volatility, there's not much sense of assurance in knowing that if you come home you won't qualify if times get tough.
This requirement also fits uneasily with the hotly debated Certificates of Irish Heritage which the government hopes to hand out to reach out to emigrants who've left Ireland. If it's truly interested in reaching out to these people and luring them back home, then it should ensure that they have as easy a time as possible in qualifying for social welfare benefits once they get back home.
The requirement is also extremely harsh on Irish citizens who were forced out of lack of economic opportunity to emigrate from Ireland, and now find that because they had to do so, they can't even 'draw the dole' back home.
The Irish Government need to think up a solution to this problem fast, before more Irish emigrees decide to postpone their decision to return back to the old soil because they either current need, or may need soon, to rely on State welfare payments to get by.
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