Irish citizens who emigrated outside the EU are routinely being denied ‘free’ university fees upon their return.
At the age of nine Molly Boggan and her family left Ireland in the grip of the worst recession in the history of the state. They settled in Perth, Western Australia but after she applied to study law at Dublin City University she found her fees would be charged as if she’d never stepped foot in Ireland.
"My family just cannot afford this," she told the Irish Independent. "I think it's unfair, it's not my fault or my family's fault that we had to leave the country and now it feels like we are being punished because I want to return home."
"The government is talking about bringing the young people of Ireland back to their native home. However, for me and I'm sure for many others in my situation who would love to return home, we just can't do so as we are faced with outrageous fees.”
Supporters of the current fees regime, however, argue that Irish universities are underfunded and that the $1.2 billion worth of fees from international students keep institutions afloat.
The current rules require an individual to have spent three out of the past five years living in an EU member state. A caveat was introduced three years ago for those applying for undergraduate degrees: if they spent more than five years of their schooling in Ireland they remain entitled to ‘free’ fees.
However, the exemption does not apply to those applying for postgraduate courses and most are unaware they face crippling bills until they lodge their applications.
One such individual spent four years studying on a scholarship in the United States and was shocked to find out he faced $60,000 a year for a University College Dublin medicine degree, instead of the $17,000 most EU residents pay.
“A Brexiteer could come to UCD from England and study medicine at the fee for which I, as an Irish citizen, was deemed ineligible,” columnist Colum Kenny wrote in The Irish Times.
Some colleges use their discretion when it comes to whether an individual should pay EU fees, but in this case University College Dublin said they felt unable to act.
Other emigrants find they don’t even meet the exemption that would see them pay EU rates for undergraduate degrees.
At NUI Galway alone, international student fees make up 15% of the college’s budgets.
However, Irish diaspora groups say it is just another example of the bureaucracy emigrants face when they return home.
Earlier this year Ciaran Staunton, chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR), told the Committee on Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that there remains, “a complete lack of empathy from Government agencies across the board for the plight of returning citizens.”
Speaking later to IrishCentral he said, "It is like the returning emigrant is a non-person. The fact that most lived and worked in Ireland before they left is never taken into consideration. They may as well be aliens from outer space.”
Arts Heritage Regional Rural & Gaeltacht Affairs Committee discussing issues facing emigrants returning to rural Ireland. Committee room 4 pic.twitter.com/dk4QZaPNWl— Oireachtas News (@OireachtasNews) February 15, 2017
Other issues cited include the lack of recognition given to driving licenses obtained in the US and the sky high rate of driving insurance.
Ciarán Cannon, Ireland’s Minister for the Diaspora, said, “This Government has committed to work to facilitate Irish people living abroad who wish to return to live in Ireland. We are working to ensure that moving or returning to Ireland is as easy as possible for them.”