Irish citizens are still being refused social welfare in Ireland if they are returning from abroad.

In 2009, 738 citizens, many of whom were returned emigrants, were refused such payments as disability allowance, carers allowance, jobseekers' benefit and even the old-age pension, because they had not lived in the State for the two years prior to the claim.

Immigration centers in the U.S. have long warned of the unintended consequences of the so-called habitual residency requirements which they said would unfairly exclude Irish citizens from social welfare.

If I remember rightly, the requirement for "habitual residence" was introduced on May 1, 2004 after a referendum on the issue aimed at preventing what the tabloids called "welfare tourism."

At the time, Mary Coughlan, the minister in charge of the portfolio pooh-poohed fears that Irish people would be left out.

“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,” she said.

However, since 2004, a total of 2,496 Irish people have not met the conditions and have been denied State assistance.

This is no small concern. For instance, what happens when Irish people need to move home suddenly? And what happens to people like myself who paid taxes in Ireland before they left?

The stated intention at the time was to cut down on welfare fraud.

But, as Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin told the Irish Times the result was overkill.

“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,” he said.