Scores of social welfare 'tourists' held at airports
Published 02/12/2013 | 02:30
SOCIAL welfare 'tourists' are being detected on average every four days at Ireland's three main airports.
The revelation came as Social Protection Minister Joan Burton hailed a special taskforce initiative at Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports as a tremendous success.
Since June 2012, social welfare inspectors, working with gardai, airport and port police, have been screening departures and arrivals for suspected welfare breaches.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) cross-references passenger arrival and departure information with data on social welfare claimant lists.
New figures show that, in a 17-month period, officials have made 122 detections, 72 at Dublin Airport and 50 between Cork and Shannon airports.
A total of 45 cases remain under investigation. Five cases have been successfully prosecuted, while a further two remain before the courts. Government sources stressed that the detections involve both Irish and non-Irish nationals.
In some cases, Irish nationals have been claiming social welfare here while travelling overseas to work. It is estimated that the crackdown has already saved the Exchequer more than €4m.
This involves a saving of €1.4m in direct 'welfare tourism' cases supplemented by a €2.6m saving from follow-ups to social assistant payments where it was determined that the claimant was no longer in the country.
Another major success for the SIU has been the roll-out of special facial recognition software.
Allied with the new public service card, this has dramatically increased the ability of welfare officials to detect identity fraud.
Ms Burton has also signalled that the SIU, working with gardai, will also target places of employment where there are suspected welfare breaches.