TAXPAYERS have spent in the region of three-quarters of a million euro since the crash to allow "gangsters' molls" and relatives of other criminals to visit them in prison.
The revelation comes as it can be reported that taxpayers have already spent more than €1m overall this year alone in enabling almost 14,000 welfare recipients travel to hospitals and prisons to visit relations.
Despite other cuts to the elderly, the disabled and to children, Minister Joan Burton's Department of Social Protection has continued spending on mileage and public transport for criminals' families to travel to visit them behind bars.
The department was unable to provide an exact breakdown of how much taxpayers' money it has given to the families of criminals so they can visit them in prison.
However, sources have estimated the amount directly attributable to prison visits ranges from between €125,000 and €150,000 a year.
The monies are allocated under the department's exceptional needs payments (ENPs) scheme for welfare recipients to meet unexpected items. This year, the total spend under the scheme will be more than €35m. Recent correspondence to the Public Accounts Committee said the provision for 2013 is €47.5m. The information regarding the subsidisation of visits to prisoners, including some of Ireland's leading gangsters, was contained in correspondence – seen by the Sunday Independent – to Malcolm Byrne, Fianna Fail councillor for Gorey, Co Wexford, from Ms Burton's department last week.
The letter states: "A breakdown of travel ENPs by prison visits is not available. To date in 2013, some 13,900 persons have received assistance by ENP for travel, at a cost of over €1.05m.
"There is no automatic entitlement to an ENP payment.
"ENPs are payable at the discretion of the officers administering the scheme taking into account the relevant circumstances of the case in order to ensure that the payments target those most in need of assistance."
Mr Byrne strongly criticised the use of taxpayers' money in this fashion, especially when cuts are being inflicted on some of the most needy in society.
"It is highly questionable to continue spending a six-figure sum subsidising prison visits, especially mileage, given the areas where the department has been cutting back, Mr Byrne said.
He added that the awarding of such monies to "gangsters' molls" was incredible, while criticising Ms Burton's department for not having the detailed breakdown of the spend to hand.