PEOPLE in receipt of social welfare payments could be issued with special payment cards by the Department of Social Protection to use for the purchase of food and other essentials, rather than having cash credited to their bank accounts – if a radical proposal made by a leading businessman at the Global Irish Economic Forum finds favour with Government.
Glen Dimplex CEO and chairman Sean O'Driscoll told the gathering of business leaders that the use of the cards could help the State curb the current multimillion euro loss the Exchequer is suffering through the outflow of welfare payments to bogus claimants both here and abroad. The Sunday Independent understands that Mr O'Driscoll's suggestion was well received by a number of the forum's participants, and that it will now be forwarded to the Department of Social Protection for consideration.
Asked about the Glen Dimplex chief's idea, a spokesman for the Taoiseach said neither Mr Kenny nor his Department would make any comment on the merits or otherwise on the proposals put forth by participants at the Global Irish Economic Forum. The spokesman said it was important that those who attended the event were allowed to express their views and ideas freely.
He said all proposals made at the forum by its 18 working groups were currently in the process of being collated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, adding that a full report on the matters raised would be presented by Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore to the Government before Christmas.
While Mr O'Driscoll's proposal for debit cards for which the transactions would be fully traceable may find favour with the more conservative elements in Government, a spokesman for the Department of Social Protection appeared anxious last night to play down the prospects of them being introduced.
"The suggestion that purchases by welfare customers would be confined to goods and services within Ireland has been raised previously.
"However, it would give rise to breaches of EU legislation and does not recognise the entitlement of many of our customers to legitimately receive or spend their welfare entitlements abroad.
"The Department's policy approaches, including those relating to customer payments, must be implemented in a manner that is consistent with EU legislation," the spokesman said.
A well-placed source at the Department expressed concern that the introduction of the cards could see welfare recipients being stigmatised.
"We would also be concerned that such a card might lead to people being stigmatised. IBEC raised the matter of a similar card for child benefit payments a number of years ago – and it ran into these problems."