Wednesday 21 November 2018

Single mum who claimed welfare believed Vegas wedding invalid

Michelle Burke was cleared of illegally obtaining welfare payments after she married in Las Vegas in 2010. Picture: Collins
Michelle Burke was cleared of illegally obtaining welfare payments after she married in Las Vegas in 2010. Picture: Collins

Tom Tuite

A mother-of-four, who claimed her drunken Las Vegas wedding was "a bit of fun" and didn't know it was valid in Ireland, has been cleared of unlawfully obtaining almost €30,000 in social welfare payments.

At Dublin District Court, Judge John Brennan had previously compared the case to the 2009 comedy film 'The Hangover', starring Bradley Cooper, about the antics of a group of men at a bachelor party in Las Vegas.

Ruling yesterday, he said the marriage was valid.

However, he accepted submissions from Matthew Holmes that his client Michelle Burke (39), from Cappagh Road, Finglas, Dublin 11, could rely on the defence of "honest though unreasonable belief".

Dismissing the case, the judge said he had studied her demeanour when she testified and he added that her evidence was effectively uncontroverted.

The total alleged fraud was €29,773 in One Parent family social welfare payments. It was the prosecution's case that she married and failed to notify the Department of Social Protection while claiming payment between November 2010 and August 2012, a charge she had denied.

The district court trial heard she had been in receipt of the payment since 1997. Evidence was given in March and Judge Brennan had adjourned the case until yesterday to give his verdict.

The court had heard the accused was getting €317 a week.

People who have children but do not have support of a partner were eligible for the payment. However, if they marry or enter into a civil partnership, they were no longer entitled to the payment.

Social welfare inspector Helen O'Reilly told the trial that in 2011 and in 2013 reviews were conducted and Ms Burke was sent forms inquiring if her circumstances had changed. Ms Burke signed declarations that she had not got married nor was she living with a partner.

Ms O'Reilly told Judge Brennan there was a suspicion Ms Burke may have been cohabiting with a partner.

An investigation commenced and the inspector was able to obtain a copy of a marriage certificate from the United States.

She said it confirmed Ms Burke got married to her current partner on November 6, 2010, at the Hollywood Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

The court heard the certificate was a public document and the marriage was legally recognised in Ireland.

Her payment was stopped and she was interviewed but told the inspector she did not think that the marriage was legal.

She also said her partner, who was not the father of her children, paid tax and then lived at a different address in Dublin 1.

The inspector told defence counsel Matthew Holmes BL the marriage was legally binding for the purpose of social welfare. She also agreed the defendant and her partner were now claiming a family allowance.

Irish Independent

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