Fair Deal 'needs overhaul for emigrants returning'
Three elderly applicants died before lengthy process could be finalised
A charity that helps emigrants return to Ireland has urged an overhaul in training for Fair Deal staff to make it more accessible for elderly people who wish to come home for nursing home care.
Safe Home, which helps emigrants of all ages in returning to Ireland, has highlighted a number of barriers facing those who wish to move back to Ireland including housing and social welfare delays.
But it has also made a plea for a change to the way in which the Fair Deal or the Nursing Home Support Scheme is administered to ensure that there is adequate training for staff and information for people who wish to have their elderly relative placed in a nursing home here.
Safe Home has recently been involved with three people who contacted them to assist with the application process, but "due to bureaucratic and lengthy process all three applicants died before their lifetime dream of returning home could be realised", Karen McHugh, from the organisation said.
The charity said there is varying levels of awareness among staff in Nursing Home Support Offices (NHSS) about non-resident applications and it is calling for extensive training and updated information to be made available on the HSE website.
Variations between local offices in relation to what paperwork will accept was also noted.
The group was one of three before the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee discussing barriers to returning emigrants. Crosscare and the Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas also spoke about the challenges.
The key issues highlighted included a lack of knowledge, delays in administration and the current housing problems that are plunging some returning emigrants into crisis situations.
The committee heard that many people are blocked from returning to Ireland because those with children or a partner from non-European Economic Area (EEA) countries are not automatically given a visa, and when applying for the visa from Ireland, the partner is not eligible to work.
Richard King, from Crosscare, said: "The reason a majority of people return is to be closer to family, they left Ireland after college and now want to come back to raise their family here, but this process acts as a deterrent and is difficult.
"One Irish citizen I dealt with in New Zealand is pregnant and cannot return home because they cannot survive if she and her partner cannot work for six months."
It was noted that EU citizens who have a non-EEA partner do not face the same visa requirements, meaning returning Irish citizens have a "lesser" status than current EU citizens.
Another growing trend for returning emigrants being refused social welfare is because of a lack of access to information on the Habitual Resident Condition (HRC).
The HRC is a situation you must satisfy in order to be eligible for most means-tested social welfare payments in Ireland.
Danielle McLaughlin, from Crosscare, said the people facing these issues are some of the most vulnerable returning home, often with no income or family support. "Last year, we dealt with 280 queries and worked directly on 18 cases on HRC, and every case successfully appealed," she said.