Sunday 21 January 2018

Inspection scheme clamps down on 'welfare tourists'

JOHN DRENNAN

The Department of Social Protection has claimed a new scheme, allowing for the arrest, detention and deportation of "welfare tourists", at airports and ports has had "a significant deterrent effect''.

The new scheme allows social protection inspectors to nab welfare tourists trying to enter the State via airports and ports.

Since June 2012, 50 foreign nationals have been prevented from entering the State under false pretences whilst a further 36 cases are being investigated.

The extension of EU common travel arrangements has been followed by a marked increase in welfare tourism and attendant fraud.

Last year, just under 500 such tourists cost the State €5m in excess payments.

One source told the Sunday Independent: "It is suspected there may be criminal gang involvement in welfare tourism.''

The source added, however, that: "Having inspectors on the ground catching people in flagrante delicto, if you like, is giving us a real handle on the issue."

The scheme allows inspectors to, "attend a port or airport and where the inspector has reasonable grounds to believe that there has been a contravention of the Act, to make enquiries and require persons to produce to the inspector any documents or other information for the purpose of establishing the identity and, where appropriate, the habitual residence of that person''.

After initial success in Cork, the scheme has been extended nationwide.

To date €649,000 in savings from payments being stopped and disallowed have accrued whilst there have also been four arrests, which have been referred to the DPP.

The Department of Social Protection told the Sunday Independent that "in one recent example, a case concluded before the courts saw a Lithuanian national being given 48 hours to leave the jurisdiction or face a 10-month custodial sentence and be fined €1,500".

Irish Independent

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