Thursday 21 November 2019

Varadkar fights back at suggestion his new social welfare anti-fraud campaign is a 'hate campaign'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA News

Gavin White

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has fought back at suggestions that his new social welfare anti-fraud campaign is a hate campaign.

A new ‘name and shame’ policy for social welfare cheats will apply to people convicted of fraud in excess of €5,000.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the €5,000 threshold was “absolutely not” a way of excusing social welfare fraud under the amount.

“In terms of the change that has been agreed, I think everyone understands the Government doesn’t have a parliamentary majority so in order to get things through it’s necessary from time to time to make compromises with Fianna Fail or even on occasion with Sinn Fein.

“It’s important to get our programme through and if we have to make compromises in order to get that through we will do so,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The Government is very committed to pursue and reduce welfare fraud, we do that because we want to free up resources for people who need them and who are entitled to benefits.

“We’ve been able to increase benefits substantially in the last year, in part because of the recovering economy and falling unemployment, and also because we have put in much stronger controls and anti-fraud mechanisms.

“That’s allowed us to increase benefits that we might not have otherwise been able to do so,” he said.

Mr Varadkar dismissed Sinn Fein’s assertions it was a hate campaign but instead was a “campaign against fraud”.

“What fraud does is it takes money away from people who earned it or are entitled to it and is taken by someone who didn’t earn it or isn’t entitled to it.

“Any right thinking person in the country will understand why we need to crack down on all forms of fraud including a new focus now on corporate fraud and white collar crime in the years ahead,” he said.

The controversial plan by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to publish a list of fraudsters was discussed by Cabinet yesterday and is going ahead.

The move is likely to drawn ire from left-wing parties but Mr Varadkar has continually rejected criticism of a campaign he launched targeting welfare cheats during his time as Social Protection Minister.

His plan has now been taken up by newly appointed minister Regina Doherty who is working with Fianna Fáil to find an approach that will pass through the Dáil.

The General Scheme of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 was published in May.

Since then pre-legislative scrutiny has taken place and yesterday ministers approved the publication of the Bill, now titled “The Social Welfare, Pensions and Civil Registration Bill 2017”. It will be published tomorrow.

A spokesperson for the Department of Social Protection confirmed it will contain a provision “that the names of persons convicted of social welfare fraud would be published on a quarterly basis”.

The information will be published on the Department’s website for three months. “Minister Regina Doherty has discussed the content of the Bill with Fianna Fáil and, in light of those discussions, she has secured the agreement of the Government to support a Fianna Fáil amendment which will provide that only the names of individuals convicted of fraud in excess of €5,000 would be published,” the spokesperson said.

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