Almost 200 people have had their unemployment payments cut after a surge in fraud detections at Garda checkpoints since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis.
New figures reveal 176 people had pandemic unemployment payments stopped between March and July after being met by gardai and Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection officials at special multi-agency checkpoints.
Another 15 people had other payments stopped, according to data released under the Freedom of Information Act.
A stop was put to 191 payments after more than 1,600 interviews were carried out, a four-fold increase on the whole of last year. In 2019, a stop was put on 43 payments after almost 1,800 interviews.
It comes after gardai, along with other State agencies, carried out 42 roadside checks between March 1 and mid-July aimed at identifying people who may be engaged in tax evasion, road traffic or road safety irregularities.
Revenue officials and staff at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection also take part in the vehicle checks (MAVCs) to detect and prevent fraud and abuse of the social welfare system.
The data shows 16 counties were targeted by the checkpoints, with Co Donegal accounting for nine of the 42 checks. Co Sligo and Co Louth had four each, with three checkpoints set up in both Co Cork and Co Monaghan.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said these have been a feature of its strategy to clamp down on fraud for a number of years. It said they also act as a deterrent. A total of 21 gardai are on secondment to assist with the checks.
The department said: "The focus of such enquiries is generally related to individuals on their way to work, including in commercial vehicles, haulage, taxi and the transport sectors.
"Where enquiries adduce that irregularities have occurred, these are pursued by further investigation by the inspectors.
"The timing and location of these checks vary, with some checks carried out in the early morning, some during the day, others in the evening time.
"The checks are carried out on different days of the week and for different durations. Typically a checkpoint lasts for about one hour, however, this can vary depending on road traffic conditions."