The Irish Government has announced a major crackdown on welfare spongers from Northern Ireland crossing the border to claim more generous benefits in the Republic.
Irish Social & Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin, who has ordered multi-agency checkpoints along the border, said she won’t allow the system to be abused and the Irish taxpayer to be ripped off.
A single person from Northern Ireland can currently receive up to €150 more a week in jobless benefits in the Republic while the increase for a married couple is €233 a week.
Live Register figures for dole offices in border areas such as Ballybofey in Co Donegal showed a massive 123% annual increase in January while Monaghan town registered a 120% rise.
Ms Hanafin said: “We cannot allow our system to be abused when people right across the country, who have paid social insurance, are now losing their jobs and are seeing their |incomes drop significantly as they claim their entitlements.
“My main priority is to ensure that we can continue to support those that have a right to claim a payment.”
Some 39 cases of fraud were exposed in February and the majority of offenders received fines — the highest imposed was €4,200.
Two people convicted of fraud for working while claiming jobseekers’ payments were given suspended jail sentences and a further three were given a court sanction short of a criminal record.
Inspectors from Ms Hanafin’s Special Investigations Unit, whose main duty is to detect and prevent fraud and abuse of the social welfare system, is spearheading the campaign.
This issue was recently raised at the North South Ministerial Council meeting and TDs and Senators from border areas have also reported suspicious cases to the minister.
Multi-agency checkpoints along the border are staffed by the gardai and officials from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the Revenue Commissioners and Customs and Excise.
From time to time other agencies such as the Health and Safety Authority, the Road Safety Authority or local authorities also take part.
Ms Hanafin said her inspectors are carrying out more rigorous checks on residency and other qualifying conditions on those claiming to be living and seeking work in the Republic.
“This investigative work is very intensive, but the highly-skilled investigators working on tackling fraud are playing a vital part in countering social welfare abuse and protecting the state’s finances,” she said.
She also called on members of the public to report suspected cases of fraud or abuse to her department.