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Airport inspections target flights to Eastern Europe for people who misuse welfare benefits like pandemic unemployment pay

The Social Protection Department has alleged nationalism that most of the airport checks for people abusing welfare benefits such as Pandemic Unemployment Payments during Covid-19 were aimed at flights to Eastern Europe.

In view of this, the department authorised officials to conduct checkpoints in front of 30 different flights from Dublin Airport between April 1 and June 13.

Only 70% of flights to Romania and Moldova were operated. No checkpoints were set up on flights to the US or the United Kingdom.

In early June, law student Roman Shortall was detained at one such checkpoint while flying to Romania with his wife and children. Information was released to him under Freedom of Information.

The department said the 30 checkpoints were prompted by the approval of the Assistant Secretary and Principal Level officials and could not be released as the documents providing their identity are not available.

The department said it had denied access to communications related to the operation of those check posts because it was supposed to be prejudicial to the prevention, detection, law enforcement and fairness of criminal proceedings.

Gavin Barrett, an EU law professor at Sutherland Law School, said he hoped that if the welfare law was enforced in accordance with EU law, people’s fundamental rights would be recognized.

He added that if only one kind of flight is being examined, the profiling and discriminatory behavior of certain categories of people is definitely a concern.

The Department refused to answer questions concerning the choice of flight destinations for checkpoints, and what reasonable grounds were used for the same audit during the period in question.

It also failed to shed light on who had sanctioned the checkpoints, or on what restrictions had arisen from those checkpoints.

During the dubious period, the Department undertook control measures at Dublin Airport, where all social welfare schemes were constantly subject to normal control and compliance only.

“This is to combat social welfare fraud and ensure that payments are not made to persons living outside the country. The Department does not comment on individual control operations,” a spokesperson said.

Meanwhile, Olga Cronin, policy officer with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, said it was strange that many of the suspicious flights were bound to Eastern Europe.

Ms. Cronin said the “reasonable grounds” cited by Ireland’s Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 for enforcing checkpoints had never been resolved and the legal basis for this approach was unclear.

She added that the department needs to explain how, who decided this approach, when it was started and what its basis is.

Earlier in July, the department had criticized the PUP for changing its rules on payments of 350 euros a week to accommodate only sincere job seekers.

The Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys had changed course on her announcement that PUP recipients would not be able to leave the country, despite the current legislation.

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