Ireland: Roma immigrant challenges state's refusal to award her welfare
The Irish Times reports that a Roma citizen of Romania with two young children is suing Ireland's Department of Social Protection for refusing to award her various welfare benefits, claiming the refusal is a violation of EU law. Her counsel, Derek Shorthall, told the High Court that the case raises "very weighty legal issues".
Ireland applied a "right to reside" test to the woman's case when deciding to refuse the benefits. The European Commission has brought infringement proceedings against the UK over the use of such a test.
In September the Advocate-General of the EU Court of Justice is expected to issue an opinion on the UK case. Ciarán Toland, representing Ireland's Department of Social Protection, argued that when the woman applied for the benefits she did not have the right to reside in the country.
Toland told the court that EU Member States enjoy considerable discretion when it comes to awarding social assistance. The woman says she came to Ireland in 2008 "in an effort to escape the cycle of poverty and discrimination which I lived with in Romania and to create a better life."
The woman says she has survived so far through begging, charity food vouchers, and selling copies of The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people. She has received "exceptional needs" payments from time to time, but never ongoing benefits.
Reportedly she fled Waterford, Ireland last year when "angry gangs" of up to 100 people protested outside the building she and other Roma were in, kicking in the front door and smashing windows. Her children were locally enrolled in pre-school and primary school and were said to have been "terrified" by the violence.
Shorthall argues that the woman is an EU national and that Ireland is not entitled to refuse her benefits by applying a "right to reside" test because different kinds of benefits are governed by different EU provisions. Entitlement to the Irish "Jobseeker's Allowance", for example, flows from various EU treaty provisions and is determined by whether a person enjoys a "genuine link" with the labor market of the state concerned.
The test for social assistance, according to Shorthall, is whether payment of that benefit would impose an "unreasonable burden" on the state, in addition to a "proportionality test". The proper test for EU citizens applying for child benefit is whether the applicant habitually resides within the state.
Reportedly both Ireland and the UK apply a "right to reside" test to applicants before even considering whether they meet the "habitual residence" test, which Shorthall argues is a violation of EU law. The woman's partner has secured employment recently, which means she does now have the right to reside in Ireland.
Should the court rule in favor of the applicant, her applications for benefits will have to be considered in accordance with the appropriate tests. The Department of Social Protection told the court it had refused her benefits because she was not an "habitual resident".
The Department of Social Protection also said the woman and her partner did not apply for identification numbers until the summer of 2012, at which time they claimed to have arrived in Ireland in June 2011, not in 2008. The judge said that since the issue of the veracity of the application had not been cited as a reason for refusing the woman's claim, it would not be considered relevant information.
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