Judge says social welfare is handed around like “snuff at a wake”

A Longford man who left Ireland to take up residence in Belgium last month admitted to Judge Seamus Hughes during a district court sitting last week - where he was subsequently convicted of infringing copyright law - that he returned to Longford to “collect social welfare” and to appear in respect of the charges before the Court.

A Longford man who left Ireland to take up residence in Belgium last month admitted to Judge Seamus Hughes during a district court sitting last week - where he was subsequently convicted of infringing copyright law - that he returned to Longford to “collect social welfare” and to appear in respect of the charges before the Court.

The information which Judge Seamus Hughes described as “blatant social welfare fraud” emerged during the case of Patrick McDonnell, 22 Cluain na Sibhe, Killashee, Co Longford who appeared before the Judge charged with infringement of copyright, failing to supply videos and DVDs with a certificate of supply and the supply of video recordings without an authentic sleeve at Mastertech Business Park, Longford on June 4, 2011.

In his direct evidence to the Court, Detective Garda Joe Esler said that he seized 73 DVDs and 49 CDs on the date in question and that following an investigation into the matter, it was determined that samples taken from the supply were “infringement copies”. Samples also included “DVDs of a pornographic nature”,” the Detective added.

The Court also heard that counterfeit Louis Vutton and Dolche & Gabanna ladies handbags were also seized from the defendant by the Gardaí on the date in question.

Judge Hughes then convicted the defendant in respect of the charges before the Court and fined him €9,500. When he later offered €3,000, Judge Hughes asked him why he was not in a position to provide the €9,500? “I haven’t got it judge, I’m on social welfare and moved to Belgium with my family,” the defendant stated. “You’re entitled to two weeks holidays from the social welfare and that was up on June 14, so I decided to come back, collect the money and attend court.”

The Court was then informed by the defendant’s solicitor Ms Bríd Mimnagh that her client was “working as a gardener” since his arrival in Belgium, just over one month ago.

Inspector Declan Rock then said that gardaí had contacted the Department of Social Protection in respect of the defendant and were subsequently informed that he had collected €1,000 in entitlements, “very recently”.

Judge Hughes became evidently flabbergasted at this revelation.

“It appears now that you can head off on two weeks holidays and then come back and collect €342 per week,” he fumed. “It’s like handing snuff around at a wake the way social welfare is handed around in this country.”

When it then emerged that the defendant had just over €200 to get back to Belgium the next day, the judge said that he was very tempted to take the money from him, return it to the Department of Social Protection and order that an investigation be carried out by the Department.

“Judge, Mr McDonnell has instructed me to contact Social Welfare and let them know that he has left the country,” Ms Mimnagh explained.

“He says that he will not be collecting social welfare after this.”

“I have a good mind to have this man investigated,” Judge Hughes concluded.