Varadkar pulls back on welfare fraud "naming and shaming" plan

Sinn Féin has labelled the government's welfare fraud crusade a "hate campaign"

Varadkar pulls back on welfare fraud "naming and shaming" plan

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar TD at the launch of a new campaign entitled Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All, 18-04-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

Sinn Féin has become the latest party to label the government's plan to name and shame welfare fraudsters a "hate campaign."

Before his confirmation as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar had planned to publish a list on a quarterly basis of everyone convicted of any welfare fraud.

The government appears to have pulled back from the strategy somewhat this morning, following a reported compromise deal with Fianna Fáil.

According to reports in the The Irish Times, the deal will mean that only people who have defrauded the state for more than €5,000 will now be added to a public register.

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Sinn Féin TD John Brady said the compromise was a grubby deal between the two biggest parties:

"I think the whole campaign has been widely discredited," he said. "The figures that had been put out there at the outset have been proven to be false, totally inaccurate and indeed fraudulent some would actually say."

Speaking this morning however, the Taoiseach defended the crackdown and denied it was a hate campaign:

"No, it is a campaign against fraud," he said. "Fraud is wrong. Whether it is tax fraud, corporate fraud or social welfare fraud, it is wrong."

Welfare cheats campaign

The plan to tackle welfare fraud was introduced by Mr Varadkar during his time as Minister for Social Protection - and was released soon after the launch of a controversial campaign entitled "Welfare cheats cheat us all."

The campaign reportedly led to a marked increase in the number of tip-offs in relation to welfare fraud - however it came in for heavy criticism from opposition parties and even from officials within the Department of Social Protection.

Last month, former social welfare inspector Bernadette Gorman told Newstalk that the fraud figures used in the campaign had been highly exaggerated.

The Department has claimed that anti-fraud and control measures had saved over €500m in expenditure in 2016 - however Ms Gorman said the true level of fraud was closer to €25m.

Earlier, speaking on RTÉ radio she described the campaign as "Tory" and "class warfare."

“It is a hate campaign," she said. "Never was there a campaign like it coming after a period of austerity.”

Mr Brady said serious concerns remain about the use of the terminology "social welfare cheats" in a campaign that was "plastered all over the sides of buses" and in publications around the country.

Compromise plan

The new Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty brought the amended plan before Cabinet yesterday, following the agreement with Fianna Fáil.

The government is hopeful all stages of the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2017 can now be passed before the summer recess next week - however Fianna Fáil has expressed reservations about the timeline.

The party believes the legislation deals with highly complex matters that could affect pensions and benefits and has warned against rushing the measures through the Oireachtas.