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  • Calls for greater care of elderly follows death of man in NY

    Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

    The death of a 72-year-old Irish man in New York has resulted in a new focus on the needs of elderly Irish emigrants in the US.

    Tony Gallagher, originally from Ballycorrick, Co Mayo had died perhaps as long as a week before his body was found in his Queens apartment. Though some press reports have depicted Mr Gallagher as being socially isolated, other reports have noted he was an active member of his local community and, though he lived alone, had close contacts with family members. Mr Gallagher’s Leitrim-born wife, Josephine, is in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s Disease. His brother lives in Massachusetts, where Mr Gallagher had visited him to celebrate Thanksgiving weeks before he died. In mid-December he apparently suffered a heart attack and died; his body was not discovered until firemen broke into his apartment as much as a week later, after a caretaker noted Mr Gallagher’s absence.

    Ciaran Staunton of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform in New York has described the need for a census of the Irish community there. Calling Mr Gallagher’s death as a wake-up call, he said, “No one knew he existed. That’s the problem. That’s what we intend to change.? Work on the census has already begun, with volunteers knocking on doors and community leaders registering the elderly.

    Mr Staunton also called for the opening of drop-in centres in the Queens area to discourage isolation and build a sense of camaraderie. He said that the community would be looking to successful models in England as examples for work in Queens, naming the Leeds community as one such example.  The Aisling Irish Centre in Yonkers also has a well-established programme for the elderly, and there are other programmes throughout the New York area.

    Mr Staunton is asking both the Irish and the Northern Irish governments for support in funding the programme. Mr Staunton praised the work of the Irish government, telling the Irish Times,

    “Not too often does a Taoiseach get praised, but when Brian Cowen was minister for foreign affairs he was instrumental in funding services here. Now that Micheál Martin has stepped into Mr Cowen’s shoes we have been met with nothing but a positive response.”

    The Evening Herald reported that Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin would look at funding an outreach worker to visit emigrants in their own homes.

    See related articles:

    1700 returning Irish affected by habitual residency: Times

    Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

    Nearly 1,700 Irish citizens have been refused benefits under the habitual residency requirement introduced in Ireland in 2004. That year, benefits were restricted to those who had been habitually resident in the country for two years. The move was to combat so-called ‘benefits tourism’, and emigrant groups had been assured that returning emigrants would not be affected.

    The Irish Times reports that the restrictions have affected  1,684 returning emigrants and other Irish citizens who had not been living in Ireland on a regular basis.

    Joe O’Brien of Crosscare Migrant Project says the restricutions are often applied inconsistently and serve as a barrier to those thinking of returning home.  Mr O’Brien said,

    returning emigrants were advised not to completely cut links with the country they were returning from.

    This is because some returning emigrants end up leaving Ireland again within a relatively short period of time.

    “This goes directly against what is required of the habitual residency condition. Claimants must demonstrate that they severed links with the US, for example, through a terminated tenancy or closed bank account,” he said.

    New guidelines will be produced by the Department of Social and Family Affairs to ensure consistency.

    The matter was also discussed in the Oireachtas.

    Sheila Gleeson of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres in the US has pointed out that an area of concern is that Irish immigrants who return to Ireland to care for a sick relative will be denied a carer’s allowance if they cannot show they have no intention of leaving Ireland again.

    Any returning Irish person who has a problem getting benefits should contact Crosscare Migrant Project.

    Read the Oireachtas proceedings.

    Free travel a no-go, says Minister

    Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

    Extending free public transport to elderly emigrant visitors to Ireland is not currently possible, according to Social and Family Affairs Minister Martin Cullen. The Irish Independent has reported that the Minister said that despite a Government pledge to work toward free travel for emigrant pensioners, the minister said:

    “Legal advice indicates that it would not be possible to extend entitlement to free travel to Irish-born people living abroad, as to do so would be contrary to European legislation, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality”.

    Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg, however, says the Government is actually opposing a complaint made to the European committee on Social Rights, investigating whether the current denial of free travel breaches the EU’s social charter. “The Government have fought against that tooth and nail to prevent them having to grant free travel. This flies in the face of their statements in the Dail, where they are saying the EU won’t allow them to do this”.

    See the report by Michael Brennan in the Irish Independent.