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An American on the dole in Ireland


I'm an American who spent several years unemployed and underemployed in Ireland, supported by the social-welfare system there, one of the best in the world.

I don't have any advice about official Ireland. My luck was a fluke. As far as I know my experience was unique.

Having returned from the Netherlands in January 2005 after a year and a half away, I was looking for work in Kilkenny and went into the office of FÁS, the national employment agency. The woman who interviewed me there told me to go to the social welfare office and inquire about unemployment benefits. This was pro forma, the requisite order of official business.

Citizens of the European Union are progressively entitled to the same rights across borders within the European Common Area. Americans are not. The woman at the employment agency was displaying a typical behavio(u)r of the Irish people — the lack of apparent understanding that I was a foreigner.

The Irish can identify an American accent within the space of a phrase. It's not that anybody thought I'm not American. They just didn't think that that made me a foreigner.

Formally and legally, I'm entitled only to 90 days' visit as a tourist. I'm not even partly Irish, and not European.

The appeal of writing about being on the dole is obvious.... But there is a risk — a risk that is not calculable.

— August 2005, about a half-year into my 6-year journey to the heart of Irish social welfare

Soon after I'd arrived in Ireland in the summer of 2001, I'd gotten a job at a restaurant in Kilkenny where the chef had asked me if I had a tax number. I told him no, but that I'd go see if I could get one. Oddly, I did.

And when I returned to Ireland in 2005, I had previously been a taxpaying worker for long enough (had acquired enough "stamps") to make a citizen eligible for benefits.

When I went to the Social Welfare office because the employment agency requested I do so, they put me on the dole.


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