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I had to apply for rent allowance

The beginning of the end of my stay in Ireland

Republic of Ireland

I was pretty much obligated to apply for rent allowance in the winter of 2010-2011 — and I did so, knowing that it would probably be the undoing of my relationship with official Ireland.

I'd been living in a house where I couldn't stay, and wanted a place to be alone. The landlady of a one-bedroom unit said she'd charge me at the same rate I'd been paying at the old place — but only until I got rent allowance. (A paradox of my time in Ireland was that everybody knew I'm American but none considered me foreign. Bridget was no exception, considering me entitled to everything the Irish could get.)

I was not entitled to rent allowance. I had never been entitled to stay in Ireland for more than ninety days — but I was specifically un-entitled to get rent allowance. There had always been a inquiry on that paperwork, a box to check that did not exist on any of the other social-welfare documents. It was a question about legal status in the European Union. I was never entitled to any of the benefits of citizenship in the EU

And then there was Breda Dermody. Universally cursed and bemoaned, she was the Community Welfare officer with purview of the neighborhood wherein my new apartment stood. It is not hard to imagine that she went beyond her official duty and committed that most un-Irish of deeds: ratted me out to other departments.

My time in Ireland was coming to an end, and I was ready to precipitate an answer. Ireland had welcomed me, and had taken care of me in unprecedented fashion. But I missed my family in the United States, and the economic (and thus political) atmosphere on the island were changing.

Over the winter of 2010-'11, bureaucracy slowed down as it always does after Christmastime in Ireland. I had several conversations with Ms. Dermody, and frequent visits with the TD (member of parliament) John McGuinness. Mr. McGuinness (or "John," as you'd call him in Ireland) was confident that we'd be able to get rent allowance for me, and that this would be a step toward getting me fully legal. But nothing really happened, that winter, and that was alright. Bridget (the landlady) was not going to ask me for more money as long as I kept trying. And since I had to walk past her shop on the way to see Mr. McGuinness, I always made sure she knew when I was either going to or had already been to see him.

I was on a fixed income, and she knew this. I was on the dole, and fifty euros a week was all that I could afford. (You know y'rself, a man's got to be able to have a drink.)

Being under no pressure from the landlady, I was at a point of stasis. It was okay, but not great.

On the 11th of April, I got a telephone call from Social Welfare. (They're separate from Community Welfare, where Breda works. Across town and they seem to rarely speak.)

The guy who'd called me that morning from Social Welfare (they administer the dole) asked me if I had a "Stamp 4." I did not. I'd never heard of it. The Stamp 4 is a certification of one's legal residence in Ireland. Obviously it's something that you either have or don't have, and I said no. He told me that I would be ineligible for social assistance and was not legally resident in the State, and he told me that he'd send a letter stating these points, and I received it the following day.

I was going to have to leave.