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Writing about the dole

I want to write about being on the dole in Ireland. Receiving the dole is important, and largely so because it gives me the chance to do what I want to do — which is to write. I want to write about what's real. The appeal of writing about being on the dole is obvious.

But there is a risk — a risk that is not calculable.

I am American. I received my tax number in a bureaucratic mixup, and have proceeded to become "more legal" by my further involvement in official Ireland. My status apparently becomes more secure with passing time — yet the fact is I still hold an American passport.

The fact that I am an American is not a secret. (The Irish do not ask "where are you from," but "what part of America are you from?") But, for whatever reason, and for various reasons, it's been alright. The Irish love Americans. Also, there has been an influx of foreigners in the last couple of decades; I am just one of them, and an American one besides. And, I have a tax number. Nobody needs to take the blame for that fact, and there's no need to follow it back to find out where it all began.

The fact that I am receiving social welfare benefits is a matter for discretion. There are people whom I see regularly with whom I do not speak of it.

The danger, of course, is that I could lose this opportunity. I could, I suppose, face deportation. Honestly, you don't hear of Americans being deported — but as a technicality, it's well possible. The real purpose of discretion in this case is just to keep a low enough profile so as not to screw up a good thing. Say nothing, need-to-know basis — and if I'm caught out, play the fool. "O Jayzus I didn't know...." That works, and it's a legitimate part of Irish official transaction — but it's difficult to do if you get caught out because you wrote explicitly about your experiences.

But the opportunity is that I could write about what is real — exposing myself to that danger. It's the danger of losing the chance to do what I want to do, compared with the fear of doing it. And the solution is obvious.

In April of 2011, the Social Welfare office asked me, for the first time (after 9 ½ years,) whether or not I have a "Stamp 4" immigration status or an Irish passport. I never had either of those.

They told me that they'd have to stop payments, and that I was not entitled to be in Ireland.

The change in the official awareness of my status resulted from a necessary attempt to request rent allowance, and probably from important changes in the Irish economy, and not from anything that I wrote or said about being on the dole

At the end of May, I left the country.

And the risk is probably not great. I am becoming "more legitemate" with every official interaction, and the odds are long that anybody will try to unravel the case in the interest of justice. Folks don't tend want to hang a fellow for getting benefits in Ireland. "Fair play to ya" is the general attitude when you take what's available.

But the risk is real. Part of the danger of writing online is that the internet can be very "local." For example, if I were to include the name of my town here in Ireland, the odds may be better than 1000-to-1 that a reader would know something of me personally. As it is, this page is linked via various pages to other pages that people I've met will find. Local people find pages about their locality.

And it's people who know of me who are the most dangerous. Not my friends — but it's my acquaintances and the people who they know and talk with who can always present a danger. You never know when you're going to say something that will set off the vindictive nature of another; and you never know what other people are going to do.

I was talking with a Canadian friend about this, a few months ago. I was conflicted then, whether or not I would write about being on the dole in Ireland. She said "you only get one kick at the cat." And it's true. You live but once. I don't think I can not write about this. I don't want to wait until it's over. I don't want it to end. To write about it could feasibly bring about its end. But the writing is — in fact — the true opportunity I have before me.

So I'm going to do it.

— 1 August 2005

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