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'Deliberate abuse' UK-based woman jailed for claiming €69,000 carer’s allowance for mum living in Cork

While O'Callaghan had claimed the carer's allowance while she was resident in the UK, it was her son who was actually looking after the elderly woman in Cork.

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Mary O'Callaghan at Cork District Court. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

Mary O'Callaghan at Cork District Court. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

Mary O'Callaghan at Cork District Court. Photo: Cork Courts Limited

A WOMAN who travelled to the Caribbean and North Africa while living in the UK and fraudulently claiming €69,000 in carer's allowance for looking after her elderly Irish mother has been jailed for 18 months.

Mary O'Callaghan (52) was living in England when she claimed the allowances for looking after her elderly mother in Cork.

Judge Sean O'Donnabháin at Cork Circuit Criminal Court was told that a significant amount of the money she obtained from her carer's allowance claims over six years is believed to have been spent on expensive foreign holidays.

O'Callaghan had travelled to Morocco in north Africa and Barbados in the Caribbean.

While O'Callaghan had claimed the carer's allowance while she was resident in the UK, it was her son who was actually looking after the elderly woman in Cork.

The fraud only came to light when the Department of Social Protection was tipped off that O'Callaghan was not resident in Ireland.

O'Callaghan of Woodvale Road, Beaumont, Blackrock, Cork, had raised a total of €19,000 in compensation over recent months.

Garda John Dineen, attached to the Department of Social Protection investigations unit, confirmed that it was believed a large amount of the money fraudulently secured was spent on foreign travel and holidays by the defendant.

The investigation involved a total of 243 allegations of theft representing over €69,000 in fraudulent claims. She had made the claims between 2013 and 2019.

Ultimately, the defendant was charged with and pleaded guilty to 20 sample counts involving amounts varying from €204 to €10,608, the latter involving a back-payment of claims.

All the charges were brought contrary to the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Act and involved the address of Ballintemple post office in Cork city.

The court was told that, when it was alleged O'Callaghan was not resident in Ireland, a Department of Social Protection inspector checked with various airlines operating to Ireland.

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Later, O'Callaghan was observed flying into Cork from Gatwick Airport in London. That prompted a full investigation.

Defence barrister, Nikki O’Sullivan BL, said €19,000 in compensation had been handed over and the defendant was deeply remorseful over what had happened.

She stressed her client wanted to point out that the trip to Barbados was to attend a funeral - and was "not a jolly on State funds".

Images from the Barbados trip had been cited and it had become "a public spectacle."

Her client was adamant the trip was to attend a funeral and nothing else.

"It was not a holiday," she insisted.

O'Callaghan worked as a painter and decorator but had found work difficult to come by over the past two years.

She has no previous convictions.

The court was told that O'Callaghan - who had travelled back and forth from London to Cork to visit her mother - had cooperated fully with Gardaí and Department of Social Protection officials when she was first contacted.

Ms O'Sullivan pleaded for leniency for her client. However, Judge O'Donnabháin warned it was a very serious offence.

"She knew she was not entitled to claim it...she was not even living in the country. (It was) an egregious, deliberate abuse of the social welfare system."

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