Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Social Protection Willie O’Dea TD has said that the figures behind Minster Varadkar’s ‘Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All’ campaign don’t stack up, and that the campaign only serves to demonise those who are legitimately entitled to receive a Department of Social Protection payment.

“Earlier this month, Minister Varadkar launched his campaign to much fanfare, stating that anti-fraud and control measures saved the taxpayer €506 million in 2016.

“However, the Minister’s figures simply don’t stack up, and are grossly misleading. Through Fianna Fáil parliamentary questions I have learned that just 8% of the €506 million savings claimed by the Minister are attributable to fraud.

“Saying that €41 million is the same as €506 million is a big leap, even for Minister Varadkar.

“There is no place whatsoever for fraud in our social protection system, and it can never be condoned.

“However what’s clear is that the Minister’s campaign is both a gross misrepresentation of the actual levels of fraud perpetrated against his department and an attempt to curry favour with significant right wing element of the Fine Gael organisation.

“Minister Varadkar’s failure to see the difference between cost control savings and fraud is breath-taking. Take the One Parent Family Payment for example; the Minister quotes a figure of €77 million for control savings made in 2016, yet the actual level of fraud was just €3.2 million.

“The Minister is so wide off the mark that he clearly made a judgement call to just do whatever would play out better with the right wing, conservative elements of his own party.

“For far too long, Minister Varadkar has sought to portray his role as that of a game keeper, trying to catch people out when in fact his role and his department’s role is to support people who need the State’s assistance.

“Yes, by all means, crack down on fraud, and ensure that the State’s funds are used to support those who genuinely need help, but don’t make a political virtue out of scapegoating an entire section of society.

“It’s beyond doubt now that this campaign was drawn up by the Minister to put clear blue water between himself and other candidates in the race to be Fine Gael’s next leader.

“This is something Fianna Fáil utterly opposes. Pitting different sections of our society against each other is something that has been popular in the UK since the days of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but it is mercifully something we have avoided in this country.

“Minister Varadkar would do well to remember his department’s motto, ‘Helping you build a better life’ rather than ‘Divide and Conquer’ which seems to sum up his own political ethos,” concluded O’Dea.