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€48,000 welfare fraud student caught using false identity

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Facial recognition software, used by the Department of Social Protection to clamp down on welfare fraud, identified an NUIG student who was claiming social welfare under a false name over a five-year period.

A blue jacket, worn by the final year engineering student while fraudulently claiming social welfare at two city Post Offices, also helped seal the fate of Aboubakar Youssouf (36), with addresses at 4 Clifden House Apartments, Newcastle, and Carraig Laith, Newcastle.

Youssouf pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last March to 22 sample counts of stealing an estimated €47,821 from the Department of Social Protection on dates between October, 2011 and January, 2015.

The court was told he was fraudulently claiming €259 per week under a false identity and that no money had been returned to the State.

Detective Julie McCormack of the Special Investigations Unit, based in Dublin, gave evidence at the sentence hearing last week that on February 26 last year the Identity Control Section at the Department of Social Protection checked their database, using facial recognition software, and discovered the accused was using his own identity and a similar, fraudulent identity to claim social welfare payments between October, 2011 and January, 2015.

The accused, she said, had used his false identity to register for asylum in Ireland in 2005 and he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance and Rent Allowance from October, 2011 to January of last year, receiving €259 per week.

Det McCormack said Aboubakar was now a French national and was resident in Ireland as an EU citizen.

He was arrested on May 8 last year in relation to the welfare fraud.

He told Gardai he came from Sudan originally and registered for asylum in France in 2003 under his real name.

He travelled to Ireland in 2005, while still waiting for asylum in France, and registered for asylum here under the false identity – which was a variation of his correct name and date of birth – and received direct provision here in 2005 and 2006.

He went back to France and got asylum there in 2007, becoming a French citizen and receiving a French passport. He then returned to Ireland in 2011 and used his false identity again to claim social welfare.

Judge Rory McCabe asked Det McCormack if Youssouf had come here in 2011 as a French citizen, and looked for asylum here by claiming he had come from Sudan.

She explained he was going to college here under his true identity while claiming social welfare under the false identity.

Judge McCabe asked what had happened to the accused’s Irish asylum application and was told it had not been fully finalised but he had been given Irish travel documents – under the false name – so that he could travel.

Det McCormack said Youssouf’s house was searched last May and a number of documents were seized that linked him to his true identity, including his French passport.

A false driving licence, a social welfare card, a public service card, bank accounts and all the social welfare documents which bore his false name and details, were also seized.

Det McCormack said a blue jacket was found during the search which matched a jacket Youssouf regularly wore when he went to fraudulently collect social welfare payments at Bohermore and Renmore Post Offices.  The transactions were captured on CCTV at the time.

Det McCormack said Youssouf was in his final year in mechanical engineering in NUIG and was also working in a local restaurant.

She said he was married to a Chad national, who is also an EU national and she was entitled to stay here. The couple have two children, she added.

Det McCormack said she didn’t know if the State was supporting Youssouf’s education at NUIG.

Defence barrister, Brendan Browne said the accused used the money to support his family and send money home to his sick mother.

She said Youssouf had been offered a place on the Masters Programme and if he was given an opportunity to complete his exams, his job prospects might help him make restitution to the State.

She said he was due to sit his exams next month and would take the place on the Masters Programme if his results were good.

Judge Rory McCabe said this had been a well-planned, premeditated, long-term fraud and the layers of cheating involved were evident.

The accused, he said, had systematically increased his illegal access to State payments, even while working.

The judge said the accused was fortunate his criminality was being dealt with in this jurisdiction as he had told the probation service himself that the range of penalties in his country of origin were very severe.

Judge McCabe said the appropriate sentence was three years and six months for each charge to run concurrently, but he adjourned sentence for one year, to allow the accused finish his education, to give him time to reflect on how he will pay back the money and to make preparations for his wife and children while he goes to prison.

CITY TRIBUNE

Council rows back on ‘reduced delays’ projections for Kirwan junction

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Motorists have described it as ‘a disaster’ and a former mayor has said the project gave very poor value for money, but Galway City Council have this week asked the public to be patient with the revamped Kirwan junction, close to the Menlo Park Hotel.

Since the four-arm signalled junction opened early last week, motorists have complained of traffic queues stretching back to the Quincentenary Bridge and Corrib Park.

And now the Council has rowed back on its consultants’ claims that the junction would increase capacity by 15% and reduce waiting times by 25%.

Former mayor and local taxi driver, Cllr Frank Fahy, told the Galway City Tribune that given the negative impact of the junction on traffic, the €5 million spent on the project represented ‘very poor value’ as regards taxpayers’ money.

“I will admit that the junction is now safer for pedestrians in that they can hit a button to give them a safe crossing, but since it opened there have some very serious traffic tailbacks,” said Cllr Fahy.

However, City Council Acting Director of Services for Transport, Uinsinn Finn, told the Galway City Tribune that the new junction needed time to ‘bed in’ with a familiarisation process.

“The main objectives of this project were to make far safer for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate, as well as making it safer for motorists too, without impacting [negatively] on the traffic flow,” said Mr Finn.

He added that since it opened – and over the coming few weeks – data on all aspects of how the junction was functioning would be compiled which could involve changes to light sequencing, lanes and peak traffic flows.

One motorist who contacted this newspaper said that the daily “nightmare” journey from the Barna Road to the Headford Road during the morning peak traffic time had added up to 40 minutes to his journey time.

“The two lanes are regularly gridlocked from the junction, back the N6, over the Quincentenary Bridge and back to Corrib Park.

“In the mornings, it’s now easier to go down Taylor’s Hill and into town, past Eyre Square and up Bohermore to get down to the Headford Road.

Councillors were told by consultants in 2017 and again in 2018 – when they voted to proceed with the changeover to a junction – that average delays would be reduced by 25% and junction capacity would increase by 15%.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Man hospitalised following Eyre Square assault

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Gardaí have appealed to the public for information into an assault in Eyre Square last weekend which led to a young man being hospitalised.

The victim of the assault – a man in his early 20s from the city area – suffered a cut to his knee and may have had a substance sprayed towards his eyes.

Following the incident – that occurred close to the Eyre Square taxi rank shortly after midnight on Saturday night last – the victim was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Galway.

It is understood that the victim was released later that morning and has made a full recovery. This week, Gardaí are poring over CCTV footage in an effort to try and identify the perpetrators of the assault.

The assailants are understood to have fled on foot after the incident towards St Patrick’s Avenue on the east side of Eyre Square.

A Garda spokesperson has appealed for anyone who was in the vicinity of the taxi rank on Eyre Square between 12 midnight and 12.30am on the Sunday morning (Saturday night) of July 25 last, and who may have witnessed the incident to contact them.

(Photo: the assailants fled on foot towards St Patrick’s Avenue off Eyre Square)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Council turns down controversial phone mast plan

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Galway City Council has refused an application by Eircom to erect a 12-metre telecoms mast in a housing estate in Knocknacarra.

The local authority turned down the company’s application for planning permission to install the structure in the heart of Drom Óir over concerns that it would create a visual obstruction in a residential area – and would have a detrimental impact on property prices.

Eircom had also sought retention to keep a concrete foundation for the mast in situ after it was forced to abandon works earlier this year, amid protests from residents in Drom Óir and Leitir Burca. This was also rejected.

City planners issued the company with a warning letter in April to cease works after contractors on site drew the ire of nearby residents, who accused Eircom of seeking to install the mast ‘by stealth’.

A total of 26 letters of objection were submitted to the Council from residents of the two estate.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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