The Department of Social Protection carried out over half a million reviews of welfare claimants this year, we can reveal.

It comes after criticism that recipients like Ashling Murphy’s killer, Josef Puska, was paid disability benefit, even though he could ride around on his bike stalking women on the day she was murdered. The Department confirmed it is continually cracking down on welfare fraud right across the country to ensure there is no abuse of its €25 billion budget.

But asked specifically about the Puska case, it said it will not comment on ongoing investigations or individual cases or on any particular group of customers. In a statement it said: “To the end of October 2023 provisional figures indicate that just over 535,000 reviews of social welfare claims have been undertaken this year.

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“The Department’s anti-fraud strategy aims to ensure that suspected fraud and non-compliance in our welfare system is kept to a minimum. A range of checks are pursued to prevent, detect, and deter fraud including checks before claims are awarded and subsequent reviews where claims are in payment.

“In addition to staff within each scheme area who are engaged on control work, there are 264 Social Welfare Inspectors who conduct claim reviews and investigations across the country.”

Ashling’s heartbroken boyfriend Ryan Casey in his victim impact statement after Puska’s conviction, hit out at the way the killer was financially supported by the state.

He said: “It just sickens me to the core that someone can come to this country, be fully supported in terms of social housing, social welfare, and free medical card for over 10 years, over 10 years, never holding down a legitimate job and never once contribute to society in any way shape or form... can commit such a horrendous evil act of incomprehensible violence on such a beautiful, loving and talented person who in fact worked for the state and represented everything that is good about Irish society.

“This country needs to wake up. This time things have got to change. We have to once and for all start putting the safety of not only Irish people but everybody who works hard, pays taxes, raises families and overall contributes to society, first.”

Puska, 33, was born in Slovakia, which is now an EU state, and was legally entitled to benefits here under European law.

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