A Lithuanian national who has lived here for the last 18 years has brought a legal challenge after her Covid-19 pandemic unemployment payment was stopped when she was stranded in Lithuania and could not get back to Ireland during the first lockdown.
Mother of one Vilma Cekanaviciute had gone to Lithuania for a two-week break in March this year, but when the lockdown was imposed her return flight was cancelled and she was not able to return to Ireland until July.
Now she has gone to the High Court in an effort to have her Covid payment restored and backdated.
Complaints before the court
Hers is the first of a number of similar type complaints over the Covid pandemic unemployment payment which may come before the court in the next few months.
Mr Justice Garrett Simons on Monday granted Ms Cekanaviciute leave to bring the judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Social Protection.
On March 8th, this year Ms Cekanaviciute had travelled to Lithuania with her two-year-old daughter for two weeks. As she is in receipt of a one parent family payment, she had informed the Department of Social Welfare of her travel plans.
While she was in Lithuania it is claimed the Covid 19 pandemic escalated significantly across Europe and on March 20th she was informed her flight back to Ireland for March 27th was cancelled. She was unable to return to Ireland until July 4th, 2020 on one of the first flights to Dublin.
Ms Cekanaviciute had applied for the Covid payment at the start of April and received it until mid-May when it was stopped.
Presence a precondition
At issue in the case is whether physical presence in Ireland was a precondition to receipt of the Covid payment and Ms Cekanaviciute’s contends it was not, and she has been resident here for 18 years.
The fact that she was physically outside the state having been stranded abroad by a global pandemic it is contended has no bearing on whether she was resident in, lived in or was currently living in Ireland.
Merely leaving the state has no bearing on an applicant’s residence or on where an applicant is currently living it is further argued.
Vilma Cekanaviciute , Waterville, Blanchardstown, Dublin in her judicial review proceedings is seeking an order quashing the decision of the Minister for Social Protection on May 12, 2020 to stop her Covid pandemic unemployment payment on the basis that she was not resident in Ireland or had left the state.
She further seeks an order quashing the June 2020 Ministerial decision refusing to reinstate and backdate her payment, and a declaration the determination she was not resident in Ireland and not eligible for the Covid payment was unlawful, irrational and not supported by facts.
She is also seeking an order compelling the Minister to determine her application for the reinstatement and back payment.
In an affidavit to the court she said when she travelled to Lithuania had she known she would not be able to get a flight back to Dublin, she would never have gone.
She said it was never published that she could not leave the country and she thought she was operating within the rules at all times.
She thought the Minister’s review of the Covid payments being stopped would have resolved the situation as she considered what happened to her to be “clearly unfair.”
She said she did not fully understand the reasons why the payment had been stopped.