A pensioner who used his dead brother's identity to claim more than €93,000 in benefits has been jailed for two and a half years.
Aidan Byrne had pleaded guilty to a range of fraud charges at Donegal Circuit Court. The 75-year-old had conned the social welfare system by using the identity of his dead brother, Anthony, who died in a drowning accident in England in 1972.
Judge John Aylmer said the offences were "very much pre-meditated" and extended over a "significant period of time." He added that Byrne was also the recipient of an English pension and was not claiming his dead brother's pension out of financial necessity.
The accused, a native of Co Wexford, had lived in England for a number of years, but returned to Ireland in 2000 and later began to use his dead brother's identity to claim various benefits.
Between June 2015 and August 2021, Byrne claimed a total of €83,157 in pension and fuel allowances on behalf of his dead brother.
He also applied for a medical card from the HSE in his brother's name and claimed €10,858 for various different treatments, including optical and doctor's visits between June 2012 and December 2021.
Byrne had been enabled, after applying for a passport in his dead brother's name, using his brother's birth certificate but his own picture on the passport.
His bogus claims only came to light when he made another passport application under his own name in 2019.
Passport office workers using facial imaging noticed both pictures under two different passport names were identical, and the information was passed on to the Department of Social Protection.
The information was in turn passed to gardaí who launched an investigation.
Byrne pleaded guilty to a range of charges, including theft from both the Department of Social Protection and the HSE, forgery and using a false instrument.
Detective Garda Paul Lynch outlined the background to the case and how Byrne had immigrated to England in the 1960s along with his brother, but that he had drowned in an accident in Epping in 1972.
He said Byrne used his dead brother's birth cert to get a passport under his brother's name, but using his own picture.
He applied to receive the State pension under the name Anthony Byrne between June 2015 and August 2021, during which time both pension and fuel allowance payments totalling €83,157.29 were all lodged through electronic fund transfer to Byrne's bank account.
Detective Lynch said Byrne also used the false identification to obtain a medical card through the HSE and claimed €10,858 in various treatments.
When gardaí called to his home at 26 Ard McGill, Glenties on August 16th, 2021, they found €2,840 in cash at the house and later found Byrne had €16,238 in a bank account, which has since been frozen.
Gardaí also found a medical card and a death certificate in the name of his brother, Antony Joseph Byrne, showing he had died on September 28th, 1972.
'Fall from grace'
Byrne was arrested and on December 6th, 2022, and he pleaded guilty to a number of related charges. Barrister for the accused, Mr Colm Smyth SC, said his client had never been in trouble before and this was a huge "fall from grace" for him.
Byrne's family, including his three daughters, no longer spoke to him because of his actions. Counsel added that Byrne had suffered from a number of medical complaints, including diabetes, had also suffered a stroke and was on a range of medication daily.
The accused took to the stand and said he was very sorry, adding this was "a very bad idea".
The court heard the accused now lived in a council house in Glenties and was a man of no means and that monies in his bank account, some €16,000, had been frozen by the courts.
Pleading to the court that a custodial sentence and jail would be a "very difficult place" for a man of Byrne's age, Mr Smyth said his client had never dealt with the law before, either in Ireland or England.
He added that his client is paying back €50 per week to the State, noting it will take over 30 years to repay the debt and acknowledging the reality is that the bulk of the money will never be returned.
He said his client did plead guilty at the first opportunity and had been deemed as being of a low risk of reoffending.
"Prison would be a hardship for him and I ask you to be as lenient as you can," Mr Smyth asked the judge.
Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer placed the charges of claiming his brother's pension and also using a medical card in his brother's name in the mid-range of such offences.
The pension offence merited a sentence of five years before mitigation, while the use of the medical card merited a sentence of three years before mitigation.
The other offences merited a sentence of two years before mitigation and were placed at the lower end of the scale.
Byrne had no previous convictions, had worked hard all his life and was suffering ill health having suffered a stroke amongst other medical conditions, the judge noted.
Taking all factors into consideration, including his remorse, Judge Aylmer reduced the headline sentence from five to three and a half years.
The judge said he then had to consider Byrne's age, his ill health and absence of previous convictions and he further suspended the final 12 months of this sentence, meaning the accused will serve two and a half years in jail.