Reports that the recent Icelandic ash cloud prevented non-Irish nationals from flying into the country to sign on the dole have been exposed as an urban myth by the Department of Social Protection.

It had been suggested that an increase in the number of 'no shows' at social welfare offices in April and May was evidence of 'welfare tourism' with foreign residents unable to jet in to claim their payments. But figures supplied to the Sunday Tribune show that if anything there were fewer 'no shows' for the week ending 18 April, when airport closures were at their height, than when they were operating normally.

Just over 3,500 people failed to sign on the live register in the period ending 18 April when airports were closed, just 2.3% of the 151,000 who were due to sign on.

The number of no shows in the week ending 21 February, when the ash cloud was not a factor, was 3,311, which represents 2.2% of the 152,000 due to sign on. The percentage of no shows in March was 3.9%, the figure for May was 2.2% and the figure for June was 2.5%. "There was no significant difference ... compared to weeks where the volcanic ash was not a factor," a department spokeswoman explained.

In July 2008 then social welfare minister Mary Hanafin changed the system so that all new claimants have to attend their local post office weekly to get paid. Pre-July 2008 claimants are still paid into their bank accounts and so do not have to turn up.