The Deputy's report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Family, Community and Social Affairs is based on the report Towards a Senior Euro Pass which was commissioned by the Social Affairs Directorate of the European Commission and was undertaken and published by Age Concern, England, at the end of 1997. It recommends that EU states should establish a senior euro pass which would entitle older people to concessions on various services, including travel, cultural and social activities.
The role of my Department in matters relating to the senior euro pass is to submit observations in conjunction with other Departments and statutory and non-statutory bodies on any action taken to implement the proposals in this report, in so far as they affect the business of this Department. The administration of the euro pass is outside the remit of my Department.
The Deputy has suggested, in advance of EU measures, that the cross-Border free travel scheme should be extended to allow free travel for all pensioners throughout the island of Ireland. The current scheme applies only to cross-Border journeys and not travel exclusively within each jurisdiction. The Deputy should note that my Department is responsible for the entire funding of this scheme. The Department of Rural Development, formerly the Department of Environment, Northern Ireland, contributes only 50% of the cost of bus journeys to the Border for Northern Ireland concession cardholders, a concession which was already in existence before the establishment of the cross-Border scheme. In contrast, my Department funds: 100% of the cost of the journey in the Republic for both free travel passholders and Northern Ireland concession cardholders; the balance, that is 50%, of the cost of cross-Border journeys in Northern Ireland for Northern Ireland concession cardholders and 100% of the cost of cross-Border journeys on trains for both Northern and Southern cardholders.
The cost to my Department of the cross-Border free travel scheme in 1998 was in excess of £1.9 million. I note that the euro card equalisation fund mentioned by the Deputy in his report would not be in place to assist with the cost of operating this extension to the free travel scheme.
This measure, which would have to be considered both on a bilateral basis and in the context of possible national discrimination under EU legislation, would involve significant additional expenditure.