I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 to 48, inclusive, together.
I assume the Deputy is referring to the issue of work permits after EU enlargement. From 1 May 2004, the ten accession countries will be party to the treaties governing the European Communities. Their citizens will, in general, enjoy the same rights as current EU citizens, although this will not apply to provisions in respect of labour market access. Each member state will be able to exercise discretion in respect of the extent of access to their respective labour markets during a transitional period, which was agreed at EU level. Ireland has decided to afford full labour market access to the nationals of the new member states on the same basis as current EU nationals, with effect from the date of accession. In recent months, my Department has been giving concrete expression to the provisions of the accession treaties, whereby preference must be given to nationals of the accession states over nationals of other non-EEA states. Since 31 January last, employers sending work permit applications in respect of accession country nationals no longer have to advertise the position with FÁS.
An expanded EU labour market of 25 countries will provide a widened pool of skilled labour from which Irish employers will be able to meet their ongoing skills needs. Just 35% of our overseas labour needs have come from the accession states in recent years. Given our continuing need for overseas labour and the relatively high unemployment levels in some of the accession states, it is clear that there is ample room to improve the percentage of overseas workers coming from the states in question. If my Department is satisfied that the requisite skills are available in the expanded EU, a work permit will not be granted to bring somebody from elsewhere into the country to fill the vacancy in question. An increase in labour market participation from within the expanded EU will not only provide an opportunity to show solidarity with new member states, but it will also mean a reduced need to attract labour from elsewhere in the world.
It should be noted that my Department does not discriminate, positively or negatively, between nationals of the various non-EEA countries. A work permit granted in respect of personnel from outside the expanded EU is granted on the basis of the skills, experience and qualifications of the person in question. My Department is satisfied from its experience in recent years that the great bulk of Ireland's overseas labour needs can be met from within the enlarged EU. However, skilled, highly-paid employees can still be sourced from the wider world after May 2004. Any work permit application where the conditions of employment are not in line with employment rights legislation will be refused, as has always been the case.