It is not possible at this stage to predict the level of in-flows from and out-flows to the ten acceding countries which may arise after May 2004.
Free movement of persons is one of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by Community law and includes the right to live and work in another member state. The right of free movement applies not only to workers but also other categories of people such as students, pensioners and EU citizens in general.
The Employment Permits Act 2003 provided a legislative basis for the granting of full labour market access to nationals of the EU accession states after accession takes place on 1 May 2004. From that date, nationals of these countries will no longer require employment permits to work in Ireland.
The Act also contains a safeguard mechanism whereby a requirement for employment permits may be reintroduced in respect of nationals of the relevant countries should the Irish labour market suffer an unexpected disturbance during the transitional period after EU enlargement takes place. Any question of reintroducing a requirement for such permits would be a matter for my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
We have a strong economy and we will welcome people who want to come here to work. Last year Irish businesses depended on 47,000 work permits to be issued to non-nationals to help them meet their labour supply requirements. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment estimates that after 1 May this year, as much as 70% to 80% of that requirement will be met by workers from the ten new accession countries.
In regard to access to social welfare payments, I have said previously that I will not allow our social welfare system to become overburdened in the context of EU enlargement and I will be taking steps to ensure the system is protected in the light of,inter alia, measures being introduced elsewhere and particularly in the UK in light of the common travel area.
In that regard the UK is putting in place a series of measures designed to address the issue of access to social security payments, including a new workers registration scheme and changes in the conditions for qualification for social security payments.
I am currently examining the provisions which are being introduced and I will be proposing changes to the social welfare code to similar effect. These measures will be sensible, considered and reasonable.