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European Court of Justice Rulings

Dáil Éireann Debate, Wednesday - 10 December 2014

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Questions (6)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

6. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection the implications of the European Court of Justice ruling that member states may refuse non-contributory benefits to economically inactive EU migrants; her views that this effectively excludes persons with disabilities so severe that they cannot work from the right to freedom of movement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [47083/14]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Social)

The Tánaiste spoke on this matter earlier as my question relates to the Dano judgment of the European Court of Justice, ECJ. Member states can now refuse social assistance payments to certain "economically inactive" people, to use the words that I think the court used. Does the Tánaiste share my concern that this ruling could affect people with severe disabilities that mean they cannot work but are in a member state, such as Ireland, to access medical expertise?

Under Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, every citizen has the right to move and reside freely within the territories of the member states. Those rights can be exercised in accordance with the conditions and limits defined by the treaties and by the measures adopted thereunder. The conditions governing free movement and the right of residence are set out in EU Directive No. 38 of 2004. Freedom of movement among member states is probably one of the most important and positive aspects of the EU for Irish people.

Under the directive, every EU citizen has an unqualified right of residence in another member state for up to 3 months. A right of residence for longer than 3 months is dependent on being employed or self-employed and holding comprehensive sickness insurance. If such people are not active in the labour market they must have sufficient resources for themselves and their families so as not to become an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host member state. The Irish system is built on the contributory principle and this is the case in many of the better EU welfare systems. In the case in question, the person concerned is a migrant who is not in employment but argued that, in line with the equality provisions that co-ordinate social security systems across the EU, she was entitled to a social assistance payment on the same basis as citizens of the host country in the same position.

In its judgment the court found that to accept that persons who do not have a right of residence under EU Directive No. 38 of 2004 may claim entitlement to social benefits under the same conditions as those applicable to nationals of the host member state would run counter to an objective of the directive, set out in recital 10 in its preamble. This objective aims to prevent EU citizens who are nationals of other member states from becoming an unreasonable burden on the social assistance system of the host member state.

The judgment of the court has not introduced any new restrictions on free movement but has clarified EU law in this area. Accordingly, the free movement rights of disabled people, or other migrant groups, are not affected by the judgment. The judgment merely confirms what was understood to be the EU legal position.

I take it that this does not interfere with the right of an EU citizen to reside in Ireland if a social welfare payment, or its equivalent, is being paid by his or her member state of origin.

I was setting out the position of someone who travelled to a location within the European Union on health grounds and I was making the point that such a person should be supported by his original country and that there is a problem with that. Obviously, not all the social welfare rates are the same. Someone might move to Ireland because we have a specialty in heart operations but the person might not be given a provision for the different inflationary measures in Ireland. We discussed rent earlier, for example. The rent is higher here than elsewhere. On the basis of health grounds such a person may need to be close to specialty services. Is there any way this can be facilitated in such cases?

Was the State a co-sponsor of the action through the court, as suggested in Carl O'Brien's article in The Irish Times? He reported that Germany's position was supported by the Irish Government, Britain and Denmark. Was it simply that we were watching in the wings to see what would result?

No, Ireland intervened at the Court of Justice of the European Union along with several other countries in support of the German authorities since it was considered that the outcome of the case could seriously affect our ability to refuse assistance to non-employed European Union citizens who had arrived in the country never having been in employment here, with no resources and never having made contributions.

As I have often said to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, I have a responsibility to the people who pay PRSI and taxes. They are paying into a contributory system. For example, when they become older, they may be entitled to a contributory social welfare pension or a non-contributory means-tested social welfare pension if they do not have enough contributions. The same is true of other countries like Ireland which have strong and high-paying social security payments. We supported the case because it enforces what was the understanding of European Union law.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh gave an example of someone who might come to Ireland for medical treatment. The same would apply in the case of an Irish person, perhaps with a child, going for medical treatment in another country. If that person was in receipt of a social welfare payment, she should go to the local social welfare office and explain the circumstances. As Deputy Ó Snodaigh is aware, temporary absences for such purposes are entertained and cases have arisen from time to time. The person in question should go to the local social welfare office to discuss the matter and explain the circumstances.

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