Wednesday, 10 March 2004

Ceisteanna (28, 29, 30, 31, 32)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

99 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the consideration which has been given to a proposal (details supplied) that an amnesty be made towards citizens of EU accession states who are here already; and the social welfare cost implications of such an amnesty. [7924/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Joe Costello

Ceist:

104 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has held discussions with the EU Commission on the restrictions to social welfare entitlement aimed at persons from other EU states after 1 May 2004; if she has sought or received advice from the Commission regarding the legality of the proposals under EU law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7803/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

107 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will reverse her decision to refuse welfare support for immigrants who have been in the State for less than two years. [7892/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

127 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her proposed restrictions on citizens from the accession countries, in respect of qualification for means tested social welfare payments, is in accord with EU law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7859/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

129 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the view of the acting Social Affairs Commissioner, Ms Margot Wallstrom, regarding the ability to issue restrictions on social welfare payments. [7925/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99, 104, 107, 127 and 129 together.

The Government has decided to put in place measures to restrict access to certain social welfare payments by introducing a habitual residence test as an additional condition to be satisfied by a person claiming a social assistance payment or child benefit. The new condition is designed to safeguard our social welfare system from abuse by restricting access to social assistance and child benefit payments for people from other countries who have little or no connection with Ireland. People who claim welfare payments but do not satisfy the habitual residency test will be assisted to return home.

These measures are being introduced to ensure our social welfare system does not become over burdened. It is a prudent and sensible measure. Up to now, non-nationals residing here could claim social assistance payments without satisfying a residency test. All other countries in the European Union impose residency restrictions on entitlement to social welfare benefits. The imposition of such a condition is not prohibited by EU law and, indeed, the concept of habitual residence features in EU regulations on social security for migrant workers. The term has also been clarified in EU court judgments. It conveys a degree of permanence in the person's residence and factors such as the duration and continuity of residence, employment prospects and future intentions would be important in determining whether the condition is fulfilled.

Each case will be examined on the facts and the person's degree of permanence in the State and no single factor will be conclusive. The new arrangements will apply to claims for payments after the date of operation and claims already in payment on the date will not be affected.

I have not formally discussed these new arrangements with the Commission, as such is not required. Commissioner Wallstrom has asked member states to inform the Commission of the measures being imposed with regard to access to labour markets and social welfare systems and I have arranged for this to be done. The Commissioner has stated on several occasions that in order to make accession a success we must respect both the EU treaty and the accession treaty and I wholeheartedly agree with her in this regard. I am satisfied that the new measures I am introducing, which will apply to all applicants for social assistance payments, are in line with EU law.

Under EU Regulation 1408/71 it is possible for an unemployed person under certain conditions to "export" their unemployment benefit for up to three months while seeking work in another member state. The regulations also allow people to exercise their right to free movement within the EU and to have their social insurance based entitlements, such as contributory pensions, exported to another member state. These arrangements are not affected by the habitual residence condition.

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. Under the accession treaties, the EU has put in place a transitional measure, by which existing member states can exercise discretion as to the extent of access of persons from the new member states to their respective labour markets. Unlike other member states, however, Ireland is not imposing any restrictions on the numbers of people from the new member states who wish to come here and work. This Government gave a commitment that EU citizens who want to come and work here from 1 May are welcome to do so and we will honour that commitment.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 98.