Dáil Éireann - Volume 441 - 26 April, 1994
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Habitual Residence Test.
Mr. McGinley Mr. McGinley
18. Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Social Welfare if his attention has been drawn to the widespread worry and anxiety among Irish voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom at the proposed changes in DSS regulations and planned amendments to homelessness legislation; if such changes will have damaging implications for Irish people emigrating to Britain and for those already settled there; if he intends raising the matter with the authorities in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Mr. Lawlor Mr. Lawlor
54. Mr. Lawlor asked the Minister for Social Welfare if a formula has been agreed between his Department and its British counterpart, which will avoid prejudice to Irish people seeking social welfare payment in Great Britain under the proposed new residency tests; if so, if he will give details of this agreement or when this will be possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 54 together.
Deputies will recall that I previously spoke in the Dáil on the proposed introduction in the United Kingdom of an habitual residence test in assessing entitlement to Income Support, Housing and Council Tax Benefit during the Adjournment debate on 8 February. I indicated then that I was very concerned at the implications for Irish citizens of this proposal.
I personally attach the greatest importance to the social welfare rights of our emigrants both in the country in which they work and on their return to Ireland. I am gravely concerned at any move which might erode the right of access  currently held by our citizens to UK social protection. Irish citizens are currently entitled to avail of British social services on a similar basis to British citizens; by the same token, British citizens here have full and equal access to our entitlements. Introduction of an habitual residence test as proposed would place an onus on anyone claiming the payments listed above to show that they had or were intending to form close connections with the United Kingdom in such matters as family ties, long term employment and permanent residence before they would be entitled to these payments. Clearly this would have the potential to affect the entitlement of many if not most of our first-time emigrants and, possibly, some longer term Irish residents of the United Kingdom.
Irish people emigrate to Britain in the main for the purpose of taking up employment or genuinely seeking work and cannot be regarded as benefit tourists. In general, they are entitled to levels of social protection in Ireland which are equal to — if not higher than — that currently available in Britain. Therefore, there is no incentive for Irish people to engage in benefit tourism. Irish people contribute to the British economy and to British society in general and because of the close and productive relationship between the two countries they assimilate well in Britain. It was abundantly clear from comments by Members of the Oireachtas, media reports and representations I received from Irish welfare groups in Britain that the concerns I voiced on 8 February are widely shared.
Arising from these concerns I raised the issue at two levels. First, I raised the matter directly with my opposite number in the United Kingdom, Peter Lilley, MP, Secretary of State for Social Security. We met on 3 March when I stressed that the matter was of the greatest importance in Ireland and that it would be a grave blow to Irish citizens if the proposals were allowed to proceed as planned. For his part the Secretary of State assured me that the new test was not intended to interfere with the traditional working arrangements and free movement  of people between the two countries. We agreed that a high level group of officials would meet to develop a formula which would achieve the objective agreed by Secretary of State Lilley and myself, namely to ensure there is no negative impact on the traditional working arrangements and pattern of migration between the two countries.
Officials from my Department and the United Kingdom Department of Social Security met on a number of occasions in London to discuss the matter. The Irish officials made a number of proposals, designed to achieve the objective agreed by the Secretary of State and me, which the UK side undertook to examine in consultation with their legal services. The two sides have maintained contact since then. The current position is that the British Department of Social Security are continuing, in consultation with their Attorney General's office, to study the means by which this can be achieved.
On the basis of this agreement I am hopeful that the concerns shared by all can be allayed and that Irish people can continue to avail of British social protection while working or seeking work there.
The proposed test raises a number of complex legal issues concerning free movement of workers and their access to social protection. As these issues are within the competence of the European Union, in addition to raising the matter bilaterally with my opposite number in the United Kingdom, I asked the European Commission to investigate the proposals and, in particular, to examine their compatibility with the European Union Treaty and legislation in the freedom of movement of workers and their entitlement to social protection. The Commission is continuing its inquiries.
I should add that, when in London for my meeting with Secretary of State Mr. Lilley on 3 March, I met representatives of a number of British based Irish groups. I have since then sought to keep them informed of developments, as I have done with Irish based emigrant liaison groups. In turn I have been kept aware of the energetic campaign being waged  by these groups within Britain on this issue. I am sure all Members will join me in expressing our gratitude to such groups for their remarkable and wholly commendable solidarity with their fellow citizens on this issue. I reassure the House that every effort is being made and will continue to be made to protect the traditional rights enjoyed by our citizens who migrate to the United Kingdom.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: Other Opposition Deputies and I raised this matter prior to the debate on the Social Welfare Bill, 1994. I admire the Minister's diligence in dealing with the British Government on a clearly anti-Irish regulation. In that context, is he satisfied that the traditional rights of third level students who seek work in the United Kingdom — because of the abolition of unemployment assistance — will be protected? The imposition of this regulation will affect Irish people in the main.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: This is the situation we are trying to avert. The matter is being urgently pursued and I hope we will have a resolution before students travel to Britain in the summer. The question will not arise if students have a job offer or know they will find work quickly, but it will if they apply for social security.
Mr. Allen Mr. Allen
Mr. Allen: Is this regulation being implemented; are Irish people affected?
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: Regulations go through a number of procedures before reaching the stage of implementation. This regulation will be implemented in June.
Dáil Éireann 441 Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. Habitual Residence Test.