Sep 30, 2005

EU citizens - Ireland relaxes restrictions on claiming benefits .

From the Irish Times

A two-year ban on migrant workers from EU accession states obtaining social assistance was introduced last year due to Government fears that significant numbers of citizens could come here to draw welfare payments.

The Government move is also in response to European Commission concerns over the legality of the restrictions.

Commission sources have confirmed to The Irish Times that it believes the nature of the welfare ban is "incompatible" with aspects of EU law.

Minister for Social Affairs Séamus Brennan is expected to announce in the coming weeks that migrant workers who have worked in the State for a period of time will be entitled to social welfare benefits.

Changes were also made recently to allow the spouses of migrant workers who have worked here to draw child benefit, although these have not been publicly announced.

It is also expected that community welfare officers will be given greater flexibility in authorising short-term emergency welfare payments to migrant workers who do not have any other means.

Migrant worker support groups and homeless agencies say they are being approached regularly by accession state citizens - Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian citizens in particular - seeking food or shelter.

Siobhán O'Donoghue of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said: "The people we're dealing with who are experiencing hardship are typically workers who have lost their jobs, suffered injury or been exploited. They tend to be facing short-term difficulties, but they have no protection even if they have been paying taxes here."

A draft report by the Homeless Agency - the body which plans and administers State funds to homeless organisations in Dublin - into the effects of the welfare restrictions says all service providers have noticed an increase in demand from citizens of accession countries.

While there were predictions that the accession of 10 new EU member states would lead to "welfare tourism", official figures do not support this.

The National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, a State advisory body, estimates that just 3 per cent of the 85,000 citizens from accession states that came here between May 2004 and April 2005 have applied for welfare benefits.

A spokesman for Mr Brennan yesterday declined to comment on plans to amend the welfare restrictions - known as the habitual residency condition - except to say a review would address any cause of hardship among migrant workers.

EU member states have adopted different policies on access to social assistance for newly arrived migrants from accession states.

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