State may cut child benefits to those abroad

Ireland might apply migrant welfare ‘brake’ but solely to children, says Brendan Howlin

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks with  EU Council president Donald Tusk and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the two-day EU summit in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaks with EU Council president Donald Tusk and Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel at the start of the two-day EU summit in Brussels on Thursday. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/EPA

 

Ireland will seek to reduce child benefit payments for children living in other European Union member states, the Government confirmed on Thursday, as it emerged Ireland may be permitted to apply certain benefit limits to EU migrants as a consequence of the British renegotiation package.

Speaking following Thursday’s cabinet meeting on Britain’s plans to renegotiate its membership of the EU ahead of the summit in Brussels, Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin said the mechanism was being pursued but it would apply only to child benefit. Noting the rates of child benefit paid in Ireland were significantly higher than in other member states, he said discussions had been under way with the European Commission for some time.

“The Tánaiste has had discussions for a protracted period on that. In number terms, it has diminished but it is something that we would be supportive of if there is a treaty change . . . ” he said.

“Other benefits are insurance-based so people who pay a contribution to the social insurance fund gain an entitlement and we have no difficulty with those who have paid insurance claiming their entitlement.”

Non-contributory benefits

Taoiseach Enda Kenny declined to take questions on the issue on arrival in Brussels for the two-day summit, expected to be dominated by Britain’s renegotiation demands, though it is understood Fine Gael as well as Labour support moves to reduce child benefit payments to certain migrants.

Among proposals under consideration by the European Commission is the group of three countries who allowed full labour market access to migrants from eastern Europe in 2004 – Britain, Ireland and Sweden – would be allowed to deploy an “emergency brake” on certain benefits. This would allow the mechanism to be as “UK-specific as possible” according to EU sources.

Central and eastern Europe

As he arrived for the summit, Mr Kenny said the discussions on a new settlement for Britain were a “matter of national importance for Ireland”.

Mr Kenny said he was hopeful of a deal today. “We will back up the claim that Britain should remain a central member of the European Union and I do hope that it can be concluded tomorrow so that the prime minister can make his timing of a referendum known to the British people.”

Earlier, Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the EU law that obliged Ireland to pay full benefits to people abroad should be examined if it would be more appropriate to link the payments of those supports to the relevant local child benefit payments in the countries abroad. She said that, since becoming Minister for Social Protection, the amount of benefit being paid for children abroad had fallen from €20 million to €11 million as a result of anti-fraud measures.