Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Ceisteanna - Questions
Cabinet Committee Meetings
I thank Deputies for their questions.
Deputy Burton raised the issue of undocumented minors living in Ireland. From time to time, we introduce schemes to regularise undocumented migrants in the country. This is not an amnesty. It has been agreed at EU level that there will not be amnesties. That is part of our commitment to our European partners. Any time we have a scheme to regularise undocumented migrants, we always need to consult with the United Kingdom because it has an impact on the common travel area.
Within the confines of the common travel area and the EU pact not to have any amnesties, we do from time to time have schemes to regularise migrants. The one we had recently was a scheme to regularise people from outside the European Economic Area, EEA, as well as their dependants, who came here on a student visa but became undocumented for one reason or another. That just finished up this year. We regularised 2,000 people under the scheme and it worked well.
It is a useful scheme for me when I go to the United States because I can then say in Congress and the White House that we are not asking the American authorities to do anything for our undocumented there that we have not done here in Ireland. If the US were to copy our scheme, essentially it would provide a pathway to regularisation to anybody who came to the US on a J-1 or a student visa and who became undocumented there.
The other group, referred to by Deputy Burton, we want to look at next is those who came to Ireland as children and know no other home than Ireland. They will not be deported. They never really lived in the country in which they were born or, in some cases, the country in which their parents were born, as some of them were born in Ireland. We need to get these arrangements right and ensure they are properly organised. We must ensure it cannot be abused or undermines our commitments to the European Union or to the common travel area. I have met some of those young people, as has Deputy Burton. They have grown up here and speak with Dublin, Cork or Donegal accents. They will not be deported. It will be correct to regularise them but we just need to get it right. We got it right for the students. We can get it right for those who Americans would call dreamers.
The policy of universal healthcare is to provide free or highly subsidised healthcare for all. There are many models across the European Union under which that can be done. There is often an assumption in Ireland that the NHS is the system they have across Europe. It is not. Every country has a different public health system. Sláintecare does not prescribe which model we should follow. It refers to co-payments, free services and many other matters. It must, however, be done step by step.
We have made much progress already on GP care. Nearly half the country has access to free GP care. That will be extended to children aged seven and eight years of age next year, having extended it to those on lower incomes by increasing the income limits this year and to carers the year before. We are also reducing prescription charges for those with medical cards and those who do not have one. By reducing the drugs payment scheme, DPS, threshold, that will continue. We are extending eligibility for medical cards. One of the first things the Fine Gael-Independent Alliance Government did was to give medical cards as a right to children with serious disabilities, regardless of their parents’ income. Under previous Governments, they were often subject to review. Children with serious disabilities could lose their medical cards because their parents’ incomes went up. That does not happen any more. Any child in receipt of domiciliary care allowance, DCA, is also entitled to a medical card, regardless of his or her parents’ income. The next change will be around improving the income limit for the over-70s to ensure more people over 70 can contribute.