Seanad debates

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

European Health Insurance Card

10:30 am

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Ó Donnghaile for giving me the opportunity to put the commitment on the record here. At this stage, we are 50 something days away from the end of the transition period so things need to start coming together in many areas, not just this area. There is an awful lot of work going on in regard to that so I will just outline how it will work.

As Senator Ó Donnghaile noted, in April 2019 the Government sought to make arrangements so that the people of Northern Ireland would continue to have access to EHIC rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit. At that time, we were preparing for a situation where there might not be a withdrawal agreement.Now, of course, we are dealing with a different context. The withdrawal agreement, of which the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland is an integral part, is now in place between the EU and the UK and has the protection of international law.

The Government recognises the importance placed by residents of Northern Ireland on maintaining the EHIC equivalent rights. This matter is being addressed in discussions between the EU and the UK on the future relationship, which we continue to monitor.

We are also aware that in line with obligations under the withdrawal agreement, the UK Government will provide eligible EU nationals and their family members who are resident in the UK before the end of the transition period and, therefore, covered under the withdrawal agreement, with a UK-issued EHIC. Further clarity from the UK on this will be required in order to assess if there are any implications for Northern Ireland, including in relation to eligibility. In the event that these issues are not adequately resolved, preparations are under way for a scheme to ensure continued access to EHIC equivalent arrangements for eligible residents in Northern Ireland. The scheme under development would allow residents in Northern Ireland to seek reimbursement for the cost of necessary healthcare while on a temporary stay in another EU or EEA member state or in Switzerland, should it be required, from 1 January 2021.

The Department of Health is working to progress arrangements that are compatible with domestic and EU law and to ensure that the HSE has the necessary operational arrangements in place to administer this in the relevant scenario. Detail on this can be found in the Brexit readiness action plan, published on 9 September, and Part 3 of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020, published on the Oireachtas website on 29 October, which will be discussed with Members in the coming weeks. We will be in this House to discuss those issues probably towards the end of this month. I was planning to be here on 23 November.

More broadly, the EU rights of Irish and, therefore, EU citizens from Northern Ireland are specifically addressed in the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. The protocol confirms that Irish citizens in Northern Ireland will continue to enjoy, exercise and have access to rights, opportunities and benefits that come with EU membership. It is important to underline that under any scenario Irish citizens, no matter where they live, will continue to have EU citizenship. They will continue to enjoy the right to live and work throughout the EU and the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality.

While it remains our hope that access for Irish citizens in the North to certain EU programmes and benefits can be adequately addressed in the context of the future relationship, we are proactively working to ensure that the people or Northern Ireland can continue to enjoy access to EU rights, opportunities and benefits into the future, as they do today, including the benefits linked to holding a European health insurance card.


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