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

We are putting in place a contingency plan in case the UK does not agree a resolution to this issue in a future relationship agreement with the EU. The hope and expectation is that we will be able to get a future relationship agreement that will involve the British Government signing off and agreeing on its citizens being able to access the equivalent of an EHIC-type scheme providing for reimbursement for medical costs if and when they are travelling around the EU.

A future relationship agreement could happen; we will have to wait and see how that develops in the next couple of weeks or even less than that. If that does not come off and there is no future relationship agreement, we have legislation coming forward similar to the Brexit omnibus Bill we introduced previously, which put contingency arrangements in place for a no-deal Brexit. It is now putting contingency arrangements in place for a no-future-relationship-deal Brexit. We will have an opportunity to tease through the details of that legislation when it comes through the House.

One of those elements is in this space. The Department of Health and the HSE are putting in place a scheme to ensure continued access to EHIC-equivalent arrangements for Northern Ireland citizens. Of course, that needs to be compatible with domestic and EU legislation. As I have said in the past, if necessary the Irish Government will pay for this showing a commitment to people in Northern Ireland to try to ensure that as they move through or go on their holidays in the European Union and if they run into difficulty and need to access health services and so on, there will be a reimbursement equivalent to EHIC which would obviously be as streamlined as we can make it for citizens to reimburse their healthcare costs through the HSE.

We will put in place a system that is as simple to administer and as streamlined as we can make it. We need to do it within our own legislative parameters and it also needs to be consistent with EU legislation. Of course, we do not control legislation in Northern Ireland. However, I think the Senator will recognise there is a serious commitment to this by the Government. He will see that in the legislation. The Department and the HSE have been working on this for some time to follow through on the commitment I made last year to people in Northern Ireland that not only will we pay for this, but we will also put a system in place to allow it to work if necessary.

The hope is that this will be resolved through negotiation on a future relationship in order that the British Government can announce something that is constructive and positive to deal with the concerns the Senator has rightly outlined.


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