Extending free public transport to elderly emigrant visitors to Ireland is not currently possible, according to Social and Family Affairs Minister Martin Cullen. The Irish Independent has reported that the Minister said that despite a Government pledge to work toward free travel for emigrant pensioners, the minister said:
“Legal advice indicates that it would not be possible to extend entitlement to free travel to Irish-born people living abroad, as to do so would be contrary to European legislation, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality”.
Labour Party chief whip Emmet Stagg, however, says the Government is actually opposing a complaint made to the European committee on Social Rights, investigating whether the current denial of free travel breaches the EU’s social charter. “The Government have fought against that tooth and nail to prevent them having to grant free travel. This flies in the face of their statements in the Dail, where they are saying the EU won’t allow them to do this”.
Older emigrants living in Britain may soon be getting access to free travel in Ireland, according to a report in the Irish Post. The newspaper reports that leading politicians have promised that the issue is being prioritised to be addressed when the Irish Government reconvenes after the summer holidays.
Emigrant advocates have been campaigning on this issue for years, and while there appears to be much goodwill toward the idea among politicians, there have been difficulties in implementing a plan. Last year, then-Minister Seamus Brennan attempted to introduce a provision that would have allowed for free travel for those abroad who were receiving an Irish pension; the EU Commission rejected the proposal as discriminatory. Currently residents of the island of Ireland are entitled to the free travel scheme once they reach 66.
Most campaigners want to see free travel introduced for all Irish nationals who have reached pension age. The newspaper quotes a Department for Social and Family Affairs spokesperson:
“The Government will examine the introduction of free travel for Irish citizens of pension age, particularly those resident in Britain, when visiting Ireland and press the European Commission to examine a similar EU-wide scheme.”
The paper notes the free travel campaign is backed by the Green Party, a coalition government party, and the opposition Labour Party.
The issue was one of those that loomed largest at the Irish Pensioners Consultation and Conference Day recently organised by the Irish Elderly Advice Service at the London Irish Centre.
Read the full reports on the Irish Post website:
Minister for Transport Seamus Brennan said that the Government was considering the introduction of a free travel scheme for the elderly and the disabled between Ireland and Britain; he made the comments as he revealed that the current peak time restrictions on the use of travel passes for public transport would be lifted. There was apparently no further discussion today on the issue of extending the free travel programme to emigrants.