Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
64. Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will make free travel within the State available to persons with a part contribution Irish pension and delete the provision that a person must be permanently resident in the State from the guidelines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25087/02]
Mary Coughlan: The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years or over. It is also available to carers and to people with disabilities who are in receipt of certain social welfare payments.
The free travel scheme, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland concessionary travel scheme, provides free travel on cross-Border routes for passholders of both jurisdictions. This scheme applies to cross-Border journeys and not to travel exclusively within either jurisdiction. There is a commitment in the programme for Government to putting in place an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of this island. I plan to advance this proposal as quickly as possible over the term of this Government.
There have been a number of proposals for extending entitlement to free travel to people living outside Ireland, including the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants which was submitted to the Minister for Foreign Affairs earlier this year. At EU level a report, Towards a Senior Euro Pass, was commissioned by the social affairs directorate of the European Commission and published by Age Concern, England, at the end of 1997. This report recommends that EU states should establish a senior euro pass card which would entitle older people to concessions on various services, including travel, cultural and social activities. Developments in this area would have to be advanced at EU level.
The Deputy's proposal to make free travel available to persons in receipt of Irish pensions but living abroad will be examined in a future budgetary context, taking account of the other demands for extension of the free travel scheme, the cost implications, compatibility with EU law and administrative implications.
Dr. Cowley: This matter arises a great deal among elderly Irish people living in England who  are anxious to have this facility. These are the forgotten people who did so much for this country. They sent back more money to this country than the EU ever provided in equivalent terms. They feel forgotten. In the spirit of Article 2 of the Constitution, does the Minister not agree that Irish-born emigrants who return to Ireland, even on short visits, should have their previous residence status taken into account and should be entitled to free travel, especially as the task force has recommended that this should be the case? If students are entitled to free travel, I cannot see why old age pensioners, particularly our own citizens, should not have the same entitlement. Does the Minister agree that this matter is important for Irish people living abroad and that we should provide this facility?
Mary Coughlan: I am from County Donegal so I am aware that many people who live in the UK and travel home regularly would like to be facilitated under the free travel scheme. My first priority will be to provide for a free travel scheme throughout the island of Ireland and then, in the context of the task force report, to examine the provision of those additional services which people who live abroad are seeking. The Deputy made a submission in that regard and it has been taken on board by the task force. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is taking the lead in the implementation of the report. He is considering a number of issues, among them the issue raised by the Deputy. There are currently 27,000 people living abroad in receipt of a contributory pension from my Department. Although it is difficult to estimate the cost of providing a free travel pass, I am sure we will look towards implementing it in the context of the implementation of the task force report, in consultation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
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