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Proposed restrictions on EU migrant workers may be illegal

25 February, 2004

Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has called on the Government to reconsider its decision to restrict the access of migrant workers from EU accession states to the benefits of social protections in view of the EU Commission's concerns that such measures may be illegal.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said:

"The EU Commission has stated that the Government's plan may not be compatible with EU law, as it may contravene EU rules on non-discrimination on the grounds of nationality because the restrictions will only apply to citizens of new member states. If so, and certainly if the Government decision violates Article 21 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, it should be reversed. The Government should show more leadership in the EU at this crucial time.

"The Government's plan is unjust. It is hypocritical when you consider the standards by which it expects other countries to abide in their treatment of Irish migrants. It is a betrayal of the hopes for welcome and for equal treatment of the accession states. It goes totally against the idea of a Europe of Equals. It will sour the whole atmosphere of the May enlargement.

"It also represents a politically opportunist and irresponsible U-turn on the position they promoted when they were trying to sell Nice back to the people in the 2002 referendum re-run. At that time the Government rightly argued that we would not be swamped by migrants following enlargement, citing the experience of the 1986 accession which instead prompted a net return of migrant workers to Spain and Portugal as a result of economic improvements. Now, in a pre-election period, the Government is pandering to an accelerating unfounded xenophobic panic about so-called benefit tourism being whipped up to gain votes and sell news. I urge the Cabinet to come to its senses and show some proper leadership in the EU ? if they are capable of this." ENDS

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