Government could cut child benefit payments to EU citizens under new European proposals
The Government could soon be entitled to cut or restrict child benefit payments to EU citizens whose children are living abroad, under a plan tabled in Brussels today.
Under EU law, EU citizens working in Ireland are entitled to the same benefits as Irish citizens, even if their child lives in another member state.
But a paper published by European Council president Donald Tusk suggests giving EU governments the option to link child benefit to the cost of living in the (EU) country where the child lives.
The concessions were made to assuage UK concerns ahead of an in/out referendum on its EU membership, which British premier David Cameron has promised to hold before the end of 2017 - but which could be held as early as this summer.
Irish child benefit is now €140 per month for each child after the €5 increase in Budget 2016, but it varies widely across Europe.
More than 10pc of the Irish population was born in another EU country, the third-highest rate in the EU (after Luxembourg and Cyprus) - some of these children were born in countries like Poland and Latvia, for example, where benefit payments are much lower than here.
The plan would also affect Irish people working in the UK, who could be denied social welfare payments in future if the British government decides that its social security system is being overwhelmed by an inflow of EU workers.
Irish citizens are the second-largest group of EU citizens living in Britain, after Polish citizens.
The plan also offers more power to national parliaments to block EU laws, gives non-eurozone countries the option to intervene in eurozone proposals that affect them, and contains a commitment to reducing red tape for businesses.
The changes would only occur if the UK votes to remain in the EU, and have to be agreed by all 28 EU countries first.
EU leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss the plans on 18-19 February.