Simon Coveney, who also serves as the country’s Tanaiste (deputy to the Taoiseach) said his government will work to ensure that “Irish citizens in Northern Ireland continue to be EU citizens in all circumstances.”
Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Mr Coveney said that while Irish citizens in Northern Ireland are EU citizens, they will not be resident in the EU after Brexit, “which obviously poses challenges.”
He explained: “In terms of the rights of EU citizenship, we are working, and have been working to ensure certain EU programmes and benefits – notably, the EU Health Insurance Card.”
The free European Health Insurance Card ensures that EU citizens have access to state-provided healthcare during a temporary stay in any EU countries.
Mr Coveney said the Irish government “are working, and will ensure, that we extend that right to Northern Ireland. That will involve passing legislation here, and it will involve the Irish government, if necessary, paying for that insurance cover for citizens in Northern Ireland, in the same way as EU citizens would have.”
This marks the first time the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs has committed to pay for the insurance for citizens in Northern Ireland, which The Irish Times says is estimated to cost around €4 million a year.
Mr Coveney said similar preparations are being made around the Erasmus+ programme, to ensure students in Northern Ireland “can continue to benefit from accessing universities right across the European Union.”
“We are working to make sure that the practical benefits that come with EU citizenship continue to apply to people in Northern Ireland, and if necessary, we will fund that.”
Mr Coveney also addressed wider concerns about the status of EU citizens in Northern Ireland after Brexit, and said the Irish government is actively seeking the outcome of a review into this issue which was promised to him by Theresa May in February.
He said: “We do expect the British government will follow through on both the language and the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, in terms of ensuring that there are no consequences or disadvantages for people, of choosing to be Irish or British or both.
“People in Northern Ireland should not be required to renounce Irish or British citizenship in order to access an entitlement. This question has specifically arisen in relation to immigration rules.”
“Being Irish, whether you’re north or south of the border on this island, also means that you have the rights and privileges of EU citizenship.”