Regular visitors to the Throne – how many posts have I begun with those, or similar words recently – will know that I maintain a keen interest in Irish politics and Irish affairs generally.
As a consequence this story from The Times, which was also widely reported elsewhere, came as something of a surprise, because I had never seen neither hide nor hair of it before in either the English or Irish press and I dare say very few other people at this side of the Irish Sea, except those working at the Department of Health, knew of it either.
What struck me about the subject matter discussed in the article was not the fact that our civil servants had somehow managed to pay too much to the Irish as our contribution to the healthcare of an estimated 50,000 Irish citizens who had previously lived and worked in this country and paid National Insurance contributions, but that we gave them anything at all.
And before I go on, please do not take my preceding paragraph as some sort of slight on Ireland or the Irish; it is most certainly not meant as anything of the kind.
What I do criticise is the fact that for forty years, British governments of both colours have seen fit to send large sums of money across the Irish Sea, which should never have been sent.
Quite simply, those fifty-thousand Irish citizens who came to this country, presumably in search of employment which they couldn’t obtain in Ireland, paid their taxes here in order to share in the benefits of the services those levies provided for the rest of us.
Similarly, their National Insurance contributions, paid to the British Exchequer, entitled them to medical treatment free at the point of delivery in British hospitals and doctors’ surgeries as and when they required it whilst they lived here; just as would be the case for people of any other nationality living and working here and paying their taxes like the rest of us.
However, in my view, as soon as those Irish citizens returned to Ireland and ceased paying our taxes and National Insurance contributions, they no longer had, or continue to have, any ongoing call on the services provided by this country for the benefit of its residents and citizens. In essence, those concerned paid for a form of insurance policy which was valid whilst they were living here; it was not and should never have been considered to be a savings scheme with their contributions repayable to the Irish Government on their return to the State. On any sensible view, once they returned home and stopped paying, the policy and the contract it represented should have been regarded as lapsed, leaving no further obligation on either party, and the Irish Health Service should have taken the strain.
Again, I don’t blame the Irish for this frankly unacceptable waste of (largely English) taxpayers’ money; they would have been stupid to reject what, as recently as 2007, was effectively a gift of 9,000 Euros or about £8,500 per annum from HMG for each and every one of those 50,000 people.
No, as I made plain earlier in this post, this gratuitous and frankly unacceptable waste of public money is the responsibility the successive British Governments who allowed it to persist unchecked for so long.
The time has come to cancel that particular national standing order forthwith, as it is not our responsibility legally, morally or medically to go on paying it.