Written Questions Nos. 152 - 174

Crime Data

Bernard Durkan

Question:

152. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the various forms of crime continue to be monitored and appropriate action taken to address trends emerging in all areas throughout the country, urban and rural; if he has particular or specific strategies to deal with the issues; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24699/17]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

153. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the various categories of crime have fluctuated in the divisions and districts in County Kildare in each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24700/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 153 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Central Statistics Office (CSO), as the national statistics agency, is responsible for the publication of the official Recorded Crime Statistics. These figures are published on a quarterly basis and I am happy to be able to provide the Deputy with a CSO summary table of the trends in the main crime categories in Ireland over the past ten years with this response. In addition, I have requested that the CSO contact the Deputy directly to provide him with details of crime figures in respect of County Kildare in each of the past five years.

As the Deputy will appreciate there are a variety of factors which may underlie the incidence of crime, including broader societal issues such as substance abuse and socioeconomic disadvantage as well as the activities of international criminal groups. It is clear, however, that the provision and deployment of policing resources is an indispensable part of our response to all categories of crime. The Government remains committed to providing the greatest level of support which we can to assist An Garda Síochána in dealing with crime and protecting communities.

The Deputy will also be aware that it is the Garda Commissioner and her management team who are responsible for the detailed allocation of policing resources to combat the incidence of crime and I have no direct role in such matters. However, I am advised that the allocation of resources is constantly monitored in the context of all new and emerging crime trends, the policing needs of local communities and the implementation of various operational strategies, to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

In terms of promoting best policing practice, the Deputy will be aware that the Garda Inspectorate has been established to ensure the resources available to the Garda Síochána are used to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness, with reference to the best standards of comparable police services. Many of recommendations made in recent reports by the Inspectorate are being taken forward as part of the Garda Modernisation and Renewal Programme.

A good example of the effective use of the considerable resources which the Government is providing can be seen in Operation Thor which has led to a steady decrease in the rate of burglary and related crime since it was established in November 2015. Indeed the full year crime figures for 2016 show a 30% decrease in burglary compared to 2015.

Underpinning all of these measures is the Government's commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country and to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians.

Crime - Recorded Crime Offences

Recorded Crime Offences (Number) by Type of Offence and Year.

Type of Offence

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Homicide offences

138

132

89

88

89

66

79

83

80

63

71

Sexual offences

1,415

1,366

1,406

1,480

2,366

2,014

2,116

2,009

2,053

2,348

2,549

Attempts/threats to murder, assaults, harassments and related offences

15,454

17,665

19,150

18,353

17,703

17,062

15,710

14,502

15,164

16,976

16,360

Dangerous or negligent acts

19,280

21,009

19,587

15,532

12,093

9,946

9,051

7,660

7,298

7,224

7,768

Kidnapping and related offences

81

106

77

146

134

109

101

124

124

152

119

Robbery, extortion and hijacking offences

2,486

2,171

2,299

2,491

3,196

2,931

2,817

2,806

2,647

2,577

2,096

Burglary and related offences

24,788

23,603

24,682

26,910

25,420

27,695

28,133

26,218

27,635

26,261

18,438

Theft and related offences

74,494

75,187

76,861

77,031

76,826

76,974

76,402

78,737

77,697

75,864

64,981

Fraud, deception and related offences

4,176

5,858

5,410

4,947

4,988

5,370

5,790

4,824

5,178

5,579

4,902

Controlled drug offences

14,219

18,553

23,404

21,982

20,004

17,695

16,450

15,372

15,915

15,090

16,119

Weapons and Explosives Offences

3,119

3,595

4,016

4,064

4,099

3,483

3,038

2,750

2,479

2,377

2,123

Damage to property and to the environment

43,582

43,284

44,626

42,330

39,369

35,573

32,428

28,913

27,394

26,049

22,267

Public order and other social code offences

56,615

60,583

61,820

57,351

54,941

49,060

43,861

36,453

32,639

33,276

29,158

Offences against government, justice procedures and organisation of crime

9,482

10,997

13,255

11,898

11,396

10,172

9,445

9,187

9,765

11,438

11,683

Crime Data

Bernard Durkan

Question:

154. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which crimes continue to be committed by persons on bail in respect of previous criminal activity; the extent to which multiple crimes continue to be committed in this fashion; the extent to which the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 plans to deal with this issue comprehensively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24701/17]

The Central Statistics Office (CSO), as the national statistical agency, is responsible for the compilation and publication of the official recorded crime statistics, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have asked the CSO to forward the available statistics in relation to the information requested directly to the Deputy.

It should be noted that the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 does not address issues pertaining to offences committed by persons on bail. However, the Criminal Justice Bill 2016 (changed from the Bail (Amendment) Bill 2016), which I published on 8 December last, will strengthen the operation of the bail system with the aim of making the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail.

Under the Bill, Courts will be required to have regard to persistent serious offending by an applicant for bail and the nature and seriousness of any danger presented by the grant of bail to a person charged with an offence with a penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment or more. The Court will also have the power, in certain cases, to hear evidence from the victim of an offence before a decision on bail is taken.

Where an accused person is granted bail, the Bill will provide for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, strengthen Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail, increase the use of curfews, and introduce electronic tagging for those on bail where requested by Gardaí. The Bill is due to be considered at Report Stage in the Dáil on Wednesday and enactment is a priority for the Government.

Prison Service Strategies

Bernard Durkan

Question:

155. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she has taken to ensure first-time offenders in prison are segregated during recreation or rehabilitative training from members of criminal gangs seeking to recruit new membership; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24702/17]

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that there is a standard operational procedure in place to ensure that upon committal, all offenders are assessed and accommodated appropriately according to their needs and specific security status. Dedicated committal units have been established in all committal prisons for this purpose.

The Irish Prison Service provides a wide range of rehabilitative programmes that include education, vocational training, healthcare, psychiatric, psychological, counselling, welfare and spiritual services. Every effort is taken to ensure that prisoners are accommodated appropriately to ensures that they can avail of as many rehabilitative programmes and services as possible.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

156. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the State has not taken asylum seekers from Italy under the relocation programme; the efforts that are being made to resolve this issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24704/17]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government Decision on 10 September 2015 as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa. Under this programme, the Government has pledged to accept a total of 4,000 persons into the State.

The Deputy may wish to note that under the relevant EU Council Decisions the relocation strand of the IRPP is composed of three elements:

- an intake from Greece of 1,089 asylum seekers

- an intake from Italy of 623 asylum seekers and

- an allocation of 910 asylum seekers which has not yet been assigned to either Italy or Greece.

Ireland will meet in full its commitment to Greece. However, as explained in responses to previous Parliamentary Questions tabled by colleagues, Italy, unlike Greece, will not permit security assessments to be undertaken by other states on its territory. Accordingly, Ireland has been unable to undertake security assessments on its territory of the asylum seeker cohort eligible for relocation to Ireland. It has therefore not been possible for Ireland to take asylum seekers from Italy. Intensive efforts are ongoing to resolve this, both bilaterally with Italian counterparts at official, diplomatic and Ministerial level, and at EU level, including through the European Commission. A solution may yet emerge from a recent meeting held in Rome between senior officials from Ireland and Italy.

In terms of the unallocated portion contained in the two EU Council Decisions referred to above, which in the case of Ireland amounts to  910 persons, Ireland cannot access this component until a decision is taken at EU level to allocate these numbers as between Greece and Italy.  It is understood that the European Commission are examining allocating this "unassigned" portion and if they do Ireland will immediately work towards relocating them. 

Ireland is doing everything it can to give effect to the EU relocation Decisions and what can unambiguously be said is that, should it be the case that despite all Ireland's efforts, the relocation mechanism does not permit Ireland to take in sufficient numbers of asylum seekers under relocation, then the Government commitment to take in 4,000 people remains and Ireland will take in these numbers through other mechanisms should this prove necessary.

Refugee Resettlement Programme

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

157. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons, including unaccompanied minors, that have been accepted here under the resettlement and relocation programmes, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24705/17]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) was established by Government Decision on 10 September 2015 as a direct response to the humanitarian crisis that developed in Southern Europe as a consequence of mass migration from areas of conflict in the Middle East and Africa. Under this programme, the Government has pledged to accept a total of 4,000 persons into the State. A breakdown of how this 4,000 will be taken in across the various mechanisms through which the programme is being delivered can be found in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Table of Total Numbers under Government Decision on the IRPP

Relocation Strand

Numbers

Council Decision 2015/1523

600

Council Decision 2015/1601

2,022*

Total Relocation

2,622

Resettlement Strand

Government Decision 09/06/15

520

Government Decision 06/07/16

260

Government Decision 29/11/16

260

Total Resettlement

1,040

Total Unaccompanied Minors Calais (Government Decision 10/11/16)

200 (up to)

Mechanism as yet undecided

138

Grand Total

4000

*Of the total of 2,022 under Council Decision 2015/1601 - 910 have yet to be assigned to either Italy or Greece by the EU Commission.

Arrivals to date

As of 15 May 2017, the numbers of persons that have arrived under both the programme refugee resettlement strand and the relocated asylum seeker strands of the programme are set out below in Table 2 and Table 3 respectively:

Table 2: Resettlement Programme Refugees

Total People

Adults

Minors

Age 0-4

Age 5-12

Age 13-17 Total People

Adults

Minors

Age 0-4

Age 5-12

779

362

417

120

230

67779

362

417

120

230

Table 3: Relocated Asylum Seekers

Total People

Adults

Minors

Age 0-4

Age 5-12

Age 13-17

459

274

185

70

82

33

Further numbers will of course arrive under the relocation programme over the coming months. Full details on the two primary strands of the programme are set out below for the information of the Deputy.

Of the 1,259 people who have arrived thus far under the IRPP (including unaccompanied minors), a total of 543 persons are now living in the community in various locations nationwide. It is expected that in the region of another 100 people will be housed within the community by the end of June 2017. IRPP officials are working closely with local authorities across the State and the Irish Red Cross to secure appropriate accommodation for those currently in emergency accommodation and all future arrivals.

Resettlement strand of the programme

Taking account of the situation in the Middle East, and the plight of the refugees, the Tánaiste announced that Ireland would accept 520 persons for resettlement over an 18-month period to the end of 2017. This was almost double the figure proposed for Ireland by the European Commission and was delivered a year ahead of the Commission deadline.

In addition, the Government announced last year that it was extending the resettlement programme to take in a further two groups of 260 refugees (520 in total) from Lebanon in 2017 , most of whom are expected to be of Syrian origin. The first group of 260 have already arrived following a selection mission last October and a further mission to Beirut in late March/early April this year selected sufficient numbers to ensure the overall total of 1,040 is reached by the end of 2017.

Relocation strand of the programme

Despite initial delays outside of Ireland's control in respect of the operation of the 'hotspots' on the ground in Greece, Ireland has to-date taken in a total of 459 people from Greece under relocation. A monthly schedule has been agreed with the Greek authorities which will sustain the pace of intakes throughout 2017 at the levels required to allow Ireland to meets its initial commitments to Greece within the time frame envisaged by the Programme.

Ireland has agreed to take up to 20 unaccompanied minors (UAMs) under the relocation aspects of the IRPP.  Fundamentally, Ireland's capacity to take UAMs is determined by Tusla, the child and family agency. 6 UAMs (by the Irish definition) have arrived in Ireland from Greece under the programme. However, relatively few UAMs appear to be available within the cohort eligible for relocation and efforts continue to seek further transfers within this cohort.   All UAMs that have arrived to-date are in the care of Tusla.

As regards Italy, the relocation mechanism from Italy to Ireland has yet to commence due to issues with the Italian authorities surrounding the security assessment of migrants assigned to other Member States. Intensive efforts are ongoing to resolve this, both bilaterally with Italian counterparts at official, diplomatic and Ministerial level, and at EU level, including through the European Commission.

The total target for relocation EU-wide in the two Council Decisions for relocation also includes an unallocated portion which in the case of Ireland amounts to  910 persons. These numbers have not yet been allocated as between Greece and Italy. It is understood that the European Commission are examining allocating this "unassigned" portion and if they do Ireland will immediately work towards relocating them. 

Calais Unaccompanied Minors

In a further gesture of humanitarian assistance towards the most vulnerable caught up in the migration crisis and following a debate in the Dáil, the Government also committed to taking up to 200 additional unaccompanied minors (UAMs) from France who were previously resident in the migrant camp at Calais. The Child and Family Agency, Tusla, which provides welfare and protection services for unaccompanied minors who enter the State, comes under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone TD. I understand that 21 young persons have been relocated to this jurisdiction to-date: 19 of whom are currently in the care of Tusla and 2 of whom have been reunited with family.

Following the Dail resolution on unaccompanied minors who were previously in unofficial camps near Calais, Minister Zappone asked Tusla to put in place the supports needed to coordinate its role in this effort. Tusla launched the Calais Special Project (CSP) and this is being led operationally by their separated children's team. I would note that Tusla’s separated children team also care for unaccompanied minors who arrive on their own and those that are being relocated under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.

The French authorities have provided assistance in meeting with young persons who were previously in unofficial camps near Calais and have an interest in relocating to Ireland. Tusla officials and members of An Garda Síochána carry out the interviews with the young persons to minimise the time required and any unnecessary duplication of effort. Officials of my Department coordinate with colleagues in Tusla in relation to immigration matters, ensuring that the unaccompanied minors arriving in the State meet the terms of the Dáil motion, transit seamlessly through their port of entry and receive refugee status. Further information on the operation of this initiative can be obtained from Tusla or my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Dr. Katherine Zappone TD.

The above initiatives therefore leave just a small residual balance to be allocated from the Government decision to take 4,000 persons.

The Deputy will appreciate that there are many moving parts to such a programme given the large number of state bodies and non-governmental organisations and agencies involved at both national and international level and not all aspects are entirely within the control of my officials. Overseeing a programme that touches on virtually all aspects of the lives of 4,000 vulnerable people is also a hugely labour intensive operation. In these circumstances, I am satisfied that everything that can be done within my Department to ensure the Government meets its humanitarian undertakings under the programme is being done.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

158. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the progress that has been made to date in 2017 in accepting unaccompanied minors from the now dismantled Calais camp as agreed to in a motion passed by Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24706/17]

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government committed to taking up to 200 unaccompanied minors (UAMs) from France who were previously resident in the migrant camp at Calais. On foot of the Government Decision, Tusla - The Child and Family Agency, which comes within the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, T.D., launched the Calais Special Project (CSP). This is being led operationally by their Separated Children Seeking Asylum team.

It is important to note that all of the unaccompanied minors that have been identified in cooperation with the French authorities as suitable for relocation to Ireland have been accepted into Ireland and provided with the appropriate supports. Under this initiative, I understand that 21 young persons have been relocated to this jurisdiction, of which 19 are currently in the care of Tusla and 2 have been reunited with family members living in Ireland. Decisions regarding numbers and dates for any future missions in respect of unaccompanied minors previously resident in the Calais camp are matters for Tusla to determine in cooperation with the French authorities and the best interests of the child is central to this partnership process with the French authorities. Tusla officials and members of An Garda Síochána carry out the interviews with the young persons to minimise the time required and to avoid any unnecessary duplication of effort. It should be noted that, from an immigration perspective, I have determined that programme refugee status will apply in these cases.

Garda Deployment

Willie Penrose

Question:

159. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the number of gardaí serving in Counties Westmeath and Longford to date in 2017; her plans to assign a significant number of new recruits in 2017 to each of these counties when they have their full accreditation from Templemore; her plans to increase the number of gardaí in counties Westmeath and Longford in view of increased populations in these counties; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24734/17]

As the Deputy will appreciate, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. I am assured by the Commissioner that the allocation of Gardaí is continually monitored and reviewed taking into account all relevant factors including crime trends, demographics, and security assessments relating to the area in question so as to ensure optimal use is made of Garda human resources. It is the responsibility of the Divisional Officer to allocate personnel within his or her Division.

I am informed by the Commissioner that, as of the 31 March 2017, the latest date for which figures are available the numbers of Gardaí serving in the Roscommon-Longford and Westmeath Divisions are 302 and 257 respectively. There are 10 Garda Reserves and 26 civilians attached to the Longford/Roscommon Division and 11 Garda Reserves and 22 civilians attached to the Westmeath Division. When appropriate, the work of local Gardaí is supported by a number of Garda national units such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau.

This Government is committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime. To make this a reality for all, the Government has in place a plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. In 2017, funding has been provided for the recruitment of 800 Garda recruits and up to 500 civilians to support the wide ranging reform plan in train in An Garda Síochána. Funding has also been provided for the recruitment of 300 Garda Reserves.

This plan is progressing apace. I am informed by the Commissioner that 22 newly-attested Gardaí have been assigned to the Westmeath Division and 5 have been assigned to the Roscommon/Longford Division since the re-opening of Garda Training College. I am also informed that another 600 trainee Garda are scheduled to attest this year which will see Garda numbers, taking account of projected retirements, increase to around the 13,500 mark by year end - a net increase of 700 in the total Garda strength since recruitment recommenced.

This focus on investment in personnel is critical. The moratorium on recruitment introduced in 2010 resulted in a significant reduction in the strength of An Garda Síochána. We are now rebuilding the organisation and providing the Commissioner with the resources she needs to allow her to deploy increasing numbers of Gardaí across every Garda Division including Longford/Roscommon and the Westmeath Division, in the coming years. To ensure a continuous pipeline of candidates a new recruitment drive was launched by the Commissioner earlier this month with a closing date of 1 June. The competition is being undertaken by the Public Appointment Service on behalf of the Commissioner and applications should be made to www.publicjobs.ie.

In so far as the allocation of newly attested Gardaí is concerned, this is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I am assured by the Commissioner that the needs of all Garda Divisions are fully considered when determining the allocation of resources. However, it is important to keep in mind that newly attested Gardaí have a further 16 months of practical and class-room based training to complete in order to receive their BA in Applied Policing. To ensure that they are properly supported and supervised and have opportunities to gain the breadth of policing experience required, the Commissioner's policy is to allocate them to specially designated training stations which have the required training and development structures and resources in place, including trained Garda tutors and access to a permanently appointed supervisory Sergeant who is thoroughly familiar with their responsibilities under the training programme.

Direct Provision System

Bríd Smith

Question:

160. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the alleged food shortages in the Mosney resident's shop over the Easter weekend; if persons donated milk and bread to the residents over the weekend; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24753/17]

Following from the McMahon Report and in accordance with the Programme for a Partnership Government, improvements in facilities are being implemented across all family centres. One of the key recommendations in the McMahon report was in relation to the capacity of families to cook for themselves and it is to this end that the system in Mosney was introduced.

Rather than a simple, generic system of providing meals though a canteen which has been the subject of ongoing criticism, the Reception & Integration Agency (RIA) of my Department has worked with Mosney management to introduce a new system whereby residents are in a position to select produce and food products in a food hall and prepare meals for themselves and their families. It is important to note that there is no charge to the residents for this facility. The points in use in the system do not have a monetary equivalent and points can not be purchased for cash.

This system is the culmination of a lengthy analysis process and included full consultation with a representative group of residents in Mosney. This system allows individual residents to choose those items they feel are right for their family. There are 600 products available in the Mosney Food Hall and it is open to any resident to suggest new items, which will be added to the stock, provided that a food source is identified that fulfils all food traceability and safety. All basic food categories are available and RIA is satisfied sufficient choice is available, even before the addition of further products, to allow parents to make healthy choices for their families.

While the Food Hall was closed on Good Friday and Easter Monday, (and it is normally closed on Sundays), this was flagged to residents well in advance of the closure and there was no shortage of food at any stage over the weekend. The entire system (including the opening hours of the shop) is under constant review and will be modified where necessary to meet the reasonable requirements of the residents.

Asylum Applications

Bríd Smith

Question:

161. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if she will report on the single procedure changes and provide a numerical breakdown of the different categories of persons being processed; her plans for fully implementing the single procedure; and if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the partial implementation of the plan is causing distress and confusion among persons. [24754/17]

The International Protection Act 2015 was commenced on 31 December 2016 wherein a new single procedure was introduced under which all aspects of a person's claim (asylum, subsidiary protection and permission to remain) are considered together by the International Protection Office (IPO) rather than sequentially as heretofore. The processing of applications under the single procedure and the 2015 Act has already begun and is being fully implemented. In this regard, the interviewing of applicants commenced at the end of January 2017 in respect of cases relocated to the State from Greece under the EU Relocation Programme and in March 2017 for all other cases. The issuing of recommendations commenced in February 2017 and a large number of additional interviews are being scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.

In relation to applications for refugee status and subsidiary protection that were made before the commencement date and were not finalised for processing by the ORAC and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT), transitional arrangements apply, which are set out in the legislation. A carefully planned and comprehensive process has been put in place by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) and the IPO to ensure that protection applicants and their legal representatives are fully aware of the Act's provisions, including transitional provisions, and how they will impact on them individually:

- Correspondence was issued by the IPO to approximately 3,000 applicants to inform them of the commencement of the relevant provisions of the 2015 Act and how the transitional arrangements would affect their applications;

- Applicants were also provided with an Information Note - Transitional Arrangements (IPO 12);

- Application for International Protection Information Booklet (IPO 1); and an

- Application for International Protection Questionnaire (IPO 2).

The information material is made available in some 17 languages, including English, as is the information booklet. Legal representatives on record were also contacted by the IPO about the new single procedure. A Customer Service Centre established by the International Protection Office may be contacted by individuals with any queries at info@ipo.gov.ie.

I am also informed by the Chief International Protection Officer that the IPO held a number of meetings with NGOs working with asylum seekers who are members of the IPO Customer Service Liaison Panel, prior to commencement and post commencement, to brief them on the arrangements for the commencement of the Act and for the notification of applicants in relation to the transitional provisions and also to clarify how these will be operated in practice.

A series of nationwide information seminars are also being held and attended by INIS and IPO staff to inform applicants in the Direct Provision centres of the changes brought about by the introduction of the 2015 Act and to deal with any queries they may have. Staff from the IPO have already attended two information seminars on the Act organised by an NGO in Limerick and Galway.

Regarding the breakdown of applications, as of 15 May 2017, there are some 4,497 cases on hand in the IPO which includes some 1,444 uncompleted asylum cases from ORAC which are required to be processed for the single procedure (asylum, subsidiary protection and permission to remain); some 1,888 unprocessed cases from the former Tribunal, which have already received an asylum recommendation from ORAC and which are currently under appeal and require to be processed for subsidiary protection and permission to remain by the IPO; and 275 subsidiary protection cases. The breakdown above relates to legacy cases and there are 890 applications for international protection cases which were received after the commencement date which fall to be considered in their totality under the Single Application procedure. The prioritisation of international protection applications for interview is provided for in the International Protection Act 2015 subject to the need for fairness and efficiency. Details of the International Protection Office's approach to the prioritisation of applications, as agreed with the UNHCR, is available on its website www.ipo.gov.ie.

Direct Provision System

Bríd Smith

Question:

162. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if asylum seekers are entitled to open a bank account by right here; the acceptable forms of proof of identity and proof of address for those residing in direct provision and other convention asylum seekers that wish to open a bank account; her views on whether clarity in this regard will allow asylum seekers and banks to follow transparent and fair procedures rather than the reportedly ad hoc and inconsistently applied arrangements that are being experienced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24777/17]

The Deputy will appreciate that it is the responsibility of the financial institutions themselves to decide, in accordance with relevant banking regulations and legislation, what they will accept as valid identification for the purposes of opening a bank account in the State. This is clearly stated in the Guidelines published by the Department of Finance on the Criminal Justice (Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010.

VAT Rebates

John Brady

Question:

163. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Finance if plans will be implemented to allow VAT to be claimed back on the purchase of public access defibrillators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24042/17]

The VAT rating of goods and services is subject to EU VAT law, with which Irish VAT law must comply. In accordance with the EU VAT Directive 2016, defibrillators, other than implantable defibrillators, are liable to VAT at the standard rate of 23%.

The EU VAT Directive provides, in general, that all goods and services are liable to VAT at the standard rate unless they fall within particular categories of goods and services specified in the Directive, in respect of which Member States may apply a lower VAT rate or an exemption from VAT. The supply of a defibrillator is not included in any of those categories of goods and therefore there is no discretion for Ireland to remove VAT from that supply.

We recognise the difficulties faced by community groups in relation to VAT rates on certain products (e.g. defibrillators). While this is an EU competency we will work with our EU counterparts in seeking to reform this area.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Niall Collins

Question:

164. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Finance if his Department has submitted proposals to the EIB or the European Commission to deploy financial instruments that would provide loan facilities for SMEs. [24073/17]

The Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland is Ireland’s National Promotional Institution; its strategic mission is to deliver effective financial supports to Irish SMEs that address failures in the Irish credit market, while driving competition and innovation and ensuring the efficient use of available EU resources. The European Investment Bank (EIB Group) was one of the SBCI’s initial funders and there are two funding agreements in place between the EIB and the SBCI for a total of €400 million. The SBCI now has a funding capacity of over €1 billion to support Irish SMEs investing in and growing their businesses.

 As announced in Budget 2017, the Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme was launched by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in conjunction with the SBCI in February 2017. It was funded by €11 million of EU exceptional adjustment aid, funding from the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and was supported by SBCI capital as well as a €100 million COSME Counter Guarantee Facility from the EIF. The Agriculture Cashflow Support Loan Scheme was the first SBCI risk-sharing product and was intended as a proof of concept. Its success will allow the SBCI to pursue further risk sharing schemes and continue its partnership with the EIF.

 The SBCI is currently working to diversify its business model and engage in more risk sharing activity. This approach will allow the SBCI to develop new and innovative products and address market requirements. Risk sharing by the SBCI will be carried out both using European Financial Instruments as well as the Credit Guarantee Scheme.  The SBCI is currently in communication with the EIB regarding the use of structural funds along with EU Financial Instruments though the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI).  The SBCI is also currently engaging with various Government Departments and agencies to explore and develop further products that optimise funding available, from both European and domestic sources, to benefit Irish SMEs.

Brexit Issues

Niall Collins

Question:

165. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Finance his views on the latest EIB group survey on investment and investment finance published on 10 April 2017 and the way in which firms here were the most concerned with regard to Brexit having a negative impact at over 40%. [24077/17]

Niall Collins

Question:

166. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Finance his views on the latest EIB group survey on investment and investment finance published on 10 April 2017 and the way in which SMEs here face higher funding costs and greater collateral demands than most EU member states while also having the most constraints for companies seeking external funding. [24078/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 165 and 166 together.

I would draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that while according to the latest EIB Group Survey, 13% of firms in Ireland can be considered finance constrained, Ireland does not have the highest proportion in the EU as reported in the same survey.

I acknowledge that SMEs are concerned about the negative impact of Brexit on their business, my Department’s biannual SME Credit Demand Survey found that 57% of SMEs believe that Brexit will have a negative impact on their business. Also, a recent survey by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation “Brexit – the view of Irish SMEs” found that 51% of SMEs felt that Brexit had an impact on their business.

The Government has introduced a number of measures in Budget 2017 in response to Brexit and is committed to the establishment of a “rainy day fund” and a new lower debt to GDP target to ensure the public finances can withstand any negative impacts from Brexit and other economic shocks. In terms of specific measures for SMEs the 2017 Action Plan for Jobs contains 20 specific actions to mitigate against the likely impact of Brexit for Ireland.

Also, the SME State Bodies Group chaired by my Department provides a forum for the development and implementation of policy measures to enhance SMEs' access to a stable and appropriate supply of finance, and is currently examining a number of Brexit mitigation measures.

In terms of borrowing costs, the most recent published Department of Finance SME Credit Demand Survey, covering the period April to September 2016, reports only 1% of the SMEs that did not seek credit stating this was because it was too expensive to borrow. The same survey also showed that, among those SMEs with outstanding loans, the average claimed cost of credit across all outstanding loans was 3.2% down from 4.8% in March 2016. When asked for the reason SMEs did not borrow, 86% of firms reported they did not need to borrow.

Notwithstanding these results the Government is conscious that the SME credit market is highly concentrated. In order to help address this issue, the Government established the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland (SBCI). Its purpose is to make sustainable, flexible and appropriately priced finance available to viable Irish SMEs and support investment in them that encourages growth and facilitates employment across the whole country.

The SBCI uses an on-lending model; this means it does not lend directly to SMEs, rather it lends through partner financial institutions known as on-lenders. The SBCI currently has eight on-lending partners, three bank and five non-bank. The SBCI is seeking to broaden its distribution capability and market coverage by adding new on-lenders and working to develop innovative products, thereby serving to drive competition in the SME finance market.

Insurance Coverage

Dara Calleary

Question:

167. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Finance if insurance companies can refuse persons over 75 years of age [24543/17]

I understand following consultation with the Deputy's office that it is the provision of motor insurance specifically which is being referred to in this question.

As Minister for Finance, I am responsible for the development of the legal framework governing financial regulation.   Neither I nor the Central Bank of Ireland can interfere in the provision or pricing of insurance products, as these matters are of a commercial nature, and are determined by insurance companies based on an assessment of the risks they are willing to accept.  This position is reinforced by the EU framework for insurance which expressly prohibits Member States from adopting rules which require insurance companies to obtain prior approval of the pricing or terms and conditions of insurance products.  Consequently, I am not in a position to direct insurance companies as to the pricing level that they should apply to particular categories of individuals. 

I am advised that insurers use a combination of rating factors in making their individual decisions on whether to offer cover and what terms to apply.  These terms can include, for example, the age of the driver, the type and age of car, the claims record, driving experience and penalty points of the driver, the number of drivers and how the car is used.  My understanding is that insurers do not all use the same combination of rating factors, and as a result prices and availability of cover varies across the market. In addition, insurance companies will price in accordance with their own past claims experience.

There are two other points that the Deputy should note:

(i) the prohibition of discrimination in the provision of goods or services on the basis of age is enshrined in law through the Equal Status Act 2000, and

(ii) Clause 5 of the 2002 Declined Cases Supplemental Agreement - which amended the original 1981 agreement made between the insurance industry and the then Minister for Industry, Commerce and Tourism - imposes upon motor insurance providers an obligation that “no Insurer shall decline a risk on grounds of age of driver alone”.  

Finally, you should be aware that Insurance Ireland operates a free Insurance Information Service for those who have queries, complaints or difficulties in relation to obtaining insurance.  Insurance Ireland can be contacted at feedback@insuranceireland.eu or 01-6761914.

Disabled Drivers Grant Eligibility

Michael Ring

Question:

168. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Finance if he will review an application under the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme for a person (details supplied) in view of the fact that the term family member is not defined in the legislation governing the scheme. [24033/17]

I am advised by Revenue that the person concerned does not qualify under the Drivers/Passengers with Disabilities Scheme as she is not a family member of the person with the disability and does not reside with that person. In order to qualify under the scheme, the applicant must be a family member who resides with the person with the disability and must be responsible for their care and transportation.

If the person concerned is dissatisfied with Revenue’s decision in relation to her application, she has the option of lodging an appeal under Section 145 & 146 of the Finance Act 2001 by writing to Revenue’s Central Repayments Office, MTEK Building, Armagh Road, Monaghan.

Tax Rebates

Brendan Griffin

Question:

169. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if he will approve the retention of €1,500 hybrid VRT rebate until 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24051/17]

As the Deputy will be aware, it is a longstanding practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment, in advance of the Budget, on any tax matters that might be the subject of Budget decisions.

VAT Rebates

Brendan Griffin

Question:

170. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance his plans to allow a VAT rebate on petrol and diesel fuel for companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24053/17]

Irish VAT law does not provide for a VAT rebate for diesel or petrol.  The different treatment of VAT as regards petrol and diesel relates to the VAT input deductibility entitlement of VAT registered taxpayers. 

Businesses who make supplies that are charged to VAT are entitled to claim input VAT on their business expenses.  VAT registered persons are entitled to claim the cost of VAT on the purchase of diesel used in the course of their business, as is the case with most business costs. 

However, section 60 of the VAT Consolidation Act 2010 prohibits VAT deductibility by businesses on certain goods and services which, by their ubiquitous nature, are not easily distinguishable from general non-business use.  This is for anti-avoidance reasons.

Expenditure on petrol, as well expenditure on food, drink, accommodation, and entertainment is specifically excluded from deductibility entitlement, even where the petrol or other goods and services are acquired or used for the purpose of a taxable business. 

Under Article 176 of the EU VAT Directive, Ireland can retain certain restrictions on VAT deductibility that were in place before 1979.   As VAT input deductibility has been restricted on petrol since 1972 Ireland can retain that block on deductibility. While it is legally possible to apply the normal rules of VAT deductibility to petrol, once the block on deductibility is eased or removed it would not be possible to reintroduce it.   There is a case for petrol and diesel to be treated equally in terms of input deductibility entitlements as there is a greater level of diesel run personal motor vehicles in operation today than in the past.  However, the provisions of Article 176 prohibit the application of a new deductibility restriction on diesel expenditure.  As the anti-avoidance concerns regarding petrol expenditure deductibility continue, the restriction on VAT deductibility remains valid.

A Low Emissions Vehicle Taskforce has been established further to a commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government and is considering a number of options to incentivise the uptake of low emissions vehicles and one of the issues being examined is the potential refund of VAT on petrol.  At this stage work of the group is ongoing.

Pension Levy

Seán Haughey

Question:

171. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Finance the reason a pension levy is imposed on certain pensions; the way in which the proceeds from this levy are spent; his plans to abolish this levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24055/17]

I take it the Deputy is referring to the stamp duty levies applying to the assets of funded pension arrangements introduced in 2011 to pay for the Jobs Initiative, the chargeable persons for which are the trustees of pension schemes and others responsible for the management of pension fund assets.

The stamp duty levy on pension schemes was introduced in the wake of the financial crash and at a time when the economy was in very serious difficulties. Something had to be done to preserve and boost jobs and it is an unavoidable fact that difficult economic situations require hard and very often unpopular decisions. All sectors of the economy had to contribute to the recovery plan and the levy was designed to claw back a small amount of the very generous tax reliefs that those contributing to pension arrangements had benefitted from over many years.

The original 0.6% stamp duty levy on pension fund assets ended in 2014. The additional levy of 0.15% which I introduced for 2014 and 2015, mainly to help continue to fund Jobs Initiative, also ended in 2015.

The position is that the equivalent value of all of the money raised from the stamp duty levy has been used to fund the wide range of measures introduced in the Jobs Initiative to protect existing jobs and to help create new jobs and the Initiative has been a success in this regard. The measures introduced include expenditure measures such as the JobBridge and Springboard schemes, as well as a number of tax and PRSI incentives such as the reduction in the VAT rate from 13.5% to 9% for the tourism and hospitality sectors and the temporary halving of the lower employer PRSI rate.

The value of the funds raised by way of the levy have been used to protect and create jobs and this has helped to create the improving financial and economic position of the State. Taxpayers to whom the impact of the levy may have been passed on by the chargeable persons responsible for the payment of the levy (the pension scheme trustees, etc.) will benefit from the changes which I began in Budget 2015 and which have continued in subsequent Budgets to reduce the tax burden on low and middle income earners.

Tax Code

Brendan Griffin

Question:

172. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if he will include hybrid in any BIK reduction to incentivise the move to low emission vehicles or other soft incentives that may be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24057/17]

As the Deputy will be aware, it is a longstanding practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment, in advance of the Budget, on any tax matters that might be the subject of Budget decisions.

VAT Rebates

Brendan Griffin

Question:

173. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance the additional cost to the Exchequer to provide a VAT rebate on petrol powered company cars; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24058/17]

I am informed by Revenue that the information available to Revenue does not allow petrol cars purchased by businesses as company cars to be separately identified on tax records. Therefore, it is not possible to furnish an estimate of the cost to the Exchequer of the scheme suggested by the Deputy.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Niall Collins

Question:

174. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Finance the number of SME loans given by financial institutions in 2016; the number of these that were non-performing; the value in monetary terms; and the number of SME loan requests that were refused in 2016. [24074/17]

The Department of Finance does not have access to loan or firm level credit data. However, the Central Bank of Ireland’s SME Market Report which is published on their website aims to collate information from a range of internal and external sources to give an up-to-date picture of developments in the Irish small and medium enterprise (SME) credit market.

The report provides information on credit demand, credit access, loan terms and conditions, loan default, interest rates and credit market concentration. The report is released twice yearly. The Central Bank also publishes a quarterly statistical release entitled Trends in Business Credit and Deposits.

According to the latest report gross new lending to non-financial SMEs totalled €4.6 billion in 2016 representing a 35% increase on 2015.

In relation to non-performing loans, the Central Bank reported that SME default rates have consistently fallen. By share of outstanding balances, the default rate has declined from 41 per cent in 2013 to 24 per cent in June 2016. Overall SME debt has fallen considerably and declined for the 21st consecutive quarter in Q4 2016 to stand at €28.1 billion. This represented an annual decrease of 11.7 per cent.

With regard to rejection rates, the latest Department of Finance SME Credit Demand Survey for the period April to September 2016 reported that 16% of SMEs that applied for credit were rejected. It should be noted that only 23% of SMEs applied for credit during that period.