Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Passport Applications Data

Bernard Durkan

Question:

6. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the turnaround times for passport express renewals, first-time applications and online renewal applications, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40308/18]

I am seeking to ascertain the turnaround times for passport express renewals, first-time applications and online renewal applications, respectively.

I thank Deputy Durkan for this question. The turnaround timeframe for a passport application will depend in the first instance on the channel through which the application was submitted. The passport service provides a range of channels to Irish citizens who wish to apply for passports, including the online passport application service, the passport express system through the post office and the in-person counter application facilities in Dublin and Cork.

The cheapest and easiest way for an adult to renew a passport is to apply using the online passport application service. More than 50% of applications submitted through this service are being processed in fewer than four working days, with the remainder being processed in an average of seven working days. The online passport application service is a fast, secure and convenient way for citizens to renew their passports. It can be availed of 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the world. At present, the online passport application service accommodates adult passport renewal applications and passport card applications. The passport service is in the process of rolling out a similar service for the renewal of children’s passports by the end of the year.

The average turnaround time for passport applications submitted through passport express is currently ahead of target. Renewal applications are being processed in an average of ten working days. First-time applications are being processed in an average of 15 working days. This compares with the target turnaround times of 15 working days and 20 working days, respectively. We should not get lulled into a false sense of security on passports. This is not the time of year when the greatest pressure comes on the system due to increased numbers of applications. That tends to happen in the first and second quarters of the year. We need to make sure we have systems in place to avoid some of the delays and frustrations we experienced in the earlier part of the year.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. To what extent have passport cards become popular and useful for travellers? Do such cards achieve the same purpose as conventional passports? Have they been recognised internationally to the same extent?

They are becoming increasingly popular as people learn about them. It is more convenient for many people who travel frequently to carry passport cards, which are like credit cards, in their wallets. They are recognised across the EU. I do not have an exact figure for how many applications for passport cards have been received. The passport card is essentially an additional document to the passport itself. A person who gets a passport card should still get a passport.

One can use the passport card as a travel document for some international travel as an alternative to the physical passport, which is obviously bigger. The card is a welcome addition which a lot of people use, particularly those who travel a lot.

Does the Tánaiste have data on the extent to which the number of passport applications has increased, decreased or levelled off over the last 12 months, bearing in mind that applications always increase in the summer period? Are sufficient resources available to the Passport Office? I accept that there has been a considerable improvement in the turnaround times. Is it possible to ensure that this continues and that adequate resources remain available?

With Deputy Durkan's approval, I will allow Deputy Collins to ask a supplementary question.

I want to make a quick comment. It is important to give credit where credit is due. In this instance, it is proper to put on the record of the House the fact that the Passport Office has modernised significantly and has really stepped up to the plate in terms of being available through online platforms in particular. I thank the people in the Passport Office with whom I have had dealings. All Deputies were inundated with requests from people who were under pressure for passports but the staff in the office delivered. Often the applicants were at fault, having left it too late to apply but the Passport Office stepped up to the plate and that needs to be acknowledged.

I thank the Deputy for that. The Passport Office was put under huge pressure this year. My political office became a passport office for a large part of the year, with staff trying to get emergency passports through quickly. The system had to deal with that, which was not easy. Many other Deputies have also been pushing hard to get individual cases across the line and the Passport Office staff have shown remarkable patience and professionalism. We need to make sure that the system is not under that kind of pressure next year and that we take on a sufficient number of temporary clerical officers. We took on 216 this year for the peak season which is between February and August. Once we get the online system working for children, the process will be a lot faster. An awful lot of family passport applications got caught up in the manual system because it is not yet possible to apply for an updated child's passport online.

The other point to make is that the name of the passport postal service, Passport Express, suggests to many that it is the fastest way to get a new passport but that is not the case. The fastest way to get a passport is through the online application process. People should be applying online to avail of the really quick turnaround time. Our job will be an awful lot easier if we continue to see an increase in the number of online applications. It is a much slicker system with much faster delivery. The more people that apply online, the better.

Brexit Issues

Niamh Smyth

Question:

7. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of Brexit negotiations, particularly in the context of the Border region, including counties Cavan and Monaghan, and the possible reintroduction of a hard border. [40116/18]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

21. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a travel plan has been commenced in order to be prepared for the possible reintroduction of a hard border due to Brexit. [40117/18]

I ask the Tánaiste to outline the status of the Brexit negotiations with a particular focus on the Border counties of Cavan and Monaghan in view of the possible reintroduction of a hard border.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 21 together. As Deputy Smyth knows, the Government is absolutely committed to protecting Border communities through Brexit. Tomorrow Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork will see the start of a very significant Brexit roadshow involving all of the relevant State agencies. Stakeholders, including small businesses and business networks, have been invited to engage with State agencies and with me to get a better understanding of where the negotiations are at, where they are likely to go and what support, guidance and advice is available to them. We will be moving from Cork to Galway next week and from there to Monaghan, followed by Dublin. We may go to other cities including Limerick and Waterford at a later date. There will be a significant ratcheting up of communication and support linked to that communication for businesses in the coming weeks. There will also be a significant intensification of the negotiations to try to get a withdrawal treaty agreed and settled which will give us a two year transition period. That will give time and space to people and will provide certainty around citizen rights, the financial settlement issues and, of course, the Irish issues including protecting the Good Friday Agreement and ensuring that no border infrastructure re-emerges. The latter would have a very significant impact on many of Deputy Smyth's constituents. As I have said over and again, the Taoiseach and I will never sign up to a withdrawal treaty that does not deal comprehensively with the Irish Border issue.

I welcome the fact the Tánaiste and various Government agencies will be coming to County Monaghan and the Border region. I hope that business people take the opportunity to engage with the roadshow, particularly as there has been a very low take up of the small grant that is available to businesses for Brexit proofing. That is something that we need to promote further.

The Conservative Party conference this week saw the British Prime Minister double down on her Chequers proposals. The Taoiseach is meeting the European Commission today in Brussels to discuss the Brexit talks. As the Tánaiste knows, a hard Brexit would have a profoundly negative effect on the Border region, including counties Cavan and Monaghan. Indeed, we have seen the disastrous impact of the Brexit vote on business and industry in the region already. The mushroom industry has been blown out of the water and many agrifood businesses are dealing with huge uncertainty. We are seeing a huge loss of confidence in a region that has a high number of indigenous businesses. I ask that the Government engages in positive discrimination and focuses on the Border counties that are at the coal face.

Deputy Smyth will not be surprised to hear that the pre-registration figures for the so-called Brexpo events indicate that Monaghan is already ahead of Cork, Galway and Dublin. The event in Cork takes place tomorrow and huge numbers of people will be attending. I have been to the Border region on numerous occasions, trying to provide as much clarity as I can on where the negotiations are going and how we are going to protect Border communities and businesses. That work will continue.

What Ireland needs to do over the coming weeks is hold its nerve and trust in the negotiation process. Further, we must trust that the commitments that have been made to Ireland by the British Government can be followed through on in the context of an agreed and settled legal text in the withdrawal treaty that will protect the Good Friday Agreement and ensure that there is an insurance mechanism in place so that we will never have border infrastructure on our island again. We do not want to have to use that insurance mechanism and want the future relationship discussions to solve that problem comprehensively. However, people want that backstop in place to provide the reassurance that is needed. Hopefully we will be able to finalise that in the next few weeks.

On the basis of his talks with the British, when does the Tánaiste expect a more detailed set of proposals? What is his assessment of the viability of the backstop agreement going into these talks? As I have said, potentially Cavan and Monaghan will be hit hardest should there be a hard Brexit. At the risk of repeating myself, we have already seen the negative repercussions of Brexit in the area.

In the context of the roadshows to be held in Cork, Galway, Monaghan and Dublin, I point out that business people, by virtue of being self-employed, are extremely busy. There are never enough hours in the day for them. They do not work from nine to five but are on call 24 hours a day. I am delighted to hear that the pre-registration figures for Monaghan are the highest and suggest that there may be a need for more than one event there. It is important to engage with the business community and to make the relevant information readily accessible to people. I reiterate the point that the Border counties need positive discrimination in the context of Brexit.

Lest there be any confusion, these big, high-profile roadshows are not the full extent of what is happening in terms of Brexit preparations. Enterprise Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Bord Bia and local enterprise offices, LEOs, have been having advisory meetings on Brexit for months. Dozens of such meetings have happened across the country, including in the Border region. In August and September alone there were approximately 38 different meetings in various parts of the country, linked to Brexit advisory services and support.

Much of this work is taking place on the ground as we speak. Many chambers of commerce are also very engaged in this process, as are business associations in terms of their membership. We are raising the profile of these engagements to make sure SMEs that have not yet engaged are sparked into coming along. There is significant support available for companies. What we do not yet have is complete clarity on what the future looks like. This is why contingency planning is necessary while the negotiations continue. We will give as much information and support as we can, and this will continue in the coming weeks.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference

Brendan Howlin

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the role his Department will play in preparations for a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. [30646/18]

What role will the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade play in preparing for a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference? Will the Tánaiste indicate the likely items on the agenda for such a conference?

Meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, BIIGC, are prepared through the joint British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat in Belfast, which is staffed by officials from my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality and their counterparts in the Northern Ireland Office. The role of Irish and British Government officials, including those working in the secretariat, to support the meetings of the BIIGC is underpinned in Article 8, strand three of the Good Friday Agreement. The most recent meeting of the BIIGC took place in London on 25 July. The Government was represented by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and myself acting as co-chair. The UK Government was represented by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, David Lidington MP, and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley MP.

As established under strand three of the Good Friday Agreement, the conference brings both Governments together to promote bilateral co-operation on matters of mutual interest within their competence. At the July meeting of the conference, we discussed legacy issues, security co-operation, east-west matters, political stability and future meetings of the BIIGC. During this meeting, the Irish and British Governments agreed to hold the next meeting of the conference this autumn. Officials from across government, in co-ordination with my officials in the Irish secretariat in Belfast, continue to follow up on the outcomes of the conference. A date for the next meeting is being considered.

I will meet some of my counterparts in the British Government next week and I hope we will be able to move towards agreeing the date for the next BIIGC, which, in my view, is very important in the absence of a functioning devolved Government in Northern Ireland. We are very conscious of the areas in which the Irish Government does and does not have an input or is part of the conversation. Certainly in terms of east-west interests and relationships the BIIGC structure is very important right now.

In terms of the east-west relationship, does the Tánaiste envisage that issues regarding how the common travel area will continue to be manifested post a potential British framework for withdrawal from the European Union will be on the agenda of the Intergovernmental Conference, an issue to which he referred in response to previous questions? The Tánaiste has just been discussing with Deputy Niamh Smyth some of the practicalities regarding areas that are close to or on the Border, such as Cavan and Monaghan. As I am sure he is aware, there is serious concern as to what the manifestations will be. Most people believe the most significant borders and crossing points between various countries are ports and airports. Does the Tánaiste envisage these issues becoming a matter for discussion among the parties?

Conversations on maintaining and protecting the common travel area arrangements are taking place in any case. We have a team of officials specifically working on this with their counterparts in the UK. I suspect I will have to bring recommendations in this area to the Government if new legislation or statutory instruments are needed in this regard. The same goes for the UK. We have a clear understanding and agreement that both Governments can and will work together on a bilateral basis to ensure the common travel area survives Brexit. It was in place long before either country joined the European Union and it will be in place after Britain leaves.

At our last meeting, we discussed joint security concerns and issues and the need for co-operation. Ironically, it was just after or just before the appointment of the new Garda Commissioner, which was a very positive development in this regard. There will continue to be a need for discussion on the lack of functioning structures linked to the Good Friday Agreement. Both Governments are co-guarantors of the agreement and, clearly, many of its elements cannot function and are not functioning right now because of the inability to get an Executive up and running.

Does the Tánaiste envisage a joint appeal being made by the co-chairs of the Intergovernmental Conference to the parties in Northern Ireland, particularly to the DUP and Sinn Féin, to begin again the process of having an Executive and a functioning administration under the devolved arrangements? Does the Tánaiste believe legislation will be required here, in the United Kingdom and in the North, once an Executive has been reinstated, setting out the position on the common travel area post Brexit or in whatever transitional arrangements that apply?

The common travel area applies to Ireland and Northern Ireland and also applies east-west. Various Departments have to deal with the complexity of this with regard to social protection and other issues. The common travel area is not just about free movement. It is about Irish students who study in the UK having their tuition fees paid by the British taxpayer, just as British citizens who come here to study have their fees paid by the Irish taxpayer. It is about access to social welfare, healthcare and even voting in certain elections. It goes way beyond the ability to travel. Some of this was a very easy ask when we all shared the same Single Market and customs union, where there was free movement of goods, services, people and capital. In the absence of Britain being part of a shared European Union Single Market and customs union, if the common travel area needs to be underpinned by new legislation or statutory instruments in certain areas to function, we will have to provide that. Both sides have agreed we will work through these issues and if new legislation is necessary, so be it.

Human Rights

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

9. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the issue of the human rights of ethnic groups in Myanmar, such as the Rohingya, Kachin and Shan peoples, with regard to the referral of matters to the International Criminal Court; his views on the need for an audit of the peace fund; and his views on the need for the north of Myanmar to be included in the fact-finding mission. [40118/18]

My question relates to the issues of the human rights of ethnic groups in Myanmar such as the Rohingya, Kachin and Shan peoples, the referral of these matters to the International Criminal Court, the need for an audit of the peace process and the need for the north of Myanmar to be included in the fact-finding mission.

Ireland is not currently a member of the UN Security Council and is, therefore, not in a position to formally offer support on the question of referring Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. I met the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court last week and the case of the Rohingya is being assessed with regard to the potential for a prosecution. However, the findings of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar provide credible evidence that human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes have been committed by members of the Burmese military and other security forces in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.

The mission’s report also finds that there is sufficient evidence of the crimes committed in Rakhin state being so grave that they warrant a competent court to determine the liability for the crime of genocide of those in the military chain of command.

Having considered this evidence, Ireland would support the referral of the situation in Myanmar by the Security Council to the ICC. The Security Council is the only competent body that can take this step. However, given the political and legal difficulties that surround such a referral, our focus in ensuring accountability and investigation of the allegations is necessarily elsewhere.

We are working closely with international partners in other fora, including the UN Human Rights Council and the EU, to ensure measures are put in place to allow the investigation of human rights violations and that those who have perpetrated these crimes are held to account. Ultimately, longstanding drivers of tensions between the Buddhist majority and ethnic minority communities in Myanmar must be resolved in order to build a lasting peace. The work done by the Peace Fund in peace-building activities, including reconciliation and research, is to be commended. In particular, its work in capacity-building and supporting participation from under-represented groups is important in building a sustainable and lasting peace in Myanmar. I would, however, defer to the fund’s primary donors on financial issues, including on the question of an audit.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

It is important that any peace process in Myanmar extend to the entire country, as many regions have been affected by ethnic conflict. In that regard, I note that the report of the IIFFM as presented in advance of the recent 39th session of the Human Rights Council already included an examination of the situation in the northern part of Myanmar, in particular the states of Kachin and Shan. In addition, the resolution adopted at that session on Myanmar encompasses the entire country.

I raised the issue of the Rohingya for the first time in 2013. We should think about what might and could have been avoided since then. We know this is a question of political and social inequality and that the peace process, which is funded by the European Union, is not working. What has happened is that there has been an escalation in violence and military attacks on the various groups - the Rohingya, Kachin and Shan - because of their ethnic identity. There have been airstrikes and displacement, and IDP camps have been surrounded by land mines. There is torture, rape and arbitrary detention. Requests for safe passage have been denied. Humanitarian assistance is not getting through. Over 200 Christian churches have been destroyed recently. There are many examples of hate speech. It is all coming from a systematic, organised, ultranationalist government that is supported by some 29 political parties. Even when there was a fragile peace process involving the Kachin people, the agreement was violated repeatedly. It is time to acknowledge that the peace process is not working and that the funding could be better used. I ask that Ireland support the calls to acknowledge that the peace process is not working and the need for transparent, genuine dialogue and a process involving the people, including civil society.

I share the Deputy's frustration but it is a question of what to do about it. We are trying to use all the tools at our disposal, including UN bodies or the UN Human Rights Council, to exert an influence. I made it very clear that we would support a referral to the International Criminal Court. I made a direct comment on the issue to the chief prosecutor of the ICC in New York last week.

I share the Deputy’s frustration. The events in question should not happen. They should be predicted. Myanmar has been a divided country in terms of ethnic minorities, some of whom I visited in Kachin state when I was a Member of the European Parliament, long before I was a Minister. Even then, the brutality of the military towards indigenous minorities was a significant issue. We will continue to pursue the kind of agenda the Deputy is outlining today, and we will continue to look for fora through which to do that effectively.

The findings of the fact-finding mission, amounting to 440 pages, are extremely damning. Reference is made to "the most serious human rights violation" and "crimes of the highest order under international law". The Chairman said it was hard to fathom the level of brutality. This is about the credibility of both the European Union and United Nations. The Minister will be at the next meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers so the question of the peace process not working could be raised at it.

Also arising is the issue of Bangladesh and the repatriation of the Rohingya. A recent memorandum of understanding that was signed between Myanmar, Bangladesh and UN agencies involved no consultation with the Rohingya people. There was not even a mention of the word. There was nothing about restoration of citizenship for the Rohingya. The same UN agencies had previously been involved in repatriation in the 1970s and 1990s. This was not done correctly, which has led to the Rohingya being stateless today.

Our voice is respected, as the Minister knows. Ireland should be a voice of both the European Union and United Nations to stand up for the rights of these minority peoples because what is happening is ethnic cleansing. In 1948, when independence was coming, the authorities promised ethnic equality but it did not happen.

The Deputy’s colleague, Deputy Wallace, has requested that he be allowed ask a short supplementary question, with the approval of the Minister. This is customary. There are a few who know that. The Deputy has 30 seconds, and 30 seconds only.

On the issue of human rights, the Minister is probably aware that the United Nations Human Rights Council mandated an examination of the human rights situation in Yemen. It is very damning. It said that more non-military than military targets have been struck in Yemen. Those responsible are targeting food production, agriculture and animals. The latest tactic of the coalition of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, backed by the United States and the United Kingdom, is to starve the people of Yemen out of it. This is genocide. Are there any efforts being made in Europe to address the issue in Yemen, or is there any interest in Europe therein?

I was not expecting Yemen to enter the conversation. A straight answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". There have been numerous debates at the Foreign Affairs Council on Yemen, and I have spoken at some. It is a bit like the international community asking itself how it allowed the conflict in Syria to happen and develop in the way it did over the past four years. We are now trying to determine ways in which to reduce and end conflict in Yemen but making that happen is not easy. That is the reality.

With regard to the IIFFM, it did present its report in advance of the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council, including an examination of the situation in the northern part of Myanmar, particularly the states of Kachin and Shan. In addition, the resolution on the adopted session encompassed a resolution on Myanmar as an entire country. Therefore, there are many countries, including Ireland, that want to see justice for the Rohingya people, who have literally been driven out of their own state. The demand is clear for repatriation, in addition to protection and accountability for crimes that have taken place.

Northern Ireland

I understand that three questions, in the names of Deputies Burton, Brendan Smith and Crowe, are to be taken with Question No. 10, in the name of Deputy Ruth Coppinger. It is a matter for the first Member on the list who is present to pose the question so I call Deputy Brendan Smith.

Ruth Coppinger

Question:

10. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his meetings with Northern Ireland political leaders. [28834/18]

Joan Burton

Question:

27. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his most recent meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley. [38648/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

28. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the British Foreign Secretary and the political parties in Northern Ireland in relation to the urgent need to have the Assembly and executive restored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40305/18]

Seán Crowe

Question:

32. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his meeting with the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, in Dublin on 18 September 2018; and the specific measures he is taking to ensure the British Government fully implements the Good Friday Agreement and subsequent agreements. [40109/18]

It is most disappointing and scandalous that the Stormont Assembly and Executive remain in lock-down at a critical time in this country's history and at a critical time in determining the future of our neighbouring island. Has the Minister had any indication in his discussions with the British Secretary of State and political parties in Northern Ireland that they are trying with urgency to resume the talks, bring them to a successful conclusion and have the assembly and Executive restored to do a job they were elected to do by the people in the assembly election?

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 10, 27, 28 and 32 together.

Since the assembly elections of March 2017, the Irish and British Governments, as co-guarantors of the Agreement, have worked tirelessly to support and facilitate the parties in their efforts to form a new power-sharing Executive. Unfortunately, to date it has not proved possible to reach an agreement on the formation of an Executive, despite intensive engagement. The absence of the Executive means that the North-South Ministerial Council cannot meet.

I am currently engaging with Secretary of State Bradley on how both Governments can most effectively secure the effective operation of all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

I met the Secretary of State in Dublin on 17 September and we will meet again in Belfast on Monday next, 8 October. We have been in contact with all of the political parties to hear their views on how the two Governments can best support a way forward to get the institutions up and running again. All parties have reaffirmed their commitment to operating the devolved institutions and have provided views on their key concerns and issues.

In the period ahead, a new political process is required to get beyond the current impasse and secure the necessary agreement between the parties on operating the devolved institutions again. I do not underestimate the way to go in achieving that, but I firmly believe that a resolution is possible and that the calls from across all sections of the community in Northern Ireland for the devolved institutions to operate will be heeded.

The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of the institutions of the agreement.

I welcome the fact that the Minister will meet the Secretary of State next Monday on this very important issue. He said he would be in touch with the political parties. Can I assume there are no arrangements, at this stage, for the Minister and the British Secretary of State to have a formal engagement with the political parties represented in Stormont? It is important to send a clear message to all the people on this island and in Britain that we will not tolerate any abandonment or unpicking of any element of the Good Friday Agreement, as has been suggested by a political leader in recent days. The international agreement came about as a result of an agreement between two sovereign governments. It had multiparty support and was lodged with the United Nations. We need the implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement. Does the Minister believe urgency is being accorded to the issue of these talks by either the political parties in Northern Ireland or the British Government?

Both Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and all citizens expect equality of treatment. Part of the difficulty, however, is that the British Government is in default on account of its one-sided relationship with the DUP, which is propping it up. Theresa May's Administration has consistently refused to deal with issues such as rights and equality, which prevent a return to power sharing because that would require her to confront the anti-equality agenda of the people who are keeping her in Government. The Government will face a similar difficulty if there is an agreement on Brexit. There was an agreement with the DUP but, for whatever reasons, it did not go ahead and something similar could happen in the case of the Brexit negotiations. The negotiators may agree but they might not get it past the party.

The relationship between the DUP and the British Government is a matter for both parties. There is a confidence and supply arrangement and we have nothing to do with it. Nevertheless, issues relating to Brexit, all the issues in the Good Friday Agreement and any issues relating to the absence of devolved government in Northern Ireland at the moment are a matter for all the political parties there. We engage with all parties, on Brexit and on trying to find a way forward, and we have done so throughout this process. I accept that there has been growing frustration with the political inertia in Northern Ireland. We have to be honest with ourselves and admit that the cloud that is Brexit hangs over all our relationships at the moment and has made it more difficult to get a focus on the re-establishment of devolved institutions in recent months. Ironically, the opposite should be the case because Northern Ireland needs a unified voice from an all-party Executive right now in the context of Brexit. It would be beneficial for Northern Ireland and for all involved if that were the case because the views, the concerns and the fears, some of them legitimate, of one party alone cannot determine an approach to finding credible and acceptable compromises and solutions on the Brexit questions.

I gave the House a detailed explanation of what happened last February when we almost had an agreement on the basis of setting up the Executive again before it unravelled. It is the job of the two Governments, Irish and British, to put in place structures and a context that will allow the parties to work again in an atmosphere of trust, resulting in the Executive being re-established. We share the sense of urgency felt by others in this House about the need to do this.

Israeli Settlements

Niall Collins

Question:

11. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps taken by the Government since it first demanded compensation from Israel for the destruction of EU-funded structures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40301/18]

The demolition by Israel of structures belonging to inhabitants of occupied territory, including both Palestinian territory and the Golan, is in almost all cases illegal under international law, in our view. This includes structures provided by the EU or its member states as humanitarian relief in the form of emergency shelters for people or animals, schools, and structures for water and power supply, such as water tanks and solar panels.

Ireland is a member of the West Bank Protection Consortium, comprising nine EU members plus the ECHO Directorate General of the European Commission, which deals with humanitarian relief. Since late 2017, consortium donors have sought compensation or restitution for structures funded by the consortium or its members which have been demolished or confiscated. To date, there have been three such requests for compensation. Israeli authorities have replied that these structures had no planning permission. This ignores the fact that the Israeli authorities systematically refuse to grant such permission to local communities. The purpose of this action is to highlight the unacceptability of these practices, and to seek restitution for the loss to European taxpayers. The principle, rather than the money, was the main focus of the action.

I believe that it is right that the EU and its member states should consistently seek compensation from Israel for the demolition or confiscation of such structures. My officials have also pressed for this to happen at EU level. However, there is not yet agreement among EU members to do so.

In October 2011, Ireland and eight other EU member states, as part of what is known as the West Bank Protection Consortium, protested against the demolition or confiscation of structures on the West Bank which provided humanitarian relief from the EU and other members and formally demanded compensation from the Israeli authorities. We welcome that initiative and I would appreciate if the Minister would redouble our efforts in this area.

The Minister referenced planning permission and it is a reality that Israel rarely, if ever, grants planning permission to anyone within Palestine. Since the demand for compensation was made, almost a year ago, has there been any real progress? Will the Minister update the House on his engagement with EU member states on the issue?

In the course of the announcement by the Trump Administration to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, President Trump said, "This is nothing more, or less, than the recognition of reality." That has been widely interpreted, along with many other aspects of his speech, as meaning that his Administration's position on the conflict will determine the clear realities created by Israel, including the settlements. The settlements are proceeding, and with them the fragmentation of the West Bank and Palestine. Is there going to be an impetus from the EU in respect of these matters and the destruction of EU-funded structures? There seems to have been an absence of any such impetus so far.

I think the Deputy and I agree on most things relating to this issue. In our view the expansion of settlements in the West Bank continues to undermine the viability of a two-state solution. The issues around Khan al-Ahmar, a relatively small Bedouin community, are very significant because of its strategic location. The international community will judge interested parties on whether they are serious about negotiating a two-state solution by what happens in that case. The international community will watch closely to see what happens there, and it continues to appeal to Israel not to demolish that village. We need to work with all parties here to find a peace solution that everyone can sign up to. Despite the setbacks of the past 12 months, and there have been significant setbacks, particularly from the Palestinian perspective we remain open to talking to all sides to encourage progress.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.