Other Questions

Human Rights

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

39. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which he can address the situation in Qasr bin Ghashir detention centre in Libya at EU level; his views on reports from groups such as an organisation (details supplied) regarding the treatment of repatriated detainees; his further views on whether EU policy is problematic, especially the repatriation of migrants to such conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25169/19]

This question relates to the Qasr bin Ghashir detention camp in Libya. There have been reports from various organisations regarding the treatment of repatriated detainees. It asks whether the EU policy is problematic, especially the repatriation of migrants to such conditions.

Deputy O'Sullivan, who is keeping me busy today, raises a very worrying development. As she will be aware, the situation in Libya has deteriorated significantly in recent months and is extremely dangerous. She highlighted that, as part of the ongoing conflict, an attack affecting migrants was reported in April at Qasr bin Ghashir. There are conflicting reports on what happened but the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, has stated that 12 people were physically attacked and required hospital treatment. The following day, the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration, IOM, with the support of the Libyan authorities and the UN mission in Libya, evacuated 325 refugees from Qasr bin Ghashir to a safer location.

The EU provides support to the work of the UNHCR and IOM in Libya and their efforts to relocate migrants and refugees to safer places, both inside Libya and, where voluntary return is possible, to their countries of origin. The EU believes that detention centres are not a suitable place for migrants in Libya. However, political fragmentation and the fragile security situation in Libya limit the capacity of the international community to access all areas where migrants are currently located or to influence the situation on the ground. Ensuring an end to human rights abuses will require the restoration of political stability and a fully functioning government.

I continue to be deeply troubled by human rights abuses against civilians in Libya, including migrants and refugees, in particular, persistent reports of abuse in detention centres. The ongoing fighting around Tripoli is endangering thousands of civilians and putting already vulnerable migrants and refugees at further risk.

I agree with the UNHCR's assessment that Libya is not a safe third country for refugees and migrants, and that those rescued at sea should not be returned to Libya. It is not EU policy to send people back to Libya, but rather to disrupt the business model of smugglers or traffickers, so as to prevent further loss of life in the Mediterranean.

The final paragraph will be included in the Official Report.

Finally, can I just say because it is important-----

There are Members waiting.

All EU member states have called on the parties to the conflict in Libya-----

It will be in the Official Report anyway.

-----to implement a ceasefire immediately.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The EU has also reminded the parties to the conflict to respect international law, including international humanitarian law, and that those who violate it will be held accountable.

The reality is that people who are rescued in the Mediterranean are being returned to these detention centres. I have had questions and discussions on this previously. I have met NGOs, including Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF, staff, both nurses and doctors, who have been working on the ships and in the detention centres. In the centres, there is appalling abuse of human rights, starvation, malnutrition, rape and violence, and there is a lack of care. To add to that, now some of these detention centres are caught in the fighting between the self-styled Libyan National Army, led by Field Marshall Haftar, and the UN-backed Government in Libya. It is adding to the misery that they are now caught in the crossfire there, and we know about that particular case in that detention centre approximately 25 km from Tripoli. There have been conflicting reports. I merely want to stress the importance of getting accurate information and then, when we have the information, that there is action taken on that particular information.

There was also a report that some of the refugees were being forced into assisting the fighters. All that is going on is appalling. It is immoral, unethical and downright cruel to consign those so-called "rescued" from the Mediterranean to a worse fate by sending them to these centres. There are tens of millions of euro going into support the coastguard in Libya for the refugees to go back to those detention centres.

First, it is not EU policy to send refugees and migrants who have been rescued in the Mediterranean back to Libya. We do not regard that as safe. There was an understanding with the Libyan coastguard before the recent violence broke out in Tripoli but since then the functioning of Libya as a state, and the ability of it to protect migrants in camps, has been fundamentally undermined. The case the Deputy referred to earlier to which I responded is a fairly graphic example of that. There are concerns about physical and sexual abuse of both adults and children in many of those camps. It is appalling.

I do not believe that the EU's response in relation to what is now left of Operation Sophia is good enough. That we no longer have EU ships in the Mediterranean focused on search and rescue is not good enough but we could not get agreement on the continuation of Operation Sophia as was, mainly because we could not get agreement around disembarkation and the sharing of the burden in relation to refugees and asylum seekers.

We have on a number of occasions in recent months quietly accepted small numbers of refugees-----

-----from both Malta and Italy-----

-----be reasonable.

-----in relation to rescues but this needs a more fundamental solution from the EU.

We must move on. We have gone a minute over and others are waiting. I call Deputy O'Sullivan for a final question.

I draw the Tánaiste's attention to the fact that in the first week in June, there was a submission to the International Criminal Court relating to the current situation calling for the EU and member states to be prosecuted for the deaths of thousands of refugees and migrants who drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to flee Libya. It is difficult to reconcile what the Tánaiste is saying with the reality that millions of euro went into the so-called rescue training of the coastguards. That training left much to be desired because they were taking people from the sea and bringing them to these detention centres. In 2018, 2,500 drowned at sea. Perhaps that was the better fate rather than ending up in one of these detention centres which is a living death. It is against international law that one would return refugees to a centre that is in the middle of a war but that is what is continuing to happen in Libya.

I have stated in both responses that it is not EU policy to return migrants and refugees who are rescued in the Mediterranean to Libya now and I ask the Deputy to stop stating that it is. We do not control the Libyan coastguard. The Libyan Government is now, for obvious reasons, under some threat of violence around Tripoli. The solutions that were potentially there in the past are not appropriate now because of the level of violence and the exposure and vulnerability of refugees, and the inability of the international community, whether the UN or the International Organization for Migration, IOM, to support them. This is why the main focus has to be to end the violence in and around Tripoli so that we can get back supporting what are very vulnerable communities in many of these camps.

Foreign Conflicts

Thomas Pringle

Question:

40. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he is taking to address the latest death toll as a result of attacks on pro-democracy protesters in Sudan calling for the transfer of authority from the military to civilians after Omar al-Bashir was overthrown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24944/19]

This question is about the situation in Sudan, what is happening there and how the Government there is attacking the peaceful demonstrators. After an incredibly peaceful removal of the 30 year dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, the military junta now known as a transitional military council is refusing to hand over power to civilians. What will the Irish Government do in relation to that situation?

The recent political events and violence against protestors in Sudan follows over six months of demonstrations, triggered initially by the spiralling costs of living.

On 11 April, it was announced that President Omar al-Bashir had been removed from power and that a transitional military council, TMC, had assumed control in Sudan.

Demonstrators, while welcoming the removal of al-Bashir, continued to demonstrate for a civilian-led government. Final agreement regarding a civilian majority on a proposed 11-member supreme council was opposed by the transitional military council, and negotiations stalled.

Shortly after dawn on 3 June, heavily armed security forces surrounded demonstrators and shot indiscriminately with live bullets and tear gas resulting in significant loss of life. On the same day, the TMC announced that it was cancelling all agreements with the opposition and elections would be held within nine months. Demonstrators demand a longer period to guarantee fair elections.

On 3 June, the EU High Representative, Ms Mogherini, stated that there can be no justification for the use of force to disperse peaceful protests, and that the TMC is accountable for security and rule of law in the country. I also issued a statement strongly condemning the use of violence and excessive force against protestors.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council met yesterday, 17 June, to discuss Sudan. An EU 28 statement issued following the meeting which condemned the violence against protestors, including sexual and gender-based violence. It also expressed EU support for the African Union, which has taken a principled and robust stance to the crisis.

My officials continue to actively monitor developments in Sudan, through the Embassy of Ireland in Nairobi, and through the European Union delegation in Khartoum. Senior officials from my Department also met the Sudanese ambassador to Ireland earlier this year to discuss the situation. Ireland continues to respond to ongoing humanitarian needs through the provision of humanitarian funding, with over €29 million provided through our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners since 2012.

This is a very serious situation. There are many Sudanese citizens, for instance, doctors, in Ireland who are very concerned about what is happening there.

I welcome the EU statement yesterday in relation to the African Union and the establishment of a civilian-led authority, and that Ireland has supported the EU statement. What will the EU do to ensure that takes place and what additional supports can the EU offer to the African Union to allow it to broker that?

It is vitally important that this so-called government be removed. That is the only thing that can ultimately ensure the safety of the people and allow a move back to democratic control and a government elected by the people. I will be interested to see what it is actually intended to do over and above the making of statements.

I thank the Deputies for observing the time. The Tánaiste has one minute to reply.

I will try to respond to the question from Deputy Pringle. The African Union has demonstrated robust and principled leadership in response to the crisis since the transitional military council assumed power in Sudan on 11 April. It set 30 June as the deadline for the transfer of power to a civilian authority and on 6 June decided, with immediate effect, to suspend Sudan from participation in all African Union activities until the effective establishment of a civilian-led transitional authority. This followed sustained but ultimately unsuccessful engagement with Sudan in the weeks since the transitional military council seized control.

This decision was publicly supported by the EU in a statement by the High Representative. I welcome the appointment of an African Union special envoy for Sudan who has been tasked with mediating between the authorities and the opposition. The envoy attended this week's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, FAC, to inform EU foreign ministers about his activities. We will continue to support the African Union and that is the way forward in trying to get a successful outcome.

That is very welcome. I want to ensure that the EU is not carrying out any unilateral talks with the government and that it is going through the African Union. It is vitally important that a united front is upheld to show that this situation is unacceptable and that what has to happen is a transition to civilian power to resolve this situation. I also want to ensure that the European Union will support the African Union fully to ensure that happens.

The EU has made the judgment call here. As I stated, I was not at that meeting this week because I was in Belfast. The Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, was at the meeting, however, and I will talk to her about it. I do think that the judgment of the EU is correct. This needs to be an African-led solution and this is an important intervention by the African Union. Suspending Sudan was a significant statement in response to what was happening. The EU now needs to be very clear and unambiguous in support of the need for a civilian-led government and the facilitation of free and fair elections within the right timeframe.

Brexit Preparations

Lisa Chambers

Question:

41. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to mitigate delays at ports and disruptions to supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25182/19]

My question is to ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, as the Minister with overall responsibility for Brexit, about the plans in place to mitigate delays at ports and disruptions to supply chains in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

As I outlined earlier in responding to Question No. 36, a no-deal Brexit remains a serious concern and we are preparing accordingly.

A key part of the work across Government has been to put in place the necessary infrastructure, staffing and ICT capacity at the ports and airports to manage the new checks and controls that will be required on east-west trade in a no-deal Brexit. Work has been underway on physical infrastructure since last summer. Temporary infrastructure was in place and ready to be used in Dublin and Rosslare ports in time for 29 March. Given the extension of the Article 50 process, we are using the additional time to develop and refine this work further.

The Office of the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the HSE have all recruited additional staff. I gave those numbers earlier. Following a Government decision to prioritise no-deal planning last December, this recruitment was accelerated. Work has been advanced by Revenue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure that additional ICT resources are in place by 31 October. Ireland has also been working very closely with the Commission and other relevant member states to ensure the smooth functioning of the landbridge in all Brexit scenarios.

In its 12 June contingency communication, the Commission encouraged stakeholders across Europe to use the time afforded by the extension to prepare fully. A key part of facilitating trade flows is for businesses to put in place the necessary measures to prepare. The Government has put in place supports and resources to assist businesses in doing this.

Brexit, in whatever form it takes, will have a significant impact on Ireland. Government, businesses and citizens must make the necessary preparations to limit the damaging impact on our trade and our economy. We are determined to be as ready as we possibly can be, whatever the outcome at the end of October.

I do not need to explain how important the landbridge is to continuing successful trade and getting our goods to the mainland EU. That remains the fastest route to continental Europe, despite our best efforts to go direct. A significant proportion of our goods is destined for EU markets. This is, therefore, a significant threat to our economy and trade.

Regarding the work of the landbridge project group, which is chaired by the Minister's Department, will he give the House an update as to how the work of that group is progressing and what is the current situation? What is the situation with more direct sea links with mainland Europe and has there been any significant update since we last had questions?

I am just trying to remember what we discussed the last time we had questions. There certainly has been a major focus on trying to ensure that we can continue to get goods to and from this island via the UK landbridge. We have also discussed with shipping companies the potential need for increased capacity for direct shipping access to and from mainland Europe, if we want to call it that. I am mainly referring to the Netherlands and France. There is already significantly increased capacity this year compared with previous years.

The main focus has been on the international common transit convention to ensure that legal arrangements are in place. That will ensure that hauliers and businesses that are compliant and that follow the necessary procedures to be able to use the UK as a landbridge will be able to do so effectively. That is despite the fact that the UK will be outside of the European Union and, potentially, outside of the Single Market and customs union as well. We have also spoken to the French about trying to put the means in place to ensure the efficient disembarkation of Irish trucks.

There will be significant disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit no matter what we do. Our concern now is to mitigate against that disruption and to try to minimise the impact. That is particularly the case with our supply chains because we know that even a day or two of disruption could see empty shelves in respect of some products. That is a major concern for citizens. We know about the common transit convention and preparing for that eventuality. Engagement with the smaller hauliers has been less extensive than we would like. We discussed this at the Brexit stakeholder meeting.

Engaging with the small hauliers will be key to trying to minimise the damage that could ensue in respect of the landbridge in the event of a no-deal Brexit. If that does happen and the worst case scenario comes to pass the next day, have any discussions taken place at an EU level on perhaps having a grace period regarding labelling or a fast-track procedure for Irish goods? I refer to any kind of period where things can continue as normal for even a couple of weeks. Have any discussions of that nature taken place? How do we cope the day after a no-deal Brexit?

A number of these areas are EU competences. We rely on conversations with the European Commission on the collective contingency planning that the European Union does together. Many of the areas linked to trade require EU solutions and the licensing of hauliers is a good example. The EU has essentially stated that the current approach will be maintained for what will be a relatively short number of months. As long as EU hauliers are facilitated in the UK, then the EU will also facilitate UK hauliers. That provides at least a short-term contingency solution for hauliers who otherwise might not have been able to use the UK as a landbridge. These contingency plans, however, are not long-term solutions.

Ultimately, the medium and long-term solutions have to be negotiated politically. That is why we need to get back to ensuring that a withdrawal agreement can be ratified in order that we might create the time and space to be able to put this detail in place. While contingency planning by Ireland and the EU might deal with some of the issues, it will not resolve all of them in the long term.

Israeli Settlements

Seán Crowe

Question:

42. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to a matter (details supplied); if his attention has further been drawn to an advertisement in this regard; his views on the fact that the Israeli authorities are dismantling EU humanitarian aid projects for Palestinians, ignoring EU calls to put them back and seeking to make a profit by selling the EU-funded structures at auction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25100/19]

I tabled this question after I read media reports to the effect that Israel is planning on auctioning off two confiscated prefabricated classrooms that were donated to Palestinian schoolchildren by the EU. Is the Tánaiste aware of this issue? Can he confirm that it is the case? Has he raised it with his Israeli counterpart?

I am aware of the Deputy's long-held views on and support of the Palestinian cause. The structures to which the Deputy refers were among seven donor-funded humanitarian structures confiscated by the Israeli authorities in October 2018 from two vulnerable Palestinian communities located in area C of the occupied West Bank. The structures were co-funded by the EU and the West Bank Protection Consortium and were provided in order to address the basic needs of the population and to support children’s right to education in a safe environment as part of a humanitarian response mechanism.

Ireland joined the European Commission-led West Bank Protection Consortium in 2017 at the instigation of the Tánaiste during his first official visit to Israel and Palestine after taking up his portfolio. The consortium plays a leading role in supporting threatened communities and co-ordinating the provision of essential services to them, including material assistance and legal aid. Ireland’s membership of the consortium underlines our commitment to reducing the vulnerability of Palestinian communities living in area C of the West Bank.

Following reports that the confiscated humanitarian assets were to be auctioned by the Israeli civil administration this month, Ireland joined the EU and other consortium members in calling on the Israeli authorities to return the confiscated items to their intended beneficiaries, without precondition. The Tánaiste understands that the auction has been postponed. Irish officials in Tel Aviv and Ramallah are following this matter closely and are working with other members of the consortium to determine how best to pursue this issue.

The practice of demolition and confiscation of humanitarian assets, including education infrastructure, is contrary to Israel’s obligations under international law, including provisions of international humanitarian law and of the Fourth Geneva Convention. These practices also cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians, and impinge on the right of children to an education.

Ireland regularly conveys its views on these actions to the Israeli authorities, both directly and through the EU. I have done so myself on my visits to the region.

This is just one example of the daily reality of Israel's brutal occupation of Palestine. We all agree that every child should have a right to education and that states have an obligation to protect, respect and fulfil this right. Israel's apartheid regime in Palestine is clearly violating that right. Schools are invaluable safe spaces for children yet here we have an Israeli Government confiscating and attempting to auction off schools for Palestinian children donated by the EU. The Minister of State indicated that the auction has been put off. My information is that it has been put off for a month. That is the concern. It is not the first time we have seen Palestinian children being terrorised. They have been used as human shields in the past. Will there be any repercussions for Israel following the attacks on this EU aid? It is Irish taxpayers who are paying towards this. What is the next step?

The Deputy is correct that the primary concern is with the demolition and confiscation and the hardship and injustice that have been caused to Palestinian families. He is aware that I have visited the West Bank and seen the conditions in which many Palestinians are living. On the main issue of the Israelis' attitude towards the West Bank and the settlements, I am aware that the Tánaiste has on a number of occasions conveyed Ireland's deep concern and abhorrence of how settlements are being created and how the education system in the West Bank is being affected. When I went to the West Bank, I visited many schools. I met representatives of the Palestinians. I then went to Tel Aviv to the Knesset. I met representatives of the Israeli Government. I went there in my capacity of Minister of State with responsibility for research, education and innovation. I conveyed my dissatisfaction as to how people in the West Bank were being treated on behalf of the Government. The two ambassadors who work for Ireland in Palestine and Israel do a really good job in reminding Israel of its commitments to Palestinians in the region.

According to Haaretz, Israeli officials hope that the postponement will allow time for Israel and the EU to negotiate a solution and head off further deterioration in diplomatic relations. This sounds like a well-worn attempt to lure the EU into so-called co-ordination of aid delivery in area C. In reality, this would be subordinating EU assistance to Israel's agenda. Ireland must state that all Irish and EU assistance to Palestine, including area C of the occupied West Bank, is based on humanitarian law. Israel, as the occupier, cannot decide what can or cannot be given or where it can be placed. Applying permission in advance would compromise the humanitarian imperative guiding Irish and EU delivery worldwide. Can the Minister of State confirm that Irish and EU aid to Palestine will continue to be based on humanitarian need and not on what Israel will or will not agree to in advance?

Ireland provides development and humanitarian assistance to meet the needs of the most vulnerable Palestinian men, women and children. This aid amounted to €15 million in 2018. The funding addressed both humanitarian and development needs, providing emergency assistance to the most vulnerable while also supporting the Palestinian Authority in the public service delivery and civil society organisations and advocating for human rights. In 2019, we increased support to the Palestinian people and will include expansion of the programme of scholarships to Palestinian students to study in Ireland. One of the reasons I went to the West Bank on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills was to continue our support to the Palestinian people and the education system in Palestine.

The Irish aid programme also provides significant funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, UNRWA, in light of the current exceptional circumstances the agency faces. Ireland provided a total of €9 million for the UNRWA programme budget and its emergency appeals in Gaza and Syria in 2018, which is the highest contribution to date. Fundamentally, we have taken issue with Israel on what has happened here and we continue to do so with our friends in the European Union, who have also done the same.

Northern Ireland

Seán Crowe

Question:

43. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that thousands of persons marched in a rally (details supplied) in respect of certain mechanisms; and the steps he is taking to ensure that the British Government ceases stalling and delaying the legislation to give effect to these mechanisms. [25103/19]

I tabled this question after the Time for Truth march in Belfast on 9 June. Thousands of people marched to demand access to truth and justice for those killed in the conflict on this island. It comes in the face of continued stalling and delaying by the British Government on legacy issues. What is the Government going to do to ensure that the British Government stops stalling and delaying the legislation to give effect to these mechanisms?

The Government is aware of the Time for Truth march that took place in Belfast on 9 June and was attended by a range of victims' families and groups.

Officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade were present at the event on the day, and the Government maintains ongoing contact with many of the victims’ families who participated, in support of their efforts to secure truth and justice, often after decades.

The Tánaiste has engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework.

At the meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and in our bilateral meetings, the Tánaiste strongly emphasised to the Secretary of State the urgency of definitively moving ahead to a legislative phase to get the Stormont House bodies established.

This Government has also consistently emphasised the need to ensure proper resourcing of legacy inquests in Northern Ireland, consistent with Article 2 obligations. The announcement on 28 February by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland that the necessary resources will be in place so that outstanding legacy inquests will be heard, consistent with the proposals of the Lord Chief Justice in Northern Ireland in 2016, was welcome. It is imperative that these proposals are promptly implemented in order that outstanding inquests can proceed without further delay. The Government has also been consistently supportive of adequate resourcing for the Office of the Police Ombudsman in Northern Ireland which, under the current system, has responsibility for the investigation of relevant legacy issues. The Government will continue to engage to seek the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework, which will help to provide victims' families with a way to access whatever truth and justice is possible in their case. This will be an important step in achieving a truly reconciled society.

We all agree that "promptly" is the key word. Unfortunately, many of the families who are marching on the Time for Truth march have been trying to highlight their cases for decades. The Ballymurphy families are having an inquest 48 years on from the killings of their loved ones. This is wrong on many levels and unacceptable that families have to take to the streets once again to get access to the legacy mechanism agreed five years ago by the two Governments in the Stormont House Agreement. Victims' families have been waiting far too long and they are getting older. Their grandchildren and great grandchildren are out marching now and looking for answers. This issue will not go away.

It is welcome that families recently received notification from Mrs. Justice Siobhan Keegan that there will be a listing in September to set out a timeline to begin legacy inquests. I am relieved to see some movement in the journeys of some families but the difficulty is that it is not all families. We need to see full implementation and proper funding for the legacy framework. Will the Minister of State confirm that the full implementation and proper funding of the legacy mechanism will be agreed at Stormont House as a priority for the Government?

A couple of issues arise with regard to the Northern Ireland Commission for Victims and Survivors and the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies. The Deputy referred to the Ballymurphy case and if I have time, I will return to that. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, have received the advice paper on the legacy bodies from the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors, Ms Judith Thompson. The sharing of the commissioner's advice with the Government is welcome. I bring this up because it reflects the cross-Border nature of much of the legacy framework and that the families of victims and survivors have an equivalent interest in seeing an effective system in place for dealing with the past. The Government will consider closely the commissioner's paper as we continue to work with the implementation of the legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement as soon as possible, with the needs of victims and survivors at the core of our approach. The Minister for Justice and Equality and the Tánaiste met the commissioner on 18 April to discuss her policy advice and suggestions to both Governments on implementing the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework.

We saw recently the arrest of two investigative journalists, Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, who were involved in making the film "No Stone Unturned", which highlighted the collusion between British intelligence and the loyalist gang that murdered six men at the Heights Bar in Loughlinisland in 1994. The journalists were accused of possessing confidential documents. Three weeks ago, the Lord Chief Justice ruled that the search warrants used by the police were inappropriate. This has resulted in the criminal probe into the journalists being discontinued. The two journalists did everything to protect their sources and their prosecution was wrong. They have said that they view the PSNI investigation into their research of the Loughlinisland massacre as an attack on press freedom. Does the Minister of State agree? Does he agree that the PSNI and the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary should apologise to Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey, their journalistic colleagues and the Loughlinisland families? These are legacy families who are also looking for answers.

I am not in a position to say who should or should not apologise while ongoing negotiations are taking place between the two Governments. Deputy Crowe will be aware that advice has been received from the Commissioner for Victims and Survivors on the Stormont House Agreement legacy bodies. Talks are ongoing on all legacy issues, including the Ballymurphy, Kingsmill, Ludlow, McAnespie and Finucane cases. Consultations are taking place between the Government and representatives in Northern Ireland. In the next weeks and months, we will keep the Deputy informed regarding information we gather on legacy issues, including the cases to which I referred. That is a reasonable and fair approach.

Passport Services

44. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will consider reassigning some of the existing passport printing capacity from the Dublin offices to the Cork passport office to allow for the printing of passports in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25222/19]
47. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the benefits of procuring an additional passport printing machine for the Cork passport office will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25221/19]

We want the widest possible range of services to be made available at the Cork passport office so that people who need a passport in an emergency do not have to travel halfway across the country and back to get one. People must be able to get a passport in the Cork passport office as a matter of course. Has the Department reviewed this matter? What options are available to enable the maximum level of service to be provided to people living in the south?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 and 47 together.

The Passport Service, located in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is one unified service composed of three constituent offices located in Lower Mount Street, Dublin, Balbriggan, County Dublin, and South Mall, Cork. The Passport Service operates three passport printing machines, two of which are located in the main production facility in Balbriggan, County Dublin, with the third located in the passport office in Mount Street, Dublin.

Passport applications from citizens residing in Ireland and throughout the world are distributed for processing across the three passport offices. All passport applications are processed through the centralised automated Passport Service system. All production facilities can print a passport irrespective of the channel through which the application was processed. This printing system allows for flexibility between printing machines if any one machine has reached capacity. Each passport printer has a printing capacity of 250 passports per hour. The purchase cost of a new passport printing machine alone is in excess of €1.7 million. This does not include the cost of security, maintenance, technical fit-out, staffing and rental costs, which would bring the total cost to well above €1.7 million.

The production processes and administrative arrangements within the Passport Service are kept under constant review. The three current printing machines are meeting the Passport Service printing demands and have additional capacity. I am satisfied that the printing capacity of production equipment currently employed by the Passport Service is sufficient to meet current and anticipated future demand for passports. There are no plans at this time to commission any additional passport production equipment or sites.

Is it not the case that the Cork office is the only passport office that does not have a printing facility? Cork and the entire southern region are being placed at a disadvantage. The number of people travelling through Cork Airport has increased from 2.1 million in 2015 to 2.4 million people in 2018. People travelling to and from locations outside the UK accounted for the bulk of this growth and these people need passports.

People from the region want to be able to travel from there through the airports in Shannon and Cork. In the event that they ,have an emergency, they are forced to go to Dublin to get an emergency passport, turn around and come back or not travel from Cork Airport. If we want to have balanced regional development should we not be supporting the regions? That is laid out in the various programmes for Government. Would it not be more suitable for people in the south of the country to be able to get emergency and normal services in their local passport office, which is up and running in Cork? Has there ever been a review of the various options and if not, why?

Some extra staff and resources have been given to the Cork region. The passport service received sanction this year for 236 temporary clerical officers to be appointed to the passport offices in Dublin and Cork in accordance with the requirements of each office. Of these temporary clerical officers, 30 were sanctioned for the Cork passport office. In addition, 13 clerical officers have joined the Cork passport office's permanent staff since the beginning of the year. An assessment was carried out by the Cork office and it requested these staff. An additional 43 staff have been employed by that office. The indications are that the cost of a machine would be astronomical, €1.7 million. This would not include staff, security, maintenance, technical fit out of the machine and rental costs. That is why an assessment was made in Cork and Dublin.

In the context of balanced regional development, having counterweights to Dublin in places such as Waterford, Shannon, Cork and Limerick gives them an opportunity to grow. It does not all have to go through Dublin. A passport office is up and running in Cork. The Minister of State mentioned an assessment of staffing and processing applications. I am talking about printing facilities, making the full service available in the south so that people from Waterford, Cork, Kerry, Clare and across the entire southern region would be able to get that service locally and there would be a more balanced regional approach to it. Has an assessment ever been conducted of having printing outside Dublin in the Cork office? The Minister of State started the credit card printing facility in recent years, surely at that stage some assessment would have been conducted on where it should be done. If that has not happened, can there be a review so that we can see if it would be viable for people in Cork and in the south of the country to have the full service available to them?

There was an assessment of the requirements of the offices in Dublin and Cork. The office in Cork required 43 more staff, 30 temporary officers and 13 clerical officers, and it received them. Each passport printer has a capacity of approximately 250 passports per hour. The printing requirements of the office in Cork are met, according to the office in Cork, by the machines in Balbriggan and Mount Street, without any difficulty. If that is the case, the Deputy would be asking us to invest well over €1.7 million for a new machine for the Cork office that we probably would not need. We assessed the requirements of both offices and this is what they asked for and got.

People in the south would prefer to travel out of Shannon or Cork airports, and we want to see the development of the Port of Cork. In the event of an emergency passport being needed, however, the Minister of State is saying they will have to travel all the way to Dublin, get their emergency passport and come back, doubling their journey. In normal circumstances, people want to have a service in their own area. There is already a passport office in Cork. The Minister of State is from the regions. He understands the idea of having local services and balanced regional development. Surely this sends out a strong statement to people in the regions that they can have the full service and that they are not in the second position.

We have been assured by the passport offices in Mount Street, Dublin, and South Mall, Cork, that they can facilitate the issuing of emergency travel documents where there is an urgent need to travel, particularly for medical reasons or due to a bereavement abroad where the strict criteria for the issuing of such documents have been met. To repeat, we are basing the answers to these questions on the assessment made by speaking to the three passport offices, Balbriggan, Mount Street and South Mall about their requirements. They specifically stated they required 43 additional staff and they got them. We are told by the three offices that the facility to print passports is sufficient as it is today.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.