Departmental Staff Remuneration

Questions (142)

Seán Fleming

Question:

142. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the number of public servants employed in his Department on a lower pay scale to their colleagues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21828/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

There are currently four Administrative Officers and three Executive Officers (one part-time) that are on a lower pay scale to their colleagues in my Department. This is in line with Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circulars 18/2010 and 2/2014.

Departmental Legal Cases Data

Questions (143)

Seán Fleming

Question:

143. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the number of legal cases that have been served against his Department arising from disputes regarding pay and conditions of public servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21840/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

No legal cases have been served against my Department arising from disputes regarding pay and conditions of public servants.

Departmental Staff Data

Questions (144)

Seán Fleming

Question:

144. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Taoiseach the current average age of full-time public service staff in his Department; the way this compares with the average age of public servants in each year from 2010 to 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21851/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

The National Economic and Social Development Office (NESDO) is the body corporate for the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), the only State Agency under the aegis of my Department.

The average age of full time public service staff in NESDO for the years 2010 to 2013 is summarised in the following table.

Year

2013

2012

2011

2010

Average Age

48

47

46

45

Foreign Policy

Questions (145)

Colm Keaveney

Question:

145. Deputy Colm Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has initiated any study or briefing paper into the likely consequences for Ireland if Scotland should vote for independence in the referendum to be held on 18 September 2014; if he will provide details of same; the consequences Scottish independence would have for Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21350/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The people of Scotland will vote in a referendum on 18 September 2014 on the question: ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ That question is one which the people of Scotland, and they alone, should decide. I do not believe it would be appropriate for the Government to comment, therefore, on issues which at this stage are hypothetical, especially where comment might be perceived as an intervention in the debate. A decision in favour of independence would of course have both political and policy implications for Ireland, reshaping our relations with Scotland as well as relations within the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Our Embassy in London and Consulate General in Edinburgh are monitoring the debate very closely and my Department is assessing the issues arising and the policy implications for Ireland on an ongoing basis.

Departmental Bodies

Questions (146)

Seán Fleming

Question:

146. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of commercial semi-State companies under the aegis of his Department; the current value of the pension fund assets held by each commercial semi-State company; the latest funding position of each; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20906/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There are no commercial semi-State companies under the aegis of my Department.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (147)

Andrew Doyle

Question:

147. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide the full details regarding the upcoming rotation of ambassadors of Ireland and consuls general concerning 36 appointments that were approved on 6 May 2014; if he will provide in tabular form the rotations that will take place in each embassy of Ireland and consulate general; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21161/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

At its meeting of 6 May 2014, the Government approved nominations for 36 Head of Mission appointments - 31 ambassadorial and 5 consul-general posts. The majority of the proposed appointments are to posts which will fall vacant this year or in early 2015 due to the scheduled rotation or retirement of the present incumbents. In addition, a number of the proposed appointments are to posts which are being established this year on foot of the Government Decision in January to expand and restructure Ireland’s diplomatic and consular Network. These nominations are set out in a table.

It should be noted that nominations of ambassadors are subject to the approval (agrément) of the authorities of the receiving States and appointments are not formally confirmed until this approval is forthcoming.

HEAD OF MISSION NOMINATIONS

NAME

CURRENTLY SERVING

TO MISSION

William Carlos

Evaluation & Audit Unit

Embassy Maputo

Dónal Cronin

Embassy Kampala

(Chargé d'Affaires)

Embassy Kampala

Áine Hearns

Evaluation & Audit Unit

Embassy Lilongwe

Seán Hoy

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Abuja

Liam MacGabhann

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Pretoria

Vincent O’Neill

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Nairobi

Sinead Walsh

Irish Aid office, Freetown (Head of Office)

Embassy, Freetown (following upgrading of office to Embassy status)

Brian Glynn

Political Division

Embassy Brasilia

Justin Harman

Embassy Madrid

Embassy Buenos Aires

Adrian Farrell

Dept. of the Taoiseach (on secondment)

Consulate-General Austin

Barbara Jones

British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat, Belfast

Consulate-General New York

Sharon Lennon

Embassy Buenos Aires

Consulate-General Sao Paulo

Anne Barrington

Europe Division

Embassy Tokyo

Geoffrey Keating

Dept. of the Taoiseach (on secondment)

Embassy Singapore

Kyle O’Sullivan

Dept. of the Taoiseach (on secondment)

Embassy Jakarta

Brendan Rogers

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Bangkok

Jane Connolly

Embassy London

Consulate-General Sydney

Peter Ryan

Consulate-General New York

Consulate-General Hong Kong

Geraldine Byrne Nason

Dept. of the Taoiseach

Embassy Paris

Peadar Carpenter

Consular Division

Embassy Luxembourg

David Cooney

Outgoing Secretary-General, Dept. Of Foreign Affairs & Trade

Embassy Madrid

Frank Flood

British-Irish Intergovernmental Secretariat, Belfast

Embassy Tallinn

Tim Harrington

On secondment to the EEAS

Embassy Zagreb

Patrick Kelly

Political Division

Embassy Ljubljana

Gerard Keown

Strategy & Performance Division

Embassy Warsaw

Noel Kilkenny

Consulate-General New York

Embassy Athens

Pádraig MacCoscair

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Valetta

Emma Madigan

Protocol

Embassy Holy See

Cliona Manahan

Asia-Pacific Unit

Embassy Copenhagen

John Neary

Embassy Tokyo

Embassy The Hague

David Noonan

Political Division

Embassy Vilnius

Orla O’Hanrahan

Protocol

Embassy Stockholm

Brendan Ward

Political Division

Embassy Ankara

Mary Whelan

Embassy The Hague

Embassy Vienna

Tony Cotter

Development Cooperation Division

Embassy Riyadh

Martina Feeney

Palestinian National Authority, Representative Office, Ramallah (Chargé d'Affaires)

Palestinian National Authority, Representative Office, Ramallah

Child Abduction

Questions (148, 149, 154)

Ciara Conway

Question:

148. Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the assistance Ireland is providing in tracing the 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21209/14]

View answer

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

149. Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has communicated to the embassy here, the Government's unhappiness at the negligible response from the Nigerian Government to the abduction of 300 schoolgirls and their possible subsequent sale; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21226/14]

View answer

Brendan Smith

Question:

154. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with his EU counterparts the justifiable outrage expressed internationally regarding the abduction of hundreds of girls in Nigeria; if it is proposed to raise these very serious and urgent issues at the UN Human Rights Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21545/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148, 149 and 154 together.

I have strongly condemned the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok on 14 April by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram. I am also appalled by the reported abduction of a further 11 girls on 4 May. Acts of violence of this nature against school children are completely unacceptable. Through our development policies and programmes, Ireland is a strong supporter of the rights of women and girls, and in particular the right of girls to education.

I have given my full support to the demands of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, that the girls be released and that those responsible be brought to justice. I welcome the offers of support to the Nigerian authorities from a number of our EU partners and from the US, to help find the missing schoolgirls. The Nigerian authorities need to accept this support and do everything in their power to secure the safe release of the school girls. I urge the Government of Nigeria to take all appropriate steps to protect their citizens and to ensure that the girls can return safely to their families, and to education.

Our Embassy in Abuja is working closely with our EU partners and others on the ground and maintaining contact with the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to locate and free the missing schoolgirls. At the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday, Ministers discussed possible further measures to strengthen Nigeria’s efforts. The EU is already actively supporting the Nigerian authorities to strengthen their capacity to provide security and combat terrorism. An EU support programme to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of terrorist suspects will begin later this month. It will include EU technical assistance to counter violent extremism and radicalisation.

Officials from my Department have also been in contact with the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to express concern at the ongoing situation to and to request regular updates regarding the actions taken by the Nigerian authorities to recover the abducted schoolgirls.

At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during March 2014, Ireland highlighted recent attacks by Boko Haram during discussions with the UN Special Representatives for Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict. Our objective was to draw attention to the ongoing trend of attacks on education around the world and to highlight the importance of ensuring that the right of children to education is upheld during and after conflict.

Departmental Communications

Questions (150)

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

150. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if any telephone calls in or out of his Department are being or ever have been recorded, and if so, if he will provide details of the systems used to record and store such calls, the cost to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21235/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not record incoming or outgoing calls on its main telephone lines. However, incoming calls on the general information line hosted by the Passport Service are recorded for quality and training purposes. The system used is a module of Cisco Call Manager and the approximate cost of installation was €13,500 including hardware, software and VAT.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (151)

Colm Keaveney

Question:

151. Deputy Colm Keaveney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in view of the ongoing severe persecution of Christian communities in Syria, Egypt, Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the measures he has taken, as part of a unilateral initiative by Ireland and-or working with our European partners, to address this issue; if he has considered offering asylum here to those affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21349/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Middle East is home to some of the world’s most ancient Christian denominations. Unfortunately, many of these often small and vulnerable communities are coming under increasing pressure due to a range of factors including low birth rates, emigration and, in some cases, increased sectarian persecution and violence. This has led to a significant reduction in their numbers in the region over recent years. In Iraq for instance, it is estimated that more than half of the Christian community may have emigrated over the past decade. The political turmoil which has overwhelmed many countries in the Middle East in recent years has led to increased international concerns about the safety of Christians first in Iraq and Egypt and now most pressingly in Syria. The descent of Syria into violence and disarray has left small Christian communities very exposed and sometimes subject to direct attack. Ireland raises the issue of the safety of Christians through its official bilateral contacts with the countries in question, stressing the responsibility of the government to protect all its citizens and minorities. In situations of general instability and insecurity, such as Iraq some years ago or Syria today, this is of course especially difficult. Ireland also works with our partners in the EU to raise the issue in multilateral fora such as the UN Human Rights Council, as part of the EU’s human rights policy. The EU has taken a number of steps in recent years in support of Freedom of Religious Belief, including issuing Council Conclusions on the matter, most recently in February 2011. On the broader international plane, Ireland has worked at UN and EU level to promote resolutions and actions on the principle of freedom of religious belief, notably during our 2013 EU Presidency, and now as a current member of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. I have raised the issue of protection of Christians in the Middle East in discussions at the Foreign Affairs Council, and supported stronger EU statements on the issue, for instance in the Council Conclusions on Egypt issued on 21 August last and the FAC Conclusions on Syria which were agreed in January and April 2014.

Ireland attaches great importance to combating all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief and incitement to religious hatred. Ireland was elected to the Human Rights Council in November 2012 and will serve for the 2013-2015 term. Amongst our priorities as a member of the Council is the issue of freedom of religion or belief, and we have played a central role in the negotiation of two important resolutions on this issue in the past year.

Officials from my Department have met frequently with local Christian leaders from the Middle East region, and discussed the issues affecting their communities. It should be noted that many of these groups request that any efforts made on their behalf be carried out very discreetly, as any special attention from western countries might only increase their difficulties.

While some individuals from the region have found refuge in Ireland, asylum in Ireland or in Europe cannot provide the solution to this problem, because the numbers are too great, because there are others also at risk, and because this would spell the end for ancient Christian communities who have survived in the region since the earliest days of Christianity.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (152)

Brendan Smith

Question:

152. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will raise at the EU Foreign Affairs Council the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Angola; if this matter will be raised at the Human Rights Council of the UN; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21542/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Despite oil revenues and high economic growth rates, Angola continues to experience drought-related humanitarian emergencies. The aftermath of a severe drought during the 2012-2013 agricultural cycle continues to have an impact on the country’s southern provinces. It is estimated that 1.8 million people in six provinces were affected by this drought. The effects on food supplies and drinking have had a significant impact on the population’s nutritional health, particularly among children under five. Last month, the Government of Angola reported that over 400,000 people are being affected by drought in provinces in the west of the country. It is the fourth consecutive year of abnormal rainfall in these provinces and it is reported that river levels have dropped or even dried up completely, with a negative impact on cultivation. In addition to the problem of drought, Angola continues to grapple with the legacy of 27 years of conflict and civil war, and in particular massive use of land mines, which has held back its agricultural development.

Working with our EU partners, Ireland takes a strategic approach to post-conflict countries like Angola. The EU is working to develop long term solutions to assist Angola in diversifying its economy, especially its agriculture sector. Between 2010 and 2013 just under €2.6 million was provided by Irish Aid to civil society organisations working in Angola, including Christian Aid Ireland, Trócaire and Concern, to address inequality, access to services and land rights. Under the 10th European Development Fund, the EU allocated €227.9 million to Angola, for institutional reform, human and social development as well as rural development, agriculture and food security and demining between 2008 and 2013. EU assistance is designed to contribute to the sustainable development of the country and to support the Angolan Government’s strategy to combat poverty and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Under current EDF funding, the EU is also supporting projects to support regional integration, biodiversity and the private sector.

Millennium Development Goals

Question No. 154 answered with Question No. 148.

Questions (153)

Brendan Smith

Question:

153. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Irish representatives will raise at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations the recently published estimates that only 62 out of 168 countries will achieve gender parity in secondary education by 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21544/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland is advocating strongly for a continued focus on a good quality education, at primary level and beyond, for all children, in the context of the intergovernmental discussions on the follow-up framework to the Millennium Development Goals post-2015.The third Millennium Development Goal (MDG 3) aims to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education at all levels by 2015. Since the agreement of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, progress has been made on increasing investments in education, and there are now more children in school than ever before in human history. However, girls still lag behind boys in terms of primary school completion and enrolment in secondary school. This is particularly so in conflict affected states where girls are often kept at home for their own safety. It is also true in the poorest regions in the world where girls may be kept out of school to engage in domestic chores. Ireland recognises the transformative power of girls’ education, both for girls themselves, and also for their families and communities. Every girl and woman has a right to a quality education. And ensuring that right makes sense, as educating girls leads to healthier and more productive families and communities. Evidence of this fact abounds. UNESCO estimates for example, that 2.1 million lives of children under 5 were saved during the first ten years of the MDG time frame between 1990 and 2009, because of improvements in girls’ and women’s education.

A commitment to improving access to education for girls at primary and beyond primary, consistent with the second and third Millennium Development Goals, has been very strongly represented across the Irish Aid programme. Ireland’s new policy on International Development, One World, One Future, affirms Ireland’s commitment to education, with girls’ education, at primary and beyond primary, singled out for special focus. In 2012, Irish Aid allocated €33.9 million to education programmes in developing countries. This amount represented approximately 8% of bilateral ODA.

Ireland will continue to support national governments in our partner countries in their efforts to address drop-out rates of girls and low enrolment in their education plans. We also work with civil society partners to raise awareness at community level of gender based violence in schools, and support the Global Partnership for Education, an international funding mechanism which targets girls that have been left behind.

Ireland recognises that the enjoyment of all human rights is essential for development, and this is reflected in our engagement with the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) as a member for the term 2013-2015. Ireland has supported two separate resolutions at the HRC which recognised the right to education. The most recent resolution in this regard, adopted by the HRC on 13 June 2013, reaffirmed the human right of everyone to education, and called upon all States to take all measures to implement the HRC resolutions on the right to education with a view to ensuring the full realisation of this right for all. The resolution also emphasised the need to ensure that the right to education is central in the context of the post-2015 agenda.

Question No. 154 answered with Question No. 148.

Departmental Bodies Data

Questions (155)

Seán Fleming

Question:

155. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of State agencies and public bodies that have been merged or abolished in each year since 2011, under the remit of his Department; the annual savings associated with each body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21795/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There are no State Agencies under the remit of my Department. My Department currently has seven bodies, boards, or committees under its remit. These are: the Emigrant Services Advisory Committee; the Advisory Group of the Global Irish Network; the Ireland – United States Commission for Educational Exchange (The Fulbright Commission); the Irish Aid Expert Advisory Group; the NGO Standing Committee on Human Rights; the Standing Committee on Holocaust Education, Research and Remembrance; and the Monitoring Group on Ireland’s National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 (which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction). None of the foregoing has been merged or abolished since 2011. However, in September 2013 the Development Education Advisory Committee (DEAC), which was responsible for providing advice on development education, was officially disbanded. Its abolition followed the publication of One World One Future, Ireland’s Policy for International Development, which provided for a member of the DEAC to be appointed to the Irish Aid Expert Advisory Group. This Committee was serviced from the Department’s overall budget, and it had no whole time equivalent staff. Accordingly, there were no significant savings arising from its abolition.

Departmental Staff Remuneration

Questions (156)

Seán Fleming

Question:

156. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of public servants employed in his Department on a lower pay scale to their colleagues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21823/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There are currently 223 officers on the reduced pay scales which were introduced with effect from 1 January 2011 for recruitment grades. This includes 139 of the Temporary Clerical Officers who were recruited this year to deal with the peak production period in the Passport Office. The imbalance between those who entered the public service from 1 January 2011 and those who entered prior to this date is being addressed under the provisions of the Haddington Road Agreement. The officers who were subject to the 2011 reduced pay rates are being assimilated to the new/revised incremental pay scales as recently instructed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Departmental Legal Cases Data

Questions (157)

Seán Fleming

Question:

157. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of legal cases that have been served against his Department arising from disputes regarding pay and conditions of public servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21836/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There are currently no such legal cases in my Department.

Ministerial Travel

Questions (158)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

158. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide details of all official foreign trips he and Ministers of State in his Department intend to take between now and the end of 2014; if he will detail whom they will be meeting with on these trips; the purpose of the trip; the duration of the trip; if there are plans to use all of these trips to promote Ireland as a good place for doing business and as a destination for foreign direct investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21859/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade performs a wide range of functions in pursuit of Ireland’s foreign policy interests. These include advancing reconciliation and cooperation on the island of Ireland; representing and advancing government policies with other states and in international organisations, in particular the EU and the UN; economic, trade and cultural promotion; frontline consular and passport services to Irish citizens overseas; engaging with Irish communities; and programme management, particularly in Irish Aid priority countries. Trade promotion and economic messaging are key elements in all visits abroad undertaken by Government Ministers. Every effort is made to ensure that, as far as is practicable, appropriate opportunities are taken for a substantive economic and promotional dimension to all official visits.

Delivering an intensive programme of Ministerial-led trade missions is a key commitment in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs in 2013. The number of Ministerial-led Enterprise Ireland trade missions conducted with the active support of the Embassy network has more than doubled over the past three years, up from eight in 2011 to eighteen this year. During my recent visit to Paris - in addition to formal meetings with President Hollande, Prime Minister Ayrault and Foreign Minister Fabius and other engagements - I undertook seven trade promotion activities in conjunction with the State agencies, starting with an IDA Ireland breakfast event with 50 existing and potential investors in Ireland. I led a visit of 12 Enterprise Ireland client companies to the Beauvais plant of AGCO, the multinational owner of Massey-Ferguson and France’s top exporter of agricultural machinery, to develop opportunities for Irish engineering companies to supply components. In November I will travel to London to speak at an Enterprise Ireland Financial Services networking event. It is also possible that I may undertake other official travel in 2014, in which case I will of course avail of all suitable opportunities to promote trade, tourism and investment.

My colleague Joe Costello T.D, Minister of State for Trade and Development, will lead an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Qatar and Oman from 31 May to 4 June. The mission will focus on supporting Irish companies in the construction and engineering sectors as well as exploring opportunities for Irish education institutions. From 6 to 8 October Minister of State Costello will lead an Enterprise Ireland exploratory trade visit to Mexico to support Irish companies in exploring business opportunities there. This will reinforce Ireland’s interest in developing and expanding political and trade relations with Mexico and build on the visit of An tUachtarán there in 2013. In mid-October, Minister Costello will lead an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to West Africa which will focus on mining, oil and gas opportunities for Irish companies and in late-November he will lead another EI trade mission to Australia, focusing on the construction and engineering sectors.

My colleague, Paschal Donohoe T.D., Minister of State for European Affairs, has, since taking office almost ten months ago, undertaken sixteen bilateral visits across Europe, including visits to Albania, Bosnia, Germany and Poland this year. This is in addition to Minister Donohoe's engagements at EU level, which includes representing Ireland at the General Affairs Council, at Informal Ministerial meetings, European Parliament Plenary sessions, other high-level EU engagements as they arise and accompanying the Taoiseach to the European Council. In both his bilateral and EU engagements, the Government's priorities of promoting Ireland and creating the conditions, as well as opportunities, for stability, jobs and growth are always to the fore. It is envisaged that Minister Donohoe will continue to undertake an extensive programme of bilateral visits for the remainder of the year and planning is currently underway, including for a trip to Belgrade in June to further bilateral economic and political relations as well as to demonstrate Ireland's support for Serbia's EU accession negotiations.

Other official visits abroad will include the following: I will travel to New York in late September 2014 to participate in the General Assembly of the United Nations and to address to that body on Irish foreign policy priorities. There I will meet with Foreign Ministers and UN leaders. Such meetings will provide a crucial opportunity to discuss a range of international issues, as well as bilateral issues and Ireland’s candidature for election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2020. Naturally, given the importance of our economic relationship with the United States I will, as on previous visits, prioritise opportunities to advance our economic interests and will work closely with the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Tourism Ireland on an appropriate economic promotion programme. My colleague, Minister of State Costello, will attend a Global Summit in London on 12 June aimed at addressing the issue of sexual violence in conflict. He will also attend the Third Decennial Conference of Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa, from 1 to 4 September. The Conference will bring together Heads of Government and their representatives from 38 small developing island UN member states. The problems which many such states face due to the effects of climate change and rising sea levels can increase state fragility and, in some cases, the risk of conflict, and therefore their issues are of particular interest to Ireland in terms of our development policy, One World, One Future. He may also attend the Global Partnership on Education Replenishment meeting in Brussels on 25 and 26 June and the UN General Assembly in September. In early October, Minister of State Costello is expected to travel to Paris for the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s review of Ireland’s aid programme. I anticipate that I will attend EU Foreign Affairs Council meetings in Luxembourg, in June and October, and in Brussels in July, November and December. I also expect to attend the Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Rome in August. My colleagues will be similarly engaged on EU matters and expect to attend meetings as follows:

Minister of State Donohoe 12/13 May - Brussels - European General Affairs Council

12 May - Foreign Affairs Council

29/30 May - Athens - Informal General Affairs Council

24 June – Luxembourg-General Affairs Council

26/27 June –Brussels - European Council

July – Brussels-European Parliament Plenary Session

August – Milan - Informal Meeting of European Affairs Ministers

October –Luxembourg- General Affairs Council

November – Brussels - General Affairs Council

December – Brussels - General Affairs Council

Minister of State Costello 19 May - Brussels - Foreign Affairs Committee, Development; 15 July - Florence - Informal Meeting of EU Development Ministers; 12 December - Brussels - Foreign Affairs Committee, Development.

Property Tax Administration

Questions (159)

Billy Timmins

Question:

159. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding letters from the Revenue Commissioners regarding property tax (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20888/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that the 'property tax letters' to which the Deputy refers in his Question relate to arrears of Household Charge (HHC) as distinct from Local Property Tax (LPT).

For the Deputy's information, with effect from 1 July 2013, Section 156 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) converted HHC to LPT, increased all outstanding liabilities from €100 to €200 and made Revenue responsible for the collection of those outstanding amounts.

As part of the handover of responsibility for the collection of the HHC, Revenue received the Household Charge Register from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and cross referenced it with its own LPT Register to produce a database of properties for which the liability is still outstanding. The cross referencing of the two registers confirmed that the HHC was paid in respect of 1.27 million properties from a total of 1.69 million properties listed on the LPT Register (other than Local Authority/Social Housing). Revenue has, as part of its extensive communications strategy, repeatedly confirmed that the database could not be 100% accurate, the main reasons being that:

- The LGMA Register captured the name of the person who physically paid the HHC rather than the owner of the property, for example, where a son or daughter paid the liability on behalf of a parent.

- The legislative basis for both the HHC and LPT are different. Some properties that are liable for LPT were exempt from the HHC and, unlike LPT, property owners were not actually required to make a claim for exemption from HHC. For that reason, Revenue could not identify every property that was exempt from HHC through the cross-referencing process.

- Certain payments made directly to Local Authorities were omitted from the LGMA Register.

The Deputy will appreciate that it is absolutely essential from a fairness perspective to the vast majority of house owners who have paid both the HHC and LPT that Revenue follows through on those who have not and that is why it issued the letters in question. Revenue has confirmed to me that the letters were specifically worded to achieve four separate objectives:

- advise the property owner that the property is on the arrears database,

- advise any property owner (on the database) who had paid the HHC or whose property was not liable for the HHC to contact Revenue to correct the information on record,

- advise correctly liable persons to pay the outstanding charge thereby preventing additional interest accruing, and

- advise correctly liable persons of the next steps that Revenue will take to collect the charge in the event of continued non-compliance.

To assist people in making payment or amending inaccuracies in the information, Revenue has developed a new online service that can be accessed using the Property ID and PIN codes included on the letters in question. The system, which is an extension of the LPT online facility, is available 24 hours a day and is very intuitive and easy to use. It includes the full range of payment options that are available for LPT and allows people to record any entitlements to exemptions or waivers from the HHC. Alternatively, for property owners who prefer direct contact, Revenue has extended its LPT Helpline service at 1890 200 255 from a 9am/5pm basis to an 8am/8pm basis.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioner that it is not possible at this stage of the campaign to provide data on the number of letters which were sent to people who had already paid the HHC. However, I am also informed that to date about €2m. was collected in 2013, €13.8m has already been collected in 2014, of which €8.2m was paid since Revenue's compliance campaign began on 17 April 2014 and the Commissioners continue to receive approximately 3,500 to 4,000 payments of HHC arrears every day which suggests a low error rate.

I am very satisfied with the approach Revenue has taken to collect the outstanding HHC liabilities including, identifying those who correctly owe the payments, clearly communicating the approach adopted and providing extended customer support through innovative IT development and additional Helpline hours.

Statutory Instruments

Questions (160)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

160. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the purpose of SI 182; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21104/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

It is Government policy, as stated in Public Financial Procedures, that State bodies should not purchase insurance. This is based on the principle that the claims costs to the Exchequer in a given year would be far less than the premiums charged for commercial insurance cover. The National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000, and subsequent Delegation Orders, delegated to the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) a range of functions in relation to the management of personal injuries claims, including bullying and harassment and third party property damage claims, and their associated risks, against specified State authorities. The Agency is known as the State Claims Agency (SCA) when performing these functions.

It has become practice that each new Order rescinds and replaces the previous Order, thus having the relevant State authorities listed together in one document.  Statutory Instrument No. 182 of 2014 is the latest of such Delegation Orders.  It delegates the management of insurance claims against a number of additional bodies to the State Claims Agency, allowing those bodies to dispense with commercial insurance for employers' and public liability and third-party damage. The SCA, which is tasked with minimising costs for the State, has a team of professional claims managers, litigation solicitors and specialists in the area of litigation risk management whose expertise will be available to the delegated bodies.

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

Questions (161)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

161. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance his views on tobacco companies' exaggerating tobacco smuggling statistics especially in relation to the recent report, The Illicit Tobacco Trade Review 2013, by Japan Tobacco International and its campaign against plain packaging; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21174/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the extent of the illicit cigarette market in Ireland is estimated through annual surveys of smokers. These surveys are undertaken for Revenue and the National Tobacco Control Office of the Health Services Executive by Ipsos MRBI. The analysis of the results of the  survey for 2013 are not yet fully finalised but  preliminary analysis indicates that 11% of cigarettes consumed in Ireland in 2013 were illicit and a further 5% of cigarettes were non Irish duty paid which were legally brought into the country. The comparable figures for 2012 and 2011 were 13% and 14% respectively with the legally imported non Irish duty paid cigarettes at 6% and 7%. This would suggest that the extent of the problem is being contained, as a result of the extensive action being taken against the smuggling and sale of illicit product.

I am satisfied that the Ipsos MRBI survey is the best indicator of the extent of the market in illicit cigarettes. This is because of the methodology used and the consistent manner in which the survey has been undertaken over a number of years.  It is geographically representative and surveys population samples that are statistically robust and can be extrapolated with a reasonable degree of reliability to the population at large.  In addition this methodology, in contrast to other methodologies such as empty pack surveys, is capable of distinguishing between illicit cigarettes and legal personal imports, which is a very important consideration.  The Revenue Commissioners are not in position to levy Irish taxes on products which are already taxed in other EU member states.

I am aware that some other surveys, including The Illicit Tobacco Trade Review 2013 by Japan Tobacco International, indicate a higher level of illicit cigarette consumption. However, I do not accept the validity of those other surveys, as they are not representative of the entire smoking population, do not take into account legal personal imports from other jurisdictions and are frequently based on empty pack surveys.  I am advised that empty pack surveys are unreliable as robust estimates of the scale of non-Irish duty paid cigarettes. With empty pack surveys, it is impossible to know if the location surveyed is in any way representative (an extreme example would be Temple Bar or international sporting event). Even if there was a representative location, publicly discarded packs are not likely to be representative of packs overall.

In looking at higher estimates of the level of illicit consumption that come from other sources, it also needs to be borne in mind that the tobacco industry claims must be viewed in terms of their interest in minimising tax increases while imposing significant price increases of their own.

Combating the illegal tobacco trade is a high priority for the Revenue Commissioners. Their work against this illegal activity includes a wide range of measures designed to identify and target those who are engaged in the supply or sale of illicit products, with a view to seizing those products and prosecuting those responsible. This multi-faceted strategy includes ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem, developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, the use of analytics and detection technologies and ensuring the optimum deployment of resources at points of importation and within the country. The commitment to acting against all stages of the supply chain for illicit products will be maintained and Revenue will continue to make every effort to ensure that those involved in the illicit trade are brought to account before the Courts for their criminal activities. A new multi-annual strategy for dealing with the problem is being drawn up, and the Revenue Commissioners are consulting key stakeholders in preparing this document.

European Banking Sector

Questions (162)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

162. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Finance the dates of the bank holidays which result in the euro payments clearing and settlement system being closed and thus cause delays in credit and debit transfers within the Irish banking system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20837/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

The euro settlement and payments systems (TARGET2 and STEP2) are closed on the following dates each year: New Year's Day (1 January); Good Friday; Easter Monday; Labour Day (1 May); Christmas Day (25 December); and St. Stephen's Day (26 December).

All of these dates are also bank holidays in Ireland except for 1 May. The May bank holiday is the first Monday in May.  The Deputy may be aware from my reply to a question from Deputy Michael McGrath on 8 May 2014 that the Central Bank of Ireland worked with the Irish Payments Services Organisation (IPSO) and the banks to minimise any inconvenience to customers arising from the closure of the euro settlement and payment systems on 1 May this year. Business representative bodies and businesses that make large numbers of direct debit and credit transfer payments were contacted and advised that where possible they should bring payments forward to 30 April; in addition, a notice advising consumers about the closure and its consequences was inserted in all of the major national newspapers on Friday 25 April and also placed on the Central Bank of Ireland and IPSO websites.

The full implementation of the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) means that at least for the time being this situation will recur on 1 May in each year that the Irish May bank holiday does not coincide with the European one.  The Central Bank of Ireland, IPSO and the Irish banks will make every effort to minimise disruption to customers via an ongoing communications programme aimed at raising awareness of the '1 May payments issue'.

European Banking Sector

Questions (163)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

163. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Finance if, on future dates that the euro payments clearing and settlement system is closed due to bank holidays, the public sector payroll could be brought forward by a day to ensure workers are paid on time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20838/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

1 May is the only date on which the Euro settlement and payments systems are closed and which is not necessarily a bank holiday in Ireland.

The Deputy may be aware from my reply to a question from Deputy Michael McGrath on 8 May 2014 that the Central Bank of Ireland worked with the Irish Payments Services Organisation (IPSO) and the banks to minimise any inconvenience to customers arising from the closure of the euro settlement and payment systems on 1 May this year. Business representative bodies and businesses that make large numbers of direct debit and credit transfer payments were contacted and advised that where possible they should bring payments forward to 30 April; in addition, a notice advising consumers about the closure and its consequences was inserted in all of the major national newspapers on Friday 25 April and also placed on the Central Bank of Ireland and IPSO websites.

The full implementation of the Single European Payments Area (SEPA) means that at least for the time being this situation will recur on 1 May in each year that the Irish May bank holiday does not coincide with the European one.  The Central Bank of Ireland, IPSO and the Irish banks will make every effort to minimise disruption to customers via an ongoing communications programme aimed at raising awareness of the '1 May payments issue'.

All employers including public service employers would be expected to make appropriate arrangements to ensure salary payments are made in good time to employees taking account of bank and other holidays.

Property Tax Administration

Questions (164)

John Lyons

Question:

164. Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Finance if he will clarify with the Revenue Commissioners the reason residents in certain estates (details supplied) who were issued with an unfinished housing estates waiver for the household charge in 2012 are now being issued with non-payment letters from the Revenue Commissioners; and if he will instruct the Revenue Commissioners to make contact with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to clarify the waiver list. [20873/14]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

By way of background information, the Deputy will be aware that with effect from 1 July 2013, Section 156 of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Act 2012 (as amended) converted Household Charge (HHC) to Local Property Tax (LPT), increased all outstanding liabilities from €100 to €200 and made Revenue responsible for the collection of those outstanding amounts.

As part of the handover of responsibility for the collection of the HHC, Revenue received the property database from the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and cross-matched it with its own LPT Register to identify the properties for which the liability is still outstanding. In this regard, Revenue has clearly stated throughout its extensive HHC related communications programme that the list of properties indicating outstanding liabilities could not be 100% accurate for a number of reasons. For the Deputy's information, the main reasons are:

- The LGMA Register captured the name of the person who paid the HHC rather than the owner of the property, for example, where a son or daughter paid the HHC on behalf of a parent thereby making matching very difficult in some instances.

- The legislative basis for both the HHC and LPT are different. For example, some properties that are liable for LPT are exempt/waived from the HHC, but in many instances the LGMA database did not capture these facts and as a result Revenue had no means to cross-reference such properties through the data matching process.

In regard to waivers from HHC, I am advised by Revenue that Section 4(4) (b) of the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 makes provision for entitlement to a waiver from payment of the HHC, where the residential property is situated in an unfinished housing estate, which has been prescribed by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. The 'prescribed list' is available on the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's website at www.environ.ie.

While Revenue has confirmed to me that it has no role in the selection of any properties for a waiver, or in the compilation of the 'prescribed list', it has confirmed to me that while there are certain estates listed with names similar to those quoted by the Deputy, there are in fact no estates listed that exactly match the names supplied.

The Deputy should be aware that property owners who were entitled to a waiver from the HHC were required to register with the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) and should have received 'Certificates of Waiver'. If the Deputy is aware of constituents who have received notifications from Revenue in respect of HHC and who hold 'Certificates of Waiver', he should advise them to update their HHC records with this information via Revenue's online system or by contacting the LPT Helpline at 1890 200 255. Property owners can access their individual HHC records through the LPT portal on www.revenue.ie by using the Property Id and PIN codes that were included with the notification letter.