Defence Forces Transport

Questions (129)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

129. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of light tactical armoured vehicles purchased for the Defence Forces in each of the years 2017, 2018 and to date in 2019; the number withdrawn during the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16248/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

My priority as Minister of State with Responsibility for Defence is to ensure that the operational capability of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service is maintained to the greatest extent possible to enable the Defence Forces to carry out their roles as assigned by Government both at home and overseas.

The White Paper on Defence provides that Ireland's ongoing active participation in a range of peacekeeping and crisis management missions is a key policy requirement. While each mission has elements of danger, it is the Government's position that all actions should be taken to minimise threats to the safety of personnel. Armoured vehicles provide essential force protection and, in this context in accordance with the equipment planning process, the fleet of armoured vehicles is subject to regular review to ensure that it meets operational requirements both at home and overseas.

There are twenty-seven (27) Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles (LTAV) available to the Defence Forces.  Since delivery in 2010, the LTAV fleet has been used extensively on deployment both overseas and on island for training purposes. No LTAVs were purchased in the years 2017, 2018 or 2019 to date and no LTAVs were withdrawn during this period.

The LTAV fleet complements the Mowag Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and other armoured vehicles in the conduct of conventional and Peace Support Operations. A multi-year mid-life upgrade programme for the APC fleet is under way, which will extend the utility of the fleet and provide greater levels of protection, mobility and firepower. The first twenty (20) upgraded vehicles were recently delivered.

In addition, there has been further investment in the armoured fleet with the acquisition of 24 Armoured Utility Vehicles in 2017, and more recently the acquisition of 10 Combat Support Service Armoured 8 x 8 Drops Vehicles which were delivered in late 2018. These vehicles along with the fleet of Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles will provide personnel with the requisite force protection to operate in a supporting role in high-threat environments. The procurement of these vehicles will also enhance Ireland's ability to participate in integrated multinational deployments.

The acquisition of new equipment for the Defence Forces remains a clear focus for me. Future equipment priorities are being considered in the context of the lifetime of the White Paper on Defence as part of the capability development and equipment planning priorities planning process.  I am satisfied that the Defence Forces have the necessary resources available to them, including a modern and effective range of equipment which is in line with best international standards in order to fulfil all roles assigned to them by Government.

Civil Defence

Questions (130)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

130. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the estimated full-year cost if the budget for the Civil Defence increased by 12.5%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16249/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

My Department provides funding to local authorities to assist them in the provision of Civil Defence services. This funding is intended to meet a proportion (70%) of the annual operating costs of Civil Defence in the local authorities - plus grants for equipment, training exercises and other miscellaneous costs.

The amount provided for Civil Defence in the Defence Vote for 2019 is €4.74m. This amount includes a once-off allocation of €0.5m from the Dormant Accounts Fund. The full-year Exchequer cost of increasing the budget for Civil Defence by 12.5%, excluding the Dormant Accounts allocation, would be €0.53m.

Departmental Correspondence

Questions (131)

Jack Chambers

Question:

131. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he will respond to correspondence previously sent (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16496/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I am advised that officials from the Property Management Branch of the Department have made several attempts to contact the Secretary, Post 1, IUNVA with a view to arranging a meeting to discuss the matters of concern to them.  I can confirm that my officials remain available to meet with the association to discuss these matters and will endeavour to bring this matter to a conclusion in the coming weeks.

Overseas Missions Data

Questions (132)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

132. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of Irish military personnel deployed on UN missions abroad; the details of the missions; and the military rank of each. [16637/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

As of 03 April 2019, Ireland is contributing 669 Defence Forces personnel to 9 different missions throughout the world.  The main overseas missions in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed are the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 460 personnel and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in Syria with 131 personnel.  The other United Nations missions that Defence Forces are deployed to are the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) with 12 personnel, the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) with 3 personnel and the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) with 3 personnel.

Other United Nations mandated missions where Defence Forces are deployed are EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina) with 5 personnel, EUTM Mali (EU-led Training Mission) with 19 personnel, KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) HQ with 12 personnel and the Naval Service EU Naval Mission (Op Sophia) with 5 personnel.

Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas on UN missions by military rank are listed in the following tabular statement.

In addition, Ireland is also contributing some 19 military advisors, representatives and staff officers with the OSCE in Vienna, the EU and NATO/Partnership for Peace in Belgium and UN Headquarters in New York.

Tabular Statement

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Chaplain

RSM

BQMS

CS

CQ

Sgt

Cpl

Pte

Total

UNIFIL

1

5

16

20

16

1

3

1

9

8

54

105

221

460

UNTSO

1

8

3

12

MINURSO

1

2

3

MONUSCO

1

2

3

UNDOF

3

4

9

4

1

1

1

1

2

20

26

59

131

EUFOR BiH

2

1

1

1

5

EUTM Mali

2

2

1

2

3

1

5

3

19

KFOR

1

1

2

1

1

1

3

1

1

12

Op Sophia

1

1

1

2

5

TOTAL

2

15

36

40

22

2

5

3

19

11

80

135

280

650

Ministerial Travel

Questions (133, 134)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

133. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the details of his itinerary while he was visiting Irish soldiers on the Golan Heights and in the region. [16638/19]

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Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

134. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the communications he has had with the UN regarding the shortfall in numbers in the UN mission on the Golan Heights; if the shortfall in numbers has increased the workload and duties of Irish soldiers; and if those extra duties and so on are not compromising the health or security of Irish soldiers in the region. [16639/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 133 and 134 together.

I would like to clarify that in March 2019, as part of the Governments planned St. Patrick's Day schedule of events, I visited Cyprus, Lebanon and Jordan.  I have not visited the Golan Heights this year to date.

My most recent visit to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights took place during the period 13 to 20 March 2018.  At that time, I also visited the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) and the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).

I travelled to Camp Ziouani on the Israeli side of the area of separation on 15 March 2018 where I met with the Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Francis Vib-Sanziri, who commented very positively on Ireland's contribution to the UNDOF mission. My itinerary also included briefings from the Chief of Staff of UNDOF, who at that time was Ireland's Colonel Mick Dawson.

Since then, the Irish Contingent has moved back to Camp Faouar, where the Headquarters of UNDOF is also located.  A visit to Camp Faouar to visit Irish Troops would be difficult at this time given the ongoing conflict in Syria, which would be the access point for any visit to Camp Faouar and the political situation which pertains there. However, this will be kept under review as the situation in Syria continues to evolve.

Army Barracks

Questions (135)

Willie Penrose

Question:

135. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if in the context of a further organisational review of Defence Forces facilities and the utilisation thereof, it is planned to reopen Columb Barracks, Mullingar, for troop deployments and accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16661/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The barracks consolidation programme which was completed in the earlier part of this decade, and which included the closure of the former Columb Barracks, has resulted in an enhancement of the operational readiness and deployability of Defence Forces personnel. The Defence Forces keep operational plans under constant review and I am satisfied that the operational readiness and deployability of the Defence Forces is such that it can respond effectively to wherever they are required in this State. There are no plans to open any new military installations and I am satisfied that to do so would cause a range of unnecessary inefficiencies, including an increased administrative burden from the need to introduce a layer of non-operational barracks management and security which would adversely affect the operational effectiveness and overall deployability of the Defence Forces.

Furthermore, in relation to the former Columb Barracks, the Land Development Agency (LDA) has confirmed to my Department that it is interested in acquiring this property for developmental purposes.  My Department has commenced the necessary background work in this context.

Regarding troop accommodation, the Defence Forces' Built Infrastructure Programme is designed to modernise and enhance the existing training, operational and accommodation facilities available to members of the Defence Forces. The Programme is based upon operational requirements that are addressed on a priority needs basis.

Human Rights Cases

Questions (136)

Niall Collins

Question:

136. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Uighur population in north-western China is facing persecution; the steps taken by the international community to prevent same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16139/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My attention has been drawn to the reports regarding the situation in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in particular those relating to the treatment of Uighur Muslims and notably the detention of a significant number of people in re-education camps. Ireland takes these reports very seriously and has raised our concerns with our Chinese counterparts, in bilateral and multilateral contexts, and as an EU Member State.

The subject was raised with China's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Wang Chao, during political consultations held with China last November. Our concerns about the situation in Xinjiang are also raised in our contacts with the Chinese Embassy in Dublin and through our Embassy in Beijing.

Ireland participated in China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which was also held in November.  In addition to expressing concern at reports of the treatment of ethnic Uighurs, in particular their detention in political re-education camps, we urged China to respect freedom of religion and belief and recommended that China grant access to the OHCHR to all regions of the country including Xinjiang.

The EU also continues to raise concerns regarding freedom of religion and belief at bilateral and multilateral levels. The most recent EU-China Human Rights Dialogue was held just last week, on the 1-2 April, where the EU noted that while actions to counter terrorism are essential, such measures must respect the principle of proportionality, fundamental freedoms and international laws. The EU raised the system of political re-education camps and called on China to allow meaningful, unsupervised and unrestricted access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Procedures.

At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in March, the EU similarly raised concerns about the existence of political re-education camps and widespread surveillance and restrictions particularly targeted at Uighurs in Xinjiang, and again urged China to allow meaningful access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Ireland fully supports the EU position, and actively contributes to its actions and statements.

Human Rights Cases

Questions (137)

Niall Collins

Question:

137. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has formally raised with the Brunei authorities his concerns and the opposition of Ireland to the new laws being implemented targeting the LGBT community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16140/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland adds our voice to that of the EU in expressing our deep concern at the recent implementation of certain measures under the Penal Code of Brunei-Darussalam, including the imposition of the death penalty against those engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity.

Some of the punishments foreseen in the criminal code amount to torture, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which are prohibited by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed by Brunei-Darussalam in 2015. As well as going against the 2012 ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, these punishments may also breach Brunei's obligations as a party to the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In relation to the provisions referred to by the Deputy, Ireland is committed to promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) individuals, who continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and face systemic discrimination in many countries. In both our bilateral and multilateral engagement on human rights, we focus on ensuring individuals’ human rights and non-discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Irish Consulates and Embassies overseas cooperate closely with EU delegations and Embassies of the other EU Member States to advocate for the rights of LGBTI+ persons, including advocating for the decriminalisation of homosexuality where it exists and against its criminalisation where this is contemplated. Our diplomatic network also actively supports LGBTI+ rights by participating in Gay Pride parades and similar events across the world and offering support to LGBTI+ civil society organisations.

Ireland also raises the rights of LGBTI+ individuals at international level through our work at the United Nations and the European Union as well as our engagement in regional organisations such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

Additionally, Ireland reaffirms its strong and unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all circumstances and for all cases. Ireland expects Brunei-Darussalam to maintain its de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty.

At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva we will take the opportunity of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review of Brunei-Darussalam next month to call on the Government to abide by its international and regional human rights commitments and obligations.

Northern Ireland

Questions (138)

Micheál Martin

Question:

138. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the possibility of direct rule returning to Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16153/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

A return of direct rule in Northern Ireland is not an outcome that the Government would want to see happen, in any scenario. A return of fully functioning devolved institutions of the Good Friday Agreement is urgently needed in order to represent the interests of all of the people of Northern Ireland and address issues of concern, including the challenges for Northern Ireland resulting from the UK decision to exit the European Union. The North-South Ministerial Council is also essential to oversee and develop North-South cooperation on matters of mutual interest, as provided for under the Good Friday Agreement.

I am continuing to work with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and remain in regular contact with the leaders of each of the political parties to get the necessary political process under way to secure an agreement for a functioning Executive and Assembly and North-South Ministerial Council.

The continuing absence of vital institutions of the Agreement is a source of deep concern for the Government, as it is for the British Government. The Government will continue to do everything in its power, in accordance with its responsibilities as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to secure the effective operation of all of its institutions.

Secretary of State Bradley and I met with the leaders of the five main political parties at Stormont on 15 February, further to our respective consultations with each of the party leaders in January. This meeting sought the parties’ views at this stage on how a new talks process could most constructively be commenced in the period ahead. Each of the party leaders confirmed their wish to participate in the institutions again and provided views on the necessary basis for an effective talks process.

It was agreed that the two Governments would engage further with the parties to seek an urgent way forward with a new political process that can secure an agreement for a functioning Executive and Assembly.

Following these further consultations, the Government does not underestimate the way to go in achieving a resolution, but continues to believe that this can be achieved and that there is an increasingly urgent need for talks to commence.

The two-year absence of the devolved institutions cannot be allowed to continue. There are pressing decisions and issues across a range of areas, which require a functioning Executive and Assembly, and NSMC.

The legislation that was brought forward by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last year, which temporarily suspends the requirement to call an Assembly election, underlines the urgent requirement for all with responsibilities to do everything in their power to get them operating again.

On 21 March, the Secretary of State announced that the period suspending the duty to call an Assembly election would be extended until 25 August. It is imperative therefore that the period ahead is used to get a new political process in place to get all of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement up and working again.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (139)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

139. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will allocate a first secretary post to the Irish embassies in Pretoria, South Africa, and the Hague, The Netherlands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16246/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

With the launch last year of ‘Global Ireland: Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025’, the Government is committed to doubling the scope and impact of Ireland’s global footprint in the period ahead, while also continuously reviewing the scale of Ireland’s overseas network. In considering the expansion of our diplomatic representation overseas, a range of factors is taken into account including our national political, economic and trade priorities, as well as the availability of resources. The deepening of resources in missions across our network, including the two referred to by the Deputy, is under active review.

EU Migration Crisis

Questions (140)

Niall Collins

Question:

140. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the migration policy of the EU and conditions in Libyan detention centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16312/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

In June 2018, the European Council reconfirmed that a functioning EU policy on migration requires a comprehensive approach which combines effective controls of the EU's external borders, action to strengthen co-operation with countries of transit and origin, and dealing with the management of migrants within the European Union, where a balance of solidarity and responsibility is needed.

I continue to be deeply troubled by the human rights abuses that migrants and refugees suffer in Libya, in particular the persistent abuses that have been reported in detention centres. At the Foreign Affairs Council in December 2018, the EU committed to continue to work with the Libyan authorities to improve conditions for migrants and refugees, with a view to addressing the current system of detention. The EU High Representative, Federica Mogherini, met with the Prime Minister of Libya and the UN Special Representative for Libya in February 2019 and discussed how conditions in detention centres can continue to be improved for migrants with the assistance of the EU and UN agencies.

Over the past 18 months, some progress has been made in alleviating the plight of migrants in Libya. In late 2017, the EU stepped up cooperation with UN agencies and the African Union to accelerate returns from Libya for those migrants who wish to leave, and to establish safe and legal pathways to resettle those who need international protection. This has contributed to the voluntary return of more than 37,000 vulnerable migrants stranded in Libya. The EU also provides support to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist migrants inside Libyan detention centres, including with primary medical assistance.

Over 500 asylum-seekers and refugees have been released from detention so far in 2019, but some 6,000 remain, and continued efforts are required on their behalf. The Libyan authorities should continue to work with relevant international organisations to make available alternatives to detention centres, particularly for vulnerable migrants. In the meantime, oversight in detention centres needs to be expanded and improved. We are aware that the Libyan Government does not have full control over the territory of Libya, but all parties, including those with de facto control of territory, have a responsibility to end ill treatment of migrants, and to facilitate UN and other humanitarian access to detention centres.

Regrettably, political fragmentation and the fragile security situation in Libya limit the capacity of the international community to influence the situation on the ground. There is a governance vacuum in many areas of the country, and in many areas access for international organisations seeking to monitor and alleviate conditions for migrants is restricted. Bringing real improvements to the lives of Libyans and migrants, and ensuring an end to human rights abuses, will require restoration of political stability, and a fully functioning and unified Government.

While Libya is the epicentre of this crisis, a long-term solution will require further cooperation from States all along migration routes, and the support of regional partners and the international community. Ireland has committed €15 million to the EU’s Trust Fund for Africa, which aims to address the root causes of destabilisation, forced displacement and irregular migration in Africa. Work to reduce poverty in countries of origin, which is one of the main drivers of irregular migratory flows, is at the core of Ireland’s aid programme.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (141)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

141. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of plans to deal with the undocumented Irish since the series of St. Patrick's Day visits. [16360/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Taoiseach and I have prioritised the issue of Irish immigration in the US since taking office. We will continue our efforts in this regard until we secure progress – both in terms of future legal immigration opportunities for Irish citizens; and in securing a pathway for those Irish who are undocumented in order to regularise their status.

Special Envoy to the US Congress on the Undocumented, Deputy John Deasy, has worked closely on these issues with my Department, and with Ireland's Ambassador to the US, Dan Mulhall, and his team at the Embassy in Washington, DC, in particular, since his appointment.

Building on this work, I visited the US in early February for a series of engagements with the US Administration and Congressional leaders on the full range of issues of mutual interest.  I raised immigration issues in these meetings, as I have done in all my interactions with the US Administration and US political leaders since taking office.

Additionally, the Taoiseach had a range of engagements at the highest levels of the US Administration and with Congressional leaders over the St Patrick's Day period. Eight other Government Ministers were also in the US over St Patrick's Day for one of our most ambitious ever programmes of engagement. They, too, were fully seized of the importance of securing relief for the undocumented Irish and raised the issue, as appropriate.

Following on from these many engagements over St. Patrick's Day, officials in my Department, including those in our Embassy in Washington, D.C., are following up with the contacts made and will reengage with US officials on issues of concern, such as the undocumented Irish.

In addition to this work, my Department, including through our Embassy and Consulates in the US, consistently works alongside the Irish Immigration Centres across the US to provide support to those Irish who are undocumented on an ongoing basis. Each Irish Centre receives significant Government funding through the Emigrant Support Programme each year for its work, including support for vulnerable Irish and the undocumented. In 2018, over €3 million was allocated to 76 organisations across the US, including the Irish Centers.

British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference

Questions (142)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

142. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised with his UK counterpart the need for a summit-level British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. [16385/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

It was agreed at the last meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference (BIIGC), which took place in Dublin on 2 November 2018, that the BIIGC would reconvene in spring 2019. Discussion is under way in relation to the scheduling of this next meeting. This will be an important opportunity to jointly review the latest developments in British-Irish relations and political developments in Northern Ireland, and also to consider the ongoing work and agenda for the BIIGC in the period ahead.

Brexit Preparations

Questions (143)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

143. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which the EU policy coherence unit aims to protect the Single Market in the event of a hard Brexit. [16359/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

We promote and protect Ireland’s interests in the EU through the work of the EU Division of my Department, our Embassies in Europe and the Permanent Mission to the EU in Brussels, in cooperation with the Department of the Taoiseach, and other Government Departments.

Ireland is strongly committed to the Single Market and continues to advocate that a properly functioning Single Market, in all areas of trading, is essential for Europe’s competitiveness on the global stage, and to facilitate Europe performing optimally at the highest point of global value chains.  Ease of access to cross-border trading opportunities within the EU is especially valuable to Irish and European SMEs.

There is ongoing and regular contact between the Government and the European Commission, at all levels, in relation to our preparedness and contingency measures for Brexit, including a no-deal scenario. We are working closely with the Commission on how to mitigate the negative impact on our trade and economy, and to ensure connectivity with the rest of the EU's Single Market, including via the landbridge.

In recent weeks, discussions have had an additional focus on how to protect the Good Friday Agreement and avoid a hard border in the case of no deal, while also protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place in them.  Ireland and the EU are at one in our determination to do all we can, deal or no deal, to avoid a hard border and to protect the peace process.

If the UK decides to leave without the Withdrawal Agreement, initial, temporary arrangements will be required. Such arrangements will be suboptimal compared to the backstop, and, while we are absolutely determined to avoid physical infrastructure at the border, it would be difficult to avoid serious disruption to the functioning of the all-island economy. There are no easy answers. The seamless trade we enjoy today would not be possible, and the benefits of the backstop for businesses in Northern Ireland will be lost, at least in the short term.

For any sustainable long-term solution, discussions between the EU, Ireland and the UK will be required, not least given the UK's obligations under the Good Friday Agreement as a co-guarantor of that agreement. For such a solution, it would be impossible to escape the need for close alignment with the Single Market and Customs Union, and the backstop would be the starting point for these discussions.

This is also why the Withdrawal Agreement is of such importance. It represents the only way to ensure an orderly UK withdrawal, and we continue to work as a priority to support its ratification.

Home Loan Scheme

Questions (144)

Shane Cassells

Question:

144. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Finance if persons who are eligible for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme for the purchase of a new-build home are not eligible for the help-to-buy scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16315/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Section 477C of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for the Help to Buy incentive (HTB), which came into effect on 19 July 2016. A number of conditions must be satisfied in order for an individual to be eligible to avail of the incentive.

To claim HTB, you must:

- be a first-time buyer;

- buy or build a new property between 19 July 2016 and 31 December 2019;

- If you are buying the property, you must have signed a contract to buy the property in that period.

- If you are self-building, you must have drawn down the first part of the mortgage in that period.

- live in the property as your main home for five years after you buy or build it; and

- be tax compliant, or if you are self-assessed, you must also have tax clearance.

Other conditions include:

- the contractor you are purchasing your home from must be approved by Revenue;

- the purchase value of your home must not exceed €500,000;

- you must take out your mortgage on the property with a qualifying lender, the definition of which includes a local authority;

- The loan must be used only for buying or building the property; and

- the loan must be at least 70% of the purchase value of the property.

While the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme is primarily a matter for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I understand that the loans in question are provided by the Local Authorities which, for the purposes of the HTB, are included within the definition of a 'qualifying lender'.

Therefore, an individual eligible for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme may also be eligible to avail of the HTB relief, provided the conditions set out above are met.

Further information in relation to the application and claim process for HTB are available on the Revenue website at:

https://www.revenue.ie/en/property/help-to-buy-incentive/how-do-you-apply-for-help-to-buy-htb.aspx.

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman

Questions (145)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

145. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance when cases (details supplied) will be decided upon by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16045/19]

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Written answers (Question to Finance)

Firstly, I must point out that the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO) is independent in the performance of his statutory functions.  I have no role in the day-to-day workings of the office or in the decisions which he takes.

Section 56(4) of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides that

"The Ombudsman shall, without prejudice to the form of investigation, ensure investigations are conducted otherwise than in public."

Given that the services provided by the FSPO are confidential in nature, it would not be appropriate for him to confirm or deny the existence of a complaint from a named complainant, nor would it be appropriate to comment on any individual case.

However, on the issue more generally, the Office of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman was established on 01 January 2018 to resolve complaints from consumers, including small businesses and other organisations, against financial service providers or pension providers. The Ombudsman provides an independent, fair, impartial, confidential and free service to resolve complaints through either informal mediation or formal investigation and adjudication.

When a consumer is unable to resolve a complaint or dispute with a financial service or pension provider, they can refer their complaint to the FSPO. The FSPO deals with complaints informally at first, by listening to both parties and engaging with them to facilitate a resolution that is acceptable to both parties.  Where these early interventions do not resolve the dispute, the FSPO formally investigates the complaint and issues a decision that is legally binding on both parties, subject only to an appeal to the High Court.

During the formal investigation of complaints, documentary and audio evidence, and other material, together with submissions from the parties, are gathered by the Office and exchanged between the parties. Following detailed consideration of all of the evidence and submissions made, a preliminary decision is issued to the parties and they are advised that certain limited further submissions can be made prior to the issuing of a legally binding decision.

The Ombudsman's aim is to resolve all complaints as effectively as possible. While many complaints can be resolved quite quickly through the informal processes which rely heavily on mediation techniques, it can take considerably longer to resolve complaints where a full investigation and adjudication is required. For those complaints which are resolved through the more formal process, the timeframe is determined by the number of submissions received from the parties as all the evidence must be gathered and exchanged in accordance with fair procedures before the issues are considered and a preliminary decision and subsequently a legally binding decision is issued to both parties. In addition, the adjudication of a complaint will sometimes require an oral hearing where evidence is taken under oath.

Section 62 of the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017 provides the FSPO with the power to publish legally binding decisions in relation to complaints concerning financial service providers. The legislation provides that decisions should be published in a manner that ensures that a complainant is not identified by name, address or otherwise and a provider is not identified by name or address.

Customs and Excise Staff

Questions (146, 153)

Joan Burton

Question:

146. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of additional customs officials of the Revenue Commissioners who have been hired; the number that will be in place by 12 April 2019; the locations and offices to which the additional staff have been posted, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16088/19]

View answer

Lisa Chambers

Question:

153. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Finance the number of the new 600 customs officers in operation on 29 March 2019; the number that are in place as of 2 April 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16211/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 146 and 153 together.

In September 2018, the Government granted approval in principle for the phased recruitment of an additional 600 Revenue staff to meet the challenges posed by Brexit.

Revenue has appointed over 470 staff from open recruitment and interdepartmental competitions since the start of 2019. The majority of these have been assigned to customs roles or to backfill existing Revenue staff assigned to customs duties. As serving staff are taking up their new Brexit-related positions, Revenue is backfilling the vacancies created through panels of candidates established from its general recruitment activity.

Over 400 staff have completed customs training in preparation for Brexit.  A further 80 staff are to complete customs training during April 2019.

The following table provides details of the additional staff that have been appointed to customs roles by location and office:

Location/Office

Location

Offices

Number

Munster

Cork, Limerick, Nenagh, Waterford

99

BMW

Athlone,Galway, Letterkenny, Dundalk, Sligo

29

Dublin

Airport, Port, City Centre

238

Wexford

Rosslare/Wexford

30

Rest of Leinster

Athy

5

Total

 

401

Revenue is an integrated tax and customs administration. Resources are deployed based on the evolving business needs to tackle any risks as they emerge.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Revenue has panels and training plans in place to appoint additional staff required for Brexit during 2019.