Schools Site Acquisitions

Questions (424)

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

424. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a site location can be made available for the new south Drogheda post-primary school that was announced in 2018 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20156/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

As the Deputy is aware, my Department announced plans in April 2018 for the establishment of 42 new schools over the next four years (2019 to 2022), including a new 600-pupil post-primary school to serve the Laytown & Drogheda area as a regional solution. 

It is intended that the school will open in suitable interim accommodation in the Mill Road/Colpe area of Drogheda in September 2019.  The schools patron body has been informed of this.  A planning application is currently being finalised and will be submitted to Meath County Council shortly.

School Services Staff

Questions (425)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

425. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on a campaign (details supplied) in particular the demand to be treated like other public sector workers in terms of pay and conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20159/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I recognise the very important work done by school secretaries, and indeed by other support staff, in the running of our schools and I am grateful to them for the contribution they make to our education system.  I have spoken to a number of school secretaries about their employment conditions and understand the issues they have raised.

Schemes were initiated in 1978 and 1979 for the employment of Clerical Officers and Caretakers in schools.  The schemes were withdrawn completely in 2008. 

These schemes have been superseded by the more extensive capitation grant schemes.  The current grant scheme was agreed in the context of the Programme for Economic and Social Progress, published in 1991. 

I have recently relaxed the moratorium for those C&C and ETB schools with enrolments of 700 and more which allow them to employ an additional School Secretaries up to a maximum of two per school. There are 91 schools in the C&C and ETB Sector who meet this criteria, based on the information currently available to this Department. This is an initial step and has taken immediate effect.

The majority of primary and voluntary secondary schools now receive assistance to provide for secretarial, caretaking and cleaning services under these grant schemes.  It is a matter for each individual school to decide how best to apply the grant funding to suit its particular needs. Where a school uses the grant funding for caretaking or secretarial purposes, any staff taken on to support those functions are employees of individual schools.  Specific responsibility for the pay and conditions rests with the school.

On foot of a Chairman’s Note to the Lansdowne Road Agreement, my Department engaged with the Unions representing school secretaries and caretakers, including through an independent arbitration process in 2015. The Arbitrator recommended a cumulative pay increase of 10% between 2016 and 2019 for staff and that a minimum hourly pay rate of €13 be phased in over that period.  This arbitration agreement covers the period up to 31 December 2019. 

The arbitration agreement was designed to be of greatest benefit to lower-paid secretaries and caretakers. For example, a Secretary or Caretaker who was paid the then minimum wage of €8.65 per hour in 2015 prior to the arbitration has from 1 January 2019, been paid €13 per hour which is a 50% increase in that individual’s hourly pay. 

Officials from my Department attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills on the 9 of April to discuss the status of non-teaching staff.

The FÓRSA trade union have requested a meeting with the Department to discuss pay arrangements for grant-funded Secretaries and Caretakers from 2020 onwards. The Department has agreed to arrange a meeting with the Union and is currently making arrangements for this meeting to take place in late May/early June.

Budget Measures

Questions (426)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

426. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans for student registration fees and student hardship in general in budget 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20160/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

I cannot comment, or pre-empt any decisions to be taken by Government as part of Budget 2020 at this stage, other than to assure the Deputy that funding for the higher education sector will continue to be a key focus for me and my Department. 

 The Student Contribution, which currently stands at €3,000, was introduced with effect from the 2011/12 academic year replacing the previous Student Services Charge. It should be noted that there has been no increase in the Student Contribution since the 2015/16 academic year.

Measures are in place to assist students and their parents in meeting the cost of the Student Contribution.  Almost 50% of full-time undergraduate students have all, or part of, the contribution paid by the State on their behalf through the Student Grant Scheme.

In addition, tax relief provisions are also available so that second and subsequent siblings do not have to bear the full cost of the Student Contribution.

The Student Assistance Fund (SAF) provides financial assistance to students experiencing financial difficulties while attending third level. This Fund assists students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise be unable to continue their third level studies due to their financial circumstances. Students can be assisted towards the rent, childcare costs, transport costs and books/class materials.

An additional €1m was added to the Fund in 2017 which is specifically ring-fenced for part-time students who are lone-parents or members of the other access target groups. Prior to that the fund supported full-time students only. €9.1million was allocated to the Fund in 2017/2018 which supported over 14,000 pupils. In December 2018 a further €1 million was added to the Fund for students attending Professional Masters of Education courses, who are experiencing financial difficulty. Details of this fund are available from the Access Office in the third level institution attended.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (427)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

427. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the status of the project brief for a school redevelopment project at a school (details supplied); the most recent contacts his Department has had with the school patron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20161/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that a building project for the school to which he refers is included in my Department's school building programme to be delivered as part of the National Development Plan (NDP).

My Department has recently advised the patron that the project brief will be finalised shortly. At that point, my Department will be in further contact with the patron who has agreed to deliver the project.

Schools Building Projects Status

Questions (428)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

428. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the project brief for a school redevelopment project at a school (details supplied) has been formulated; when the brief will proceed to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20162/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

The Deputy will be aware that a major building project, for the school to which he refers, is included in my Department's school building programme to be delivered as part of the National Development Plan (NDP).

My Department has recently advised the patron that the project brief will be finalised shortly. At that point, my Department will be in further contact with the patron who has agreed to deliver the project.

School Transport Expenditure

Questions (429)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

429. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Education and Skills if funding can be provided for sustaining small schools schemes for a bus service (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19394/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Education)

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department.

There are currently over 117,500 children, including over 13,000 children with special educational needs, transported in over 5,000 vehicles on a daily basis to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country covering over 100 million kilometres annually.

The purpose of my Department's Primary School Transport Scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. In general, children are eligible for school transport where they reside not less than 3.2 kilometres from and are attending their nearest national school.

All children who are eligible for school transport and who complete the application process on time will be accommodated under the terms of my Department's School Transport Scheme for the 2019/20 school year.

Personal Injury Claims

Questions (430)

Tom Neville

Question:

430. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to introduce legislation to cap insurance awards for soft tissue injuries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18391/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The issue of the introduction of legislation for the purpose of capping the damages which a court may award in respect of personal injuries is among those being considered by the Cost of Insurance Working Group (CIWG) established by the Minister for Finance in July 2016 and chaired by Minister of State, Michael D'Arcy TD. The objective of the Working Group is to identify and examine the drivers of the cost of insurance, and recommend short, medium and longer term measures to address the issue.

The Group published its Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance in January 2017 and its Report on the Cost of Employer and Public Liability Insurance in January 2018. As the Deputy will also be aware, this is an area also for consideration under the Civil Liability (Capping of General Damages) Bill 2019 that was introduced by Senator Anthony Lawlor as a Private Member’s Bill in the Seanad on 6th March 2019 where it has since completed Second Stage.

In response to recommendation 5 of the January 2018 Report of the CIWG, the Law Reform Commission is now carrying out a detailed analysis of the possibility of developing constitutionally sound legislation to delimit or cap the amounts of damages which a court may award in respect of some or all categories of personal injuries. This forms part of the Commission’s Fifth Programme of Law Reform approved by the Government on 20 March 2019. It is my understanding that the Law Reform Commission has given this project its immediate attention with the aim of publishing an issues paper in the coming months.

As emerged in the course of the Working Group's deliberations, this is an area of the law replete with complex constitutional and legal issues. The Working Group also recognised that a fundamental consideration in any analysis of this issue is whether a legislative cap on damages, or a similar measure, is necessary for the common good. At the same time, these aspects have to be balanced by the rights of genuine plaintiffs to an appropriate level of compensation. In short, the Working Group recognised that the State must be cognisant of the constitutional rights of all parties and must balance those rights to ensure any encroachment on them is justified, proportionate and in the common good.

The Personal Injuries Commission, which was established in January 2017, has also presented two reports over an 18-month work programme with a particular focus on soft-tissue, or whiplash, injuries. The Commission concluded that these types of injury account for a large proportion of claims by volume in Ireland. In its second report, the Commission presented the results of a benchmarking exercise which reveals that the level of general damages for soft tissue, or whiplash, injuries in this jurisdiction runs at a multiple of 4.4 times that of England and Wales. The Commission Chairperson, Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, stated that this information is such as to confirm publically expressed concerns about such levels of award and the effect they may be having on motorists and businesses who require insurance cover. The Commission Chairperson also referred to the detailed analysis which the Law Reform Commission has been asked to undertake in relation to possible legislation in this area and expressed the view that the Commission is best positioned and best resourced to advise further in this regard.

The possible introduction of legislation to cap insurance awards has, therefore, been taken in hand by the Government as part of its deliberations and programme of action under both the CIWG and the Personal Injuries Commission. This will now be supported by the necessary inputs and expertise of the Law Reform Commission. Together, these measures will inform any further steps which may be taken, including in terms of what possible legislative or other measures may be considered appropriate and with due regard to the relevant legal and constitutional aspects to which I have referred.

Finally, as part of its findings, the Personal Injuries Commission recommended that the future Judicial Council be assigned the function, under its statute, of compiling guidelines for appropriate general damages for various types of personal injury, and that pending introduction of such legislation, the judiciary participate with representatives of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board and my Department in the formulation of guidelines as to quantum in the case of claims for damages for soft tissue/whiplash injuries. These are matters on which I am in on-going discussion with the Chief Justice and the Attorney General while I will also be bringing forward appropriate amendments to the Judicial Council Bill, which has just completed Committee Stage in the Seanad.

Child Protection

Questions (431)

Robert Troy

Question:

431. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the legislation in place to prevent the grooming of children. [19022/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Government takes the issue of sexual exploitation of children very seriously and there is comprehensive legislation in place to deal with these offences.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act was enacted in early 2017. It is a wide-ranging piece of legislation, which significantly enhances laws to combat the sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children. Specific offences have been provided for in this Act to target the recognised steps in what is often a gradual process of grooming a victim.

Among the provisions of the 2017 Act are measures to strengthen significantly the existing criminal law in combatting child exploitation and, in particular, to address the use of modern communication technologies as a tool which may lead to child sexual exploitation.

Deputies will be aware that sophisticated grooming often involves seemingly innocent contact with, or befriending of, a child, perhaps through text messaging, social media or messaging apps. This may be followed by the exposure of the child to sexual images or content. Section 8 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 provides for a specific offence of using information and communications technology to communicate with a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The new offence will allow An Garda Síochána to investigate and bring to justice online predators and carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.

Section 8 of the Sexual Offences Act 2017 also includes an offence of sending sexually explicit material to a child. This is in recognition that the intention behind this type of activity may be to expose the child to such material with a view to developing the child’s familiarity with such material or activity so as to facilitate the production of pornography or to meet the child for the purposes of sexual exploitation. The penalty for this offence is up to 5 years imprisonment.

Deputies will also be aware that child trafficking and exploitation (including the production of child pornography) are criminalised under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998, as amended by Section 3 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 amended the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 to raise the maximum penalty for engaging in a sexual act with a child who is under the age of 17 years from 5 to 7 years' imprisonment. Furthermore, the 2017 Act amends the 2006 Act to raise the maximum penalty for attempting to engage in a sexual act with a child under the age of 17 years from 2 to 7 years imprisonment.

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 also provides that the maximum penalty for engaging in a sexual act with a child under the age of 15 years is life imprisonment and the same penalty applies to attempting to engage in a sexual act with a child under the age of 15 years.

Residency Permits

Questions (432)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

432. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a review can be undertaken on the decision to refuse a de facto visa in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19353/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the person concerned made an application for permission to reside as the de facto partner of an Irish National under the INIS Policy Document on Non-EEA Family Reunification. That application was refused on 25 April, 2019 as she did not meet the relevant criteria. In line with the policy document, it is open to the person concerned to seek a review of that decision. Such a request must be made in writing to INISdefacto@justice.ie.

I am further informed that it is open to any visa required national to apply for a visa for any purpose. Each visa application is considered on its individual merits with the Visa Officer having regard to all of the information and documentation available. The onus rests at all times with the applicant to satisfy the Visa Officer that the particular visa sought should be granted.

Guidelines on how to apply for particular types of visas are available on the INIS website at www.inis.gov.ie Detailed information on the circumstances in which a person can seek to sponsor a family member to join them in the State is also contained in the policy document on Non-EEA Family Reunification.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS of my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility, which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Assisted Decision Making

Questions (433, 451)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

433. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the new decision support service as provided for in the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 will become functional; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19767/19]

View answer

Paul Kehoe

Question:

451. Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the introduction of the decision support service; when the service will be fully operational in order to commence the operation of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18595/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 433 and 451 together.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. The Act was signed into law on 30 December 2015 but has not yet been fully commenced. The Act provides for the establishment of new administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission (a body under the Department of Health).

The Decision Support Service is working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the 2015 Act in 2020. This lead-in timeframe ensures that the necessary staff resources, processes, IT system, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that the Decision Support Service will have the capacity to be up and running effectively.

A high-level Steering Group comprised of senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the Director of the Decision Support Service, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the Decision Support Service and this work is ongoing. There are many complex strands to this work, including involvement of multiple organisations. The 2019 Revised Estimates Volume provides for an allocation of €3.5 million in the Justice and Equality Vote for the establishment of the Decision Support Service.

A number of provisions of the 2015 Act were commenced in October 2016 in order to progress the setting up of the Decision Support Service. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 515 of 2016) commenced provisions of the Act to enable the recruitment of the Director of the Decision Support Service. Ms Áine Flynn was appointed Director of the Decision Support Service on 2 October 2017.

The commencement of Part 8 of the Act, which provides a legislative framework for advance healthcare directives, is a matter for the Minister for Health. On 17 October 2016 the Minister for Health established a multidisciplinary working group to assist in the development and preparation of the code of practice for the AHD provisions of the Act. The role of the working group is to prepare a detailed series of recommendations for the Director of the Decision Support Service in relation to codes of practice. In anticipation of the completion of that process, the Minister for Health commenced the remainder of section 91 on 17 December 2018 (S.I. No. 527 of 2018).

The key preparations are being put in place under the oversight of the Steering Group to allow for further commencement orders for the provisions of the 2015 Act to be made when the Decision Support Service is ready to roll out the new decision-making support options.

Protected Disclosures

Questions (434)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

434. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he has received a protected disclosure in respect of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18965/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that correspondence has recently been received in my Department regarding an allegation relating to the Irish Prison Service, citing the Protected Disclosures Act. This matter is the subject of a preliminary assessment at present, and as the matter is being treated as a protected disclosure it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the individual case.

Garda Deployment

Questions (435)

John Lahart

Question:

435. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of rank and file gardaí in Terenure Garda station since 2012, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18401/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will appreciate, it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for the distribution of resources, including personnel, among the various Garda Divisions and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. Garda management keeps this distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure that the optimum use is made of these resources.

Since the reopening of the Garda College in September 2014, almost 2,600 Garda recruits have been assigned to mainstream duties nationwide, of whom 189 were assigned to the DMR South Division, 18 of whom were assigned to Terenure Garda Station.

The Garda strength of the DMR South Division, from 2009 to 31 March 2019 as provided by the Garda Commissioner is available on my Department’s website through the link below:

http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/002_Garda_Numbers_by_Division_District_and_Station_2009_to_March_2019.xlsx/Files/002_Garda_Numbers_by_Division_District_and_Station_2009_to_March_2019.xlsx

The Government has increased the budget for An Garda Síochána to €1.76 billion for 2019, which includes provision for the recruitment of up to 800 Gardaí this year. The Commissioner has informed me that he plans to recruit a total of 600 trainee Gardaí in 2019 and 600 Garda Civilian Staff. This Garda Staff recruitment will allow the Commissioner to redeploy a further 500 fully trained Gardaí from administrative duties to frontline policing in 2019.

For more general information on Garda Facts and Figures please see the following link:

http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/An_Garda_Siochana_facts_and_figures.

Student Visas Applications

Questions (436, 437, 438, 439)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

436. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of applications processed to date under the special student scheme accepted and rejected, respectively. [18420/19]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

437. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the recent abolition of the re-entry visa requirement results in extra staff allocation towards processing of special student scheme applications. [18421/19]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

438. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if there is a deadline to complete the processing of all special student scheme applications. [18422/19]

View answer

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

439. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason the processing of the special student scheme was not simplified by issuing temporary visas to applicants that applied on the portal online instead of delaying (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18423/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 436 to 439, inclusive, together.

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the Special Scheme for Students closed to new applications on 20th January, 2019. The scheme applies to students who were registered between 1st January 2005 and 31st December 2010 when new immigration arrangements for students came into operation. Part of these arrangements provided for students registered before 2010 to finish their course of study including provision for access to the labour market in line with relevant criteria.

The Deputy will appreciate that it is necessary to process applications under the Scheme in compliance with legal requirements and in accordance with the Scheme criteria. In light of this, applicants and their family members are not provided with an immigration permission with a right to access the labour market pending consideration of their overall immigration history in the State and individual circumstances. To do otherwise would undermine the scheme which is designed to address a situation where applicants have fallen out of permission. Such applicants must first demonstrate their eligibility for the scheme and subsequently have their applications approved before a permission can be granted to them. It should be noted however, that, once a person’s application under this Scheme has been acknowledged, the immigration authorities will, for the period it takes to process the application for this scheme and issue a decision, take no steps to remove an applicant from the State purely on the basis that the person’s immigration permission has expired.

INIS received approximately 3,100 applications comprising former students and their family members under the scheme. To date, INIS made a decision in 1,166 cases. A total of 1,052 were granted and 114 applications refused.

I am further informed that it is open to persons to request a review of a decision to refuse. To date, INIS received a total of 45 applications for a review. INIS made a decision in 15 of those cases. In 14 cases the review officer upheld the original decision to refuse.

While every effort is made to process applications as soon as possible, processing times will vary having regard to the overall volume of applications and the complexity of individual cases. INIS has taken a number of measures to address this cohort of complex cases including the introduction of an on-line application facility for the scheme to make it as streamlined as possible for applicants.

I can assure the Deputy that the resources available for these activities, which includes the provision of overtime, and the accompanying operational and organisational structures, are kept under ongoing review to ensure that applications are processed as efficiently as possible.

Naturalisation Applications

Questions (440)

Timmy Dooley

Question:

440. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when an application for naturalisation will be finalised for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18428/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the processing of the application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to by the Deputy is ongoing. On completion of the necessary processing the application will be submitted to me for decision as expeditiously as possible. Should further documentation be required it will be requested from the applicant in due course.

As the Deputy will appreciate, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is a privilege and an honour which confers certain rights and entitlements, not only within the State but also at European Union level, and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. The nature of the naturalisation process is such that, for a broad range of reasons, some cases will take longer than others to process. In some instances, completing the necessary checks can take a considerable period of time.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS of my Department by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Drugs Crime

Questions (441)

Micheál Martin

Question:

441. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to drug pushers selling drugs in the Clonliffe area harassing persons living in the area; the actions being taken to address these issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18487/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I have asked for a report from An Garda Síochána in relation to the specific issue raised by the Deputy and I will be in contact directly when the report is received.

I would also remind the Deputy that An Garda Síochána have a number of intelligence led operations to tackle drugs and other criminal activity in our communities. Responses include the deployment of specialist Garda Units providing a targeted response to specific categories of crime, including the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau where necessary. To support this activity the Government has provided An Garda Síochána with an unprecedented level of resources in recent years including an additional €100 million in 2019 bringing total budget to almost €1.8 billion. This substantial investment is allowing the accelerated recruitment programme to continue in tandem with the deployment of new and leading edge technology to support our front line Gardaí in carrying out their work of delivering a visible, effective and responsive police service to communities including the Clonliffe area and across all Garda Divisions in 2019.

Firearms Licences

Questions (442, 443, 444)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

442. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a formal decision was taken to allow PSNI officers to carry weapons here which has been reported as being the case since 2013. [18540/19]

View answer

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

443. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a formal decision was taken to allow PSNI officers to carry weapons here which has been reported as being the case since 2013; if not, the level at which the decision was taken; and if the decision was communicated to other Departments after the decision was taken. [18541/19]

View answer

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

444. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a formal decision was taken to allow PSNI officers to carry weapons here which has been reported as being the case since 2013. [18542/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 442 to 444, inclusive, together.

Arrangements may be put in place, in accordance with the law, whereby members of services from outside the State may be licensed to carry firearms for the purposes of providing close personal protection.

Under Section 2 the Firearms (Firearms Certificate for Non- Residents) Act 2000, the Minister for Justice and Equality has a power to grant firearms certificates, including to official security personnel from other jurisdictions, where it is deemed necessary to do so. Decisions in relation to the grant of certificates to such personnel are made in accordance with the legislation and following consultation with the Garda authorities. This is a normal and established feature of relations between states.

The arrangements that may be put in place for the protection of individuals are first and foremost matters for the Garda authorities, who have operational responsibility and who work closely with their police and security counterparts in this regard. An Garda Síochána and the PSNI co-operate on an ongoing basis in what is an essential relationship in guaranteeing security and community safety on this island.

A reciprocal arrangement is in place since 2013 between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI relating to the carriage of firearms in relation to certain people travelling between the two jurisdictions. The agreement of the Minister for Justice and Equality was obtained in respect of the arrangement and the grant of firearms certificates for this purpose is undertaken in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 2000.

Firearms Certificates

Questions (445)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

445. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of times firearms certificates have been granted to personnel from other jurisdictions; the personnel granted certificates and the circumstances in which they were granted. [18543/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

Firstly, I assume the Deputy is primarily referring to official foreign security personnel who accompany certain persons, such as visiting dignitaries and others, when travelling to this State. The general legal position is that under Section 2(2)(b) of the Firearms (Firearms Certificate for Non-Residents) Act 2000, the Minister for Justice and Equality has a power to grant firearms certificates, including to official foreign security personnel, where it is deemed necessary to do so. This is a normal and established feature of international relations between states.

Decisions in relation to the grant of certificates to official foreign security personnel are made following consultation with An Garda Síochána. As the House will appreciate, for obvious reasons, it is long standing practice not to comment in detail on matters relating to security in such circumstances.

Firearms certificates were granted in respect of a total of 131 such personnel in 2017 and a total of 134 in 2018.

In addition, a number of firearms certificates were issued to State personnel from other jurisdictions in different circumstances. These included certificates granted for ceremonial purposes; to a veterinary team; and foreign defence personnel who were participating in target shooting competitions or target shooting training courses in the State. Separately, firearms certificates for non-residents who wish to shoot in the State for hunting and sporting purposes are issued by An Garda Síochána.

Road Traffic Legislation

Questions (446)

Catherine Martin

Question:

446. Deputy Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will report on the discussions of the cross-agency group on quads and scramblers; the number of times it has met; the recommendations it is bringing forward; if it is recommending legislative changes regarding the seizure powers of An Garda Síochána; if the cross agency group is considering recommendations regarding legislation providing for a minimum age of ownership, registration and effective deterrents for when they are used in non-legal situations; if these recommendations have been examined by the Office of the Attorney General; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18544/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy may be aware, in April 2018 the Department convened the cross-agency meeting of all relevant stakeholders to discuss how to address the issue of the antisocial use of scramblers/quad bikes. It was agreed that this group would meet on-demand depending on the direction of work.

As I have outlined previously in this House, the main outcome of the initial meeting was to seek formal legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General in relation to a number of legislative areas, to ascertain whether current legal provisions are sufficient or whether new provisions, or amendments to current provisions, are required to assist An Garda Síochána, without giving rise to any unintended negative legislative consequences.

In response to Deputy Rock on 10 April, I outlined that, once the legal advice was received and considered in detail by Government officials, the group was reconvened on a more focused basis on 15 March 2019. The main purpose of this meeting was to consider any legislative requirements, in light of the advices, with members of An Garda Síochána. It was agreed by those attending that current legislative provisions are sufficient. Of course, it remains open to An Garda Síochána to contact the Department in the event that any legislative gaps are identified.

In relation to recommendations of the group; in the absence of a need for new legislation, it is envisaged that an effective response to this behaviour will be informed by a combination of targeted enforcement measures, awareness-raising, and youth engagement programmes. These measures will be progressed in conjunction with the relevant Departments and agencies.

Again, I must emphasise that policing this issue is a complex matter, due to the difficulties Gardaí experience when attempting to intercept offenders who are in breach of current laws. Interception poses considerable risks to not only the rider, but also to the intercepting Garda and persons in the vicinity. However, I remain committed to finding solutions with our partners, and will provide further updates to this House when the conclusions arising from this process become available.

Finally, I would like to reiterate the comments of Mr Keith Synnott, consultant at the National Spinal Injuries Unit in the Mater hospital, who last week stated that these vehicles are not toys; they are heavy, dangerous pieces of machinery that can cause life-changing injuries or death. I would appeal to the family members, and friends, of those who use these vehicles in urban environments to be aware of the catastrophic consequences that can unfold when using these vehicles in a public place. While there is considerable danger to the rider, members of the community, young and old, who are entitled to enjoy our public spaces in a safe and peaceful manner, are also at risk.

Prison Staff

Questions (447)

Clare Daly

Question:

447. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if his attention has been drawn to ongoing concerns by prison staff regarding bullying and having to work excessive hours without appropriate breaks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18583/19]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I have been advised by the Irish Prison Service that they are not aware of any prison staff working without being in receipt of any breaks.

All prison grades work an average 39 hour rostered week. In addition to this many staff members also work a set amount of additional hours for which officers receive a payment at a premium rate. The additional hours worked by prison grades are at varying bands and can amount to 112, 240 or 360 additional hours annually.

I am also advised that all agreed rosters for attendance of prison staff contain a number of rostered breaks varying from 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the relevant shift pattern being worked by a particular staff member.

Direct Provision Data

Questions (448)

Jack Chambers

Question:

448. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons in direct provision in each of the past five years in tabular form; his plans to address the issues with the direct provision system; if he will consider alternatives to direct provision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18589/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The statistical data the Deputy requires is detailed in the following table. These figures relate to the 31st of December of each year.

Tabular Statement

Year

RIA Occupancy

2013

4360

2014

4364

2015

4696

2016

4425

2017

5096

2018

6115

The Department of Justice and Equality working together with other Departments and agencies have already introduced far-reaching and important reforms to the overall system and this process will continue as we strive to make further improvements in the future. One of the most significant improvements being the introduction of independent living.

Independent living allows applicants to obtain food, toiletries and other products in a specially constructed food hall in the centre. Applicants then cook the food at either communal or individual cooking stations.

Independent living provides applicants with a significant degree of autonomy and prepares them for life after the protection process. As of early April 2019, over 2,200 applicants across eight centres can avail of the independent living model. In addition, almost 1,400 other applicants have access to other self-catering facilities with food provided by the contractor or the applicant themselves. The Department of Justice and Equality anticipates that all of the centres under contract to it will have moved to the independent living model by mid-2020.

In addition, there have been significant improvements to recreation opportunities, such as the provision of outdoor sports pitches, including ‘all-weather’ facilities, teenagers rooms and family living rooms in centres to provide social areas for particular age groups. Friends of the Centre groups have also been established in each centre. This initiative aims to bring residents, community and voluntary groups together with a view to increasing integration opportunities and providing for the development of greater community linkages with the residents and the centre.

A Standards Advisory Group was established in 2017. The role of this group was to develop a set of standards for accommodation for those seeking international protection. The group consisted of representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality, Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the NGO community and former residents. The national standards will meet the standards set out in the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive and will take due cognisance of the responsibility to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights as defined by the Public Sector Equality and Human Rights Duty.

The Government decision to opt-in to the Recast Reception Conditions Directive is a significant and positive measure, not only in addressing the matter of labour market access, but also extending to children’s rights, rights for unaccompanied minors, vulnerable people, new appeals processes, healthcare and education provision. In addition, any complaints about accommodation and related matters can be made to the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children as appropriate.

The nature of international protection is that it is demand led and accordingly the State must provide sufficient accommodation to meet that demand. This process is underway with the aim of meeting both short and medium term requirements.

My officials continue to examine best international practice and to engage with relevant statutory and civil society stakeholders to explore options with regard to providing accommodation and supports for persons seeking international protection.