Defence Forces Pensions

Questions (105)

Robert Troy

Question:

105. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if changes will be made to the Army pension system to allow retired personnel to work in more financially rewarding roles (details supplied). [21390/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The issue raised by the Deputy relates to the operation of Section 52 of the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and other Provisions) Act 2012.

This provides that where a retired public servant who is in receipt of a public service retirement pension resumes employment anywhere in the public service on or after 1 November 2012, their pension is liable to abatement, that is, cessation or reduction as appropriate. The measure applies across the public service, including the Defence Forces. However, it does not apply in relation to employment with the commercial semi-State bodies or where public service pensioners are employed outside the public service.

Pension abatement in the public service is structured to ensure that a pensioner's combined earnings from their current public service job plus their existing public service retirement pension do not exceed the current equivalent of pensionable salary from their old public service job. Depending on those variables, the actual impact (if any) from the measure on a person’s public service pension will vary from person to person.  For example, where a person’s combined public service earnings from their current job plus pension are less than the current equivalent of their pensionable earnings from their old job e.g. in the Defence Forces, there is no reduction of pension.

I should point out that prior to 1 November 2012, this abatement principle / concept already operated as a standard feature of public service pension schemes generally. However, this was only within individual sectors and bodies where a public service pensioner resumed working in his or her former occupation, e.g. Defence Forces, Garda, Civil Service etc. The 2012 Act extends the principle across and between all sectors without exception, thereby restoring the arrangements that were in place until 1965.

I should also state that a public service pensioner already in public service employment immediately before 1 November 2012 is not affected by the change while he or she remains in that post/position.  However, if their employment status changes after that date, for example, where they secure a new post through promotion with their current public service employer or where they move to a different post or public service body, their pension is subject to abatement in accordance with the legislation.

The Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and other Provisions) Act 2012 comes under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and the question of any changes to that Act would therefore be a matter for him in the first instance.

Army Barracks

Questions (106)

Peter Burke

Question:

106. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the position regarding St. Bricin's military facility (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21410/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

My Officials have had proactive engagements with the Land Development Agency (LDA) both prior to and since its formal establishment in relation to potential landholdings which may be of interest to them for the development of housing provision. The LDA have confirmed to the Department that they are interested in acquiring the former Columb Barracks in Mullingar and to this end the Department has commenced the necessary background work antecedent to the formal negotiations and transfer to the LDA.

The LDA have also confirmed a future interest in acquiring the St. Bricins medical facility in Dublin City.  My Officials and the Defence Forces are now scoping out the implications of accommodating the services currently provided at St. Bricins to an alternative location elsewhere in the Defence Forces property portfolio.  My Department will continue to liaise with the LDA in accordance with the Government’s decision on the establishment of the LDA.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (107)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

107. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the amount spent in fees to companies (details supplied) by his Department in each of the years 2011 to 2018, inclusive. [21577/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

In 2013, my Department paid fees totalling €1,987.38 to the fourth of the companies referred to by the Deputy. These were the total fees paid by my Department to the companies referred to by the Deputy during the period 2011 to 2018.

Civil Defence

Questions (108)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

108. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address concerns that the Civil Defence is being prevented from participating or assisting at community events and functions in which it would have normally taken part due to changes in its function; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21661/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

Civil Defence is an organisation of approximately 3,500 volunteers that supports the Principal Response Agencies, Government Departments and State agencies during emergency and non-emergency events. Its role is set out in the 2015 Government White Paper on Defence.

In 2018, a total of 2,795 operations were undertaken by Civil Defence.

Civil Defence has a proud tradition of assisting at community events across the country. Much of this activity involves the provision of emergency medical services. The Pre Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) is the regulator for emergency medical services in Ireland and their role is to protect the public. The Pre Hospital Emergency Care Council require organisations that wish to be operational to apply to them for an annual licence to operate. Civil Defence is currently licenced by PHECC up to 30 July 2019.

In advance of the renewal process in November 2018, my officials reviewed the statutory declaration. That review identified that some assurances and details required as part of the licensing process are not within the control or remit of the Department of Defence as responsibility for Civil Defence operations rests with local authorities as set out in the 2015 Government White Paper on Defence.

There has been ongoing engagement on this issue between my officials, senior officials from the Pre Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) and with representatives of the Local Authorities through the County and City Management Association (CCMA) since early this year.

The most recent engagement was on Wednesday 15 May 2019.  At that meeting, there was continued positive engagement in line with the clear desire from all parties to resolve the issue, to ensure the emergency medical services provided by Civil Defence volunteers can continue. Further engagement will take place over the coming weeks.

I am committed to ensuring that the excellent service Civil Defence volunteers provide in terms of emergency medical services in emergency and non-emergency events continues beyond 30 July 2019 and I am confident all three parties can reach agreement, while recognising the unique structure of the Civil Defence organisation.

Defence Forces Remuneration

Questions (109)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

109. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps taken to ensure that all branches of the Defence Forces have ready access to pay and service conditions comparable to the conditions of those branches alongside which they may be deployed on overseas missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21765/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

Rates of pay and conditions of employment in the Defence Forces have traditionally been set by, amongst other things, reference to levels of pay across the various sectors of the Irish public service.  Basic pay is just an element of the overall remuneration package for members of the Permanent Defence Force. In addition to basic pay, a range of duties attract additional allowances.

Overseas Peace Support Allowance is paid to members of the Permanent Defence Force participating in overseas military operations on direction of the Government. Overseas Armed Peace Support Allowance is paid in addition to the Overseas Peace Support Allowance to members of an armed contingent of the Permanent Defence Force which has been dispatched for overseas military operations. These allowances are paid tax-free.

Certain overseas appointments attract expense-related allowances to ensure that Military Staff are not “out of pocket” as a consequence of necessarily incurred expenses in the discharge of their duties while living abroad. These expenses include a Cost of Living Allowance associated with a higher cost of living index at the post abroad, a Local Post Allowance and a rent allowance, where applicable.

Military Medals

Questions (110)

Jack Chambers

Question:

110. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence his plans to address correspondence regarding the awarding of military medals to persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21807/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

I wish to state at the outset that I recognise at every opportunity the quality of the service given by all members of Óglaigh na hÉireann at home and overseas, especially by those who paid the ultimate price for such service.

Members of the Defence Forces who have died in service are remembered annually in July on the National Day of Commemoration at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

As the Deputy will appreciate, there is a specific process in place concerning the nomination of an individual for a medal and this is set out in Defence Forces Regulations and associated Administrative Instructions.

These regulations and associated Administrative Instructions provide that a nomination for the award of the Military Medal for Gallantry (MMG) may be made and forwarded through the appropriate military chain of command to the Chief of Staff, who decides whether or not to appoint a Military Board to examine and report on a recommendation on the matter. Furthermore, there is a time limit of two years for submission of a recommendation to award a MMG.

I am informed that the Deputy Chief of Staff (Support) received a letter, dated 10 November 2018, in which it is proposed that five personnel be awarded the MMG. An examination by the Military Authorities of the case submitted revealed that the proposal fell outside the timeframe as outlined in the Regulations.

Defence Forces Personnel Data

Questions (111)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

111. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of personnel who entered and left, respectively, the Permanent Defence Force in each of the years 2017 and 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21994/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The following table contains the information requested by the Deputy and, to provide context, also includes comparable figures from 2002.

Year

Inductions

Discharges

2002

637

768

2003

558

622

2004

659

586

2005

458

566

2006

631

641

2007

633

696

2008

525

575

2009

41

520

2010

150

536

2011

559

692

2012

721

803

2013

445

473

2014

508

481

2015

405

571

2016

690

679

2017

751

742

2018

612

731

2019*

52

161

*as of 31st March 2019

It should be noted that, on average, over 20% of those that leave have not completed their induction training.

The Government remains committed to ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces to return to, and maintain, the establishment level of 9,500 personnel as set out in the White Paper on Defence 2015 and it is anticipated that some 800 personnel will be inducted in 2019. Traditionally, significant inductions take place in the latter part of the year.

Foreign Naval Vessels

Questions (112)

Clare Daly

Question:

112. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence further to Parliamentary Question No. 61 of 8 May 2019, the action that will be taken against those involved in or permitting the exercises in question (details supplied). [22015/19]

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Written answers (Question to Defence)

The three Royal Navy University training boats were in Ireland as part of a routine visit.  These boats are part of the University Royal Naval Unit fleet, whose primary role is undergraduate sea training in navigational skills and seamanship to prepare university students for a career in the Royal Navy.  The Irish Naval Service availed of the opportunity to conduct professional maritime training (non-military) whilst the vessels were in Ireland as part of a routine visit.

EU Declarations

Questions (113)

Micheál Martin

Question:

113. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to implement the Sibiu declaration; and if this will involve an interdepartmental group or Cabinet committee. [21835/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Heads of State and Government of the EU27 adopted the Sibiu Declaration at the informal European Council meeting on 9 May. Agreed on Europe Day, the Declaration recalls key achievements of the EU and sets out 10 commitments to guide the decisions that leaders will take about the future.

At the same time, leaders discussed strategic priorities for the coming years, with a view to adopting the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 at the June European Council. The Strategic Agenda will guide the work of the Union over the next five years.

Preparations for Ireland's contribution to the new Strategic Agenda have been under way since late 2017, when the Minister of State for European Affairs and I joined the Taoiseach in launching a citizens' dialogue on the future of Europe. There was extensive engagement across the country last year and a narrative report on the citizens' dialogue process was published in October.

On foot of this report, my Department, together with the Department of the Taoiseach, held consultations with Departments across Government earlier this year. Discussions were also held as part of this process in the Interdepartmental Group on the European Union and Brexit, which consists of senior representatives of all Government Departments and the Office of the Attorney General. The Group focuses on current issues on the EU agenda, including the new Strategic Agenda.

Following these discussions, Ireland's National Statement on the European Union was approved by the Cabinet last month. The National Statement is Ireland's contribution to the new Strategic Agenda. It has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and was the subject of statements in Dáil Éireann just before the Easter recess.

It is expected, as I have indicated, that the EU Strategic Agenda 2019-2024 will be adopted at the European Council next month and discussion on the draft text, which began in Sibiu, will continue in the meantime. The Government will prioritise work, including engagement with partners, on the issues which will be highlighted in the Strategic Agenda and in the incoming Commission’s work programme.

Cross-Border Co-operation

Questions (114)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

114. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if an application for reconciliation fund grant aid has been received from an organisation (details supplied) in County Donegal; if so, when a decision on same will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21351/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department’s Reconciliation Fund awards grants to organisations working to build better relations within and between traditions in Northern Ireland, between North and South, and between Ireland and Britain.  It operates on the basis of two annual funding rounds.  The first round of 2019 opened on 26th March and closed on 16th April. By the closing date, no funding application had been received from the particular organisation referred to by the Deputy.  That organisation has, however, been in contact separately with my officials, since the first funding round closed, regarding the possibility of making an application.  My officials are assisting the organisation with its enquiries and providing the necessary information to enable the organisation to apply, should it wish to do so, in the next funding round, scheduled for autumn 2019.

Details of the timing for the second funding round will be posted to the Reconciliation Fund page on my Department’s website during summer 2019.  Further information on the operation of the Fund and the application process is available at: www.dfa.ie/about-us/funding/reconciliation-fund/.

Passport Controls

Questions (115)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

115. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the confiscation of the passport of a person (details supplied) by the German authorities while under the care of their legal guardian; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21436/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs is not aware of the case referred to by the Deputy. Irish citizens in Germany requiring consular assistance are encouraged to make contact with the Embassy of Ireland in Berlin, which will be able to provide the appropriate guidance and support.

Passport Applications

Questions (116)

Alan Kelly

Question:

116. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a passport application by a person (details supplied) will be expedited and processed in time for them to travel on 5 June 2019 in view of the fact that proof of travel has been provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21558/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

An application for a first Irish passport for the person in question was registered with the Passport Service on the 13 May 2019.

The Passport Service aims to process first-time passport applications submitted via Passport Express within 20 working days. At present, first time applications submitted through Passport Express are being processed in an average time of 22 working days, excluding postage time. First-time applications require additional security measures including robust identity verification and entitlement checking and, as a result, take longer to process.

The Passport Service endeavours to issue passports as swiftly as possible in a way that is fair and equitable to all citizens. The individual’s travel date of 5 June has been noted and will be brought to the attention of the relevant team.

Departmental Expenditure

Questions (117)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

117. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the amount spent in fees to companies (details supplied) by his Department in each of the years 2011 to 2018, inclusive. [21581/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Under International Auditing Standards there is an obligation to have an independent assessment of the work of the Evaluation and Audit Unit of the Department carried out every five years. This is an external quality assurance requirement. Ernst and Young undertook this assessment work in 2018 and a payment of €15,990 was made to the company by the Department last year.

My Department also made a payment to Deloitte of €8,034 in 2016. This related to ICT services supplied by IBM via Deloitte, which was acting as a reseller in the provision of the service.

Human Rights Cases

Questions (118, 119)

Niall Collins

Question:

118. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made at EU level to address concerns about human rights abuses in Bahrain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21600/19]

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Niall Collins

Question:

119. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has formally raised the issue of human rights abuses and the detention of human rights defenders with the Bahraini authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21601/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 119 together.

The human rights situation in Bahrain remains a matter of concern.

My Department regularly raises the issue of human rights abuses and the detention of human rights defenders with the Bahraini authorities. Most recently officials from my Department met with officials from the Bahraini Embassy in March 2019 and raised our human rights concerns directly with them.

Through our interventions at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Ireland has repeatedly raised concerns about the human rights situation in Bahrain. Ireland regularly raises the issue in our Item 4 statement on ‘human rights situations that require the Council’s attention’, most recently in September 2018 and again in February 2019.

At the most recent HRC Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain's human rights record in 2017, Ireland urged Bahrain to accept an open offer by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Bahrain.

The European External Action Service, on behalf of the EU, holds a regular informal human rights dialogue with the Bahraini authorities at which individual human rights cases are raised and concerns relayed regarding the human rights situation in the country.

My Department will continue to monitor developments in Bahrain, and to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to make progress in relation to human rights. We shall do so both directly with Bahraini officials, as well as at EU and international level, whenever opportunities arise.

EU Issues

Questions (120)

Niall Collins

Question:

120. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the situation in Romania and planned legal changes which could undermine the rule of law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21602/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

When Romania joined the EU on 1 January 2007, the EU established the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) as a transitional measure to assist the new Member State in addressing issues in regard to the rule of law, particularly in relation to judicial reform and the fight against corruption.  The European Commission reports annually to the European Parliament and the Council on progress towards meeting the established CVM benchmarks. The Commission’s annual assessments are based on careful analysis and monitoring, drawing on a continuous dialogue with the Romanian authorities and with other EU countries, civil society, international organisations, independent experts and a variety of other interlocutors.

Romania was deemed to have made good progress over a number of years.  However, over the past three years the European Commission has conveyed concerns to the Romanian Government.  Earlier this month, Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans wrote to the Romanian President, the Presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, and the Prime Minister, setting out in some detail the Commission’s opinion that various legislative amendments, which have mostly been introduced via emergency ordinances that bypass normal stakeholder consultations, have contributed to the weakening of judicial independence and the fight against corruption and crime. He warned that unless corrective measures were quickly applied, or if further negative steps were taken, the Commission would initiate the Rule of Law Framework enabling dialogue between the two sides aimed at avoiding the triggering of Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union.  The Rule of Law Framework would temporarily replace the CVM process, although it would take account of the CVM benchmarks and recommendations.  Mr. Timmermans also noted that the CVM would remain operational into the future, until its benchmarks and recommendations were fully and satisfactorily met.  Furthermore, the letter warned that the Commission would act swiftly in response to any EU Treaty infringements by Romania.

Ireland shares the objectives of the Commission, which are to help the Romanian authorities find solutions to the rule of law issues that have emerged, and to resume and indeed accelerate progress towards meeting the CVM benchmarks and recommendations. The Irish Embassy in Bucharest and Embassies of twelve like-minded countries issued a joint statement in April, which called on all parties involved in drafting emergency Government ordinances to avoid legislative changes that would weaken the rule of law and Romania’s ability to fight crime and corruption. Legislative changes currently under consideration risk breaching common European values, undermining the rule of law, and negatively impacting on Romania’s economic development and the well-being of its citizens. We have urged the Romanian Government to take into account the steps recommended by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the EU Council, and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and GRECO. The fact that Romania currently holds the EU Presidency places Romania in a special position of responsibility, and we have urged the Romanian Government to reaffirm political commitment to our shared values. Action on these issues is in the interests not only of the people of Romania, but of the EU as a whole.

Abbey Theatre

Questions (121)

Niall Collins

Question:

121. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the situation in Rakhine State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21603/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Since military operations in Rakhine State escalated in August 2017, an estimated 720,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh. A significant number of civilians were also internally displaced within Rakhine and 128,000 people remain in IDP camps having fled previous bouts of violence. This exodus of refugees and internal displacement was accompanied by widespread and credible claims of serious human rights violations in Rakhine State by the Myanmar Security Forces.

Recent months have again seen an escalation of violence in Rakhine State and neighbouring Chin State related to ongoing conflict between the Myanmar Security Forces and ethnic armed groups. The situation remains unstable with increasing violence generating further displacement of civilians.

In response, through both bilateral contacts with Myanmar and through our memberships of the UN and EU, Ireland has deployed political pressure to address this crisis. Most recently, this has included calling on the Myanmar government to urgently establish greater access to these communities for UN agencies and humanitarian NGOs in order to fully assess and address the needs of civilians, who remain in areas of conflict and have been traumatically affected by recent events. The EU Foreign Affairs Council has adopted several sets of Council Conclusions addressing gross human rights violations in Myanmar’s Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States. The Conclusions called on Myanmar to hold those responsible for these crimes to account and to take meaningful action towards the creation of conditions conducive to a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of those displaced to their places of origin. The EU has also put in place targeted restrictive measures against senior military officers of the Myanmar Security Forces responsible for these acts. In addition, the European Commission is currently reviewing Myanmar’s trade preferences under the framework of the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. Ireland has also worked closely with UN and EU partners to push for accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred. In September 2018, the Human Rights Council adopted a Resolution, proposed jointly by the EU and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, mandating a new impartial independent mechanism to collect, consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of the most serious violations of international law committed in Myanmar since 2011. This is an important step in facilitating fair and independent criminal proceedings for these crimes.

Ireland has strongly and consistently pressed for unhindered humanitarian access to affected areas and continues to provide humanitarian support for the Rohingya community both in Myanmar and Bangladesh. For 2019, Ireland has already contributed €1 million to the UNHCR response to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, building on funding of €2.3 million since 2017. Ireland’s support has also included the provision of advisers to UN agencies through the Rapid Response Initiative. We are also the 8th largest contributor to the UN-administered Central Emergency Response Fund, which has provided more than €37 million in humanitarian assistance in Bangladesh and Rakhine State since 2017. The best long-term framework for a sustainable solution that addresses the concerns of the Rohingya, including the key issue of securing citizenship rights and the protection that accrues, remains the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State that was led by Kofi Annan.

Last month, Ambassador to Thailand and Myanmar, Tony Cotter, met with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and discussed the current situation in Rakhine State and international concerns. Officials in my Department, including in the Embassy of Ireland in Thailand, will continue to monitor the situation.

Overseas Development Aid

Questions (122, 123, 124)

Seán Crowe

Question:

122. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if funding will be maintained to the United Nations Population Fund in 2020 at current levels; if funding to the fund will increase between 2020 and 2030 in addition to overall overseas development assistance budget increases; if funding will continue to be provided to the UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme to eliminate female genital mutilation; and his plans for multi-year funding plans for UNFPA thematic funds rather than sporadic funding commitments. [21637/19]

View answer

Seán Crowe

Question:

123. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will prioritise sexual and reproductive health in bilateral overseas development assistance to countries negatively affected by the expansion of the global gag rule of the United States of America, which is having a devastating effect on funding to vital sexual and reproductive health programmes around the world. [21638/19]

View answer

Seán Crowe

Question:

124. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will attend the high-level conference to advance the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD, programme of action that will take place in Nairobi from 12 to 14 November 2019; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the ICPD which took place in Cairo in 1994; his views on whether Ireland needs to play an important role in ensuring that the ICPD programme of action is urgently implemented and sexual and reproductive health rights are realised across the globe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21639/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 to 124, inclusive, together.

Ireland’s new international development policy, A Better World, was published in February, situating Irish interventions within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and, in particular, their injunction to reach the furthest behind first. Actions to promote gender equality are at the core of A Better World, which provides for a number of new initiatives, including building on Ireland’s strong record of delivery in the health area and in reducing the incidence of, and the effects of, HIV/AIDS.

The Sustainable Development Goals state that achieving universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights is essential, with goals 3.7 and 5.6 particularly relevant. Achieving this will transform women’s health outcomes. Evidence and hard data demonstrate the substantial health benefits associated with the provision of services in this area, in terms of decreased rates of maternal mortality and of unintended pregnancies.

Ireland’s existing development partnerships with, among others, UNFPA; UNAIDS - whose work is particularly critical at this time of global challenges related to HIV and AIDS, and where young adolescent girls are most at risk of infection; UNESCO for their work on Comprehensive Sexuality Education with a particular focus in countries in sub-Saharan Africa; and the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, provide the platform for Ireland’s delivery of our responsibility to assist others achieve SDG goals 3.7 and 5.6.

Ireland is a consistent and committed supporter of UNFPA’s global efforts. In October 2018, the Tánaiste announced Ireland’s intention to increase the core funding of UNFPA by €700,000 bring the 2018 total to €3.5 million. This total has been maintained in 2019 and is a demonstration of our support for the work of the agency. This funding can be allocated by UNFPA across the key priority areas of its Strategic Plan, which includes addressing Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C). Ireland also provides core funding to UNICEF which, together with UNFPA, leads the largest global programme to accelerate the abandonment of FGM and is currently focussed on 17 African countries.

2019 marks the 25th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which took place in Cairo in 1994. At that conference, 179 governments, including Ireland, adopted a Programme of Action recognising that reproductive health, women's empowerment and gender equality are the pathway to sustainable development. This Programme of Action informed the agreement of SDG goals 3.7 and 5.6. The upcoming Nairobi International Conference on Population and Development will mark 25 years since Cairo.

My Department is engaging with UNFPA on its plans for Nairobi, including during the recent visit to Ireland of the Executive Director of UNFPA, who praised Ireland’s work in the developing world and in particular saying that ‘You defend women and girls’. It is intended that Ireland would have high-level political representation at Nairobi.