Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Questions (73)

Denise Mitchell


73. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the name of the members appointed to the 2018 election observation roster; if all those placed on the roster had sought to be reappointed; if current or past departmental staff members have been appointed to the 2018 roster; the detail of each observer placed by mission since the commencement of the new roster; the costs incurred per placement; the expenses and grants paid for each observer placed; the number of observers with disabilities placed on missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22958/19]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to the responses to the following Parliamentary Questions tabled during the months of February and March which provide further information on the election observation roster, including Questions No. 152 of 12 February 2019, No. 108 of 26 February 2019 and No. 74 of 6 March 2019.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade maintains and administers a roster of suitably skilled individuals who are available to participate in election observation missions overseas, organised in the main by the EU and the OSCE. A new roster was put in place in January 2019 following a Call for Volunteers which issued in July 2018.

To date in 2019 members of that roster have participated in election observation missions in El Salvador, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Malawi, Moldova, Senegal and Ukraine. Roster members are also being nominated to participate in the forthcoming OSCE Election Observation Missions in Albania and Kazakhstan.

39 observers have participated in these missions. This comprises 2 Long Term Observers and 37 Short Term Observers. The total cost to the Department to date is €110,704.09. This cost represents the flight costs for OSCE missions, OSCE mission costs shared per observer contributing States which cover in-country costs such as drivers, fuel, interpreters, meals and accommodation, and the pre-departure expenses of €600 which are paid to every observer who participates in a mission once in a 12 month period. This payment covers the cost of pre-departure medical visits, vaccinations, transport costs to the airport of departure, where relevant pre-departure hotel accommodation costs and other miscellaneous expenses.

While serving members of staff of the Department are not excluded from applying to be members of the roster, they are not considered to be eligible for nomination to an overseas election observer mission while in the employ of the Department. One non-established member of staff was mustered to the current roster, but will not be considered eligible for nomination to a mission until a short-term contract of employment with the Department expires.

Separately, the Director of a regional or thematic unit in the Department can nominate a desk officer from that unit to participate in a mission where it is directly relevant to their area of work. This would be an additional nomination to the roster nominations and these officials do not receive pre-departure expenses, which are only paid to roster members. For example, the First Secretary responsible for bilateral relations with Ukraine participated in the recent OSCE-ODIHR Election Observation in Ukraine. No other member of the Department's staff has participated in a mission to date in 2019.

It remains my intention that the names of the members of the new roster, and the names of those who participated in missions to date in 2019, will be released once security vetting is complete. Under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Department cannot disclose the personal data of any member of the election observation roster without their specific, informed, unambigious and freely-given consent. There is of course a public interest in disclosing the names of roster members. For this reason, as roster members are being trained, the Department is seeking the consent of individual roster members to allow publication of the names of those on the current roster once security vetting is complete. This process is ongoing.

Where a roster member with a disability requests that a reasonable accommodation be made to enable their participation in a mission, the Department’s Elections Desk would liaise with the EU or OSCE-ODIHR, as appropriate, to see whether the arrangement could be facilitated, while also taking into account logistical, accommodation and security challenges on the ground. No reasonable accommodation has been requested by any of those nominated thus far from the current roster.