Brexit Preparations

Questions (42, 48)

James Browne


42. Deputy James Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with his UK counterpart the issue of border checks on trucks originating here and arriving in the UK from Rosslare Europort where it is planned to travel onwards to another country in the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36513/19]

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Lisa Chambers


48. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts to address issues regarding the landbridge, particularly in the context of a no-deal Brexit scenario; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37466/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

Question No. 48 relates to the landbridge. I wish to ask the Tánaiste the status of efforts regarding the landbridge. In particular, in the context of a no-deal scenario, what is the plan to try to alleviate the pressures that will inevitably come from that?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 48 together.

Upon leaving the EU, the United Kingdom will accede to the common transit convention, CTC. Under the convention, goods moving from Ireland to another member state via the UK, or vice versa, will move under the customs internal transit procedure. Once European Union goods are moving under the customs transit procedure from one member state to another through a third country, which essentially would be the UK, no duties or taxes will be applicable.

Since December 2018, considerable progress has been made in clarifying the application of EU rules and an agreed understanding has been reached on the continued use of the landbridge under the internal transit procedure to ensure that Irish and EU operators can continue to use the landbridge in an effective and efficient way. Work continues at a technical level to provide absolute clarity on the application of certain EU rules and procedures with regard to sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, controls on animals and products of animal origin.

In addition, the necessary infrastructure has been put in place in Dublin and Rosslare ports to enable operators to open and close the transit procedure. The UK will also need to facilitate an office of transit in its ports. To this end, our officials in London and Cardiff met again recently with the port in Dover and will visit Holyhead and Folkestone shortly. However, in a no-deal scenario, it is anticipated that the landbridge, at least in the initial period, would be subject to significant delays and congestion. The Dover to Calais crossing has been identified as a particular bottleneck.

It is also the case that the use of the landbridge after Brexit will not replicate the status quo for operators and will depend on traders being compliant with the new requirements under the CTC and also being in line with EU requirements. It is vital that businesses act now to ensure that they understand the necessary paperwork in respect of issues such as customs formalities and putting financial guarantees in place and that, where relevant, they are aware of SPS procedures. Targeted information campaigns are under way to ensure that operators are aware of the steps they must take and the supports available to them.

In fairness to the UK, it has tried to facilitate this by signing up to the convention. In simple terms, the way this will work is that if a container leaving Dublin is sealed in Dublin, the seal will not need to be opened as it crosses the landbridge and the container can re-enter the Single Market. This will mean using the landbridge in the most seamless way we can make it. There are ways we can do that for food products too but a great deal of extra paperwork will be needed to ensure it runs smoothly.

The Tánaiste's last point about the extra paperwork is something I intended to raise with him. Yesterday, I met representatives of the Irish Road Haulage Association. Small hauliers have significant concerns. Citizens will probably be surprised to learn that the average size of a company fleet in Ireland is four trucks. The bigger hauliers will have the capacity to get their paperwork ready. They know what they need to do. However, significant disruption could arise because small hauliers will arrive at ports without having their paperwork ready and may be turned away.

There is a body of work to be done because that will effectively mean empty spaces on our supermarket shelves for the weeks following the initial emergency situation.

If we want to reach out to the small haulier, the level of engagement is not at the level it needs to be at, and it needs to be increased in the coming weeks.

On the issue around the use of the landbridge, I know some work has been done around direct access so trucks can go straight from Ireland to mainland Europe and bypass the UK altogether. The difficulty is the difference in time. It currently takes 20 hours to go straight through the landbridge as opposed to 40 hours to go direct, according to figures from the Irish Maritime Development Office. I appreciate the Tánaiste said the status quo will not be maintained in any case and that the 20 hours is likely to increase. However, this poses a significant problem for perishable goods, in particular those that have a shorter shelf life, which may lose value if they have an extra day's travel time. We need a solution to that so we can help that industry.

My final question concerns the issue of getting off at Calais. A number of months ago, we discussed the possibility of Irish trucks having a separate lane by which to exit to try to alleviate some of the pinch points in Calais and to try to claw back a bit of time. Will the Tánaiste update the House as to whether progress has been made in that regard?

On the last question, the French have been unbelievably helpful on this issue. They have committed to ensuring there is a separate lane in Calais for Irish trucks coming off ships that have come over from Dover. I do not expect the same facilitation on the UK side in Dover, where there may be very long queues, and I certainly do not expect that Irish trucks will be able to skip those queues. However, in terms of coming off the ships, Irish trucks and product coming from Ireland will be in a different category - they are essentially coming from the Single Market and going back into the Single Market, using the UK as a landbridge, as opposed to products coming from the UK, which will be product coming from a third country. There will be a separate lane for Irish trucks to allow them to move through the port in a much more streamlined and quicker way.

I want to thank the French authorities for that facilitation. As I said, they have been hugely helpful. We would like to get the same facilitation in other European ports and we are talking to them about that to try to ensure Irish trucks are not treated as trucks coming from a third country. I believe we are making good progress on that.

The Deputy mentioned empty shelves in shops. The information I have is that we are not going to have empty shelves in our supermarkets. We may need to change supply chains, we may need to change suppliers for certain products and some brands may be different in the future. However, retailers are confident that they will be able to continue to fill shelf space, even in a no-deal scenario.

I welcome the fact the Tánaiste thinks there will be no empty shelf space. There is concern because when we had bad weather, trucks were not able to travel for a day or two and we did have empty shelves. I am anticipating that if the worst does happen, the calamity around the ports might impact on supply chains, even for a short period, although perhaps that will not happen.

I also want to share in thanking France for being such a good neighbour and a decent member state in helping us on that front. I certainly think it wise and prudent to pursue a similar arrangement with other ports on mainland Europe to facilitate Irish trucks. The Dover situation leaves us in a very precarious position. I imagine that not only will we not get the same treatment we are going to get in Calais, but the requirements on our paperwork will be quite stringent, and I have no doubt that Irish trucks will be turned away in that immediate period. That leaves us in a very tricky situation.

I reiterate the point that the small hauliers are just not ready. There is a significant body of work to be done. If they are not ready and they are caught with no paperwork and stopped at the ports, that will impact on every citizen in the country in ways we probably do not even know at this time. What those hauliers are saying is that because they are operating on such a tight margin, they are very concerned just to stay in business in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

There are concerns about the readiness of some in the haulage business for the new realities in terms of paperwork and what they need to do. We want to work with them. My message to all hauliers it is that they need to prepare for a very different trade environment and that we are going to help them to do that. We can give them advice and financial support. We want to make sure that the big and small operators are ready by the end of October, like the SMEs and other sectors, some of which may not be ready yet, and we are also trying to reach out to them. Both advice and support are now available and they are easily accessible. I appeal to hauliers, big and small, to make sure they are as ready as they need to be.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (43)

Niall Collins


43. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent progress made in addressing the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37465/19]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I ask the Tánaiste to update us on the progress, if any, in regard to the undocumented Irish in the United States.

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 also in securing a pathway for those Irish who are undocumented to regularise their status. The Special Envoy to the US Congress on the Undocumented, Deputy John Deasy, has also worked closely on these issues with my Department and he has done a really good job.

Since taking office, I have continuously raised immigration issues in all my interactions with the US Administration and US political leaders. In February, I visited the US for a series of engagements with the US Administration and congressional leaders, during which I raised these issues. In April, I was delighted to have the opportunity to discuss these with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and her congressional delegation when they visited Ireland. The Taoiseach has also raised immigration issues during his high-level engagements with the US, including during the visit of President Trump earlier in the summer, and the issue was also raised with Vice President Pence during his visit earlier this month.

These engagements have already borne fruit. I was pleased to note that the E3 Bill, which if passed would offer new opportunities for Irish citizens to live and work in the US, was reintroduced into the US Congress earlier in the summer. Much work still needs to be done for this Bill to become law and our embassy in Washington D.C. is focusing its efforts on securing the passage of the Bill.

The issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States remains a high priority for the Government and Irish officials across the US continue to engage and advocate on behalf of this vulnerable community. My Department works alongside the Irish immigration centres across the US. I want to recognise the work of the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, who has put an enormous amount of time and work into supporting many of the Irish communities across the US, many of them very vulnerable. In 2018, over €3 million was allocated to 76 organisations across the US, including the Irish centres.

In short, we continue to prioritise this issue. We have made some progress in regard to the E3 Bill but there is still work to do.

I thank the Tánaiste. We are all aware this is a long-running issue and there has not been any significant progress. We saw during the summer that a number of raids were carried out in the United States, which terrified Irish communities. An Irish man, Keith Byrne, was at the centre of one of those raids, which showed the vulnerability of Irish people living in the United States without documentation. It has to be a priority to keep this at the top of the agenda, which is why I am raising it here on behalf of Fianna Fáil. There needs to be a legal pathway to regularise the status of Irish people living there without documentation. We also need to step up our engagement in the United States with organisations that support the Irish across the states.

The Tánaiste mentioned that the Taoiseach has raised this with President Trump and that the Tánaiste himself raised it with Vice President Pence, whom he met at Shannon Airport. Can he tell us exactly what the Vice President said or what indications he gave? When he was here, he made a big play in regard to his own Irish heritage.

For those in the House who are not familiar with it, the E3 Bill is essentially a provision that allows for a certain quota of visas to be provided for Australians every year.

However, each year a significant number of those visas are not used. What we were looking for, and what we had lobbied to try to achieve, was a system such that Ireland could potentially use the unused Australian visas the following year in order that there would be no question of our taking Australian visas, which would be reallocated to applicants from Ireland. The White House and the President's team have been hugely supportive in trying to get this legislation through. That goes right to the top, from my understanding, and we appreciate that. The Bill almost went through; one Senator prevented its passing. There are now efforts to try to ensure that it becomes law the second time around. That would open up for the first time in many years a new vehicle to facilitate young and not-so-young Irish people who want to go to work in the US under that structured scheme. It would be reciprocal because we would also facilitate US citizens coming here to work.

We have made a great deal of progress in this area. We have a lot of support, not only from the President and the White House but also from Democrats. That is why the Bill was almost passed a few months ago. We will continue to work with friends and partners in Congress to get it passed.

I understand the E3 visa project, the fact that the Bill nearly passed on the previous occasion, and that one Senator put a hole in it. What I am focusing on are the undocumented Irish in the United States. Where do matters stand in the context of finding a pathway, a glimmer of hope or a light at the end of the tunnel in order to regularise their status in the United States? I refer to the case of Keith Byrne, which came to light during the summer. The E3 visa, as the Tánaiste has rightly pointed out, will create a new pathway for people here to go to the United States. He knows the point I am making. I am asking about the people who are over there living in the shadows.

I am very familiar with the Keith Byrne case. I spoke to his family at the time and we did what we could to help him. There are many other Keith Byrnes who have made the US their home, have family and children and good jobs and are contributing as good citizens in the US. We need to help them and we are trying. The truth, though, as the Deputy will know, is that immigration and immigration reform are about the most controversial thing on Capitol Hill. There are approximately 11 million undocumented people in the US, from many countries, including Ireland. We are trying to find ways in which we can help our people as best we can. It is also important, however, to be frank that when we try to do so, our efforts get caught up in solutions for many other communities. This is why we tried to pursue the E3 approach in the way we did to try to make some progress on visa access. We will continue to look for avenues. Our embassy is constantly looking for ways to allow us to advocate for the undocumented.

I am trying to accommodate all Members.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (44)

Maureen O'Sullivan


44. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the EU position on Libya; his further views on whether conditions within detention centres in the region are of grave concern; and his plans to address this on a European level. [37371/19]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

My question relates to Libya, the conditions in the detention centres there and how the Tánaiste can be part of addressing this at a European level.

I am deeply troubled by the escalation of violence in Libya in recent months, which we have spoken about in this House on a number of occasions, particularly the ongoing fighting around Tripoli, which is endangering thousands of civilians and putting already vulnerable migrants and refugees in Libya at further risk.

The EU has called on all parties to implement immediately a ceasefire and to engage with the UN to ensure a full cessation of hostilities. I participated in the May meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, at which UN Special Representative Salamé briefed us on the situation and the council reiterated the EU's support for the UN-led peace process.

Human rights abuses against migrants and refugees in Libya, particularly in detention centres, are a matter of grave concern. The Libyan Government bears primary responsibility and must manage migration in full compliance with international law, although we are aware that the Government does not have full control over many areas of Libyan territory.

The EU is maintaining political pressure on the Libyan authorities to end the system of detention centres and is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and the International Organization for Migration to ensure that other options exist to protect and assist refugees and migrants. The EU High Representative highlighted the priority the EU attaches to this issue when she met the Libyan Prime Minister in May 2019.

Through co-operation with the UN and the African Union, the EU has also helped more than 45,000 people stranded in Libya to return voluntarily to their countries of origin and has evacuated close to 4,000 people in need of international protection. Since many more people remain at risk, the EU will continue to work with its partners to relocate them to safe places.

Ultimately, bringing real improvements to the lives of Libyans, and migrants and refugees in Libya, will require restoration of political stability. Ireland and the EU will maintain pressure on all parties to work towards a negotiated solution to the conflict; ensure access for humanitarian organisations, which is hugely important in order that we can get accurate testimony to what is happening; and, ultimately, to put an end to the system of detention in Libya. I am, however, not unrealistic about the scale of the challenge we face and the timelines to which we are working.

It is extremely difficult to understand why these detention centres in Libya continue to exist for two reasons: first, the conditions which we know pertain to the centres and, second, the fact that the centres are in a country that is not stable and is in conflict. There are two related issues, namely, the forced returns, which the Tánaiste mentioned, and the situation in the Mediterranean. Whether detention centre, forced return or the Mediterranean, there is real psychological and physical trauma to all those involved. Some NGOs took great heart from the Minister's words recently, when he wrote on Twitter:

Migrants stranded in Med need a much more coordinated + collective response from the EU. Ad hoc arrangements on a case by case basis is not sustainable or humane. EU is better than this!

How can the Tánaiste address these issues at EU level? There will be a summit on migration in Valletta, Malta, next week. Will the Government be represented there? If not, why?

I absolutely stand over what the Deputy quoted. I have been quite critical of the EU in terms of our inability to be able to agree collectively an approach not just on migration generally but on the need for humanitarian assistance and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean. I know there is a concern about creating pull factors and so on. There is some legitimacy to that concern, but it is not morally acceptable for the European Union not to put resources into ensuring that people do not drown in the Mediterranean. I was Minister for Defence when we decided to send naval vessels to the Mediterranean, effectively on a humanitarian mission, working in partnership with Italy. I think our ships took about 14,000 people out of the sea. The idea that we would knowingly allow people to drown in the Mediterranean and not have an agreed capacity to respond to that in a more humane way than is currently the case is not acceptable to me, and I have said that on a number of occasions to my Foreign Affairs Council colleagues. That said, the politics of this is really difficult. I hope we will be able to make more progress on this in the context of the new Italian Government, which may, I hope, take a more supportive position on the plight of refugees.

There certainly has been a change in the attitude of the Italian Government. Under the previous Interior Minister, there could be fines of up to €1 million, captains could be arrested and vessels could be impounded. A little progress is being made. The Tánaiste did not indicate whether Ireland will be represented in Valletta.

Whether we are or not, some calls need to be made on this. I support some NGOs such as Médecins sans Frontières, MSF, with regard to a sustainable and predictable disembarkation system that ensures the survivors' well-being. There needs to be an end to the current system of these forced returns to Libya. People are fleeing Libya, being caught and then forced back into dreadful conditions there. We need a more proactive and sufficient European search and rescue capacity. I know what the Italian ministers are trying to do. France and Germany have reportedly given the green light to the new system which would put an end to case-by-case negotiations. Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Spain are also in agreement. There is no mention of Ireland with regard to that. Is Ireland involved? If we are not going to the Valletta meeting, why not?

Ireland is part of that group. We said that we would play our part in burden sharing so that we would not have this case-by-case series of phone calls every time there is an NGO or state vessel that has migrants on board, in the hope that different countries will take ten, 20 or 30 refugees here or there. We have been doing that for the last year, quietly taking our share and trying to support people in a humane way. We would like to have a system that a large number of the member states of the EU would buy into, otherwise we are unfairly asking certain countries to take too much of the burden. This was the problem for Italy in the first place, which is why politics responded by electing someone who was advocating for a hardline message on migration. We need to help Italy. We also need to ensure that the burden and responsibility are shared. With regard to our attendance at the Valletta meeting, I am not sure because I will be in New York next week, as will the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon. I will check whether we are sending somebody. I have a very good relationship with my counterpart in Malta. I will check whether we are sending somebody to the Valletta meeting.

Middle East Peace Process

Questions (45, 64)

Bríd Smith


45. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take in the event that Israel annexes sections of the West Bank as announced recently by the Israeli Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37467/19]

View answer

Niall Collins


64. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the announcement by the Israeli Prime Minister that he will annex large parts of the occupied West Bank if re-elected; the steps he believes should be taken at EU level in response to this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37461/19]

View answer

Oral answers (15 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

What steps will the Tánaiste take in the event that Israel annexes sections of the West Bank, as recently announced by the Israeli Prime Minister? I listened to the Tánaiste's answer to Deputy Howlin earlier. I note that he acknowledged that the proposal has no legitimacy and such a policy would be illegal. I ask him to outline what steps he will take in the event that this annexation takes place, as appears inevitable.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 64 together.

I do not think anything is inevitable. We do not have the outcome of the election yet so I do not think we should make predictions. I made a statement on this matter in an earlier reply, as the Deputy acknowledged. I underline again that Ireland and the EU will closely monitor the actions of the next Israeli Government in the context of these recent announcements. Israelis are voting in an election today but it may be some weeks until a government is formed. I have already said that Ireland and the EU stand by the internationally agreed parameters for a negotiated peace agreement and continue to urge the Israeli Government to uphold its international legal obligations, including under the Fourth Geneva Convention on the treatment of a civilian population. Ireland will continue to convey its concerns on related developments on the ground in all relevant international fora as well as directly with the Israeli authorities. Ireland has consistently taken action at both EU and UN level to ensure that the international community retains a focus on the Israel-Palestine issue. Our position on settlement expansion, demolition of Palestinian homes and other buildings and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes is extremely clear and I have made it clear in this House many times.

All actions which compromise the viability of a future Palestinian state are extremely dangerous. Such unilateral actions further diminish the prospects of successful negotiations and an end to conflict, something which I firmly believe is in the best interests of Israelis as well as Palestinians. With the prospects for peace continuing to deteriorate, EU foreign ministers have discussed the peace process on numerous occasions over the last year, most recently at an informal meeting in Helsinki on 29 and 30 August. We will remain vigilant about how the situation develops. The situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory will remain high on my agenda. I am committed to doing everything I can to make a positive contribution to support credible efforts to resume negotiations to advance the Middle East peace process.

The Tánaiste said earlier that this announcement was unhelpful electoral rhetoric. I would argue that it is not an election ploy or an off-the-cuff remark. It has been the central policy and goal of the Israeli state since its foundation. It is the inevitable logic of the settler state. This week alone has not been unusual or strange. It has been just another episode in a litany of dispossessions, illegal settlements, routine abuse and the dehumanisation of the Palestinian people. In Beit Jala, a restaurant owned by a Christian Palestinian family was bulldozed by the Israeli military. Some 850 acres were confiscated and then immediately moved onto by illegal settlers. It is a conquest and an ongoing, tortuous genocide of the Palestinian people. I ask the Tánaiste and the Government to commit to action. For example, will the Government cease blocking Senator Frances Black's Bill on the Israeli illegal settlement goods? Will the Tánaiste call in the Israeli ambassador and indicate that, should these settlements and the annexation of the West Bank continue, he will be expelled? The Tánaiste refers to the ambassador as a nice man and somebody he gets on well with. He should call the ambassador in and tell him that he wants to continue to get on well but that we will not tolerate this illegal activity by the Israeli state. It is not new but continuous. It is not an election ploy but a strategic goal of the Israeli state.

I do not accept that it is the strategic goal of the Israeli state. Israeli policy with regard to the West Bank has changed at times. We have been very close to comprehensive peace agreements on a number of occasions where Israeli politics has sought a fair solution based on a two-state solution for both Israelis and Palestinians. The Deputy should not categorise this as a policy that has been the same for a long period. That is not the case. We will not support Senator Frances Black's Bill because we do not believe it is legal. My position on that is clear. We do not believe it is sound legislation. We do not believe it can be implemented or that it is legally sound. I regard my relationship with the Israeli Embassy as important because we want to try to influence politics in Israel and we care about the Middle East peace process, Israel's future and the future for Palestinians. We want a Palestinian state that is functioning and controlled by Palestinians in the future. We will continue to advocate for a two-state solution and fair peace process for both sides.

It is hard to have any confidence that we will see any progress, as I believe the Tánaiste will agree, if one looks at the pattern, with the deteriorating situation in Gaza, the cutting of humanitarian funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNWRA, the closing of the Palestinian mission in Washington, the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the nation-state Act and so on. These developments, along with the demolitions and the expansion of the illegal settlements, are a flagrant abuse of international law. It is hard to believe that anyone in authority, either in Israel or anyone who purports to speak with authority on its behalf, is genuine about achieving a peace process that will work and a two-state solution. Does the Tánaiste believe anybody in authority or anybody who speaks on behalf of Israel when he meets them? The Tánaiste recently met Vice President Pence. Did he raise this specific issue with the Vice President? What did the Vice President say?

I share the Deputy's concern and scepticism. Over the past two years, we have seen a significant deterioration in the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian political leaders. We have also seen a significant deterioration in the relationship between Palestinians and the US.

That is regrettable because instead of trying to make progress towards peace, in many ways we have been moving in the opposite direction. I have spoken out about that quite a lot and I have attracted some attention and at times, some criticism, as has Deputy Niall Collins. However, I will continue to speak out on this issue because Irish people feel strongly about it. There is a sense of injustice here. My view and that of the Government is that we should be a strong advocate for a fair outcome that is good for Israel and respects its legitimate concerns, particularly around security, while also demanding the fair treatment of the Palestinians in the context of any negotiation and a final settlement.

We will have a few supplementary questions.

I did not raise this issue with Vice President Pence because I had a specific focus at that meeting on Brexit. I would have liked to have raised it but I suspect that I will be meeting representatives from the US next week in New York and I will certainly be raising it there.

There is very little time left but we can have two short supplementary questions. Does Deputy Niall Collins have another supplementary question?

I wish to speak again. The Tánaiste just said that he regards the Bill introduced by Senator Frances Black as illegal. I assume he also regards the settlements as illegal. The Government has the opportunity to amend Senator's Black's Bill if it allows it to proceed but it seems intent on stopping the progress of any Bills from the Opposition. The Tánaiste and this Government would rather stand here, wring their hands and say nice words than do something about the illegal settlements, and the torture and systemic erosion of the rights of the Palestinian people. The Tánaiste cannot say that one side is equal to the other; he cannot claim that the concerns of the Israelis are equal to the rights of the Palestinians in the face of the absolute lack of fairness and equality and the murder and genocide being perpetrated by the Israelis in Palestine. It is interesting to note that the Tánaiste did not have time to raise this issue with Vice President Pence and I assume that the Taoiseach did not have time to raise it with President Trump when he visited County Clare recently. The Government never seems to have the time or the bottle to challenge the US regime or the Israeli ambassador on the utterly illegal genocide that is not only continuing but escalating, as can be seen by the whole world. The Tánaiste said that the Irish people are very concerned and, indeed, we are, but we are sick of the hand wringing by the Tánaiste and his Government. They must take some decisive action, as they have done in the past with other states when they believed that they had breached international law.

A brief response please because I am anxious to move on to the next question.

The Deputy seems to be of the view that protest solves everything. I have been engaged on this issue-----

I want action.

The Deputy should listen. I have been engaged on this issue in a serious way for two years now. In my first 12 months in office, I visited Palestine and Israel on three separate occasions. I have spoken to Mr. Jared Kushner and Mr. Jason Greenblatt about their approach to this issue on multiple occasions. I have met the previous and current Israeli ambassadors who understand the Irish position only too well. My interest here is in an outcome, not in playing politics with an issue or criticising others for certain approaches. My interest here is the Palestinian and the Israeli people, in terms of trying to move towards a peace process that can deliver a settlement that will save lives and allow a dispute that has been going on for decades to be resolved once and for all. We will continue with that approach.

Brexit Staff

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Questions (46)

Thomas P. Broughan


46. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to increase the number of embassy and consular staff throughout the UK in the lead up to and months after Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36515/19]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

We are hurtling towards Hallowe'en and the very depressing prospect of Brexit. In terms of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, what resources are available to our diplomats and the secretariat in our embassy in London and in the consulates general in Cardiff and Edinburgh, given that our relationship with the UK may change so drastically in just a few weeks' time?

I thank the Deputy for what is a fair question. Managing Brexit negotiations and preparation has been a key priority of the work of my Department in recent years, both at headquarters and overseas, including in the UK, for obvious reasons. Since 2016, additional staff have been assigned to the key divisions at headquarters with responsibility for Brexit matters, including the EU division and the Ireland, UK, Americas, IUKA division. Additional posts have also been established at our embassies in London, Berlin, and Paris and the permanent representation of Ireland to the European Union in Brussels. Our embassy in London remains our largest bilateral embassy. The additional staff assigned to the mission since the Brexit vote reflects the priority of our relationship with the UK. The resources will remain under close review and will be adjusted as required. Closer partnerships with the devolved administrations in Cardiff and Edinburgh remain strategically important. Our consul general in Edinburgh engages closely with the Scottish Government to deepen existing strong political, economic, community and cultural ties. The reopening of our consulate general in Cardiff earlier this year will ensure Wales-Ireland relations deepen in the coming years, particularly in political and economic terms.

The wider Team Ireland enjoys a significant footprint in Britain with our trade, tourism and investment agencies making a positive impact. The Global Ireland initiative supports Government efforts to grow and diversify export markets, inward investment and tourism as we prepare for the impact of Brexit. It will ensure Ireland is better positioned to build the alliances necessary to advance its interests and defend its position in a post-Brexit EU, while helping to secure our relationship with the UK and its constituent parts. The strategy includes a commitment to open a new consulate in a third location in Britain. During the visit by the Taoiseach to Manchester in June for the British-Irish Council, he reiterated the Government’s commitment to opening an additional consulate in another UK location post-2019. We have not made a final decision on the location yet but Deputies could make a reasonable guess as to the priority cities.

In response to rising demand for passports, my Department has significantly strengthened the capacity of the passport office by recruiting approximately 300 additional staff.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This includes over 200 temporary clerical officers assigned to the processing of applications. These measures remain under review. The Department will allocate additional staff resources as necessary to further augment our level of Brexit-related supports across Government and across our network overseas.

We only have time for one brief supplementary question.

Passports are critically important because last year approximately 200,000 people from Britain and Northern Ireland applied for an Irish passport. We will have staff on the ground at ports to assist the movement of goods through the landbridge, if necessary. The Tánaiste referred to Team Ireland which comprises bodies such as Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and Tourism Ireland. We have seen a decline in British tourist numbers since the Brexit storm first blew up. In that context, does the Tánaiste believe that we have enough feet on the ground? According to its website, the London embassy only has around 20 key officials who must now deal with what is a massive challenge. The Tánaiste also mentioned consular offices in Cardiff and Edinburgh, which also have a relatively small number of staff. Is this something that will feature in the budget in October? Will additional resources be provided to our diplomatic staff and all of the allied staff in Team Ireland?

The Deputy's points are all fair. We have a brilliant team in London and we need it because the relationship between Britain and Ireland is under some strain at the moment because of the challenges of Brexit. We have a really good team in London, led by our ambassador, and they are doing a good job but if they need more people, we will appoint more. That is the truth of it. The relationship that we have with the UK is our most important relationship. That is why our consulate in Cardiff has reopened and why we will be opening another consulate in an English city to complement what we are doing in London and Edinburgh. We are constantly reviewing whether we need to add more people, just like we have done in Paris and Berlin. In Berlin, for example, we have added an arts officer because we believe there is a lot of work to do in terms of building connections with Germany around the arts, literature, music and so on. We are working with other Government Departments to make sure that our teams are appropriate for the challenges we face. Clearly, the biggest challenge we face at the moment is Brexit and trying to find a way forward through the diplomatic channels that we have in London, in particular, is a big priority for us.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.