Inquiries into Garda Activities

Questions (411)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

411. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice her plans to launch an independent inquiry into the shooting of a person (details supplied) in which the current policing procedures would be reviewed to ascertain whether they are fit for purpose with regard to minorities and persons with mental health issues; if additional safeguarding measures are required; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2207/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As previously, I extend my deepest sympathies to all those impacted by the tragic event in Hartstown, and in particular to the family of the late Mr George Nkencho. All fatal shootings are deeply distressing, and I know that the local community are experiencing real trauma as a result of these events.

As is the case in every incident involving a member of An Garda Síochána that results in the death of a person, the shooting is of course being fully and independently investigated by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), which is chaired by a High Court Judge, the Hon Ms Justice Mary Ellen Ring.

Such incidents are very rare in Ireland but all are fully investigated independently. GSOC have written to my Department to confirm that they have begun a criminal investigation under section 98 of the Garda Síochána Act, 2005. As the Deputy may be aware, GSOC can make wider systemic recommendations on issues they investigate and they are free to do that in this instance also.

I know that Gardaí have also been engaging with the local community with regard to the trauma caused by the incident, and family liaison officers from both GSOC and An Garda Síochána are available to the Nkencho family.

At the same time, Gardaí are investigating the incidents at Hartstown Shopping Centre and the events leading to the shooting. There are well established protocols in place between GSOC and the Gardaí to allow these parallel but separate investigations to take place.

Given that these processes are ongoing, it would not be appropriate to consider a separate inquiry at this time. I will of course give any further consideration appropriate to this matter when the GSOC investigation is completed.

Work Permits

Questions (412)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

412. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice if she will sanction the issuing of a work permit for a person (details supplied), given that it is not possible to supply documentation as requested by her Department. [2222/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The application for a labour market access permission, for the person referred to by the Deputy, is currently pending as the Immigration Service of my Department is waiting for the applicant to provide identity documents or to confirm the efforts they have made to establish their identity. To date, the applicant’s responses have not provided either identity documents or an explanation of the efforts made to obtain same. When a satisfactory response is obtained, the Immigration Service of my Department will be in a position to issue a decision on this application.

Eligibility for a labour market access permission under the European Communities (Reception Conditions) Regulations 2018, is subject to a number of conditions, which are set out in Regulations 11, 12, 16 and 27. Principally these are that the applicant makes reasonable efforts to establish their identity, co-operates with the international protection process and has not received a first instance decision before 9 months have elapsed.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to 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 is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Direct Provision System

Questions (413)

Cathal Crowe

Question:

413. Deputy Cathal Crowe asked the Minister for Justice the status of the winding down of the direct provision system; and the progress that has been made to create new pathways for undocumented persons and those seeking citizenship. [2259/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to ending the Direct Provision system and replacing it with a new international protection accommodation policy, centred on a not-for-profit approach. The Government has also committed to the development of a White Paper, which will set out how this new system will be structured and the steps to achieving it.

Responsibility for international protection accommodation now rests with the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) and his Department following the transfer of this function on 14 October 2020. DCEDIY is currently developing the White Paper, which will set out options, together with the recommended direction, for the new model of accommodation and services for international protection applicants and the transitional processes needed to implement the model. Options for developing a not-for-profit approach are currently being examined by DCEDIY in this regard. I understand my colleague, Minister O' Gorman, will bring proposals to Government in this regard in February.

The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to bring forward a regularisation scheme within 18 months of the formation of the Government, to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents, meeting specified criteria and bearing in mind Ireland's European Union (EU) and Common Travel Area (CTA) commitments.

Work is underway in my Department to give effect to this commitment. This work is being informed by an assessment of international best practice and having regard to our EU and CTA commitments. I intend to consult with relevant Government Departments, civil society and other interested parties, before finalising the Scheme, which I expect to be in a position to launch in the second half of this year.

In the meantime, I would encourage any person who is resident in the State without permission to contact my Department or their local immigration office and to take all appropriate steps to regularise their own and their family's status. In all cases, people must engage with the authorities if they wish to be permitted to remain here legally.

Regarding citizenship, my Department has not suspended the receipt or processing of citizenship applications at any stage during the pandemic. However, processing rates have unfortunately been negatively impacted by the attendant health and safety related restrictions.

I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the holding of such ceremonies, which are usually attended by hundreds of people and which have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life. Earlier this week, I opened a temporary system which will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This temporary system is in place from 18 January 2021 until citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.

It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March.

Visa Applications

Questions (414)

Robert Troy

Question:

414. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice when the short stay visa process will reopen (details supplied). [2270/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

Current travel advice is to avoid all non-essential travel in and to Ireland. The situation will continue to be reviewed in consultation with the relevant authorities and any changes to the restrictions on visa processing will be announced on the Immigration Service website at:

http://www.inis.gov.ie/en/INIS/Pages/COVID-19-updates-and-announcements

As part of the combined efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and to ensure customer safety, the Immigration Service of my Department took the decision to temporarily cease issuing visas from 20 March 2020.

It remains the position that the Immigration Service is not accepting or issuing any short stay visa applications, except for cases that fall under the Emergency/Priority criteria, which was expanded to include those specific categories of travellers, identified as having an essential function or need in EU Council Recommendation (EU) 2020/912 of 30 June 2020. The updated list of exemptions deemed to fall into the Emergency/Priority cohort is as follows:

- Healthcare professionals, health researchers, and elderly care professionals;

- Immediate family members of Irish citizens (who are returning to their ordinary place of residence in Ireland);

- Persons legally resident in the State;

- Persons entitled to avail of the provision of the EU Free Movement Directive;

- Transport personnel engaged in haulage of goods and other transport staff to the extent necessary;

- Frontier workers;

- Seasonal workers in agriculture;

- Diplomats, staff of international organisations and people invited by international organisations whose physical presence is required for the well-functioning of these organisations, military personnel and humanitarian aid workers and civil protection personnel in the exercise of their functions;

- Passengers in transit;

- Passengers travelling for critical family reasons;

- Seafarers;

- Third-country nationals travelling for the purpose of 3rd level study;

- Highly qualified third-country workers if their employment is necessary from an economic perspective and the work cannot be postponed or performed abroad.

Applicants who meet the Emergency/Priority criteria set out above should contact the relevant Visa Office and submit documents to support their case. The Visa Office will make an assessment as to whether an application can be accepted. Applications are considered on a case by case basis.

There are still restrictions in place in many countries, so in locations where it has not been possible to resume services as of yet, it is intended to resume accepting visa applications as soon as is possible. Any resumption of services is subject to current health and safety advice in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mother and Baby Homes Inquiries

Questions (415)

Denis Naughten

Question:

415. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice the reason the coroner has not been called to the site of the burials at the Tuam mother and baby home; if the coroner will now be called in; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2281/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I understand that the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes first formally notified the Coroner for North Galway on 2 March 2017 of its discoveries at the Tuam Mother and Baby Home. Both the Coroner and the Gardaí provided any cooperation requested by the Commission during its work at the Tuam site. However, I understand that there is no active investigation being conducted into the Tuam discovery by the Gardaí or by the Coroner.

The Coroner is an independent quasi-judicial officer and it is a matter for him how to conduct any death investigation in accordance with his statutory functions, on the basis of the information made available to him.

The Final Report of the Commission does not recommend any particular action on behalf of the Coroner with regard to the Tuam site.

The Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth will progress the Certain Institutional Burials (Authorised Interventions) Bill, which will provide for the establishment of a dedicated agency, by Government Order under a sponsoring Minister for a specific site, to undertake where necessary, a forensic standard excavation, exhumation and, where possible, identification of discovered remains, and provide for their respectful reinterment.

This legislation will support intervention at the Tuam site, and any other site, where intervention is reasonably required based on the manifestly inappropriate nature of the interments.

This is a bespoke approach to address the very sensitive matter of the discovery of human remains at the Tuam site. The approach will effectively displace the relevant role of the Coroner, by disapplying the exhumation process in section 47 of the Coroners Act 1962. This is the most appropriate means to address the particular needs arising in my view.

I support the approach proposed by Minister O'Gorman and have assured him of the full co-operation of my department and its agencies in implementing the actions set out in the legislation.

Immigrant Investor Programme

Questions (416)

Carol Nolan

Question:

416. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Justice the status of the decision by the immigrant investor evaluation committee to deny an application (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2360/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP) provides non-EEA nationals with a number of options to invest in Ireland. Successful applicants are granted a permission to reside in Ireland for a fixed period.

Projects seeking funding under the IIP are assessed by an Independent Evaluation Committee, composed of senior civil and public servants from relevant Government Departments and State Agencies involved in enterprise development in Ireland. The Evaluation Committee convenes at least four times a year to assess projects submitted for determination as suitable for IIP investment.

The Evaluation Committee makes a determination as to whether a project is suitable for IIP investment and if deemed suitable, the individual application will be submitted to me for final approval. The current structure for assessment of IIP projects ensures that significant external expertise is available in making a decision to recommend a project.

All enterprise applications are assessed on the basis of the profile of the applicant, the commercial viability of the project, employment outcomes associated with the proposed investment and the overall benefit to the Irish State. Where necessary, the Evaluation Committee will request policy input from the relevant Lead Department if that Department is not already represented on the Committee, for example, input from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government on Social Housing projects.

The IIP is focused on supporting projects that are investment ready. A criteria for establishing same is that planning permission, where required, has been granted.

With regard to the project referred to by the Deputy, at the time that the application was being considered by the Evaluation Committee planning permission for the development had not been granted. The Evaluation Committee would not consider it appropriate for IIP permissions to be granted to projects where planning permission, if required, had not been approved. My Department understands that the planning permission issue in relation to this project is still ongoing.

Once the planning permission issue has been decided, and if successful, it will be open to applicants to submit fresh applications if they so wish. However, it would be preferable that before any further applications are submitted, that the Project Sponsors engage directly in a meaningful manner with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine to ensure that their previously highlighted concerns which contributed to the decision not to recommend the project as suitable for IIP funding are addressed appropriately.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (417)

Holly Cairns

Question:

417. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice if employees of her Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2405/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

To date, none of the employees of my Department have been vaccinated due to their role in the Department. Staff of my Department will be vaccinated in line with the National Covid-19 Vaccination Programme – Implementation Plan, which has been approved by Government.

Property Services Regulatory Authority

Questions (418)

Seán Haughey

Question:

418. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Justice if she will bring forward reforms of the Properties Services (Regulation) Act 2011 to allow the Property Services Regulation Authority to expand its remit in order to allow it to investigate not only improper conduct but, in addition, poor service provision; if estate agents will be prohibited from having conflicts of interest in cases in which they can act for both sellers and buyers in related house property transactions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2511/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The provision of property services to consumers in Ireland is subject to a detailed legislative framework of licensing, regulation, monitoring and enforcement, under the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011. The Act also established the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), a statutory regulatory body specifically tasked with responsibility for licensing and regulating property services providers (auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents).

Under the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011, any business or individual who provides a property service (other than those who are subject to a similar licence or authentication scheme in another EU Member State) must hold a valid licence from the PSRA. The licensing of property services providers ensures that licensees comply with certain standards aimed at ensuring protection for their clients. For example, licensees must possess specified minimum qualifications, have available to them professional indemnity insurance and pay an annual contribution to the Compensation Fund.

The PSRA is empowered to investigate complaints of improper conduct made against licensed property services providers, and to carry out investigations on its own initiative for the purpose of ensuring compliance by property services providers with their statutory obligations. Improper conduct is defined in the Act as the commission by a licensee of an act which renders him or her no longer a fit and proper person to provide property services, the commission of a contravention of a specified provision of the Act or of a provision of regulations made under the Act, or the giving by the licensee of a statement of advised market value or advised letting value of land (including buildings) which is clearly unreasonable.

The Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011 (Minimum Standards) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 564 of 2020), which came into effect on 30 November 2020, set out a range of minimum standards to be observed in the provision of property services by licensees to their clients. In accordance with these Regulations, a licensee is obliged to inform the client in writing, as soon as reasonably possible on becoming aware of any conflict of interest, or potential conflict of interest, in the provision of a property service. I am therefore satisfied that the Regulations adequately address the issue of conflicts of interest in the provision of property services.

As I have already stated, failure to comply with the standards set out in the Regulations amounts to improper conduct. Where a finding of improper conduct is made by the PSRA, it can impose a range of sanctions: namely, issue a reprimand, warning, caution or advice, suspend or revoke a licence. It can also direct the licensee to pay a financial penalty of up to €50,000 into the Property Services Compensation Fund, up to €50,000 to the PSRA towards the cost of the investigation, up to €250,000 to the PSRA by way of financial penalty or any combination thereof.

Immigration Status

Questions (419)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

419. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the progress to date in the determination of residency status in the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2529/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

Written representations have been submitted on behalf of the persons concerned in response to a notification pursuant to the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended). These representations, together with all other information and documentation on file, will be fully considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and all other applicable legislation, in advance of final decisions being made.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to 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 is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Community Policing

Questions (420)

Brendan Howlin

Question:

420. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice the supports available for community CCTV; if funding is available from her Department for the maintenance and or replacement of cameras involved in community policing; her plans to extend and support such schemes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2566/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy will be aware, community-based CCTV is governed by Section 38(3)(c) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and the Garda Síochána (CCTV) Order 2006 (SI 289 of 2006). This legal framework requires that any proposed community CCTV scheme must:

- be approved by the local Joint Policing Committee,

- have the prior support of the relevant Local Authority, which must also act as data controller, and

- have the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner.

This is the legal basis for all community CCTV schemes, regardless of how they are funded. These key legal requirements have not changed since 2006. The option to establish a Community CCTV scheme is available to groups that meet these legal requirements, anywhere in the country.

Since 2017, my Department has administered a grant aid scheme supporting groups wishing to establish a community-based CCTV system in their area. To date, 29 applications have been approved under the scheme, involving approved grants awarded totalling more than €752,000. Eligible groups, including community groups and local authorities nationwide, can apply for grant aid of up to 60% of the total capital cost of a proposed CCTV system, up to a maximum total of €40,000. I can confirm that funding continues to be available for 2021.

As the Deputy may be aware, last year the grant aid scheme was extended to cover not only new CCTV systems but also to allow funding applications for extension or upgrade of existing Community CCTV systems which are incomplete or obsolete. Applicants can now also seek a once-off grant of up to €5,000 for minor maintenance costs.

However in all cases, grant funding can be considered only for CCTV systems which meet the legal requirements, in other words CCTV systems which have been approved by the relevant Joint Policing Committee, the relevant Local Authority (also acting as Data Controller) and which have received the authorisation of the Garda Commissioner.

If the Deputy is aware of groups wishing to avail of the grant aid scheme, further details are available to download from my Department's website - www.justice.ie - and support and guidance is available to help interested groups through a dedicated email address, fundsadmin-comm-based-cctv@justice.ie.

Departmental Inquiries

Questions (421)

Paul Murphy

Question:

421. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Justice if an inquiry into the operation of spy cops in Ireland will be initiated in view of the revelation that UK so-called spy cops infiltrated Irish political and civil rights groups and in further view of the undercover policing inquiry in the UK that held its opening statement and first evidence hearings from 2 November to 19 November 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2595/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that all persons in this jurisdiction are fully subject to our laws and any evidence of breach of the criminal law would be fully pursued in the normal way by the relevant authorities.

I am aware of the inquiry referred to by the Deputy and if anything arises relevant to policing in this jurisdiction, it will be further considered.

Citizenship Applications

Questions (422)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

422. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the status of a postnuptial citizenship certificate application by persons (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2621/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Citizenship Division of the Immigration Service of my Department have checked their records and there is no record of an application from the person referred to by the Deputy for a post-nuptial citizenship certificate prior to the scheme ending on 30 November 2005.

I understand that the person concerned was previously included on her husband’s Irish passport. As matters in relation to the issuing and the renewal of an Irish passport are under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the person may wish to contact that Department.

Domestic Violence Services

Questions (423)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

423. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Justice the protections in place for victims who have barring orders that are due to expire during the current lockdown; if there are regulations within the current public health guidelines regarding the possible return of a spouse to the family home during the level 5 restrictions; and if these have been conveyed to An Garda Síochána. [2630/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

The Domestic Violence Act 2018 makes provision for the issuance of a barring order which can be granted for a period of up to three years, and can be extended on application to the court before the order expires or on the expiration of the order.

The District Court Family Law courts are operating during current Level 5 restrictions where applications to renew domestic violence orders that are about to expire will be accepted. Parties concerned should contact their local court office in advance of the expiry.

I am not aware of any specific regulation such as the one referred to by the Deputy being outlined in the current public health guidelines, however I have stated previously, and continue to emphasise, that travel restrictions do not apply to persons who are at risk or are removing themselves from a domestic abuse situation. Both An Garda Síochána and my Department are publicising this to ensure victims are aware of this fact and know that Gardaí will support them at any checkpoint they encounter, regardless of their distance from home.

There is no doubt that restricted movement in the context of the pandemic poses an increased risk of domestic abuse, evidenced by figures reported by frontline services. This was a key concern for Government when considering the potential impact of restricting movements and in March, my Department developed an inter-agency plan which has prioritised tackling domestic abuse, raising awareness of the risks, as well as supporting victims during this period.

My department has provided additional resources, support, enforcement and services which will continue to be made available throughout the pandemic. Domestic abuse cases are being prioritised by the Guards, through Operation Faoiseamh, the Legal Aid Board and, as already mentioned, the Courts.

I also know that Gardaí continue to develop their specialist services in this area and the fact that Divisional Protective Services Units have now been rolled out nationwide is very welcome.

Public Sector Pensions

Questions (424)

Danny Healy-Rae

Question:

424. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice if all pensionable allowances for prison officers have been calculated since 2008 in accordance with the average of the best three consecutive years in the past ten years provision of the Department of Finance circular 10/2008 for the purpose of calculating an officer's pension at retirement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2640/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am advised by the Irish Prison Service that all pensionable allowances have, since 2008, been calculated in accordance with Circular 10 of 2008, Public Service Pension Reform: Revised method of reckoning variable pensionable allowances for pension purposes.

Citizenship Applications

Questions (425)

Holly Cairns

Question:

425. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Justice if new citizenship applications are being accepted and processed at present; if a photocopy of a passport will be accepted in the case of delayed processing until the application process has started and passport verification requested, given that persons applying who need their passports for essential travel need to have their passports returned in a timely manner; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2678/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Justice)

My Department has not suspended the receipt or processing of citizenship applications at any stage during the pandemic. However, processing rates have unfortunately been negatively impacted by the attendant health and safety related restrictions.

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 a requirement of the naturalisation process that a current passport must accompany every application. The identity of every applicant must be confirmed to the greatest extent possible and a passport is a primary identifier. Under normal circumstances, passports are returned approximately 10 days after their receipt. However, the current limits on staff attendance in the office due to COVID-19 restrictions have resulted in delays in the return of some passports.

Applicants are advised not to send in their application during the pandemic if they anticipate that they may have to travel at short notice. However, I fully appreciate that people may have to travel at short notice for emergency reasons. The citizenship website advises that in these circumstances, applicants should email the citizenship helpdesk www.citizenshipinfo@justice.ie with the relevant details including postal tracking reference if available. Any request must be accompanied by appropriate scanned supporting material detailing the reasons for travel, such as medical information. Any request of this nature is dealt with promptly.

I am conscious that a significant backlog has built up regarding the granting of citizenships due to the inability to hold in person ceremonies during Covid-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has prevented the holding of such ceremonies, which are usually attended by hundreds of people and which have become a welcome addition to our public and civic life. Earlier this week, I opened a temporary system which will enable citizenship applicants to complete their naturalisation process by signing a statutory declaration of loyalty. This temporary system is in place from 18 January 2021 until citizenship ceremonies are able to recommence.

It is expected that the 4,000 applicants currently waiting on naturalisation will have been provided with an opportunity to gain citizenship by the end of March.