Social and Affordable Housing

Questions (351, 352)

Neale Richmond

Question:

351. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if the shared equity scheme prioritises particular groups to access the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7371/21]

View answer

Neale Richmond

Question:

352. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if there is leniency when accessing the shared equity scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7372/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 351 and 352 together.

In line with the commitment to put affordability at the heart of the housing system in the Programme for Government, ‘Our Shared Future’, Government approved the priority drafting of the Affordable Housing Bill 2020 on 22 December 2020, and I published the General Scheme on 20 January last.

The Bill includes provisions to underpin three schemes delivering on the Programme for Government commitment to prioritise the increased supply of affordable homes through (1) affordable homes delivered by local authorities (2) a new affordable purchase shared equity scheme for private homes and (3) the introduction of a new form of tenure in Cost Rental.

Budget 2021 allocated €75 million for the affordable housing shared equity scheme. The scheme will be targeted at first time buyers of new build homes who would otherwise not be in a position to buy a home. However, the more detailed design aspects of the scheme, including eligibility criteria, is currently ongoing, and will be informed by our continued engagement with all relevant stakeholders.

Irish Water

Questions (353, 354)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

353. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if capital expenditure has been applied for by Irish Water for a project (details supplied). [7398/21]

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Seán Sherlock

Question:

354. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the capital expenditure that has been applied for by Irish Water since June 2020 for projects (details supplied). [7399/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 353 and 354 together.

Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Irish Water does not as a matter of course apply to my Department for the allocation of funding towards a specific project which are a matter for Irish Water.

As part of Budget 2021, I secured funding of over €1.4 billion to support water services. This includes €1.3 billion in respect of domestic water services provision by Irish Water. This overall investment will deliver significant improvements in our public water and wastewater services, support improved water supplies right across Ireland, including rural Ireland, and support a range of programmes delivering improved water quality in our rivers, lakes and marine area. The prioritisation and progression of individual projects is a matter for determination by Irish Water.

Irish Water has established a dedicated team to deal with representations and queries from public representatives. The team can be contacted via email to oireachtasmembers@water.ie or by telephone on a dedicated number, 1890 578 578.

Local Authority Assets

Questions (355)

Gerald Nash

Question:

355. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of local authorities that are currently paying loans that were taken out to purchase land which was not included in the land aggregation scheme for housing purposes; the value of the land at time of purchase; the current value of the land; the amount paid back by each local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7421/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Whilst the Department would retain detailed information on those lands included in the Land Aggregation scheme (LAGS), the information sought by the Deputy on non LAGS land loans should be sought through each local authority.

Waterways Issues

Questions (356)

Denis Naughten

Question:

356. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage further to Parliamentary Question No. 62 of 4 November 2020, the number of sluice gates open and closed by the ESB and Waterways Ireland; and the number of boards removed at Meelick Weir for the month of January 2021 and to date in February in tabular form. [7427/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Waterways Ireland has provided my Department with the attached table showing that all sluice gates were open and no weir boards were in place at Meelick Weir for the period 1 January 2021 to 9 February 2021.

Table

Ministerial Meetings

Questions (357, 373, 374, 375)

Neale Richmond

Question:

357. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has spoken to his UK counterpart regarding the premature triggering of Article 16 by the European Commission. [7289/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

373. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of communications with his colleagues in the European Commission to ensure that the premature triggering of Article 16 was an isolated incident. [7288/21]

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Neale Richmond

Question:

374. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has engaged with his colleagues in the EU to ensure the triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol by the European Commission was an isolated incident; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7294/21]

View answer

Neale Richmond

Question:

375. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has engaged with his counterpart in the United Kingdom following the triggering of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7295/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 357 and 373 to 375, inclusive, together.

The decision by the European Commission to consider invoking Article 16 of the Protocol on 29 January was a mistake and should not have happened.

As soon as the Government became aware of it, we raised our concerns with the Commission and we welcome the fact that they immediately reversed course.

While this quick corrective action from the Commission was welcome - by failing to properly engage and consult with all relevant parties, some political damage was caused. We are engaging with the Commission to ensure this cannot be repeated.

I am in regular contact with Commission Vice President and EU co-chair of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, Maroš Šefcovic, as well as with both the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and UK co-chair of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, Michael Gove, and the Secretary of State of Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis.

The political impact of the Article 16 decision in Northern Ireland is deeply regrettable, and it is vital for all of us to do what we can to rebuild confidence.

The Protocol must work, and be seen to work, for Northern Ireland’s people and businesses. We recognise that there are a number of challenges in adapting to the Protocol – and we must work within its framework to find solutions.

The same messages are being conveyed in our contacts with fellow EU Member States, through direct Ministerial communications and through our diplomatic network, and solidarity on Brexit issues across the EU remains strong.

Consular Services

Questions (358)

Louise O'Reilly

Question:

358. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the case of person (details supplied) and the family’s request for him to intervene in the matter by requesting a response to a letter from his counterpart in the country. [7353/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I can confirm that my Department is aware of this case and has been providing all possible consular advice, support and assistance to the family through our Embassy in Luxembourg and our Consular Assistance Unit in Dublin.

As with all consular cases, it would not be appropriate to discuss the details of a case or to comment on matters pertaining to a legal process in another jurisdiction. As the Deputy will appreciate, our officials are precluded from intervening in judicial processes overseas. However, I can assure the Deputy that we will continue to provide all possible advice and consular support to the family as appropriate.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (359, 360)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

359. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if personnel and passengers on a plane (details supplied) that stayed overnight in Ireland were tested on entering the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6423/21]

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Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

360. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of personnel and passengers that were on board a plane (details supplied); if they were carrying weaponry and ammunition; if the aircraft was inspected by members of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6424/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 359 and 360 together.

The landing in question was by a US military aircraft, with five crew and forty eight passengers on board. It had sought and received prior diplomatic clearance to land subject to our routine stipulations, including that it did not carry arms or ammunition. The US authorities have confirmed that this condition was met.

Sovereign immunity, a long-standing principle of customary international law, means that a State may not exercise its jurisdiction in respect of another State or its property, including State or military aircraft. This principle applies automatically to foreign State or military aircraft in the same way that it applies to Irish State or military aircraft abroad.

As regards public health measures, Statutory Instrument 11/2021 was the applicable regulation on that date, which stipulated that all passengers should present negative PCR tests on arrival and complete a passenger location form. Due to an error on the US side, the passengers on the flight did not present evidence of negative PCR tests nor complete passenger location forms.

Once informed of this breach of regulations by An Garda Siochána, the issue was raised with the US authorities, both through the US Embassy in Dublin and through our Embassy in Washington. The US authorities have undertaken a review of the circumstances which led to this breach. They have also confirmed that the passengers concerned were operating in a “clean bubble”, were tested repeatedly during the period they were deployed in the location where the flight originated and, following instructions by An Garda Síochána, self isolated in a hotel in Limerick overnight, only leaving once to purchase food, while masked, before returning to Shannon airport the following day to travel onward to their destination.

Nonetheless, any non-compliance is a serious matter and I made this clear in a discussion with the Chargé d'Affaires of the US Embassy in Dublin on 4 February. Our Ambassador in Washington has also made this clear in his contacts with senior officials in Washington. We have emphasised to the US authorities that all landings must fully abide by the conditions put in place by the Irish authorities, including public health conditions. The US authorities have assured me that this is understood and will not happen again.

It is clear that the requirements of the Statutory Instrument, which came into effect on 9 January, were inadequately communicated by the relevant US authorities across the entire US Government system. My Department and our Embassy in Washington have received apologies, both orally and in writing, from the relevant US authorities, including the US military authorities. The US side has recommitted to full compliance in respect of future landings.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (361)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

361. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps Ireland is taking to work with international colleagues in the UK and EU and on the UN Security Council to support the call by the WHO for the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine globally to include persons living in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6452/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland is fully supporting efforts by the international community, including as an EU Member State, to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for all. The Government quadrupled funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2020, given its role as lead UN agency for health and co-host of the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which has the COVAX facility as a centerpiece. COVAX is supporting 92 low and middle-income countries access Covid-19 vaccines.

Vaccine supply constraints remain an issue, particularly for low-income countries. In response to this, the Irish Aid allocation to global health will increase to at least €50 million in 2021, to include support for global equitable access to vaccines through WHO and the COVAX facility.

Also included in this is funding of €15 million to the Global Fund to end AIDS, TB and Malaria, and €3 million to Gavi - supporting our partner multilateral agencies, sustaining health systems and ensuring attention to other diseases including HIV and AIDS, Malaria and TB. Ireland also continues to support key partner multilateral agencies, such as UNICEF and multilateral development banks, who are also playing an important part in the global response to the pandemic.

While the World Health Organisation is leading the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Security Council has a role to play in addressing the potential threats to international peace and security arising from the pandemic, as recognised in Security Council Resolution 2532 adopted last July. As Minister for Foreign Affairs I plan to participate in a meeting of the Security Council on COVID-19 on 17 February.

Irish Embassies in partner countries will in the meantime be working alongside the WHO and other health partners to support the vaccine roll-out effort, which will face further challenges given limited health systems capacity in many countries.

Brexit Issues

Questions (362)

Michael Collins

Question:

362. Deputy Michael Collins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the person or body that signed off on the final draft for the fisheries element of the Brexit trade agreement; if the draft proposals prior to sign-off contained a table of the cuts in respect of the species for all the respective coastal member states; and if he considered at that point lodging an official objection to the proposals on behalf of Ireland in view of the sheer magnitude of the losses to the Irish sector. [6502/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Negotiations on the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) concluded on 24 December 2020. On 29 December, the Council of the European Union, acting by the unanimity of all 27 Member States, adopted a decision by written procedure authorising the signature of the Agreement, and its provisional application as of 1 January 2021.

Annex FISH.1 to the TCA lists the shares of the Total Allowable Catch (TACs) of the fish stocks allocated between the EU and the UK.

Minister McConalogue published a Preliminary Analysis of Transfers of Quota Shares on the gov.ie website on 13 January, which details quota transfers for Ireland across the different stocks. This compares the quota shares allocated to Ireland in 2020 and the corresponding new quota shares for 2021-2026.

We are keenly aware of the impact of the TCA and the impact of this burden on our fisheries sector. The outcome on fisheries was a difficult compromise and the Government will work to ensure that the fisheries sector, and the coastal communities that depend on it, are supported through the period ahead. I will continue working with Minister McConalogue and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in engaging with the Commission to explore options and seek constructive solutions.

Consular Services

Questions (363)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

363. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the activities of the Irish Consulate General in Los Angeles. [6620/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Consulate General of Ireland, Los Angeles, was officially opened by the then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar T.D., on 26 September 2019 with the participation of the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti. The Consulate is one of the new Missions established under Global Ireland 2025 and in line with commitments in Ireland’s Strategy for the US and Canada 2019-2025. The Consulate represents Ireland in Southern California, and in the neighbouring states of Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Hawaii.

The decision to open a Consulate in Los Angeles reflects the strong economic and diaspora connections between Ireland and the Pacific Southwest, including the potential to further develop Ireland’s links with Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States. The Consulate is working to build on links between Ireland and this region in a range of areas, working with both the Irish community and local business, political and cultural partners.

The Consulate also works closely with the State Agencies with interests in this region, in particular Screen Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the Industrial Development Authority and Tourism Ireland. Los Angeles is a world-leading entertainment capital and the Consulate has a particular focus on supporting the work of the State Agencies within the creative industries. Screen Ireland is currently in the process of recruiting a Los Angeles-based representative, to be co-located with the Consulate.

The Consulate works closely with the Irish diaspora in the Pacific Southwest, in line with the Government’s Diaspora Strategy for the period 2020-2025. This includes providing support to Irish communities and organisations through the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme, delivering consular assistance to Irish citizens in the Pacific Southwest, and promoting an open and inclusive approach to ongoing engagement with our increasingly multicultural diaspora.

The Consulate also has a particular focus on promoting Irish culture in the Western United States and is preparing to recruit a dedicated Cultural Officer later this year. Los Angeles is one of six priority locations for the appointment of Cultural Officers as specified in Global Ireland 2025, in recognition of the opportunities that exist for Irish artists and creators in this region.

Ministerial Meetings

Questions (364)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

364. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has spoken to the US Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Chuck Schumer since the presidential election in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6683/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Strengthening bilateral relations with the US is a priority for Ireland as set out in our Programme for Government, as well in our Strategy for the US and Canada (2019-2025). With each successive Administration in the White House and each successive US Congress, our bilateral relationship has been valued and strengthened, to the benefit of our people on both sides of the Atlantic.

While I have not spoken directly with the US Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Chuck Schumer, since the US Presidential election, the Government engages regularly with US elected representatives from across the aisle in Congress. Looking ahead, we will continue to maintain close relations with Members of Congress and contacts from across the political spectrum. This engagement extends to our contacts at federal, state, city and local levels.

In particular, we look forward to working with both the new Administration and the US Congress to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in the US. We are pleased to see that immigration issues, including regarding pathways to citizenship, are a priority for President Biden, as evidenced by the proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021. We will actively engage with the new Administration and Congress on this particular initiative, including through our Embassy in Washington, DC.

We also look forward to working with the US on the many global challenges facing the international community, from the pandemic to climate change to promoting peace and security, as well as on issues of particular importance to our bilateral relationship.

Ireland has always maintained close relations with the US and will continue to do so, including through our Embassy in Washington D.C., our other diplomatic Missions across the US and through the US Embassy in Dublin.

Passport Services

Questions (365)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

365. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the services being provided by the passport office at present to process passport applications in view of Covid-19; the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6707/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Passport Service has paused processing of routine applications while Ireland is at Level 5 of the National Framework for Living with COVID-19. Passport Service staff have been temporarily reassigned to provide consular assistance for Irish citizens overseas.

The Passport Service continues to provide an emergency passport service for Irish citizens at home and abroad. The service is available for those who are required to travel due to the death or serious illness of a family member or because the applicant requires emergency medical treatment.

Applicants who require a passport for emergency purposes, or to travel for urgent reasons, should contact the Passport Service via our Customer Service Hub Webchat function on our website.

The Passport Service has a comprehensive plan in place to resume all services, in line with the National Framework for Living with COVID-19. When operations resume at Level 4, all applications received via Passport Online will be processed.

The Passport Service has a great deal of experience in dealing with peaks in demand, and we are confident that any backlog will be cleared quickly. When the Passport Service resumed operations in June 2020, the backlog was cleared in four weeks. It was similar in December 2020 with the majority of the backlog was cleared within three weeks.

The Passport Service plans to resume processing of routine paper based applications such as Passport Express, Northern Ireland Passport Express and applications for Foreign Birth Registrations at Level 3 of the National Framework.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (366)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

366. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the latest discussions his Department has had with his counterparts in Northern Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic regarding the Border and combating the virus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6762/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department does not lead on the response to Covid-19 from the operational perspective. However, I, and officials in my Department, continue to facilitate regular, necessary contact and coordination with Northern Ireland counterparts.

Regular engagement is ongoing also between Health Ministers, Chief Medical Officers and relevant Ministers on specific issues.

On Monday 2 February, with the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Robin Walker MP, I jointly chaired a conference call with the First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Health Minister Robin Swann and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to discuss the ongoing response to Covid-19.

This was the latest in a series of regular conference calls in this format, following the first such meeting, which took place in Armagh on 13 March 2020.

These meetings are a key element of our ongoing North South contact. They provide an opportunity to discuss recent developments, and update on operational cooperation within the framework of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), agreed by our Chief Medical Officers to strengthen North South co-operation on the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.

On this occasion, the latest developments in the collective effort to combat the pandemic were discussed, and the need to continue close cooperation in order to best manage the increasingly serious pressures facing our respective healthcare systems. The importance of providing clear messaging to the public was also emphasised.

We discussed Covid-19 restrictions on the island, North and South, with a view to adopting similar approaches wherever possible. The need for continued cooperation and coordination was reaffirmed, including with regard to international travel restrictions, in order to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Furthermore, in recent weeks, in view of fast-moving developments in both jurisdictions, official level calls have been facilitated with counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, to discuss measures in place.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (367)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

367. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts he and his Department are making with the new US administration to improve the situation for undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States of America; if he is hopeful of positive developments under the Biden administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6818/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Strengthening bilateral relations with the US is a priority for Ireland as set out in our Programme for Government, as well in our Strategy for the US and Canada (2019-2025). We continue to maintain close relations with Members of Congress and contacts from across the political spectrum, and will continue to seek opportunities to deepen and strengthen our bilateral relations with the Biden Administration.

In particular, we look forward to working with the new Administration, as well as with the United States Congress, across the aisle, to pursue comprehensive immigration reform in the US. We are pleased to see that immigration issues, including regarding pathways to citizenship, are a priority for the new US President, as demonstrated by the proposed US Citizenship Act of 2021. We will actively engage with the new Administration and Congress on this particular initiative, including through our Embassy in Washington, DC.

The issue of Irish immigration to the US, particularly the status of the undocumented Irish, has been a high priority for successive Governments and continues to be one of my key priorities. Immigration issues have been raised on an ongoing basis in our engagement with US Administrations and political leaders. I have raised these issues in contacts with members of the previous US Administration and both Houses of Congress, including during my visit to Washington D.C. at the end of September last year.

Our Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as the Consulates across the US, work closely with Irish Immigration Centres, which support the needs of Irish citizens. The Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers receives significant annual funding through the Government’s Emigrant Support Programme. In 2019, over €3m was allocated to 88 organisations across the US, including those that provide front-line welfare assistance to Irish citizens. Furthermore, in response to the pandemic, a dedicated COVID-19 Response Fund for Irish Communities Abroad was set up to help these organisations meet the needs of those who are particularly vulnerable. In 2020, over €3.6m was paid to diaspora organisations in the US for ESP and Covid related projects.

In terms of securing future pathways for immigration, we will continue to pursue the E3 Visa Bill option. If passed, this could allow access to thousands of US visas each year to Irish citizens, providing new opportunities to live and work in the US. Now that the new Administration and new Congress are in place, we will seek the reintroduction of the Bill at the earliest opportunity.

Foreign Policy

Questions (368, 369, 380)

Holly Cairns

Question:

368. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking in relation to the recent military coup in Myanmar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6884/21]

View answer

Seán Haughey

Question:

369. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent military coup in Myanmar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6986/21]

View answer

Neale Richmond

Question:

380. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps taken in response to the military coup in Myanmar on 1 February 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7354/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 368, 369 and 380 together.

In response to events in Myanmar, I issued a statement, condemning the coup in the strongest possible terms. In the statement, I further condemned the detention of political figures and have called for their immediate release.

The coup is a reversal of progress made towards democracy and rule of law in Myanmar that have taken years to establish, and does nothing to tackle the public health, security or economic issues faced by the people of Myanmar.

The actions taken by the military leadership increase dangers for vulnerable populations facing pre-existing challenges, including internal conflicts, protecting human rights, meeting humanitarian needs and responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis.

Ireland set out its concerns in a discussion at the UN Security Council on the situation in Myanmar. It is welcome that the Council was able to adopt a common position after this meeting. Ireland is also party to a strong statement issued by the EU.

Ireland, the EU and other partners will work together to develop an appropriate response to this crisis. We are committed to ensuring that any course of action is appropriate, works to restore the democratic path in Myanmar and does not negatively impact developmental gains or exacerbate the humanitarian situation in Myanmar.

In recent days, there have been a number of demonstrations throughout Myanmar protesting last week's coup. It is important that the authorities respond appropriately to these events and that people in Myanmar are free to peacefully and safely express their views.

Our Embassy in Bangkok has also reached out to Irish citizens in Myanmar, offering support where needed and advising them on appropriate safety precautions.