Approved Housing Bodies

Questions (312)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

312. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will meet virtually with residents of a location (details supplied) to discuss their concerns in relation to corporate governance at their Approved Housing Body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8705/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The oversight of Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) is currently conducted through the Voluntary Regulation Code (the Code), "Building for the Future, A Voluntary Regulation Code for Approved Housing Bodies in Ireland" underpinned by three standards - Financial, Governance and Performance. AHBs signed up to the Code must demonstrate commitment to and engagement with the Code and the Standards. The Code is overseen by an Interim Regulatory Committee supported by a Regulation Office based in the Housing Agency. Residents who may have concerns regarding the corporate governance at an AHB should, in the first instance, contact the Regulation Office.

The transition from voluntary to statutory regulation for AHBs is well underway. The Approved Housing Bodies Regulatory Authority (AHBRA) was formally established on 1 February 2021. This new, independent body will oversee the effective governance, financial management and performance of all AHBs.

The Regulator will have responsibility for, inter alia , establishing and maintaining a register of AHBs; preparing standards by which AHBs will be monitored and assessed; encouraging and facilitating the better governance, administration and management, including corporate governance and financial management, of AHBs. The Regulator will also have powers to carry out investigations and cancel the registration of AHBs.

It is anticipated that the AHBRA will become fully operational in 2022. This is to allow the Regulator sufficient time to determine its strategy and adopt the standards by which AHBs will be assessed. This process will involve consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Departmental Projects

Questions (313)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

313. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when he plans to appoint members to the working group arising from the peat moss in the horticultural industry review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8754/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I have recently appointed Dr. Munoo Prasad as chairperson to the working group to examine the issues identified during the review of the use of peat moss in the horticultural industry. Dr. Prasad is an independent consultant and researcher. He has vast experience from working in the New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Bord na Móna.

Invitations to nominate representatives to the working group will issue shortly from my Department.

Housing Assistance Payment

Questions (314)

Réada Cronin

Question:

314. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the necessary review of HAP rates will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8830/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Increased rent limits for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and the Rent Supplement Scheme were introduced in 2016. These limits were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection (DSP). In reviewing the rent limits, my Department worked closely with DSP and monitored data gathered from the Residential Tenancies Board and the HAP Shared Services Centre. The HAP rent limits were increased significantly, by up to 60% in some cases.

Maximum rent limits for the HAP scheme are set out for each housing authority area in the Housing Assistance Payment (Amendment) Regulations 2017. The current maximum HAP rent limits are available on the Irish Statute Book website at the following link:

www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/si/56/made/en/print?q=housing&years=2017.

Local authorities also have discretion, because of local rental market conditions, to exceed the maximum rent limit by up to 20%, or up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of homelessness. It should be noted that it is a matter for the local authority to determine whether the application of the flexibility is warranted on a case by case basis and also the level of additional discretion applied in each case.

In considering this issue, I am conscious that increasing the current HAP rent limits could have negative inflationary impacts, leading to a detrimental impact on the wider rental market, including for those households who are not receiving HAP support.

I am committed to the Programme for Government commitment to ensure that Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) levels are adequate to support vulnerable households, while we increase the supply of social housing. My Department closely monitors the level of discretion being used by local authorities, taking into account other sources of data, including Residential Tenancies Board rent data published on a quarterly basis. It is considered that the current maximum rent limits, together with the additional flexibility available to local authorities, are generally adequate to support the effective operation of the HAP scheme.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (315)

Réada Cronin

Question:

315. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if special interpersonal or other relevant training has been given to staff and ancillary agency staff dealing with the public in the context of the stress of Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8831/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department provides staff with the necessary and relevant training required to carry out their duties. In response to Covid-19, it has rolled out the Lead Worker Representative training, updated First Aid Response, PPE and Infection Prevention Control training, all within a COVID-19 context.

In light of the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, my Department adapted its work processes and implemented new best practices to support and develop our staff in such a way to allow the successful continuation of service to the public.

Under its internal people strategy, ‘WELL’, my Department rolled out a series of webinars and Lunch and Learn sessions covering topics such as ‘building resilience, ‘stress management’ and ‘coping with loss’ in the covid context. These initiatives were further enhanced by presentations to staff from the Employees Assistance Officer.

My Department does not maintain the requested information in respect of the State bodies under its aegis. These State bodies may be contacted directly by e-mail by members of the Oireachtas, as set out in the following table.

State Body

Contact E-mail Address

An Bord Pleanála

oireachtasqueries@pleanala.ie

An Fóram Uisce (the Water Forum)

info@nationalwaterforum.ie

Docklands Oversight and Consultative Forum

infodocklands@dublincity.ie

Ervia

oireachtas@ervia.ie

Gas Networks Ireland

oireachtas@ervia.ie

Heritage Council

oireachtas@heritagecouncil.ie

Housing Finance Agency

oireachtas.enquiries@hfa.ie

Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency

publicreps@housingagency.ie

Irish Water

oireachtasmembers@water.ie

Land Development Agency

oireachtas@lda.ie

Local Government Management Agency

corporate@lgma.ie

National Oversight and Audit Commission

info@noac.ie

National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee

ntacc@housing.gov.ie

Office of the Planning Regulator

oireachtas@opr.ie

Ordnance Survey Ireland

Oireachtas@osi.ie

Property Registration Authority

reps@prai.ie

Pyrite Resolution Board

oireachtasinfo@pyriteboard.ie

Residential Tenancies Board

OireachtasMembersQueries@rtb.ie

Valuation Office

oireachtas.enquiries@VALOFF.ie

Valuation Tribunal

info@valuationtribunal.ie

Water Advisory Body

info@wab.gov.ie

Waterways Ireland

ceoffice@waterwaysireland.org

Departmental Contracts

Questions (316)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

316. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the contracts for public relations advice and consultancy entered into by his Department over the cost of €10,000 since January 2021; the nature of the contract; and the length of the contract in tabular form. [8895/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department has not entered into any contracts for public relations advice and consultancy with a cost of €10,000 or more since January 2021.

Ministerial Communications

Questions (317)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

317. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if there has been any contact with his counterpart in the United States. [8915/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I have had no direct contact yet with my counterpart in the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

However my Department, through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), has entered into an agreement with the US National Park Service whereby Killarney National Park and Glacier National Park, Montana, are becoming 'sister parks'. This will establish close links and allow for the sharing and development of best practice in the management of the parks.

Housing Assistance Payment

Questions (318)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

318. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the reason Galway City Council only has the discretion to exceed the maximum rent limit for HAP by 20% despite the challenge of homelessness and the pressure on rents in the city, given that local authorities in Dublin have a 50% discretion; and if he will make a statement on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8943/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, tenants source their own accommodation in the private rented market. The accommodation sourced by tenants should be within the prescribed maximum HAP rent limits, which are based on household size and the rental market within the area concerned.

Increased rent limits for the HAP and the Rent Supplement Scheme were introduced in 2016. These limits were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection (DSP). In reviewing the rent limits, my Department worked closely with DSP and monitored data gathered from the Residential Tenancies Board and the HAP Shared Services Centre. The HAP rent limits were increased significantly, by up to 60% in some cases.

Maximum rent limits for the HAP scheme are set out for each housing authority area in the Housing Assistance Payment (Amendment) Regulations 2017. The current maximum HAP rent limits are available on the Irish Statute Book website at the following link:

www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/si/56/made/en/print?q=housing&years=2017.

Local authorities also have discretion, because of local rental market conditions, to exceed the maximum rent limit by up to 20%, or up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of homelessness. It should be noted that it is a matter for the local authority to determine whether the application of the flexibility is warranted on a case by case basis and also the level of additional discretion applied in each case.

My Department closely monitors the level of discretion being used by local authorities, taking into account other sources of data, including Residential Tenancies Board rent data published on a quarterly basis. It is considered that the current maximum rent limits, together with the additional flexibility available to local authorities, are generally adequate to support the effective operation of the HAP scheme.

The Programme for Government commits to ensuring that HAP levels are adequate to support vulnerable households, while we increase the supply of social housing. My Department continues to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review and it is a key mechanism in meeting housing need across the Country.

Local Authority Housing

Questions (319)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

319. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage further to Parliamentary Question No. 131 of 21 January 2021, if a copy of circular 38/2020 will be provided. [8955/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department issued guidance to all local authorities regarding the treatment of the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) when assessing and/or reviewing income eligibility for social housing support to all local authorities through Circular 38/2020.

I have arranged for a copy of the Circular to be issued to the Deputy.

Waterways Ireland

Questions (320)

Brendan Smith

Question:

320. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the measures that will be implemented to progress the proposal to extend the Shannon navigation from Lough Allen, County Leitrim to Dowra, County Cavan in view of the substantial preparatory work carried out on the project some years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8962/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Navigation to Lough Allen through the Lough Allen Canal was restored and re-opened in 1994. Since then Waterways Ireland has developed and maintained facilities for boats at a number of key locations including a significant marina development at Cleighran More and harbour facilities at Spenser Harbour.

Waterways Ireland has recently received planning approval for the development of a boat slipway at Spenser Harbour which will complement and augment the harbour as a boating amenity and will provide much needed access to that area of Lough Allen.

At the same time Waterways Ireland in association with Leitrim County Council, has developed the Shannon Blueway utilising the Lough Allen Canal and the wider north Shannon area.

The Blueway development is bringing increasing numbers of visitors to the canal and Drumshanbo in particular and to the wider area in general.

With regard to the extension of navigation to Dowra, Waterways Ireland does not have immediate plans to progress this proposal.

However, Waterways Ireland has together with Fáilte Ireland and ten Local Authorities, formulated, and will soon publish the Shannon Tourism Masterplan. The formulation of the Masterplan is the first time a dedicated plan of any type has been undertaken on the Shannon Region. Based on three core themes, seven strategic signature initiatives are proposed that will, when delivered, position the Shannon Region as a distinctive and sustainable tourist destination. The initiatives are as follows:

1. Communicating a clear and consistent message;

2. Enhancing the on-water experience;

3. Enhancing the waterside experience;

4. Animating and enhancing the Shannon towns and villages;

5. Protecting and enhancing the Shannon Environment;

6. Improving connectivity; and

7. Building networks.

The potential restoration of disused navigations for recreational purposes including their expanded and wider use will form part of the Shannon Masterplan

Social and Affordable Housing

Questions (321)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

321. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the income thresholds for inclusion on the social housing list per local authority; the breakdown of each local authority that includes family income supplement as reckonable income for assessing eligibility of applicants in tabular form; his views on policy with regard to which income is assessed for inclusion on the social housing list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8980/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.

The 2011 Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy. The 2011 Regulations do not provide local authorities with any discretion to exceed the limits that apply to their administrative areas.

Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, Universal Social Charge and Pension-Related Deductions within the meaning of Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once-off in nature. However, with the exception of the specific payments listed in the Household Means Policy as being disregarded, all income from social insurance and social assistance payments, allowances and benefits, including Family Income Supplement (now known as Working Family Payment or WFP), is assessable.

A table setting out the details of the three bands and the limits currently applicable in each local authority area is available on my Department's website at the following link:

www.gov.ie/en/publication/fcb86-social-housing-support-table-of-income-limits-2-june-2016/.

The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single-person household, with an allowance of 5% for each additional adult household member, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%; and 2.5% for each child, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is underway. The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

Housing Provision

Questions (322)

Aodhán Ó Ríordáin

Question:

322. Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he received a request from Dublin City Council to meet with councillors of the south east area committee in respect of a motion passed regarding the development of a site (details supplied); and if he will meet with the councillors of that area committee in addition to relevant officials from Dublin City Council to discuss the development. [8981/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I have received a meeting request from Dublin City Council this week and will be writing back to the Council on the matter.

The regeneration of Poolbeg West is the next important step in transforming the Docklands area, given its strategic location east of Grand Canal Dock, with close proximity to important bridge connections to Dublin Port and North Lotts.

In relation to the activation of these lands i understand that, having decided to embark on the competitive tendering process, on 22 December 2020, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA) announced the completion of a comprehensive process to select an investment partner for the development of this site within Poolbeg West Strategic Development Zone.

Furthermore, NAMA has named the successful bidder as a consortium consisting of Ronan Group Real Estate, funds managed by Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. (“Oaktree”) and Oaktree affiliate Lioncor Developments Limited (“Lioncor”), will be the 80% majority shareholder in Pembroke Ventures DAC (“PVD”). NAMA will retain a minority 20% shareholding in PVD

The planning scheme, as modified by An Bord Pleanála on 9th April 2019, states that prior to commencement of development, subject to confirmed funding and value for money considerations, a commercial agreement shall be entered into between Dublin City Council, my Department and the owners/developers of the residential element of the Planning Scheme for the delivery of 15% of the residential units approved on the lands included in this Planning Scheme for social and affordable housing purposes. These units shall be additional to the 10% statutory under Part V arrangements still stands and is applicable.

As NAMA progresses this site, my Department remains ready to work with Dublin City Council, the receiver and/or developers of the SDZ area to progress this site, subject to agreement on all the normal and relevant terms, including value for money aspects.

Wildlife Protection

Questions (323)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

323. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to an issue (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8996/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Both species of seal in Irish waters - the Harbour or Common Seal and the more numerous Grey Seal - are protected under the EU Habitats Directive and Ireland is obliged to maintain their populations at favourable conservation status. We are also required to monitor these species and report to the European Commission on their conservation status. A standardised monitoring programme has been in place for both since 2009.

The latest population estimates available to my Department indicate that there are approximately 8,000-10,000 grey seals and about 5,000 harbour seals in Ireland. These animals are spread around the Irish coast with the largest populations occurring along the west coast from the Blaskets in Co. Kerry to north Mayo and Donegal.

I absolutely deplore the unlawful killing of any protected animal.Seals, and grey seals in particular, are wide ranging animals. The Irish animals are known to move between Scotland and north-west France. In turn, animals from the large seals populations in Scotland migrate into Irish waters to feed. There are over 100,000 grey seals in Scotland.

From the details provided, we are continuing to examine this matter. Until we can get greater clarity around what has happened in this case, and indeed when and where the animal died , it would not be appropriate for me to speculate as to any course of action. In the meantime, I would ask the public to continue to report incidents of potential wildlife crime, including that against seals, to their local Ranger at the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Consular Services

Questions (324, 325)

Joan Collins

Question:

324. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he has taken in relation to the case of a person (details supplied) detained by the authorities in China. [8968/21]

View answer

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

325. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to ensure an Irish citizen (details supplied) returns home given they are banned from exiting China despite there being no charges against them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9187/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 324 and 325 together.

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department is providing ongoing consular assistance to this citizen through our Consular Assistance Unit in Dublin, our Embassy in Beijing and our Consulate General in Shanghai. Our Consul General has been meeting and engaging regularly with the citizen since we were first informed of this complex case in March 2019, and continues to provide all possible consular advice and support. The case has been raised repeatedly at senior political and diplomatic level with the relevant authorities in China, and with the Embassy of China to Ireland. These engagements have highlighted the humanitarian aspects of the case, and the importance of the citizen being permitted to leave China and return home as soon as possible. The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate to discuss the details of any individual consular case, nor to comment on matters pertaining to a legal process in another jurisdiction. However, I can assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to provide all possible consular assistance to the citizen until he is permitted to return to Ireland.

Foreign Policy

Questions (326)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

326. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to offer assistance to citizens of Myanmar; and the level of engagement he has had with EU counterparts on the issues in Myanmar over the past five days. [7861/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland stands in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and I reiterate my condemnation of the coup carried out by the Myanmar military on February 1st and the unlawful detention of political leaders including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

On February 11th, I called for a firm response from the international community, including sanctions that target the perpetrators of the coup. I have also outlined Ireland’s commitment to ensuring continued humanitarian support to the most vulnerable communities in Myanmar, including internally displaced persons.

My Department provides development cooperation funding to support the livelihood and resilience of vulnerable communities in Myanmar. In particular, funding support has been provided to strengthen food and nutrition security, and in response to humanitarian needs in Rakhine State. We will continue to review the situation with our implementing partners to ensure that Irish funds are utilised where they are needed most.

It is important that the authorities in Myanmar respond appropriately to these events and that people in Myanmar are free to peacefully and safely express their views. It is vitally important that the military in Myanmar exercise restraint.

I welcome the united position taken by the UN Security Council in this matter and Ireland will continue to work with our partners on the Council and with countries in the region in response to this crisis.

Ireland, the EU and other partners are urgently working together to develop an appropriate response. This was evident at the Human Rights Council where an EU and UK-led resolution was adopted unanimously at a special session of the Council on 12 February. The comprehensive Resolution addresses the many human rights issues at stake in Myanmar and calls on the Myanmar military to take action to remedy them. The consensus shown by the Human Rights Council is a significant and positive signal of accord on this issue within the international community. The EU will continue to shine a spotlight on the situation by leading a further Resolution at the forthcoming session of the Human Rights Council, which begins on 22 February. This will renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

In other fora, Ireland continues to work with EU partners and other like-minded countries in responding to the events since 1 February and is 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. At a political level, Myanmar will be a point of discussion at the Foreign Affairs Council next week.

Ireland, along with our EU colleagues, has been a steadfast supporter of Myanmar’s civilian and democratic transition, its peace process and national reconciliation, and its inclusive socio-economic development. These are roles we want to continue to assume during this challenging period.

Foreign Birth Registration

Questions (327)

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

327. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if delays in foreign birth registrations due to Covid-19 will be taken into account for future applications in cases in which the delay to completing the registration of a person could impact the rights of their children to claim citizenship; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7899/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department is responsible for citizenship by descent through the Foreign Births Register. At present, there are 27,000 applications in the Foreign Births Registration (FBR) system that are awaiting processing.

The Passport Service has paused the processing of FBR applications as Ireland is at Level 5 of the National Framework for Living with COVID-19. Applications that have been sent to the FBR team are being held securely and will be processed when normal services resume at Level 3 of the Framework.

The impact of Brexit on applications for Foreign Birth Registration has been significant. In 2014, approximately 10,000 applications were received. In 2019, approximately 32,000 were received. Applicants resident in Great Britain account for around half of all applications. Prior to the introduction of the current restrictions, FBR applications were taking 12 to 18 months to process.

Foreign Births Registration, by its nature, can be a detailed and complex process, often involving official documentation related to three generations and issued by several jurisdictions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in two periods in 2020 where processing of Foreign Birth Registrations was paused to assist with other essential work such as providing Consular Assistance to Irish citizens overseas. This resulted in 26 weeks of 2020 where the processing of FBR applications was paused.

In spite of the pausing of the service, 12,413 people were entered on the Foreign Births Register in 2020. Processing for normal FBR applications has not yet resumed in 2021.

With additional resources, the Department is working to reduce these arrears in 2021 and thereby improve the delivery period for this service.

On the question of a delay to completing the registrations potentially impacting on the rights of a person, my Department operates a clear and transparent general policy of processing FBR applications in order of receipt. However, we will consider urgent requests to expedite an application on a case by case basis. During Level 5 restrictions, applicants can make contact with the Passport Service through the WebChat service.

Human Rights Cases

Questions (328)

Richard Bruton

Question:

328. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has assessed the treatment of Uighur minorities and whether this conforms with international standards of human rights; and the latest initiatives in which the Government has been involved at European or international level on the question. [7922/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland, along with our EU partners, remains deeply concerned about the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. My Department has been closely following the situation, including in relation to reports of systemic abuse, torture, forced labour, forced sterilisations, and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief in the Province.

We have been active in raising our concerns in relation to this matter. On 6 October 2020, Ireland was one of 39 countries to support a Joint Statement at the UN Third Committee which reiterates our grave concern and recalls the exceptional letter of concern issued by 50 UN Special Procedures mandate holders, which called on China to respect human rights and allow, immediate, meaningful, and unfettered access to Xinjiang.

Ireland also raised this matter during our national statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September, where we urged China to allow unrestricted access to the region for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ireland has also previously supported a number of statements at the UN Human Rights Council, in June 2020 and July 2019, and at the UN Third Committee in October 2019. These statements, among other things, urged China to urgently implement the eight recommendations made by the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination related to Xinjiang, and to uphold its international obligations and respect human rights in Xinjiang. They also called on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide regular information on the situation in the region, in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed under international law.

In addition to this, the EU has raised this matter with Chinese authorities directly on a number of occasions. Most recently, High Representative Borrell raised our strong concerns regarding the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a videoconference on 8 February. The deterioration of the human rights situation, including the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang, was also raised by EU leaders with China on 14 September, and also during the EU-China Summit on 22 June.

The protection and promotion of human rights is a core pillar of Ireland's foreign policy, and Ireland will continue to monitor and assess the situation and, along with our EU partners, engage with Chinese authorities bilaterally and in multilateral fora to address our concerns.

Consular Services

Questions (329)

Matt Carthy

Question:

329. Deputy Matt Carthy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department will provide advice and supports to Irish citizens living abroad that may be offered vaccines not yet approved by the WHO or the EMA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8027/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department is in ongoing contact with the Department of Health in relation to the provision of advice for our citizens abroad in the context of COVID-19.

There are currently no plans to arrange vaccines for Irish citizens abroad and our advice to our citizens overseas is to follow the guidelines of the public health authorities in the region or country in which they are located.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (330)

Joe O'Brien

Question:

330. Deputy Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the ongoing lack of Covid-19 vaccines in areas of Palestine under Israeli occupation; his views on whether this situation will affect the operation of the EU-Israel trade agreement, particularly with regard to article 2 of the treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8064/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland is playing its full part as member of the global health community to establish facilities and oversight mechanisms to ensure fair and equitable access to vaccines for all. The World Health Organisation, as the lead UN agency for health, is central to this effort: in recognition of this critical role, Ireland quadrupled support to WHO in 2020. Ireland is a member of the ACT Accelerator global initiative, which aims to harmonise the global vaccine rollout. A critical pillar of this initiative, COVAX, aims to deliver 2 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021 to support 92 low and middle-income countries, and has negotiated options on a further 1 billion doses. On 3 February COVAX confirmed the occupied Palestinian territory as one of 18 priority participants for rollout of both the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines in Q1 and Q2 2021. Ireland has budgeted €50 million for Global Health in 2021 including initiatives to support equitable access to vaccines, including through the COVAX initiative.

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities to ensure the welfare of citizens in the occupied Palestinian territory. Ending the worst effects of the pandemic for all requires constructive cooperation to support timely, effective and unimpeded vaccination in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory and I continue to encourage those efforts. My officials continue to monitor this issue and engage together with the EU on supporting vaccination efforts in the occupied Palestinian territory. The EU-Israel Euro Mediterranean Association Agreement provides a framework for reaction by either Party in the case that it considers that the other Party has failed to fulfil an obligation under the Agreement. Such a consideration is for EU Member States to agree together, as party to the Agreement. Ireland continues to raise human rights issues of concern through the most appropriate and effective channels, including with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities.

Passport Services

Questions (331)

Pa Daly

Question:

331. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the deployment of passport processing staff as part of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8088/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Despite the introduction of travel restrictions both nationally and internationally during the Covid-19 pandemic, Irish citizens continued to require passports, particularly our community living overseas.

To assist with the wider State response to COVID-19, Passport Service personnel have been redeployed, at the request of different Departments, into other, essential public service roles, such as contact tracing for the HSE, assisting the Department of Social Protection to facilitate the processing of COVID-19 related benefits and providing consular assistance to Irish citizens overseas.

The Passport Service has paused normal operations during Level 5 restrictions.

However, we continue to provide an emergency and urgent service. The emergency 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. The urgent service also assist citizens who are resident abroad who require a valid passport for visa purposes or citizens who require a renewal for work purposes. The Passport Service continues to operate its Customer Service Hub by WebChat to facilitate customer queries.

Passport Services

Questions (332)

Pa Daly

Question:

332. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of passports in the backlog as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic noting the effect of the most recent level 5 lockdown in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8089/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

At present, there are approximately 49,000 Passport Online applications in the system. When operations resume at Level 4, all applications received via Passport Online will be processed. The Passport Service have requested that applicants refrain from submitting documents until we resume operations. Applicants will be notified by e-mail when we resume processing.

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 cleared within three weeks.

There are currently approximately 6,100 paper based applications in the system. The Passport Service plans to resume processing of routine paper based applications such as Passport Express and Northern Ireland Passport Express at Level 3 of the framework.

Passport Services

Questions (333)

Pa Daly

Question:

333. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if additional staff or resources will be provided to expedite the processing of passports once the level 5 lockdown ends; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8090/21]

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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 provide a safe place of work at all Levels of the National Framework for Living with COVID-19. At Level 5, in line with Government guidance that only essential work should take place, the Passport Service provides an emergency and urgent service. At Level 4, the Passport Service will resume processing Passport Online applications with staff assigned into two teams and working at a strict social distance to ensure sufficient resilience to deliver the service. At Level 3, all staff are required to work at a strict social distance and the processing of paper based applications and Foreign Birth Registrations, which require greater interaction between staff, resume. At Level 1, the public counter of the Passport Service will re-open.

The Passport Online system has improved the ability of the Passport Service to process applications more efficiently. When the service resumed operations in June 2020, the backlog for Passport Online applications was cleared in 4 weeks. Between 1 December and 23 December, all Passport Online simple renewal applications were processed and most complex renewals were processed. First time applications are more complex and take more time to process.

There is no requirement, at this time, to allocate additional staff to the Passport Service. Similar to all work places, social distancing is required so this limits the occupation of buildings but my Department has been working closely with the Office of Public Works on this matter.

Human Rights

Questions (334)

Seán Sherlock

Question:

334. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the need for an Irish Magnitsky act (details supplied); if he plans to legislate for such an act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8169/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

On 7 December 2020, the Council of the European Union adopted a Decision and a Regulation establishing a global human rights sanctions regime. The new Regulation represents a significant development in the EU sanctions regime. For the first time, the EU is equipping itself with a framework that will allow it to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide, no matter where they occurred. This global regime will coexist with country-specific sanctions regimes – such as those against Belarus and Russia. The framework for targeted restrictive measures applies to acts such as genocide, crimes against humanity and other serious human rights violations or abuses (including torture, slavery, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests or detentions). Other human rights violations or abuses can also fall under the scope of the sanctions regime where those violations or abuses are widespread, systematic or are otherwise of serious concern as regards the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. It will be for the Council, acting upon a proposal from a Member State or from the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, to establish, review and amend the sanctions list. The direct implications for Ireland are that we will be obliged to implement sanctions as listings are decided within the framework of the regime. The regime will target individuals and entities and may involve the imposition of travel bans and the freezing of assets/funds, which may be located in Ireland. Ireland may also be called on to grant humanitarian derogations under the regime, which confers this function upon Member States’ competent authorities. Ireland is extremely supportive of the new regime and believes it will be a useful addition to the EU’s human rights toolbox. . It will provide the EU with greater flexibility to target those responsible for serious human rights violations and abuses. It sends a strong message that the EU is a leader in protecting human rights and is willing to take concrete actions to ensure this.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (335)

Seán Haughey

Question:

335. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will raise the continuing conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia at the UN Security Council; if the council will be appraised by Ireland of the need for urgent international action in respect of this regional conflict and to call for an end to ongoing military operations in Tigray; if the council can also be requested to call for the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Ethiopian territory and to establish an international investigation into potential war crimes committed in Tigray during the conflict; if he will support full access for humanitarian assistance for Tigray; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8197/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The ongoing armed conflict between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the former regional authorities in Tigray, which began on 4 November, remains a major concern for Ireland. The conflict has had a devastating impact on the population of Tigray, and poses severe risks to the stability of the wider Horn of Africa region.

Since the outbreak of hostilities in Tigray, there have been allegations of war crimes and of crimes against humanity. Ireland strongly support calls by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights for independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations into these allegations, to ensure accountability and, where appropriate, justice.

Ireland support the EU’s call for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia, whose presence remains a barrier to humanitarian access and is linked to alleged atrocities. Ireland is strongly supportive of regional efforts to try to find a resolution to the crisis in Tigray, including the work of three African Union Special Envoys.

Ireland raised the Tigray situation at the UN Security Council on 3 February, expressing deep concern at the humanitarian situation in Tigray and calling for unhindered humanitarian access. Ireland also called on all parties in Tigray to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights law including those related to the protection of civilians and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence. Ireland will continue to advocate for an urgent response to the humanitarian situation, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through bilateral engagement, our EU membership and at the UN Security Council.

In his contacts with key interlocutors, Minister Coveney calls on all parties to cease hostilities, respect international humanitarian law and begin dialogue, as well as for immediate and unhindered humanitarian access to affected areas. He has condemned reported atrocities and identity-based attacks, and has called for the human rights of all Ethiopians to be upheld. The Minister continues to engage with key EU, regional and other actors in this regard, including in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Pretoria.

My Department, through Irish Aid, has provided over €2.6 million to date to support the humanitarian response to the Tigray crisis. This includes €1.4 million to Irish NGOs within Tigray, €500,000 to the UN refugee agency to support the refugee response in neighbouring Sudan, and almost €750,000 towards humanitarian stocks, and supports for the protection of women and girls.

Northern Ireland

Questions (336)

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

336. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions he has taken with regard to the political policing that has been delivered by the PSNI most especially on the Ormeau Road, Belfast, County Antrim (details supplied); if he has raised it with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland; if so, the response; if he has raised the issue with other persons; and his views on whether it is time for root and branch reform of the PSNI. [8215/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government is aware of the incident that took place following a memorial event on the Ormeau Road in Belfast on Friday, 5th February last. The memorial was marking the tragic loss of life that occurred 29 years ago at Sean Graham’s Bookmakers, when 5 people were murdered and several others wounded in a loyalist paramilitary attack.

The Government fully understands the sensitivities and concerns of the relatives and survivors about the policing intervention at this memorial event.

The PSNI Chief Constable has issued an apology, and has said that the incident was not reflective of the values of the PSNI.

There are very strong accountability processes in place for the PSNI through the Policing Board and the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, and these processes are now being fully engaged in relation to the 5th February incident. It is important to recall here that these robust accountability mechanisms were put in place on the recommendation of the Patten Commission on Policing which delivered a new beginning to policing in Northern Ireland, as mandated by the Good Friday Agreement.

The Policing Board has met to discuss this incident and has issued a statement emphasising consensus and a commitment to work with the Chief Constable in dealing with these issues. in addition, the Police Ombudsman is conducting an investigation into what happened, and while this investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate for the Government to comment further on the details of the incident.

Officials in our Secretariat in Belfast continue to engage with a wide range of stakeholders on a regular basis on policing and related issues.

Northern Ireland

Questions (337)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

337. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contact he has made with the authorities in Northern Ireland in relation to the disappearance and death of a person (details supplied) in 2020; if he plans to make further representations; and if he will assist the family in getting answers in relation to same. [8289/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I would like to take this opportunity to extend my heartfelt condolences and those of the Government to the family and friends of Noah Donohoe, on their most tragic loss. Our thoughts especially are with Noah’s mother Fiona.

The case of Noah’s death is matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland and an investigation is underway. There has been a renewed appeal for witnesses, and we would encourage anyone who may have any information to contact the PSNI. I understand that a Coroner's investigation is also ongoing. As such, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.