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Tuesday, 14 Dec 2021

Written Answers Nos. 350-366

Question No. 350 answered with Question No. 346.

Question No. 351 answered with Question No. 346.

Question No. 352 answered with Question No. 346.

Question No. 353 answered with Question No. 346.

Question No. 354 answered with Question No. 346.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (355)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

355. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the supports his Department will provide for Irish tourists that may have either a positive antigen or PCR test for Covid-19 within a 72 or 48 hour timeframe of their scheduled return to Ireland and will not be able to travel home in such circumstances. [61513/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

My Department provides consular assistance to all Irish citizens in distress overseas where requested. This includes confidential advice and support in relation to illness or any emergency situation, in line with the principles of our Consular Assistance Charter.

Irish citizens who test positive for Covid-19 while travelling abroad are advised to follow the local public health guidance in their destination until the required period of quarantine has ended. Any citizen who tests positive would not be in a position to return to Ireland during this period as this would be in breach of regulations and would contravene public health guidance.

Citizens who test positive for Covid-19 while travelling abroad who have not been issued with a recovery certificate may travel to Ireland with a positive RT-PCR result. The result must be more than 10 days and less than 180 days old when travelling to Ireland. Since 5 December, citizens in this position are also required to show a negative antigen test result from a test taken within 48 hours prior to arrival. Citizens who test positive for Covid-19 while travelling abroad and who have been issued with a recovery certificate may travel to Ireland with this certificate and the relevant negative antigen test result.

Public health advice is that a person showing a residual positive with a PCR test is unlikely to test positive with an antigen test if they have recovered from COVID-19.

Concerned citizens in this situation should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate for advice and consular assistance. While our Embassies and Consulates cannot provide medical advice, consular officials can provide citizens with information on local health supports in the context of COVID-19, including details of English-speaking doctors where required.

Requirements for individuals travelling to Ireland in the context of COVID-19, including the requirement for those arriving to Ireland to have a negative/not-detected COVID-19 test result, are a matter for the Department of Health. My Department continues to work closely with the Department of Health to ensure that appropriate advice and support is provided to Irish citizens overseas.

Passport Services

Questions (356)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

356. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the passport office will return to normal processing times following the decision not to deem the passport office as an essential service and to suspend the production of passports during the lockdown (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61573/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Passport Service operations have been severely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, as were many Government services. The Passport Service maintained operations throughout the pandemic, notwithstanding the fact that the processing of passports requires physical attendance on site to deliver this service. Passport Service staff assisted citizens who required passports for a range of emergency and urgent personal, business or legal reasons, or who had compelling humanitarian needs to travel. As a result of well-implemented safety protocols, 67,000 passports were issued between January and May of this year.

In the context of the Government’s “COVID-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021”, I recognised that scaling up of our services was necessary and so categorised the Passport Service as an essential service within that framework. I advised Government of my decision on 29 April 2021. Passport Service operations began scaling up on 4 May 2021.

The Passport Service has issued almost 600,000 passports to date in 2021 and 45% of simple adult renewals issue within one business day.

I am aware that many applicants wish to have their passport application processed in time for travel over the Christmas season. I wish to assure the Deputy that the Passport Service is attaching particular priority to processing passport applications that are fully in order and complete and have an expected issue date before the Christmas holidays.

The current passport processing times are:

- 10 working days for Simple Adult online renewals

- 15 working days for Complex or child online renewals

- 40 working days for First Time Applications on Passport Online

- 8 weeks for An Post’s mail-in “Passport Express” service

The aforementioned passport processing times are based on current average application turnaround times and relate to passport applications submitted to the Passport Service with required supporting documentation. When passport applicants do not provided all of the requisite documentation to the Passport Service, it takes much longer to process the application and issue a passport. Passport Service figures show that a high proportion of applications are incomplete and the onus is on the applicant to submit the required documents to the Service. While the Passport Service makes every effort to contact applicants in such circumstances, their experience is that many applicants take weeks and sometimes months to send in the necessary documents.

The Passport Service is currently experiencing a high demand for first time passports. These first time applications are necessarily complex to process, since they are essentially applications for Irish citizenship. The Passport Service must validate the true identity of the applicant and take measures to confirm the applicant’s entitlement to Irish citizenship. It is the statutory responsibility of the Passport Service to protect the integrity of the Irish passport. Accordingly, a rigorous analysis process is in place to verify the identity and citizenship status of applicants.

In the case of first time passport applications for children, the consent of guardians must also be thoroughly validated. Due to the intensive analysis underpinning first time online passport applications processing time is 40 working days.

My Department has been actively working with the Public Appointments Service to recruit additional permanent and temporary staff. This recruitment drive is well underway and will double the number of staff in the Passport Service from June 2021 levels to a total of 920 staff by the end of January. I am confident that the additional staff currently being assigned to the Passport Service will help to reduce turnaround times and to respond to the current and anticipated high demand for passports in 2022

The Passport Service continually examines how to improve processing times and engagement with applicants. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. These improvements will be rolled out in the coming weeks and months.

In the context of the National Development Plan, my Department is making a major investment in the future of the Passport Service. Over the next couple of years, we will replace the core technology underpinning the service, which will deliver efficiencies and a more resilient passport system.

Budget 2022 also included an investment of an additional €10m in passport services in response to the increasing demand for passports both at home and abroad.

Human Rights

Questions (357)

Seán Haughey

Question:

357. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the current political situation in Myanmar and in particular the jailing of a person (details supplied) for incitement and breaching Covid-19 rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61745/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

President Win Myint, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Mayor Myo Aung received sentences in a military court in Myanmar on 6 December. Ireland condemns the politically motivated verdicts and believe they represent another step towards the dismantling of the rule of law and a further violation of human rights in Myanmar.

The proceedings appear to be an attempt to exclude democratically elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, from future political engagement and the inclusive dialogue process called for by ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus. The military’s actions show contempt for the will of the people, expressed clearly in the November 2020 elections. Ireland joined statements issued by both the European Union and United Nations Security Council expressing concern at the sentencing and reiterating their calls for the release of those who have been arbitrarily detained since 1 February 2021.

The coup in Myanmar is a reversal of the progress made towards democracy and rule of law in Myanmar that has taken years to establish. I am gravely concerned by the escalation in violence and displacement in the country and the humanitarian and human rights situation.

Ireland is actively engaging at the European Union and United Nations to call on all sides to refrain from violence, and to fully respect human rights and comply with international law including international humanitarian and human rights law.

Ireland, along with our European Union 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. We are currently working with the European Union to consider further actions to restore the democratic path in Myanmar. Through the UN and our Embassy network, we are encouraging those who have influence on the military leadership, including ASEAN and countries within the region, to use it to find a political resolution to this crisis and protect the human rights of the Myanmar people.

The situation remains on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council and we will continue to work with partners in search of a resolution to the deepening crisis.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (358)

John Brady

Question:

358. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to Irish citizens in Australia who are currently on bridging visas while they wait for issue of a temporary visa otherwise referred to as a Covid visa particularly as applicants are unable to travel home to Ireland during this period which can take up to 18 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61747/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As the Deputy will be aware, the Australian authorities have taken exceptional measures to restrict international travel in response to the pandemic. Entry into Australia and the issue of visas are matters solely for the Australian authorities. However, I am very conscious of the impact which these travel restrictions are having on many Irish people both here and in Australia, especially those who have not seen family and friends for a very long time, and often in very difficult situations. This was something that I raised with my Australian counterpart, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, when we met virtually in June.

A Bridging Visa is a temporary Australian visa granted in certain circumstances, for example, while a substantive visa application is being considered. Bridging visas were issued to the holders of temporary Australian visas when those visas expired during the pandemic. This enabled the holders, including many Irish citizens, to remain in Australia and to work there. In general, however, these bridging visas do not give the holder a right to return to Australia if they leave. I fully appreciate that this has left many Irish citizens in Australia in a very difficult position during the pandemic. Full information on bridging visa applications is available on the Australian Department of Home Affairs website at www.homeaffairs.gov.au/.

I welcome the recent indications by the Australian authorities that they plan to ease international travel restrictions on a phased basis. It is anticipated that fully vaccinated holders of qualifying visas will be permitted to depart and return to Australia from this week onwards and without needing to apply for a special travel exemption. However, the list of qualifying visas does not include bridging visas, even if the holder has applied for one of the qualifying visas. My Department is endeavouring to mitigate the impact of Australia's international travel restrictions on our many Irish citizens in Australia. Our Embassy Canberra and Consulate General Sydney will continue to closely monitor developments and will liaise with the Australian authorities on the easing of travel restrictions, particularly as they affect the Irish holders of Australian bridging visas. Throughout this pandemic, often in difficult circumstances, the Embassy, the Consulate and the Irish Support agencies in Australia have provided consular support to our affected citizens and they will continue to do so as Australia begins to open up to international travel.

Brexit Issues

Question No. 360 answered with Question No. 339.

Questions (359)

Neale Richmond

Question:

359. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to a new requirement for EU citizens living in Ireland to fill in an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) if they are travelling to Northern Ireland; if he has spoken to UK officials regarding this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61756/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am aware of the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which was recently passed in the House of Commons and has now proceeded to the House of Lords.

As currently drafted, this Bill would provide that the UK’s immigration rules may require that specified categories of individual, to be set down in the rules, have an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) in order to travel to the UK. This may include ‘local journeys’ to the UK from within the Common Travel Area (CTA). It is important to note that, while the Bill provides that such a requirement may be introduced, any such requirement would be introduced by way of future amendments to the UK’s immigration rules. It is also important to note that the Bill provides that the proposed ETA system will not apply to Irish and British citizens and the UK Government has made clear that there will continue to be no immigration checks on the land border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The UK Government has spoken about the requirement coming into effect by 2024, though this timeframe could change.

Officials in my Department are seeking clarification with the UK Government as to how it is proposed to apply the requirement in Northern Ireland and what changes are intended to be introduced in future immigration rules. As the Deputy is aware, tens of thousands of people, including many non-Irish EU/EEA nationals living in Ireland, cross the land border every day – visiting friends and family, going to work, socialising. There are also considerations in terms of supply chains and for tourism on an all-island basis, should this proposed legislation impact on any cross-border movements for non-Irish EU/EEA nationals.

For our part, the Government has made its position clear that there should be no hard border on the island of Ireland. This legislation remains under consideration within the UK Parliament and we will continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that our position is clearly heard as this legislation progresses.

Question No. 360 answered with Question No. 339.

Human Rights

Questions (361)

Carol Nolan

Question:

361. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government intends to participate in the diplomatic boycott of the upcoming Winter Olympics in China, in view of the credible evidence presented by international human rights groups that the actions of the Chinese Government against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amount to crimes against humanity (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61862/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland, along with our EU partners, remains deeply concerned about the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the province of Xinjiang. We are closely following the situation, including in relation to evidence based reports of systemic abuse, torture, arbitrary detention, forced labour, forced sterilisations, and restrictions on freedom of religion and belief.

I raised our concerns regarding this situation with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi during my trip to China in May. In that discussion, I outlined Ireland and the EU's position on the treatment of Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang. I emphasised the importance of allowing unrestricted access to the region to independent observers in order to make an objective assessment of the situation, particularly through the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Ireland has also been actively engaged on this matter in the multilateral contexts. At the 48th UN Human Rights Council in September this year, Ireland joined an EU Group Statement of 26 Member States, which called on China to comply with its obligations under national and international law to respect and protect human rights, particularly in Xinjiang. In October, Ireland joined a cross-regional statement on the situation in Xinjiang, delivered at the UN General Assembly. The statement called on China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights”.

In response to the situation in Xinjiang, and under the EU global human rights sanctions regime, the EU unanimously adopted sanctions on 22 March 2021 against one entity and four individuals in China. The EU global human rights sanctions regime allows the EU to target serious human rights violations and abuses by state and non-state actors worldwide. It enables the EU to stand up quickly and in a more tangible and direct way for human rights, one of the fundamental values of the EU and its foreign policy.

In relation to the 2022 Winter Olympics, it has not been customary for Minsters or Minsters of State to attend the Winter Olympics in the past. No Government Ministers are scheduled to travel to Beijing for the Winter Olympics as was also the case at the Tokyo Olympics, given COVID19 concerns. The Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Embassy of Ireland in Beijing, will provide appropriate consular assistance to the athletes and their teams for the duration of the Games, particularly in light of the very complex public health requirements to be implemented at the Games.

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 appropriate multilateral fora to address our concerns.

United Nations

Questions (362)

Carol Nolan

Question:

362. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the assessment the Government has made of a recent independent report (details supplied) which revealed that the number of states in which the recruitment of children by armies and armed groups occurs is at its highest level globally in three decades; if the Government intends to raise this issue at the United Nations Security Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61863/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The recruitment of children remains a significant and deeply worrying issue with thousands of children recruited into conflicts around the world each year.

This timely report from Save the Children reinforces the findings of the UN Secretary-General's annual report on Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) which examines both trends and specific country situations, listing all armed groups that recruit and use children.

In the latest report covering 2020, the Secretary-General identified twenty one countries, in addition to the Lake Chad basin, where more than 26,000 grave violations against children were verified. The report highlights the recruitment and use of 8,521 children, the killing of 2,674 children, and the maiming of 5,748 children, as well as the gendered nature of the problem - 85 per cent of those recruited were boys, while 98% of sexual violence was perpetrated against girls.

5 of the countries in the UN report feature on the agenda of the Security Council and Ireland’s membership of the Council offers us an opportunity to play an active role.

At this year’s annual debate on Children and Armed Conflict in June, President Higgins delivered Ireland’s national statement, focusing on education, protection and accountability.

In the last month, Ireland delivered statements at two Arria formula meetings, the first on the issue of children without parental care in conflict, and the second focusing on the protection of education during conflict.

Ireland also strongly supported the recently adopted UNSC Resolution 2601 concerning the Protection of Education in Conflict and is also a signatory of the Safe Schools Declaration which outlines a set of commitments to protect education from attack.

Finally, Ireland continues to combat the use of child soldiers through our development programme, Irish Aid, which has a strong focus on access to education, particularly for girls, as well as on developing skills and livelihood opportunities.

Humanitarian Access

Questions (363)

Carol Nolan

Question:

363. Deputy Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian assistance the Government is providing to the people of Somalia at present to address the severe food and water shortages facing 2.3 million residents there as recently reported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61864/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The humanitarian situation in Somalia is worsening, exacerbated by a three year long drought which has affected more than 2.8 million people in 66 out of the 74 districts in Somalia. An estimated 133,000 people, mostly in central and southern areas have been displaced. There are fears that the situation could continue to worsen into 2022. The Somalia government declared a state of emergency on 23 November and appealed for humanitarian assistance.

Ireland has strong track record of support for the people of Somalia, with the Irish Aid programme contributing over €57 million in humanitarian assistance to the country since 2012. So far this year Irish Aid funding of €5,756,888 has been allocated to humanitarian action in Somalia, including direct humanitarian funding to Irish NGOs active on the ground responding to the impacts of the drought. Ireland also contributed €3,500,000 to the Country Based Pooled Fund for Somalia, including this month a specific contribution of €500,000 in response to the drought.

The UN OCHA Central Emergency Response Fund, of which Ireland is one of the top ten donors globally, has provided US$8 million to drought response, augmented by $6 million from the Somalia Humanitarian Fund. These pooled funding instruments provide rapid and flexible funding where it is needed most. They enable timely, effective and principled humanitarian action while strengthening leadership, coordination and coherence in emergency response. In 2021, Ireland made an overall contribution of €11,500,000 to the Central Emergency Response Fund.

Foreign Policy

Questions (364)

Ivana Bacik

Question:

364. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the actions his Department will take to support the humanitarian effort in Yemen. [61866/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The situation in Yemen continues to be the world’s most severe humanitarian crisis. Seven years of conflict, accompanied by economic collapse and the breakdown of public institutions and services, have left over 24 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.

Ireland, along with all EU member states, fully supports the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, in his efforts to secure a nationwide ceasefire and the resumption of an inclusive Yemeni-led and Yemeni-owned political process.

As part of our role on the Security Council, Ireland is maintaining a very high level of engagement on Yemen with key parties in the region. I have engaged extensively with both the Government of Yemen and countries of the region this year to urge them to work constructively towards a sustainable peace.

Ireland also welcomes the Yemen Economic Framework proposed by the UN, and we will continue to encourage all parties to constructively engage with these proposals in response to catastrophic food insecurity and poverty in Yemen.

In 2021, in addition to the €5 million pledged earlier this year as Ireland's contribution to humanitarian situation in Yemen and recognising the scale of the challenge, this month Ireland contributed an additional €1 million to the humanitarian response. This latest contribution brings Irish Aid humanitarian funding to Yemen since the crisis began to over €34 million. Given the scale of the ongoing crisis, Ireland will continue to provide funding to help meet the needs of the people of Yemen in 2022.

Foreign Policy

Questions (365)

Ivana Bacik

Question:

365. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has spoken with his Polish counterpart to discuss the current situation at the Polish-Belarussian border. [61872/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland stands in solidarity with Poland and other affected Member States amid this deeply challenging situation at the Polish-Belarusian border. We are mindful that frontline EU Member States like Poland face immense pressures and we recognise that the unprecedented state of affairs at the Polish-Belarusian border has been a major factor in Poland’s state of emergency decision.

Nevertheless, we are very concerned for those migrants at the border and we would appeal to Poland to consider admitting international humanitarian organisations into the relevant area to assist with meeting migrants’ urgent and basic needs. Independent media access should also be facilitated. Furthermore, we would ask that Poland consider the possibility of accepting help and input from EU sources like Frontex. While the instrumentalisation of migrants by President Lukashenko’s regime is to be condemned and the EU’s territorial integrity needs to be maintained, EU values must be respected and Europe’s humanitarian obligations under the Geneva Conventions upheld.

At the November Foreign Affairs Council, I joined in discussions on this issue with my fellow Foreign Ministers where we gave political approval to the fifth package of sanctions, co-sponsored by Ireland.

On a visit to Poland in December, my colleague, Minister of State for European Affairs, Thomas Byrne, TD, met with Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Marcin Przydacz, Undersecretary of State for Security, the Americas, Asia and Eastern Policy. Their discussions included developments at the Poland-Belarus border as well as migration and Minister Byrne expressed Ireland’s position to Minister Prydacz. Furthermore, on a visit to Lithuania in October, Minister Byrne visited the Lithuanian-Belarusian border and saw first-hand the challenging situation in the region.

This dialogue and experience will inform Ireland’s engagement at EU level with all our fellow Member States, including Poland, to ensure Europe is equipped to deal with its migration challenges in a comprehensive and effective but also humane manner.

Passport Services

Questions (366)

Michael Ring

Question:

366. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has plans to reduce the timeframe for documents to be uploaded by the passport service to applications considering that the delays between documents being submitted and uploaded can extend application processing times significantly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61964/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Passport Office continually examines how to improve its processes and turnaround times, including examining the process for the submission and verification of supporting documentation. Preparation is currently underway for several system and service improvements that will enhance the customer service experience and will improve processing times. These improvements will be rolled out in early 2022.

My Department has been actively working with the Public Appointments Service to recruit permanent and temporary staff between now and the end of January 2022. This recruitment drive is well underway and will double the number of staff in the Passport Service from June 2021 levels to a total of 920 staff by the end of January.

These staff members are currently being trained and assigned across all areas of the Passport Service, including to the teams who handle the registration, verification and scanning of the supporting documents required to complete a passport application. This can be a time-consuming process depending on the complexity of the application and the origin of the supporting documents. The rigorous verification of supporting documents is a critical measure to protect the integrity of the Irish passport.

I am confident that the additional staff currently being assigned to the Passport Service will help to reduce turnaround times and to respond to the current and anticipated high demand for passports in 2022.

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