Questions Nos. 1 to 15, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 16 to 23, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 24 to 34, inclusive, answered orally.

Passport Applications Administration

Ceisteanna (35)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

35. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he has taken to address delays with regard to the issuing of passports. [21118/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The turnaround timeframe for a passport application will depend, in the first instance, on the channel through which the application was submitted. The Passport Service provides a range of channels to Irish citizens wishing to apply for a passport. These include a postal application system, online passport application service, in person counter application facilities in Dublin and Cork and the network of Irish Missions worldwide.

The target turnaround time for applications made via the online passport application service is 10 working days plus postage. The majority of online applications are currently being processed within 5 working days, well ahead of target. The online service currently accommodates adult renewals and passport card applications and it is planned to further extend this service to other categories of renewals by the end of 2018.

The highest proportion of applications are submitted through the An Post Passport Express postal channel. The average turnaround time for renewal applications submitted through Passport Express is currently on target at 15 working days.

Other types of application, which are generally submitted through Passport Express, such as first time applications or applications to replace lost, stolen or damaged passports take longer. Such applications must undergo additional processes including security checks.

Measures taken by the Passport Service to minimise the impact of peak time application volumes on turnaround times for all categories of applications include the recruitment of additional staff and the use of targeted overtime for all Passport Offices.

The Passport Service received sanction this year for 220 Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) for appointment to the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork. All TCOs in this intake have been fully trained and placed since March. These TCOs are working together with permanent staff to process passport applications and to deal with the high number of enquiries being made through the Passport Service’s various customer service channels.

The number of Full Time Equivalent staff permanently employed by my Department and assigned to the Passport Service stood at 322 at the beginning of the year. This compares to 310 Full Time Equivalent staff assigned to the Passport Service at the same point last year. In addition, over 20 additional permanent staff have been assigned to the Passport Service in 2018. Targeted overtime was also sanctioned for both temporary and permanent staff in the Dublin and Cork offices to help deal with high application volumes.

My Department has an extensive communication strategy to promote good practice amongst passport holders when planning to travel abroad. We regularly advise applicants of 3 golden rules:

- to check the validity of the passports in advance of booking travel;

- to apply at least 6 weeks in advance of their travel plans; and

- for eligible adults renewing their passport to consider the Online Passport Renewal Service passport application online facility, which is a fast, secure way for adults renewing their passport.

Middle East Issues

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (36)

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

36. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will condemn the unilateral decision by the USA to declare Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and its further humiliation of the people of Palestine by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21121/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have addressed the tragic events in Gaza in an earlier reply.

In my statement of 6 December I set out the Government’s view of the US decision to move its Embassy to Jerusalem. This was that the announcement was premature and ill-advised, and would be unhelpful to efforts to reach a resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, something which is very urgently needed. I conveyed to the US Government ahead of its announcement my concern about reports of US intentions, and I know that very many leaders around the world did the same. The announcement, when it was made, was thus very disappointing and difficult to understand.

My view that this move is a significant mistake and predictably divisive remains unchanged, following the formal transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. This involved essentially the move of the Ambassador’s official location to the existing US Consulate building in Jerusalem. The actual transfer of the bulk of Embassy functions will await the construction of a new Embassy premises, which may be a lengthy process.

Thus far only three Central and South American countries have announced that they will follow the US move.

Ireland looks forward in due course to establishing Embassies in Jerusalem to both Israel and the future Palestinian state, following the conclusion of a peace agreement and in accordance with international law. Until then, our Embassy to Israel will remain in Tel Aviv.

Question No. 37 answered with Question No. 29.

Syrian Conflict

Ceisteanna (38)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

38. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will condemn the unlawful bombing of Syria by the Israeli authorities and Israel's stated intention to escalate its aggression against Iran within Syrian borders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21127/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have addressed the tragic events in Gaza in an earlier reply.

In my statement of 6 December I set out the Government’s view of the US decision to move its Embassy to Jerusalem. This was that the announcement was premature and ill-advised, and would be unhelpful to efforts to reach a resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, something which is very urgently needed. I conveyed to the US Government ahead of its announcement my concern about reports of US intentions, and I know that very many leaders around the world did the same. The announcement, when it was made, was thus very disappointing and difficult to understand.

My view that this move is a significant mistake and predictably divisive remains unchanged, following the formal transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem yesterday. This involved essentially the move of the Ambassador’s official location to the existing US Consulate building in Jerusalem. The actual transfer of the bulk of Embassy functions will await the construction of a new Embassy premises, which may be a lengthy process.

Thus far only three Central and South American countries have announced that they will follow the US move.

Ireland looks forward in due course to establishing Embassies in Jerusalem to both Israel and the future Palestinian state, following the conclusion of a peace agreement and in accordance with international law. Until then, our Embassy to Israel will remain in Tel Aviv.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Ceisteanna (39)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

39. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent efforts made to address the issue of the undocumented in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21124/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government has consistently pursued two key objectives with regard to supporting Irish communities in the United States: increased pathways for legal migration by Irish citizens to the US and relief for the plight of undocumented Irish citizens living in the US.

In that regard, the Taoiseach discussed the issue with President Trump in the Oval Office on March 15 last and also in his meetings on Capitol Hill during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day visit.

In addition to the exchanges over the St. Patrick’s Day period, I had previously raised the issue with then-Secretary of State Tillerson when I visited Washington DC in February, and with senior Congressional figures. The Government’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress on the Undocumented, Deputy John Deasy, has also been very active on the issue.

In addition, our Embassy in Washington DC is engaged with the Administration and with contacts on Capitol Hill on an ongoing basis. The Embassy, as well as our six Consulates across the United States, work very closely with Irish immigration centers who support the needs of Irish citizens in the United States. In this regard, our Ambassador in Washington will hold a further regular meeting with representatives of the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers at the Embassy in Washington, DC, next week.

Through these many high-level contacts and discussions, the Government has been exploring a number of different options, including the possibility of a reciprocal agreement covering the undocumented Irish in the US, on the one hand, and US citizens looking to move to Ireland, on the other.

However, this remains a very challenging issue and I do not want to raise expectations unduly. Immigration reform has been a sensitive and indeed divisive issue within the US political system for decades, with pronounced disagreement, even within the same political parties, on the best way to deal with an issue which directly affects over 11 million people.

In that context, finding a solution for the thousands of undocumented Irish in the US remains a difficult task.

That said, I can assure the House that the Government, its Special Envoy and our Embassy in Washington DC are continuing to give top priority to this issue, mindful of its importance to the thousands of undocumented and to their families in Ireland, and that we will spare no effort in seeking a solution.

Israeli Settlements

Ceisteanna (40)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

40. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps being taken at EU level to address the illegal occupation and settlement construction on Palestinian land in violation of international law; and his views on whether it should have a larger role in conflict resolution and mediation in the region in view of the financial backing the EU has provided to the Palestinian Authority. [21109/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland has always consistently worked to maintain an EU and international focus on the justice and human rights issues affecting Palestinians on the ground. This relates notably, but not solely, to the Israeli settlement enterprise and the web of policies which support it. These include land seizures, movement restrictions, evictions, deportations and the increasing use of force to suppress protests. These are not just evident injustices, but also act inexorably to make a political agreement more difficult, and to close – literally – the political and physical space where it might be built.

Among EU actions taken in this regard are measures on labelling of settlement products, exclusion of settlements from access to EU research grants, and non-acceptance of Israeli certification for some settlement products. We continue to look at other possible actions, but it is difficult to reach consensus in the EU on such measures at present.

Accordingly, we have also explored actions with like-minded partners. Last June I signed papers for Ireland to join the West Bank Protection Consortium, a group of countries which act together on land issues. In November members of the Consortium for the first time presented Israel with a demand for compensation for humanitarian relief seized or destroyed in the West Bank.

The EU and its Member States are major financial supporters of the Palestinian Authority, whose education system Ireland directly supports. We also support the Palestinian people more broadly, through humanitarian support to UNRWA and other agencies. I believe Palestinians recognise this support, and are generally ready to consult and discuss with the EU on many issues, although of course policies and decisions remain their own. I believe that the EU has an important role to play on the Middle East Peace Process, and I have worked at the Foreign Affairs Council to promote discussion of what we can contribute. The urgency of this work is further underlined by the appalling loss of life in Gaza yesterday and over recent weeks.