Passport Applications Administration

Ceisteanna (41)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the resources being allocated to the passport office in Cork to allow for faster processing of passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21112/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Passport Service, located in my Department, is one unified service composed of 3 constituent offices located in Mount Street, Dublin; Balbriggan, County Dublin and South Mall, Cork. My Department continues to closely monitor the level of passport demand to ensure that all resources are effectively deployed within the Passport Service.

Additional measures taken by the Passport Service to address seasonal demand and anticipated application increases include the recruitment of additional staff and the use of targeted overtime in all offices.

The Passport Service received sanction this year for 220 Temporary Clerical Officers to be appointed to the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork in accordance with application volumes allocated to each office. Of these Temporary Clerical Officers, 40 were assigned to the Passport Office in Cork. In addition to this, 10 Clerical Officers and 1 Executive Officer have joined the Cork Passport Office’s permanent staff since the beginning of the year.

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (42)

John Curran

Ceist:

42. Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when he expects passport renewals for children to be processed online; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20792/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

As part of an ongoing Passport Reform Programme, an online passport application service was launched on 30 March 2017. To date over 160,000 adults have renewed their passport using the online facility, with an average processing time of less than 10 working days. At present, the online passport application service accommodates adult passport renewal applications and passport card applications. My Department plans to roll out a similar service for the renewal of children’s passports by the end of 2018. In addition, the options available to online adult renewal applicants will be expanded, allowing for business passport applications, change of name, and permitting observations to be recorded on passport books.

The online passport application service has made a major contribution to the effective management of high application volumes. As more applications are processed online, staff have been freed up and reallocated to other essential work in the Passport Service such as fraud and integrity.

Middle East Peace Process

Ceisteanna (43)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

43. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the efforts to restart the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21123/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Middle East Peace Process, as an active political search for an agreement, has been effectively stalled for some time. It is many years since negotiations have taken place, and international pressure has not been strong enough to press the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships back to the negotiating table.

It is in that context that the interest of the Trump Administration in brokering an agreement between the two sides has been closely watched. The US team has been actively engaged for almost a year in meeting both sides and formulating ideas for a framework for a settlement. This is believed to be at an advanced stage, but the time to launch the effort remains to be determined. It may be in the next few months, but it could take longer, if the US team determines that more groundwork could help to develop, or to prepare the context for, their proposals. I have expressed regret at the US opening of an Embassy in Jerusalem yesterday, which, in my view, makes efforts to rally all sides around a new peace initiative significantly more difficult.

The Middle East Peace Process has been a priority for me since taking office, and the recent tragic events in Gaza have only confirmed its importance for me. I have visited the region twice in the last year, and hope to be there again shortly. I have also been very conscious, and seen for myself, the negative trends which are acting daily to make an agreement more difficult.

I have also argued strongly at EU level that the EU needs to engage with the US, to encourage their work and offer what help we can, but also to impress on them that their plan must address the aspirations and needs of both sides, and the key parameters for a settlement which the EU has consistently advocated. I have done this myself in continued direct contacts with the US team.

I have further argued that the EU must also, in parallel, strengthen its own work on the ground to defend the political space for a two state solution, especially by combatting the ongoing settlement programme which is gravely threatening it.

Finally, since my first visit last June I have been exploring and working on practical projects which might help to change the dynamic in Gaza, and to improve conditions for people there. This work is made more urgent still by the appalling loss of life in Gaza yesterday and over recent weeks.

These will be key elements of my continuing engagement on the Middle East Peace Process.

Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (44)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

44. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the contact he has had with the government of the United Kingdom regarding the Taoiseach's plans to institute annual joint meetings of the Irish and British cabinets. [18732/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland maintains a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK, and we remain fully committed to developing and enhancing this relationship over the coming years.

There are already in existence a number of channels for ongoing dialogue and co-operation between the Irish and British Governments, which will continue after the UK leaves the European Union. In this regard, the Good Friday Agreement provides for important institutional cooperation on an east-west basis through the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference (BIIGC) and the British Irish Council (BIC). In addition, the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly (BIPA) brings together elected representatives from the Oireachtas, Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Scottish and Welsh devolved assemblies. These structures have shown their value and will continue to evolve in response to the changing circumstances.

While post-Brexit we will no longer have the EU structures to bring us together, there is an onus on both countries to continue to develop and strengthen this bilateral relationship, an objective which may necessitate some form of structured engagement between the two Governments. We are therefore exploring other avenues to maintain the “habit of cooperation” that currently exists where Ministers regularly meet their counterparts and work together in Brussels.

While some discussions have taken place informally, we have not yet presented formal proposals in relation to what form this structured engagement should take.

It is worth noting that, since 2012, a number of bilateral meetings between the Taoiseach and the UK Prime Minister have taken place. In addition, a Joint Work Programme managed at official level by the heads of all government departments in both London and Dublin has been developed. This process has the potential to be expanded and built upon in order to encompass a more comprehensive approach to bilateral engagement.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (45)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

45. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he plans to take in response to the ongoing killings by the Israeli defence forces of unarmed protesters in the Gaza Strip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21104/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have been greatly concerned by the events in Gaza yesterday and over recent weeks, and especially by the appalling number of serious injuries to and deaths of people engaged in demonstrations. The escalation of these events in the last two days has been profoundly shocking.

I summoned the Ambassador of Israel in Ireland to Iveagh House this morning to express my shock and dismay at what unfolded yesterday and at the numbers killed or injured, which includes many women and children. I also made a direct request for an independent, international investigation of these events, led by the UN.

Every country is entitled to defend its border, but the use of force, and particularly deadly force, must only be used as a last resort and should be proportionate to a real and immediate threat. Israel is obviously vigilant when there are mass demonstrations close to its border with Gaza. However, Palestinians also have a legitimate right to protest peacefully, as most did. The number and nature of casualties in recent weeks, arising from the use of live ammunition by Israeli forces, has been indefensible. I was particularly shocked that children, and those clearly identified as medical workers and journalists, were among the huge numbers of people injured and killed.

In public statements on 31 March, 9 April and again yesterday, I have called on all sides to show restraint, but particularly on Israeli forces in their use of force. And I supported the calls by the EU and by the UN Secretary General for an independent and transparent investigation into these events. I also addressed the situation at slightly more length in a Topical Issues debate on 9 May.

I have also made clear in all my contacts in the region, even prior to these events, that the situation in Gaza is untenable. If the cycle of violence and depression in the Strip is not ended, events of this nature will inevitably recur. The long-standing blockade cannot be accepted as normal. It is for this reason that, in my visits to Gaza and in my many contacts at EU and international level, I have been particularly active in trying to encourage and promote international interest and alternative approaches. I will continue to make this a priority in my work.

Humanitarian Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (46)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

46. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the nearly 1 million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh (details supplied); and the steps he is taking to assist these refugees in advance of the monsoons. [21086/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Since the latest escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar, in August 2017, approximately 700,000 members of the Rohingya community have fled across the border to Bangladesh. The people and government of Bangladesh have demonstrated extraordinary generosity in receiving such a large influx of refugees. Cox’s Bazar now hosts the largest refugee camp in the world and 1.3 million refugees and host-community members urgently require assistance.

The conditions faced by the displaced members of the Rohingya community in Bangladesh are extremely difficult and likely to deteriorate, as the Deputy has pointed out. To this end, Ireland supports the international humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. Ireland directly provided €1 million in 2017 and an additional €1 million has been allocated for 2018. Our support has focused on food, shelter, water and sanitation. Through the Irish Aid Rapid Response facility, we have provided 37 tonnes of hygiene, sanitation and shelter kits and deployed experts in water and sanitation and humanitarian coordination on the ground. In addition, as the 6th largest donor to the UN-administered Central Emergency Response Fund, Ireland’s estimated contribution through UN pooled funding amounted to a further €1 million to deliver life-saving support.

This support helps alleviate the immediate problems. However the solution to the crisis must be a political one. In that regard, Ireland has consistently called for the full implementation of the recommendations of the report of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State as the basis for a long-term, sustainable solution.

Ireland has also called for an independent and impartial investigation into the serious and credible allegations of human rights violations by the Myanmar security forces. These include reports of widespread killing of civilians, sexual and gender based violence, arbitrary arrests, and the burning of Rohingya villages which have led to the mass exodus of refugees to which the Deputy has referred.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has referred to some of the reported actions committed by the Myanmar Security Forces as a “text book example of ethnic cleansing” while UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee has expressed concerns that these actions “bear the hallmarks of genocide”.

These concerns absolutely reinforce the urgent need for the Government of Myanmar to provide access to the UN Fact Finding Mission so that these human rights violations can be fully investigated.

Middle East Issues

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 29.

Ceisteanna (47, 54, 73, 76)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

47. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the withdrawal of the USA from the Iran nuclear deal; his further views on whether the deal has been a success to date; his views on whether Iran has lived up to its obligations and that there is no convincing or credible information that Iran has violated the deal; his further views on whether the President Trump's decision is dangerous; his views on the deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21083/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

54. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the impact of President Trump's foreign policies in the Middle East, particularly in relation to the Iran nuclear deal and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; if he has discussed his views with his EU counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21102/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

73. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether Ireland and the EU can have a positive role in de-escalating tensions in the Middle East region caused by the discarding of the Iran nuclear deal by the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21110/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

76. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he will take in relation to the unilateral withdrawal by the United States of America from the Iran nuclear deal; and if an invitation to President Trump to visit here will be withdrawn as a result. [21105/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 54, 73 and 76 together.

I issued the following public statement on 8 May in response to the decision of the United States Government:

“I am greatly disappointed by the US announcement that it is withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran (the JCPOA). Ireland and our EU partners, and a very broad spectrum of international opinion have made clear that we believe the JCPOA was a significant diplomatic achievement, and that all parties to it should implement it in full.

"We share many of the concerns which the US has expressed about other aspects of Iranian policy, but the way to address these is not to move away from the one area where significant positive progress has been made. That remains our view, and I hope that the United States will reconsider this decision.

"I hope that all other parties to the agreement, including Iran but also the EU and others, will continue to implement the agreement. The Middle East, and the world, are safer and more stable with this agreement in operation."

Similar statements were issued by the European Union, and by other partners.

I have stated clearly in public that the Iran nuclear agreement was a significant diplomatic achievement in the area of non-proliferation, that it was delivering as intended, and that, as verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran had implemented its commitments under the agreement. These views were clearly conveyed to the US Government on a number of occasions, including in recent weeks by President Macron and Chancellor Merkel. It is a matter of great regret that the US has taken a different approach.

Speaking for the EU, High Representative Mogherini has emphasised that the agreement was a multilateral one, and that all other signatories to it have expressed a hope that it can continue to be implemented. The EU signatories to the agreement, and other parties, have already held initial meetings with Iran to discuss this possibility. Ireland will fully support that objective, although the difficulties should not be underestimated.

In relation to the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has been a positive factor that the US Administration is making a serious effort to develop a plan to restart political negotiations between the parties to reach an agreement. I have engaged with that issue at EU level and directly with the US, to support that process. Other aspects of US policy, notably the decision in December on Jerusalem, have been less helpful.

I will cover the matter of a possible visit by President Trump to Ireland in a separate question.

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 29.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (49)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

49. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether the British Government and the DUP have blocked legacy inquests (details supplied); and the steps he is taking to ensure families obtain an inquest into the death of their loved ones. [21085/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Dealing with long-outstanding issues relating to the legacy of the Troubles are of the utmost importance to the Government. This includes the holding of coroners' inquests in a manner consistent with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In February 2016, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland put forward proposals to process outstanding legacy inquests relating to the Troubles. The Government has been strongly supportive of the LCJ’s proposals as a way of ensuring that those families who are still waiting for legacy inquests are not left to wait any longer.

I have consistently emphasised in discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the political parties the need to ensure that legacy inquests are properly resourced and I continue to raise this issue with the Secretary of State. I have urged all with those with responsibilities in relation to legacy inquests to move forward as quickly as possible to implement the helpful proposals of the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland. The Government is continuing to seek urgent progress on this matter.

In this jurisdiction, the Government is taking legislative steps to facilitate further cooperation of Irish authorities with coroners' inquests in Northern Ireland through the Criminal Justice (International Cooperation) Bill 2017. This Bill is being taken forward by the Department of Justice and Equality in consultation with my Department.

The Bill will also provide for co-operation of the Irish authorities with the Historical Investigations Unit, which is to be established as part of the Stormont House legacy framework. This legislation demonstrates the Government’s commitment to addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland through the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. In this context, I welcome the launch on 11 May of the UK Government’s consultation on addressing the legacy of Northern Ireland’s past.

Passport Applications Data

Ceisteanna (50)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

50. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the turnaround time for passport applications; the number of persons waiting to have passport applications processed through the Passport Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21111/18]

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.

EU Meetings

Ceisteanna (51, 79)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

51. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the efforts to obtain a seat at the UN Security Council for the 2021 to 2022 term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21125/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

79. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the role he and his Department’s officials are playing in the State's bid to obtain a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2021. [21284/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 79 together. I propose to take questions 51 and 79 together.

I refer the Deputy to the answer delivered today to his priority question, Ref No: 21310-18.

Ireland is seeking election to a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for the 2021-2022 term. We are one of three candidates for the two available seats in the Western Europe and Others Group regional group. The other two candidates are Canada and Norway which, like Ireland, have strong records of engagement at the UN.

In order to be elected to the Security Council, Ireland will need to obtain the support of two-thirds of the membership of the United Nations General Assembly – approximately 129 votes of the 193 Member States – at the election that will take place in June 2020. Our candidature was first announced in 2005 and the campaign has been building since then under successive Governments.

I am taking every opportunity to raise our candidature with representatives of Member States and to press the value of Ireland playing our role on the Council. The President met with a range of Member State representatives during his visit to the UN last month. The Taoiseach in his address to the Brookings Institute in Washington D.C. in March outlined the importance of an effective multilateral system to Ireland and small countries in general. I, along with all my Cabinet colleagues, will continue to make Ireland’s case in the period ahead. This political engagement is being underpinned by my Department’s diplomatic personnel.

In making Ireland’s case to the electorate, we are highlighting our consistent record at the UN throughout more than six decades of membership across a number of areas including peacekeeping, sustainable development, humanitarian action, disarmament and human rights.

If Ireland were to be elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council our fundamental approach to any agenda item would be to advocate for the core values of our foreign policy – peace and security, justice, equality and sustainability.

EU Sanctions

Ceisteanna (52)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

52. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the withdrawal of support for the EU sanctions targeting Syria will be considered; if the relevant working groups in Brussels that review the impact of sanctions have published reports in 2018 with regard to the negative impact of the sanctions; if so, if he has engaged with these reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21090/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I reiterate my unreserved condemnation of the violence perpetrated against civilians that has characterised the Syrian conflict to date. The brutal repression of dissent by the Assad regime, which has included use of chemical weapons and other barbarous tactics, has cost the lives of over 400,000 people. It has led to a situation in which more than 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, over 6.6 million people are displaced inside Syria alone, and a further 5.6 million people have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region. The recent increase in violence, in particular the vicious siege of Eastern Ghouta, underscores the extent to which an end to the violence is urgently needed in order to relieve the suffering of the Syrian people.

Ireland has consistently supported EU sanctions targeting the regime and its supporters, and will continue to do so as long as the situation on the ground justifies these measures. The relevant working groups in Brussels keep the impact of sanctions under review and propose options to address any unintended negative impacts where they are identified. For example, in 2016 the EU amended the Syria sanctions regime to make it easier for NGOs operating in Syria to buy fuel. In 2017, EU Member States including Ireland consulted with NGOs to identify any further difficulties they were experiencing in carrying out humanitarian work in Syria that may have been linked to the sanctions. Based on the feedback of the NGOs, the European Commission published a Frequently Asked Questions document to clarify certain provisions of the sanctions identified as unclear by NGOs, as well as the humanitarian exemptions and derogations. I am not aware of any report specifically having been prepared on the issue raised by the Deputy in the early months of this year.

In April, EU Member States reviewed best practice guidelines on humanitarian exemptions, with a view to facilitating the work of NGOs responding to humanitarian crises, including the crisis in Syria. It is welcome that there is work going on to implement the findings of previous reviews. I can assure the Deputy that officials from my Department will continue to follow these discussions closely.

Ireland is a strong and consistent donor to the Syria crisis, and our funding supports those in need inside Syria as well as Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities in the region. Last month, Ireland pledged €25 million in humanitarian support for 2018 - maintaining the same level of assistance as provided last year. This brings Ireland’s support since 2012 to over €109 million – our largest ever response to a single crisis.

Through its annual contributions to EU Institutions, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response in Syria. The EU and its member states are the single largest donor to the Syria crisis, having mobilised over €10.6 billion in humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance since 2012. We will continue to work with our EU and UN partners to ensure that this humanitarian assistance reaches those in need in a timely and effective manner.

Humanitarian Aid Provision

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 47.

Ceisteanna (53)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

53. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the supports being made available with regard to the escalating humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. [21119/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government is strongly committed to responding to the escalating humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, where over 6.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Conflict, drought, severe food insecurity and the threat of famine, are causing massive population displacement and suffering throughout the country.

Ireland’s utmost priority is to ensure that life-saving assistance reaches those most in need. Since 2012, we have provided over €54 million in humanitarian assistance to South Sudan. In the first four months of this year, I have already approved €3.5 million and an additional disbursement to NGO partners is under way. Additional funding will be considered in the coming months.

Our funding provides supports to those in need inside South Sudan as well as South Sudanese refugees in the region. We work with UN, Red Cross and NGO partners to ensure that our funding reaches the most vulnerable, providing lifesaving humanitarian supplies and basic services.

The Government recognises that humanitarian aid alone is not the answer; a political solution must be found to the conflict. Ireland, with EU partners supports the efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) to revitalise the 2015 Peace Agreement. We will ensure to use every opportunity to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the conflict while also insisting on respect for international humanitarian law and the safe delivery of assistance to those most in need.

Departmental officials, in particular the Embassy in Addis Ababa, which has responsibility for South Sudan, will continue to monitor the situation closely and engage with local, regional and international parties to encourage progress. The Irish Ambassador in Addis Ababa visited Juba last month.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 47.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (55)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

55. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the ongoing civil war in Yemen; if the Saudi Arabia-led coalition which conducts airstrikes on a daily basis will be condemned; his views on the fact that eight million persons are now at risk of starvation; the role Ireland can play on an international stage in striving for peace in Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21089/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am extremely concerned about the current situation in Yemen. Three years of war have had devastating consequences for civilians, with allegations of violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, and significant loss of life. Three quarters of the population are estimated to require some form of humanitarian assistance.

At the Foreign Affairs Council in December last year, I urged stronger EU action on humanitarian access in Yemen, and I will continue to raise these concerns with all appropriate interlocutors whenever opportunities arise.

Ireland has also worked in the UN system to address our grave concerns about human rights in Yemen. At the Human Rights Council in September 2017, Ireland was part of a small core group of countries that drove forward the adoption by consensus of a Resolution on Yemen. The resolution established a group of international experts to examine the facts in relation to violations of human rights and humanitarian law on the ground. This group will report back to the Human Rights Council later this year, as an important step towards accountability in Yemen.

My predecessor, Minister Flanagan, raised concerns about the conduct of the war in Yemen and the humanitarian impact with Ministerial counterparts in Saudi Arabia and UAE on a number of occasions. More recently, officials from my Department have passed on to the Saudi Embassy in Dublin my strong concerns in relation to humanitarian access. They also conveyed my condemnation of missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, which also have the potential to impact on civilians. There have also been EU contacts with Saudi Arabia in relation to concerns about civilians in Yemen.

The food security situation in Yemen is very severe. Last month, at a UN Pledging Conference in Geneva, Ireland pledged to provide €4 million in humanitarian funding in response to the crisis in Yemen in 2018, bringing Ireland’s total humanitarian assistance to Yemen to almost €16.5 million since 2012. Ireland also contributes to EU support for Yemen, and since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, the EU has contributed a total of €438.2 million to Yemen, which includes humanitarian, development, stabilisation and resilience support.

I believe that only way to bring about a long-term sustainable improvement in the situation for the Yemeni people is through a negotiated end to this conflict. Ireland fully supports the efforts of the new UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and his team, who are working towards a peace agreement. I hope that EU Foreign Ministers will meet with him soon, so that we can discuss how we can most effectively support his efforts.

I would like to assure the Deputy that Ireland will continue to take every appropriate opportunity to urge stronger international action, and will press for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Yemen, as well as respect for human rights and international humanitarian law, and improved humanitarian access.

EU Meetings

Ceisteanna (56)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

56. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the supporting the future of Syria and the region meeting which took place recently in Brussels; the next steps of the Government in assisting towards bringing the crisis to an end; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21057/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The crisis in Syria is high on the agenda for me and my Department. My colleague Ciarán Cannon T.D., Minister for State for the Diaspora and International Development, led Ireland’s delegation to the Second Brussels Conference for Syria and the region on 24-25 April. At that conference, Ireland reaffirmed its support for the UN-led efforts to bring about a resolution of the conflict and called on the international community, particularly those with influence on the parties to the conflict, to redouble efforts to ensure a ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access. Ireland condemned the repeated breaches of international law which have taken place in Syria, and called for full legal accountability for all war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly the use of chemical weapons.

At the Brussels conference, Ireland also pledged €25 million in humanitarian support for 2018 - maintaining the same level of assistance as provided last year. This brings Ireland’s support since 2012 to over €109 million – our largest ever response to a single crisis. Given the urgency of humanitarian needs inside Syria and across the region, over €16 million of this funding has already been disbursed so far this year.

In recognition of the need for more effective, longer-term responses for all those affected by the crisis – including displaced Syrians and host communities in the neighbouring region – Ireland also made a commitment to provide multi-annual, predictable assistance in response to the Syria crisis beyond 2018.

Through its annual contributions to EU Institutions, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response in Syria. The EU and its member states are the single largest donor to the Syria crisis, having mobilised over €10.6 billion in humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance since 2012. At the recent Brussels II Conference for Syria and the Region the EU and its Member States contributed €4.8 billion out of the €6.2 billion pledged until 2020, which corresponds to some 77% of all funds pledged during the Conference.

Ultimately, the human suffering resulting from the Syrian conflict can only be brought to an end by reaching a sustainable political solution. I discussed the situation in Syria with my EU counterparts at the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in February, March and April. At the FAC in April, we condemned in the strongest terms the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and stressed the need to ensure full legal accountability for those responsible for such crimes. I reaffirmed the need to avoid any escalation of the situation in Syria, and the importance of ensuring accountability for the use of chemical weapons. We reaffirmed the need to reinvigorate the UN-led Geneva peace talks, to which the he EU provides direct assistance.

Humanitarian Aid Provision

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 34.

Ceisteanna (57)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

57. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he along with his EU and UN colleagues continue to press for humanitarian assistance in the various conflict zones globally; if consideration continues to be given to the provision of safe or protective havens for civilian communities fleeing from war, genocide and terrorism; the extent to which peacekeeping interventions are being considered in the most sensitive war zones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21088/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The demands on the global humanitarian system have increased exponentially in recent years, with a 600% increase in humanitarian needs over the last 12 years. Currently, $24 billion USD in financial aid is needed to address the scale and complexity of these needs, with the clear imperative to ensure maximum positive impact for people affected by the multitude of crises, primarily driven by conflict.

Ireland prioritises the provision of needs based, principled humanitarian aid, to high profile humanitarian crises such as Syria but also to ‘forgotten crises’ which receive less attention such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Eritrea.

A central part of maximising Ireland’s response is strong and continued commitment to engaging multilaterally, including through the EU and UN. Such engagement allows Ireland to participate in deliberations and decisions on effective humanitarian assistance to those in greatest need around the world.

An example of this is Ireland’s partnership with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. OCHA is responsible for coordinating and leading coherent and effective responses to humanitarian crises. OCHA manages the Central Emergency Response Fund (which releases funding rapidly to sudden onset disasters and to crises which are under-funded) and 18 Country Based Pooled Funds. Ireland is a strong supporter of both mechanisms and a member of the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG). During 2018, Ireland will become the Chair of the ODSG, working even more closely with OCHA and other donors to enhance the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Ireland also plays a strong role internationally on the protection of civilians and international humanitarian law. For example, Ireland attended the Second Brussels conference on Syria (organised by the EU and UN) where we strongly emphasised adherence to humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence, and called on all parties to the conflict to fulfil their responsibility to protect civilians and to allow for the safe passage of humanitarian assistance.

Promoting international peace and security in regions of conflict is a core mission of the United Nations. By necessity UN-authorised interventions are most often required in the most sensitive war-zones. Ireland has a strong tradition of contributing to UN and EU peace-support missions, including in some of the world’s most complex and intractable conflicts. Ireland currently participates in six UN peacekeeping missions and twelve EU crisis management missions. This Government is committed to ongoing participation in such peace-keeping operations as a tangible contribution to the development of global peace and security. In particular, Ireland is seeking election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which presents a valuable opportunity to influence decisions regarding the development of peace keeping missions to ensure the broadest possible protection of the most vulnerable populations.

In a time of growing humanitarian need, Ireland continues to respond, working closely with partners. Our response is rooted in multilateralism and this coordinated response allows us to achieve a much greater impact for humanitarian aid while also seeking to protect the vulnerable.

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 34.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (59)

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

59. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the historic significance of 15 May 2018 as the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (details supplied); if meaningful sanctions against the Israeli Embassy will be considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21120/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The 70th anniversary of the events of 1948, which is also the anniversary of Israel’s independence, serves to remind us all that the objective of two sovereign states, Israeli and Palestinian, living side by side in peace and prosperity, has yet to be realised. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the hardship it has caused, has gone on for far too long.

This has been underlined by events in Gaza yesterday and over the course of recent weeks. I summoned the Ambassador of Israel in Ireland to Iveagh House this morning to express my shock and dismay at what unfolded yesterday and at the numbers killed or injured, which includes many women and children. I also made a direct request for an independent, international investigation of these events, led by the UN.

In my engagement with the parties in the region, and at EU and UN level, I have stressed my conviction that the conflict is not insoluble, and the urgency of working to reach solutions before the situation deteriorates further.

The question of sanctions on the Israeli Embassy has been raised with me on many occasions by the Deputy and others. I have made it clear that I do not consider such an approach to be appropriate. I will continue however to speak forthrightly about events in the region with all appropriate

Passport Applications Data

Ceisteanna (60)

John Curran

Ceist:

60. Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of passport applications processed through the passport office in each of the years 2015 to 2017 and to date in 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20791/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The number of passports applications processed by the Passport Service in each of the years requested is as follows:

Year Number of passport applications

2015

679,944

2016

750,833

2017

789,701

Jan 1 to April 30 2018

358,572

The figure given for the period covered in 2018 represents a 9% increase on the same period last year.