Passport Applications Administration

Ceisteanna (99)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

99. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if it is now a legal requirement for Irish citizens to have a public services card to renew a passport; if so, the relevant primary or secondary legislation in which this requirement is stated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20814/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Since 29 March 2016, the Passport Service has required all first time passport applicants, aged 18 and above, who are resident in Ireland to hold a valid Public Services card. This requirement also applies to the small number of adult passport applicants, whose passport was issued before 1 January 2005 and has been reported as lost, stolen or damaged and those whose passport expired more than five years ago. If an applicant falls into one of the above mentioned categories of applicant, then their application must include a copy of their PSC.

The Government agreed on 17 July 2017 to extend the requirement for a PSC to all adults in the State accessing a wide range of public services in Ireland, and this includes citizens applying for passports. The Department is a member of a joint working group, with other relevant Departments, which is examining the business process, technical and resource implications on how this requirement can best be met and the schedule for its adoption. There are no plans at present to extend PSC requirements for accessing services, including in relation to passport applications, to Irish citizens not resident in the State.

A key principle behind the concept of the PSC is that the delivery of services is more efficient when a person’s identity does not have to be authenticated at every transaction. With specific reference to the issuance of passports, the introduction of the PSC requirement has allowed the Passport Service to dispense with requirements for certain additional documentation and reduces the overall volume of documentation that Irish citizens must submit when applying for a passport and is the most secure form of identity available to adult passport applicants resident in the State. The PSC requirement is now a key resource in the Passport Service’s efforts to combat fraud and identity theft and uphold the integrity of the Irish passport.

With reference to the legal basis for the Minister to request a copy of an applicant’s PSC, the Passports Act 2008 (as amended) provides for the issue by the Minister of passports to Irish citizens. Section 7(1)(b) of the Passports Act 2008 requires that the Minister be satisfied as to an individual’s identity before issuing a passport to that person. Section 7(2) provides as follows: “The Minister may require an applicant for a passport to provide such information as the Minister may require for the purposes of the application and to produce to him or her such documents as he or she considers necessary or expedient to enable him or her to perform the functions of the Minister under this Part.” It is on this basis that the Minister requires applicants to produce identity documentation.

Registration of Births

Ceisteanna (100)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

100. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding passports and foreign birth registration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20844/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade us responsible for processing applications for Irish citizenship via descent and determining entitlement for eligible applicants to be entered on the Foreign Birth register under the terms of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts. This is a very important and onerous matter, and my Department takes very seriously its responsibilities in this area. State-issued photographic identification forms an essential part of the documentary requirements for all applications for Foreign Birth Registration, and this is clearly stated on my Department’s website and on the application form for Foreign Birth Registration.

The statutory basis for the documentary requirements is set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts 1956-2004 and in the Foreign Birth Regulations 2013 (S.I. No 47 of 2013).

When an application for citizenship is being made on behalf of a minor, the requirement for photographic identification is not only important in relation to our duty to protect the integrity of the Irish citizenship process and to minimise the risk of fraud, but also in safeguarding against child abduction and trafficking.

With regard to the particular individual case which the Deputy has raised, I would invite the Deputy or the citizens in question to make contact with the Deputy Director of Consular Services, with responsibility for Foreign Births Registration, who will be happy to discuss the matter further. She can be contacted on 01-4082572. My officials will endeavour to provide all possible information to this family in order that they are fully aware of what they need to do to comply with the documentary requirements necessary for entering the birth of a minor in the Foreign Births Register.

Departmental Contracts Data

Ceisteanna (101)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

101. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the value of contracts for goods or services from companies (details supplied) since 2010. [20854/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My Department spent €375 in 2016 and €338.46 in 2017 with HP Ireland for printer services. The Department does not have a contract with any firm named DXC Technology, HP or a variation of these names.

Passport Applications Administration

Ceisteanna (102)

John Curran

Ceist:

102. Deputy John Curran asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason the number of passport applications has increased in 2018 by 18% to over 800,000 applications; his plans to resource the Passport Office accordingly to address the increase; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20897/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Between Jan 1 and April 30 this year, the Passport Service received 358,572 passport applications. This represents a 9% increase on the same period last year.

The increase in demand is driven by a number of factors including a general increase in the number of Irish residents travelling abroad, a growing population, as well as a significant rise in passport applications from Irish citizens residing in Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

My Department continues to closely monitor the level of passport demand to ensure that all resources are effectively deployed. It is peak season for passport demand and the Passport Service is doing everything possible to reduce processing times for all categories of application, and in particular, those categories that are currently over target turnaround times. In anticipation of increasing application volumes and peak season demands, a number of measures have been taken by the Passport Service to enhance processing capacity. These measures include the recruitment of additional staff and the use of targeted overtime.

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.

The continuous implementation of service improvements has been central to my Department’s response to increasing application volumes. The Passport Reform Programme is delivering major upgrades to the passport service technology platforms and business processes as well as significant customer service improvements. The award-winning online passport application service, which was launched last year, will continue to make a major contribution to the effective management of high application volumes by allowing existing resources to be more effectively deployed within the Passport Service. At present, the online service accommodates adult renewals and passport card applications. It is planned to further expand the online passport application service to other renewal categories by the end of 2018.

With regard to the anticipated increases in passport applications following the UK Referendum on EU membership in June 2016, the Department commissioned research to try and better understand the potential demand for passports from Irish citizens resident in Great Britain who have not yet applied for a passport. Interim reports have been made available and this study will continue to assist the Passport Service in formulating plans on resource requirements for the future.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (103)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

103. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the division of responsibilities between his Department and the Department of the Taoiseach in respect of liaising with EU Brexit chief negotiator Mr. Michel Barnier in respect of Brexit negotiations. [20059/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade with special responsibility for Brexit, I have responsibility for coordinating the whole-of-Government approach to the EU-UK negotiations and to preparations for Brexit, with a view to securing the best possible outcome for Ireland. I work closely with the Taoiseach, who as a member of the European Council, provides strategic direction for our approach to the negotiations.

The European Union Division in my Department is headed by a Second Secretary General with a particular focus on Brexit issues, who works closely with the Director General of the European Union Division, at Assistant Secretary level. The Second Secretary General oversees a dedicated eight-person unit on the EU-UK negotiations in the Division, which analyses developments in the negotiations, prepares policy papers and briefing, and co-ordinates the work of our EU Missions on Brexit. This unit is also the lead unit on contingency planning and Brexit preparedness. The EU Division works closely with the Department’s Ireland, UK and Americas Division, Legal Division and Trade Division, which also deal with aspects of Brexit. There is daily co-ordination with the Permanent Representation. There is also very close contact with the Department of the Taoiseach, which serves the Taoiseach as a member of the European Council. The most senior official dealing with Brexit in the Department of the Taoiseach is the lead negotiator in the preparation of the European Council.

Maintaining frequent contact with EU partners, including the EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been a priority for Ireland throughout the Article 50 negotiations process and, as such, the Taoiseach and I both liaise with Mr. Barnier on a regular basis, as appropriate. The Taoiseach also maintains contact with the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council.

I normally represent Ireland at the General Affairs Council (Art. 50), as I did yesterday, when I also met with Mr. Barnier. The GAC (Art. 50) has a key role in providing political oversight of the Article 50 negotiations and in preparing the work of the European Council (Art. 50), where Ireland is represented by the Taoiseach.

EU Issues

Ceisteanna (104)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

104. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the nature of the group emerging on the fringes of the European Council involving the Dutch, Baltic and Irish Governments. [18893/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Working closely with a range of EU partners has always been important for Ireland. However, taking a strategic approach to these relationships has assumed renewed importance in the context of Brexit and requires a multifaceted engagement.

In many key EU economic and institutional policy areas – on the Single Market, areas of EU trade, EMU reform and the digital single market - we share common approaches with the Nordic, Baltic States and with the Netherlands. As we prepare for an EU of 27 we have worked with the Nordic, Baltic and Dutch governments to increase our strategic engagement with them on the EU agenda. This has included opportunities to meet together in the margins of different Council formations, stronger bilateral engagement and, as appropriate, joint initiatives. I hosted one such dinner for Foreign Ministers of Nordic and Baltic Member States, and my Dutch counterpart, in Luxembourg on 15 April.

At the same time we have been working to strengthen and diversify our relationships with all our EU partners. This has involved an increased range and intensity of inward and outward visits at Prime Ministerial, Ministerial and senior official level to discuss key issues and challenges on the EU agenda and to ensure that our perspectives and priorities are understood. We also participate actively in a range of likeminded groups linked to particular issues from the D9+ digital group to the Green Growth Group and the Friends of Excellence in research group, to give some examples.

Brexit Documents

Ceisteanna (105)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

105. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position regarding the backstop agreement between the EU and UK Government with regard to ensuring no hard border on the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20906/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In the December Joint Report of EU and UK negotiators, the UK committed to ensuring there would be no border infrastructure of any kind or associated checks and controls on the island of Ireland. The report stated the UK’s intention to achieve this through the wider EU-UK future relationship agreement or through specific solutions. Should this not be possible, the UK committed to maintaining full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the Good Friday Agreement.

Work on drafting the relevant parts of the Withdrawal Agreement to give legal effect to these commitments has been a key focus since December. Published on 28 February, the draft Withdrawal Agreement contains a Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is an integral part of the Agreement.

At this point, it is clear that while there are areas in the Protocol where shared policy objectives have been identified, there are some fundamental issues that have yet to be resolved.

The UK has accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.

The current schedule of negotiations now underway between the EU and the UK is being taken forward with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol.

Significant progress is needed between now and the June European Council. At this stage in the negotiations, it is more important than ever that the UK provides more detailed and realistic proposals to the EU.

Coordinators have agreed that negotiations will continue on a regular basis and Ireland will continue its close cooperation with Michel Barnier’s team. This includes our involvement in discussions, where appropriate, while respecting the negotiation structures that have been mandated by the European Council.

Syrian Conflict

Ceisteanna (106, 108)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

106. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of discussions with his counterparts in the EU and elsewhere in regard to plans for the withdrawal of foreign military powers from Syria with a view to bringing an end to conflict on the basis of dialogue between all political forces in Syria. [21024/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

108. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he raised at the recent EU Foreign Affairs Council the need for the EU and its member states to intensify efforts along with the United Nations to achieve a political resolution to the ongoing conflict in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20908/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 and 108 together.

The Syria conflict, which is now in its eighth year, has cost up to 500,000 lives. Over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria. This is a tragedy which has caused untold misery for millions of ordinary Syrians, and which has had a serious impact on neighbouring countries. The long-running conflict in Syria, and the misery that it has caused, has been further prolonged by the military support provided to the Assad regime. There are significant Iranian forces in Syria, which have been assisting the regime in the violent suppression of its own people . This is unhelpful and unwelcome. It is also quite clear that Russia’s support for the Assad regime has prolonged the suffering of the Syrian people. Russia has also repeatedly vetoed UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, which has seriously undermined the protection of Syrian civilians.

This conflict has had a negative impact right across the region, with many of Syria’s neighbours facing heightened security threats, as well as being the hosts to millions of Syrian people fleeing the conflict. We understand that these countries have concerns about the conflict raging on their borders and about the potential spill-over of violence. I call on all regional actors, and indeed all involved in the Syria conflict, to show restraint and avoid any escalation, which could further undermine regional stability, as well as adding to the suffering of civilians.

The Syria crisis is high on the EU agenda. 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. We also reiterated the EU’s support for the UN-led political negotiations to end the conflict, and the urgent need to reinvigorate the political track. 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.

A comprehensive, sustainable, Syrian-owned and Syrian-led resolution to the conflict will be required to provide lasting relief to this terrible suffering. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura is leading political negotiations to end the conflict based on the 2012 Geneva Communique and UN Security Council resolution 2254. The EU provides direct assistance to the UN-led Geneva peace talks and has launched, in coordination with the UN, an initiative to develop political dialogue with key actors from the region to identify common ground. Ireland and the EU fully support the UN-led efforts to resolve this conflict.

Passport Applications Administration

Question No. 108 answered with Question No. 106.

Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 98.

Ceisteanna (107)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

107. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if concerns raised by a person (details supplied) in relation to a passport application will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21113/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

All passport applications are subject to the provisions of the Passports Act 2008. This Act provides, among other things, that a person must be an Irish citizen before a passport can be issued to him/her. In order to meet this legal requirement, each person must demonstrate an entitlement to Irish citizenship in his/her passport application by providing acceptable documentary evidence of this entitlement.

Entitlement to Irish citizenship is governed by Irish law and in particular the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, under which and in general, Irish citizenship may be obtained by birth in Ireland to parents meeting specified requirements, by descent, or by naturalisation.

I am advised by the Passport Service that the application submitted by the person in question did not provide acceptable documentary evidence to demonstrate entitlement to citizenship by birth or descent. The applicant was advised that it may be possible for them to apply for citizenship via naturalisation. The passport application cannot proceed any further until entitlement to Irish citizenship has been established.

Matters relating to Citizenship – including naturalisation – come under the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality (Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service) and further information is available on the website www.inis.gov.ie.

Question No. 108 answered with Question No. 106.
Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 98.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (110)

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

110. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has received reports on the use of dual use drones against unarmed civilians on the Gaza-Israeli border; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20433/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have made clear both in the Dáil and in public statements my serious concerns about the use of live fire by Israeli forces against demonstrators in Gaza in recent weeks, including yesterday, and the large number of casualties which have resulted. 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.

I am aware also of reports that drones may also have dropped tear gas on some groups of demonstrators near the border fence. Tear gas should not, of course, be used against those who may be protesting legitimately and peacefully. However, my deepest concerns relate to the use of live ammunition, and the mass casualties which have resulted.

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (111)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

111. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a passport printing machine will be provided to the Cork Passport Office (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21251/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Passport Service provides a range of application channels to Irish citizens wishing to apply for a passport. These include a postal application system, an online passport application service and the network of Irish Missions worldwide. In the relatively small number of cases where citizens need to travel very urgently and do not have a valid passport, the Passport Offices in Dublin and Cork offer an appointment service. These appointments can be made online at www.passportappointments.ie/.

Passport printing and personalisation requires highly specialised machinery, auxiliary equipment and a temperature-controlled environment. The production equipment and suites need continual engineering support and trained staff to manage the sites. In addition to the purchase cost of a new passport printing machine, there are set up and maintenance costs associated with such equipment.

The printing capacity of production equipment currently employed by the Passport Service is sufficient to meet current and anticipated future demand for passports. There are no plans at this time to commission additional passport production equipment or sites.

There is a facility in the Cork Passport Office that allows for the production of emergency travel documents where strict criteria for the issuance of such documentation has been met.

Departmental Staff Data

Ceisteanna (112)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

112. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of staff in his Department assigned solely or primarily to work on North-South issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21265/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The engagement by my Department on North South issues involves officials from across the Divisions of the Department. This engagement is led by the Department's Ireland, UK and Americas Division and particularly by a current team of four Dublin-based officials working within the Brexit and North South Coordination Unit who deal primarily with matters, including Brexit, relating to North South co-operation; and the nine Armagh-based officials who are working as part of the Joint Secretariat of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC), as well as by officers in our HQ dealing with Northern Ireland political issues.

My Department’s officials play a co-ordinating role in Government activity on North-South issues, attending and chairing meetings of the North-South Interdepartmental Coordinators, and encouraging and advancing cross-border co-operation at official level.

In addition to servicing meetings of the NSMC, my officials in the Joint Secretariat also perform other important functions focussed on advocacy for North-South co-operation. They are involved in developing networks of contacts, actively pursuing our priorities for advancing cooperation, as well as analysing and reporting on the progress of such cooperation, including the work of the North-South Implementation Bodies.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Ceisteanna (113)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

113. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the need for the British Government to respond positively without further delay to the unanimous requests of Dáil Éireann to provide access to papers and files pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21356/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In the week of the 44th anniversary of the Dublin Monaghan bombings, which saw the biggest loss of life in a single day during the Troubles, I think it is important to acknowledge those across the House who work on a cross-party basis with the Government on this issue, and the tireless efforts of Justice for the Forgotten. The Government will be represented at the wreath-laying ceremony on 17 May to mark the anniversary of these tragic events by my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan T.D.

The Programme for a Partnership Government highlights the priority that the Government attaches to the implementation of the All-Party Dáil motions relating to the Dublin Monaghan bombings. I recently met with Justice for the Forgotten to hear their views and update them on the Government’s continuing engagement on legacy issues, including with the British Government on the Dáil motions.

The All-Party motion on the 1974 Dublin Monaghan bombings that was adopted by the Dáil on 25 May 2016 has, like those adopted in 2008 and 2011, been conveyed to the British Government. These motions call on the British Government to allow access by an independent, international judicial figure to all original documents relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk and the murder of Seamus Ludlow.

The Government is committed to actively pursuing the implementation of these all-Party Dáil motions, and has consistently raised the issue with the British Government.

I am actively engaged with the British Government on an ongoing basis on this issue, as are officials from my Department. I recently raised the issue directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley on 16 April last and my officials were in touch with the British counterparts as recently as last week.

I have consistently underlined to the British Government that the Dáil motions represent the consensus political view in Ireland that an independent, international judicial review of all the relevant documents is required to establish the full facts of the Dublin-Monaghan atrocities. I have also advised that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government and indeed this House, and I have emphasised the urgent need for such a response.

The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the request in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and pursue all possible avenues that could achieve progress on this issue, consistent with the request made by this House.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (114, 115)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

114. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will be raising concerns regarding the withdrawal of the USA from the Iran nuclear deal at the next EU Council meeting; and if he has spoken to other EU leaders regarding same since the withdrawal. [21060/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niall Collins

Ceist:

115. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord and the wider implications for the Middle East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21426/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114 and 115 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. In recent days, I have discussed these developments with my French counterpart, during his visit to Dublin.

The possibility and implications of US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement had been discussed at each of the most recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council, and I have no doubt will be discussed at the next Council on 28 May. Ministers will need to discuss the prospects for continued implementation of the agreement, which all of the other parties to it have said they hope to do. Ireland will fully support that objective.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (116, 117, 121)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

116. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the international community continues to take interest in the Israeli-Palestine situation with particular reference to the need for the continued pursuit of peace initiatives and access to support for those homeless as a result of war; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21457/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

117. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which he and his EU colleagues continue to monitor the situation in Gaza and the West Bank; if meetings have taken place or are likely to take place between the Israeli and Palestinian representatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21458/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

121. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which the situation in Gaza and the West Bank continues to be monitored by international interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21462/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116, 117 and 121 together.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a high priority both for the European Union and for me personally. It has been discussed at many recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council, and EU Ministers discussed the issue with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the margins of the December 2017 Foreign Affairs Council, and with President Abbas in the margin of the January 2018 Council.

At present, prospects for a re-start of negotiations centre on the proposals being developed by the United States. I have engaged with the US Middle East team to encourage this initiative, and to highlight some of the key issues which it will have to address, if it is to be successful. I have encouraged my EU colleagues to take a similar approach. Unfortunately however, the US opening of its Embassy in Jerusalem makes bringing the relevant parties together around a peace initiative more difficult. I have conveyed this view to both US and Israeli interlocutors.

I am also aware of the need to support Palestinians affected by this long-running conflict, not just in Gaza and the West Bank, but throughout the region, where agencies such as UNRWA do vital work. To date in 2018, Ireland has provided €4.25 million for UNRWA’s Programme Budget, which supports services and assistance to some 5 million registered Palestine refugees, including in Gaza.

I have paid particular attention in my work to the problems of Gaza, seeking both to maintain international focus on the issue and to work on solutions to change the dynamic there and to begin to improve conditions. The appalling events of yesterday and recent weeks, which have seen very significant numbers killed or injured along Gaza’s borders, underlines the urgency of these efforts.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to be a focus of my work, and I hope to visit the region again next month.