I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 to 61, inclusive, together.
International election observation missions play an important role in the promotion of democracy and human rights. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade aims to ensure that, when requested, Ireland is represented at an appropriate level on international election observation missions. Irish observers participate primarily in missions organised by the European Union or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
A new roster of volunteer international election observers was put in place in January 2019.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade received 395 applications, allowing a roster of 201 members to be mustered, similar to the number of volunteers mustered under the previous roster. The level of interest meant that there was intense competition for the available places. To ensure a fair process, a booklet was made available detailing the elements which applicants were expected to demonstrate in completing their written applications. Assessment at this stage was subject to independent calibration and quality assurance from an external agency.
Eight adjudication panels were established, chaired by retired officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, of Ambassadorial rank and who, during their career, had demonstrated extensive experience of human rights, democratisation and the rule of law overseas.
While I am confident that the high level of interest will help ensure the quality of Irish election observers remains high, with nearly twice as many applicants as available places, regrettably not all of those willing to volunteer could be selected.
In the interest of fairness, an appeal mechanism was available. Less than one fifth of the unsuccessful candidates sought a formal review by way of appeal. On the basis of the grounds submitted by each candidate, about half of the review requests were accepted and referred to an Appeals Panel. That Appeals Panel has yet to finish its deliberations.
As was made clear to all potential volunteers in the Volunteer Information Booklet which set out the requirements expected, all candidates were required to provide at least one relevant example under each of five competencies, as part of a competency based assessment. Provided that a candidate with prior international election observation experience, or, indeed, any other relevant experience, demonstrated through the examples provided in their application form that they possessed the competencies under assessment, such experience was fully considered in the marking process.
Although the Volunteer Information Booklet did not specify that particular qualifications were essential or desirable, a small proportion of marks were awarded for the specific skills and experiences which were listed as desirable in the Volunteer Information Booklet.
In the event of any candidate requesting reasonable accommodation for a disability at the time of application, such a request would have been given full and thorough consideration. No candidate requested any particular arrangement at the time of applying, and no candidate contacted the Department at any stage of the process prior to the appeals stage to ask whether particular arrangements could be made. The Appeals Panel cannot consider new information which was not provided at the time of application, to do so would not be fair to all candidates in the process.