135. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if extra staff have been employed or redeployed in the EU section in his Department. [5331/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
Written Answers Nos. 135-152
135. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if extra staff have been employed or redeployed in the EU section in his Department. [5331/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The EU section of my Department assists me in my role as a member of the European Council, and in my other EU and international engagements. It also advises me on EU policy matters and works to ensure a coherent whole of Government approach.
The section provides advice and briefing relating to my EU related engagements, including meetings of the European Council and other EU summits, bilateral engagements with Heads of Government of EU member states and other countries and EU affairs more generally. The section also works closely with other relevant departments, notably the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
A Second Secretary General, who also acts as the Irish Sherpa for EU business, including Brexit issues, heads my Department's International, EU and Northern Ireland Division.
Within this Division, the EU section specifically is comprised of 12 posts, including an Assistant Secretary General.
Staffing resources are kept under ongoing review in line with business needs.
136. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if he and his officials have attended meetings on the remediation work of Haulbowline Island; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5080/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
Responsibility for the remediation of Haulbowline Island has been assigned by Government to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine. As the Naval Service has and will continue to have a significant presence on the Island, my officials have attended meetings with that Department and Cork County Council on the matter.
137. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if Ireland is involved as an observer in PESCO projects; if involvement as an observer was not announced publically alongside the announcement of involvement as a full participant in two PESCO projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4959/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
Ireland's participation in PESCO was agreed by Government and approved by Dáil Éireann prior to the Council Decision establishing PESCO on 11 December 2017. As a participant in PESCO, Ireland is required to participate in one PESCO project.
There are currently 34 PESCO Projects that are being developed covering areas such as training, land, maritime, air, cyber, and joint enabling. The initial list of 17 projects to be developed under PESCO was established in the Council Decision on 6 March 2018 and second list of 17 additional projects to be developed under PESCO was established in the Council Decision on 19 November 2018.
I have previously confirmed Ireland's participation in two PESCO projects - (1) The European Union Training Mission Competence Centre and (2) Upgrade of Maritime Surveillance from the initial list of PESCO Projects, and Ireland's Observer status on a further eight PESCO projects - six from the initial list and two from the second list.
While there was no formal announcement of Ireland's participation as a full participant or observer to the PESCO Projects, the details are no secret and have been the subject of public discourse, media coverage and debate in this House, since PESCO and the PESCO Projects were launched. At every opportunity, most recently in a PQ response reference no. 1966/19 dated 17th January 2019, the details of the PESCO projects Ireland is engaged in, both as an observer and as a participant, have been elaborated.
138. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the provisions in place to support retired members of the Defence Forces once they leave active service. [4975/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
I recognise the valued public service given to the State by retired members of the Defence Forces. Officials from my Department and I hold regular meetings with three Veterans’ Associations, the Irish United Nations Veterans Association (IUNVA), the Organisation of National Ex-Service Personnel (O.N.E.) and the Association of Retired Commissioned Officers (ARCO). The Veterans’ Associations raise issues of concern to their members at these meetings.
As part of the supports currently offered to veterans, my Department has Service Level Agreements with O.N.E. and IUNVA which set out the services the Department provides to these Associations. Under the terms of these SLAs, my Department provides financial support by way of an annual subvention to O.N.E. and IUNVA to encourage their valuable efforts and the range of services they offer to ex-service personnel. The subvention given to O.N.E. was increased from €44,000 to €100,000 per annum last year. This significant increase in the grant will make a substantial contribution to the work of O.N.E. which provides accommodation to homeless, elderly and disabled ex-members of the Defence Forces in Smithfield, Dublin, Athlone and Letterkenny. The subvention given to IUNVA is €11,000 per annum. The funding provided by my Department is to support the general overheads of the organisations.
I am strongly supportive of O.N.E.’s plans to increase the number of its Veteran Support Centres (VSCs) around the country. The purpose of the VSC is to provide somewhere for veterans to receive information and advice and a welcoming place to meet former comrades. The VSC helps to prevent homelessness through early intervention and to actively address loneliness. In 2012 O.N.E. established two VSCs in Aiken Barracks, Dundalk and in Lord Edward Street, Limerick. Since the beginning of 2018, my Department and the Defence Forces have worked with O.N.E. to bring to fruition their plans for a network of VSCs nationwide. O.N.E. has opened a further six VSCs in Custume Barracks, Athlone; Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel; the Defence Forces Training Centre, Curragh Camp; Dún UÍ Mhaolíosa Barracks, Renmore, Galway; Stephens Barracks, Kilkenny; and a temporary office in Collins Barracks, Cork until the permanent VSC is refurbished. Discussions are ongoing with O.N.E. regarding locations for additional VSCs throughout the country.
I provide support by attendance at specific events whenever I can, such as the annual Veterans’ Day and the launch of O.N.E.’s annual Fuchsia fundraising appeal.
My Department, the Defence Forces and I are committed to continued engagement with Veterans’ Associations into the future.
139. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the status of the remediation and site investigative works to explore the scope for improving the berthage capacity of Haulbowline Island; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5078/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
In October 2018 my Department engaged Malone O’Regan, consultant civil engineers to provide at the Naval Base, Haulbowline, the services associated with the assessment of engineering requirements, design, contractor procurement and construction oversight of the work required to provide four additional fully serviced berths for Naval Service vessels.
140. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the actions taken on foot of the two reports of the working group on Lariam. [5205/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
A Malaria Chemoprophylaxis Working Group was established in January 2011 and reported in April 2013. The Group was re-convened in August 2015 and reported in October 2017. The purpose of the Group was to review, inter alia, issues arising in relation to the use of Lariam, particularly in the context of the current and potential litigation.
The re-convened Working Group's recommendations focus on a number of different areas including planning, training and education/information sharing as well as the establishment of a Medical Advisory Group. This will formalise the provision of on-going expert medical advice, including external expert medical advice, to the Defence Forces in relation to a range of medical matters including chemoprophylaxis. I have accepted these recommendations and have established an Implementation Group. This Implementation Group is progressing its work.
141. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of suicides recorded among members of the Defence Forces in the past three years, respectively; if no number is recorded, his plans to compile such information on their health; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5206/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
All sudden deaths that occur in the Defence Forces are reported to the relevant Coroner's Office. It is a matter for the Coroner to determine the cause of death and this is not recorded by the Defence Forces.
142. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the figures for Air Corps spending on aircraft maintenance overseas in 2018, in tabular form. [5474/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The Air Corps operate a fleet of fixed and rotary wing aircraft which provide military support to the Army and Naval Service, together with support for non-military air services such as Garda air support, air ambulance, fisheries protection and the Ministerial Air Transport Service.
As the Deputy will appreciate, all aircraft must undergo regular maintenance and scheduled overhauls to ensure that they are fully airworthy and meet the certification standards laid down for the aviation industry.
The total amount expended on overseas aircraft maintenance in 2018 is set out in the following table.
143. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when the review of Defence Forces pay and conditions will be completed. [5332/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
In accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020, the Government has tasked the Public Service Pay Commission with conducting a more comprehensive examination and analysis of underlying difficulties in recruitment and retention in those sectors and employment streams identified in the Commission's Report of May 2017.
The Public Service Pay Commission has adopted a modular approach to its work programme. Module 1 reported in August 2018, on issues relating to the areas of Nursing and Midwifery, Non-Consultant Hospital Doctors and Hospital Consultants.
Module 2 provides that the Commission will report on those other grades/specialties where evidence of recruitment and/or retention difficulties were found to exist in Chapter 6 of its first report. This includes specific challenges in the Defence sector. The Commission has not yet indicated a timeline for completion of Module 2 of its work programme.
The Public Service Pay Commission requested specific data and statistics from the Department of Defence to assist in their analysis. This material was collated and prepared by civil and military personnel with inputs from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform coordinates the public service management response to the Commission and it sent the Defence material to the Public Service Pay Commission on 20 December 2018.
The Commission's work is on-going. The Government will give due consideration to the findings and recommendations that arise from the work of the Commission.
144. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which the UK exit from the European Union can be reconciled with the Belfast Agreement (details supplied). [4978/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The Government is determined to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, and the gains and benefits of the Peace Process, are protected for people on the island of Ireland, North and South.
The Government appreciates the solidarity and support which has been shown by all of our EU partners in respect of Ireland’s unique issues and concerns.
The principle of consent and the possibility of change in the constitutional status of Northern Ireland are fundamental elements of the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by the people of this island North and South.
The Good Friday Agreement states that “it is for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right to self-determination on the basis of consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”.
The Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland which is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government protects the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
Article 1(1) of the Protocol confirms that it is “without prejudice to the provisions of the 1998 Agreement regarding the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the principle of consent, which provides that any change in that status can only be made with the consent of a majority of its people.”
The Government remains firmly of the view that the only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement as endorsed by the European Council and agreed with the British Government. The European Council has made clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement and that it is not for renegotiation.
The Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop provisions, is the only agreement on the table that provides the essential legal guarantee to avoid a hard border in any circumstances and protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts.
Under any scenario for the UK’s exit from the European Union, the obligations and commitments of the Irish and British Governments under the Good Friday Agreement remain and the Government will continue to work with the British Government as co-guarantor to secure the full implementation of the Agreement and the effective operation of all of its institutions.
145. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to address concerns that the funding being provided to an organisation (details supplied) is opposed to Ireland’s position regarding NGOs that support the global BDS boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that companies have shut down online credit card donations to the organisation in May 2018 due to its ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5066/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The Irish Government does not support a policy of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) in relation to Israel, and does not fund any activities that promote such a policy.
However, we also recognise that both NGOs and citizens are entitled to hold and express peaceful political views, including views which are not shared by their Governments. While the Government does not support a policy of BDS, it is a legitimate and non-violent political viewpoint, and simply because an organisation may advocate for the policy would not automatically exclude them from Irish funding.
I am aware of reports of challenges regarding online credit card donations to the organisation referenced.
This comes in the context of ongoing attempts to discredit Israeli and Palestinian NGOs including by using unsubstantiated allegations to pressure financial institutions to withdraw services to them.
Ireland’s programme of support to the Palestinian people, delivered through Irish Aid, is designed to support and reinforce the overarching political objective of a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the emergence of a viable and prosperous Palestinian State.
My Department is careful in vetting organisations that receive Irish Aid funding to ensure that there can be no misuse of funds and that Irish funding does not support groups on EU terrorism lists.
I have always made clear my support for freedom of speech and the importance of a vibrant civil society. Irish Aid will continue to support civil society organisations that have a role to play in promoting international law, human rights, and democratic values.
146. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the dissatisfaction with the recent election observation competition; the reason the qualifications and experience of candidates were not awarded points in the competition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5135/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
147. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is satisfied that the arrangements in place ensure that the election observation competition is independent and robust; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5136/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
I propose to take Questions Nos. 146 and 147 together.
I refer the Deputy to the responses to previous Parliamentary Questions on this matter, Question 109 of 19 December 2018 and Questions 59 and 61 of 23 January 2019.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade administers and maintains a roster of suitably skilled volunteers, who are available to participate in international election observation missions organised, in the main, by the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
A new volunteer roster was put in place in January 2019. I refer the Deputy to the response to Parliamentary Question 109 of 19 December 2018, which provided detailed information on the selection process, including on the assessment of applications. That assessment process was calibrated by an independent external quality assurance service.
The Department 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. I am confident that the volunteers nominated to the roster will make a quality contribution to international election observation, and that this will reflect well on Ireland. While the intense competition helps to ensure that the quality of Irish election observers remains high, with nearly twice as many applicants as available places, not all of those willing to volunteer could be selected. While I appreciate that those who were not successful may be disappointed, I am fully satisfied that the process was robust and fair.
148. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the common travel area in the event of a no-deal Brexit; if arrangements will continue at present; if the arrangements under the CTA will cease in a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5292/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing arrangement between Ireland and the UK which means Irish citizens can move freely to live, work, and study in the UK on the same basis as UK citizens, and vice versa. Both the Irish and British Governments have committed to the maintenance of the CTA and the associated rights and entitlements of Irish and British citizens under this longstanding reciprocal arrangement in any circumstance.
I updated the Government on the CTA at its meeting on 15 January. Considerable progress has been achieved bilaterally with the UK over the past year involving several Departments in what has been a whole-of-Government exercise.
Ireland’s aim throughout has been to ensure that the necessary arrangements are made in both countries so that the CTA can function effectively after the UK leaves the EU. The bilateral work undertaken reaffirms the existing CTA arrangements between Ireland the UK and recognises the shared commitment of both to protect the associated reciprocal rights and privileges as a legitimate and fundamental public policy.
Both the Irish and British Governments have confirmed that neither Irish citizens in the UK nor British citizens in Ireland are required to take any action to protect their status and rights associated with the CTA. After the UK leaves the EU, both Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland will continue to enjoy these rights.
As part of our Brexit Contingency Action Plan, the Government published on 24 January last the general scheme of proposed primary legislative measures required in the event of a no deal Brexit. Protecting and maintaining the Common Travel Area and the associated rights and privileges is a key part of our planning and preparations. This is vital in the context of the Good Friday Agreement and the Northern Ireland Peace Process, as well as broader Ireland-UK relations. Both the Irish and British Governments have committed to undertaking all the work necessary, including through legislative provision to ensure that the Common Travel Area rights and privileges are protected.
Bilateral arrangements as appropriate to each area of the CTA, will be concluded in due course and at the appropriate time.
149. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made at EU and international levels to protect a community (details supplied) in Yemen from persecution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5320/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The on-going persecution of the Baha'i community in Yemen is extremely worrying. There are recent reports of detention and harassment of members of the Baha'i community, in particular by the Houthi de facto government, which controls the territory where the majority of the Yemeni population live.
Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief, irrespective of where they occur or who the victims are. The promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief is and will continue to be a priority for Ireland’s engagement on human rights issues. Ireland calls on all parties in Yemen to release all Baha’i detained due to their religious belief, and to cease the harassment to which they are subjected.
Ireland’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia is also accredited to Yemen and has contacts with the internationally recognised Government of Yemen. However, the Government does not have any contact with the Houthi de facto authorities, against whom multiple accusations have been made of the persecution of the Baha’i community. We have therefore focused our efforts on highlighting this issue in multilateral fora.
Ireland has regularly addressed the persecution of the Baha’i at the Human Rights Council and the United Nations General Assembly. Most recently, at the Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review of Yemen's human rights record on 23 January 2019, Ireland expressed concern at the reports of harassment and detention of members of the Baha'i community in Yemen and reiterated that Ireland strongly condemns all forms of persecution on the basis of religion or belief. Ireland also raised concerns with regard to the persecution of the Baha'i at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council in March 2018, during the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom on Religion and Belief.
My Department will continue to monitor the situation and voice our concerns about the treatment of the Baha'i community in Yemen, whenever opportunities arise.
150. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the date on which a request was made to the European Commission (details supplied); if the request was also submitted to the Brexit preparedness group under the European Commission Taskforce on Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom; if he brought the attention of the Commission to the matter; if not, the person or body that did; the EU legislative provision under which the request was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5358/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
Extensive and detailed Brexit preparedness and contingency work continues to be taken forward, co-ordinated by officials in my Department, working closely with the Department of the Taoiseach, across all Government Departments, Agencies and sectors, including the agrifood sector.
The agrifood sector is of critical importance to the Irish economy, and its regional spread means it underpins the socio-economic development including those in rural Ireland in particular. As such, Brexit has the potential to have a very significant impact on farmers and on the agrifood sector throughout Ireland, including farmers in the border counties.
At this stage, Ireland has not formally notified the Commission to seek emergency aid for the farming sector either through EU Regulation No. 702/2014 - the Agriculture Block Exemption Regulation or under Article 219 of (EU) Regulation No. 1308/2013. However, there are on-going discussions with the Commission regarding the difficulties facing Ireland.
The Commission’s contingency action plan emphasises that it stands ready to engage with the Member States that will be most affected by a no deal withdrawal and expressly states that “the Commission will support Ireland in finding solutions addressing the specific challenges of Irish businesses”.
Minister Creed held a bilateral meeting with Commissioner Hogan last week to discuss the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors. They discussed the unique exposure of the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors to the threat of a disorderly Brexit and the challenges that it could present. Minister Creed stressed the need to deploy market response measures, including exceptional aid, under the CAP to provide necessary supports to Ireland's agrifood sectors. Commissioner Hogan reiterated the EU’s readiness to respond and support Ireland and in particular, challenges facing Irish farmers and the agrifood sector, given our specific exposure to the UK market.
The Government will continue to explore all measures, including state aid options, with the Commission to support the agri food sector.
151. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the date up until which the UK Government can ask for an extension to Article 50; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5552/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
In accordance with Article 50, paragraph 3 of the Treaty on European Union, the EU Treaties shall cease to apply to the United Kingdom from the date of entry into force of the Withdrawal Agreement or, failing that, two years after its notification of its intention to withdraw, unless the European Council, in agreement with the United Kingdom, unanimously decides to extend this period. In the case of the UK, at present, this means 11 pm on 29 March, 2019.
Any request for an extension would need to be made before then, and would have to be made in sufficient time to allow for a decision to be made by the European Council in accordance with the terms of Article 50, paragraph 3. Ireland would be open to such a request. As President Tusk has said, should the UK make a reasoned request for an extension under Article 50, the other Member States would stand ready to consider it.
Any decision to formally request an extension of Article 50 remains a matter for the UK.
152. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take to intensify Ireland’s preparations for a no-deal Brexit in view of the decision by the UK Parliament to seek changes to the withdrawal agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5553/19]Amharc ar fhreagra
The Government remains firmly of the view that the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal and protect the Good Friday Agreement is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, agreed between the EU and the British Government.
The EU has consistently made clear that it stands by the Withdrawal Agreement. It is not for renegotiation and there can be no Withdrawal Agreement without the backstop.
A no deal Brexit would be highly disruptive and would have profound political, economic and legal implications, most significantly for the UK, as well as for Ireland and the rest of the EU. In light of ongoing political uncertainties in the UK and the Brexit deadline of 29 March, the Government at its meeting of 11 December, agreed that, while work on Brexit preparedness for the central case scenario should continue, greater immediate priority must now be given to preparations for a no deal Brexit.
Following this, the Government published its Brexit Contingency Action Plan on 19 December which sets out detailed sectorial analyses and approaches to mitigating the impacts of a no deal Brexit. Ireland's Action Plan is consistent with and complementary to the approach being taken at EU27 level to prepare for the UK's withdrawal.
Work has been undertaken across Government to screen all Irish legislation currently in force to identify areas where legislative amendment will be required in the context of a no deal Brexit.
Further to this, Cabinet met on 3,15, 22 and 29 January to discuss and approve a single Omnibus Bill, known officially as the Miscellaneous Provisions (Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill 2019.
The General Scheme or Heads of this Bill were published on Thursday, 24 January, and are made up of 17 Parts prepared by 9 Ministers. It prioritises those areas that need to be addressed urgently and immediately through primary legislation, focusing on the broad themes of protecting the citizen, and supporting the economy, enterprise and jobs.
It is intended to publish the full text of the Omnibus Bill on 22 February 2019. The Government will work closely with all the opposition parties and Oireachtas members to seek their cooperation in ensuring that the necessary Brexit related legislation will be concluded in a timely manner and in advance of 29 March 2019.
As part of this ongoing work, I will brief the Working Group of Committee Chairs on the General Scheme of the Bill next Wednesday,  February. Ministers will also brief relevant sectorial Committees.
In addition to the legislative work underway, Government has since the beginning of January considered Memos outlining challenges and possible mitigation measures on key sectors affected by a no deal Brexit. Our discussions to date have covered a range of key matters including transport connectivity, continuity of supply of medicines, macroeconomic impacts, and implications for agrifood and fisheries.
Public engagements in preparation for a no deal Brexit have intensified including, for example, a focused outreach to traders led by the Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. An update to the Contingency Action Plan was published on 30 January 2019, at a meeting of the Brexit Stakeholder Forum, which also received an update on the intensified work underway.