Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (93)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

93. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is concerned or has concerns regarding increased dissident activity in the Border region in the event of a hard Brexit. [37436/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am very concerned at the recent increase in dissident republican activity in border areas.

The discovery of bombs in Wattle Bridge, Fermanagh; Strabane, Co. Tyrone; and Derry city were all linked to dissident republican activity and were all intended to kill PSNI officers and risked the lives of people living in these areas.   

It is well understood that dissident republicans are using the current political vacuum in Northern Ireland and uncertainty created by Brexit as an opportunity to recruit new members and to perpetuate their false narrative. An Garda Síochana and PSNI authorities have said publicly that any border infrastructure or personnel would become targets for dissident republican paramilitaries and require police or other protection.  To be clear, the fragility in the peace process predates Brexit, but it is also clear that the Brexit process has exacerbated the regrettable polarisation that had already been occurring.

The Irish Government's determination to avoid a hard border reflects our determination to protect all of the gains of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process, political, economic, societal and security.  Being cognisant of these risks, the Government has been consistent in its opposition to a hard border on the island of Ireland. The consequences of a no deal Brexit for the political process in Northern Ireland could be very damaging. A no deal Brexit risks the reintroduction of some form of checks near the border which could significantly undermine wider community relations and political stability in Northern Ireland, and would bring with it significant potential related security concerns. 

I am continuing to work urgently and in partnership with my counterpart, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, to support the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement to full operation on a more sustainable basis, and to address key issues of division between the main parties that have affected partnership government in Northern Ireland. Having the institutions working on behalf of all the people of Northern Ireland would be an essential step to restoring positive momentum in the peace process and could make a major contribution to managing the impacts of any Brexit scenario on the island.

A no deal exit will not be our choice and the only clear way to avoid this is to ratify the Withdrawal Agreement. Without the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop, there are no easy answers. There is a process of engagement between Ireland and the European Commission on how to meet, in a no deal scenario, our shared twin objectives of protecting the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it, and avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland. 

Consular Services Provision

Ceisteanna (94)

Seamus Healy

Ceist:

94. Deputy Seamus Healy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37003/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I can confirm to the Deputy that I am aware of this difficult and long-running consular case and that officials from my Department have been in ongoing contact with the citizen, most recently on 10th September 2019.

My Department has been providing consular assistance to the family of the citizen since first being made aware of the case. Officials continue to engage with the appropriate local authorities with a view to ascertaining a possible way forward.

My Department will continue to provide all possible and appropriate assistance in relation to this difficult situation.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (95)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

95. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that over 600 political prisoners in Bahrain have undertaken a hunger strike to protest against the degrading and inhumane prison conditions since 17 August 2019 (details supplied); and if the issue will be raised as a matter of urgency with his counterpart in Bahrain. [37280/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The human rights situation in Bahrain is a matter of concern. Citizens in Bahrain are living in an increasingly restrictive society and there has been further erosion of fundamental freedoms in recent years, including freedom of opinion and expression. I remain concerned about the detention of a number of people in Bahrain, both in respect of the grounds for detention, and their treatment by the Bahraini authorities.

Many political prisoners are being held in Jau Prison in Bahrain where there are widespread reports of bad conditions and mistreatment of prisoners, including allegations of torture. I understand that a large number of the prisoners have gone on hunger strike in response to these conditions. 

  Respect for human rights is an integral part of Ireland’s foreign policy. Ireland attaches a high priority to safeguarding human rights defenders, and continually advocates for freedom for civil society actors to operate in a safe and enabling environment, without repression. Ireland urges all States to safeguard the human rights of prisoners and detainees and is committed to the prevention and eradication of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. These principles feed into our bilateral dialogue; for example, officials from my Department met with officials from the Bahraini Embassy in March 2019 and raised our human rights concerns directly with them. 

Ireland, as a small country, amplifies its voice on human rights issues through multilateral engagement and through measured recommendations offered as part of constructive dialogue.

Through our interventions at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) Ireland has sought to ensure that the human rights situation in Bahrain and in other locations where we have concerns, remains in focus. Ireland has repeatedly raised human rights concerns in Bahrain at the HRC in recent Item 4 Statements ("human rights situations that require the Council’s attention"). For example, in September 2018, Ireland expressed concerns about the ongoing restrictions on civil society space and the treatment of human rights defenders, and called on Bahrain to respect freedom of opinion and expression. In February 2019, Ireland reiterated concern at the ongoing detention of human rights defenders. In our most recent Item 4 statement at the Human Rights Council in June/July 2019, Ireland called on Bahrain to ensure respect for freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to a fair trial.  

At the most recent HRC Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain's human rights record in 2017, Ireland urged Bahrain to accept an open offer by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Bahrain.

With regard to the rights of prisoners and detainees in general, Ireland co-sponsored HRC Resolution 36/16, which calls upon States to ‘investigate promptly, effectively and impartially all alleged human rights violations and abuses suffered by persons deprived of their liberty, in particular cases involving death, torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to provide effective remedies to the victims, and to ensure that detention administrations cooperate fully with the investigating authority and preserve all evidence’. Ireland has also co-sponsored; Resolution 30/7, concerning human rights in the administration of justice; Resolution 31/31, concerning torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and UN General Assembly Resolution 71/188, also concerning human rights in the administration of justice.

My Department will continue to monitor developments in Bahrain, and to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to make progress in relation to human rights.  We shall seek all opportunities to do so both directly with Bahraini officials, as well as at EU and international level.

Public Services Card

Ceisteanna (96)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

96. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has received a briefing regarding findings of the Data Protection Commission relating to the use of the public services card in view of the fact that the Commission found there was no legal basis for Departments, except for the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, to insist persons must obtain a card to access a public service; if a review has been conducted into the use of the card by his Department; if data has been deleted by his Department collected from persons using the card; and if the Passport Office is not requesting applicants to use the card to apply for passports. [37281/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Since March 29 2016, the Passport Service has required all first time passport applicants, aged 18 and above, who are resident in Ireland to submit a copy of their Public Services Card (PSC) with their passport application. This also applies to adult applicants whose most recent passport has expired more than five years previously and to adult applicants whose passport was issued before 1 January 2006 and has been reported as lost, stolen or damaged.  

Upholding the integrity of the Irish Passport is a key commitment of the Passport Service and the Passport Service believes that the presentation of the PSC is an important means of identity verification for applicants, particularly adult applicants making first time applications.

The Passport Service is aware of the Data Protection Commission’s concerns on matters pertaining to the PSC. I have directed the Passport Service to undertake a review of documents required for first time adult passport applicants with specific reference to the requirement to submit a copy of their PSC as part of their application.

The Passport Service will continue to accept a copy of an applicant’s PSC as valid identification for first time adult applications and other applicable categories of application. Where the applicant does not present their PSC, an application can proceed if an applicant either presents original Government-issued photographic identification, such as a driver’s licence or a passport from another country, or attends for interview in person at the Passport Offices in Cork or Dublin.

Having regard to Article 6(1)(e) of General Data Protection Regulation and Section 8 of the Passports Act 2008, as amended, the Passport Service receives and processes personal data for the purpose of verifying the identity of the passport applicant, establishing the applicant's citizenship and issuing passports.  The data collected for this purpose is held by the Passport Service only as long as there is a business need to do so in line with the purpose(s) for which it was collected. In the case of passport issuance, this data is held for the validity period of the passport plus an additional five years. After this time, data is marked for destruction and is destroyed in line with internal guidelines and guidelines for destruction received from the National Archives Office.

Colombian Peace Process

Ceisteanna (97)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

97. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to recent negative developments regarding the peace process in Colombia in that the peace process is under strain and there is an increased risk of renewed violence; the new measures he will take to support the peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37282/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland has been a long-standing and committed supporter of the Colombian peace process. Ireland has committed more than €14 million in funding to Colombia since 2007 to prevent conflict, build peace, protect human rights and support the livelihoods of rural populations. 

Ireland was a founding member of the EU Trust Fund for Colombia, and continues to provide funding to the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, in their work to support the implementation of the peace accords.  

I met today with Foreign Minister Trujillo of Colombia and we had a very useful discussion on the current state of the peace process.

I am aware that there have been some concerning recent developments in Colombia's peace process. The video that circulated of a number of former FARC leaders stating their intention to withdraw from the peace process is deeply troubling. However, it is understood that the vast majority of former FARC members remain committed to reincorporation and to the peace process.

I would like to echo the EU statement of 29 August which underlines that the only way to properly address differences and overcome difficulties in the implementation of the peace agreement is through dialogue and political participation. As all deputies in this House are aware, building peace is a task that requires sustained engagement and the dedication of Government, those formerly engaged in the conflict, and civil society, with the support of the international community. 

Ireland will continue to provide support to the Colombian peace process through funding to international organisations, but also through lesson sharing programmes between Ireland and Colombia, based on our own experience of peace building on this island. As we know well in Ireland, the signing of a peace agreement only marks the beginning of a process. We understand the slow and painstaking work that goes into building trust between communities to enable reconciliation and to develop a culture of trust. We have had many dark moments and setbacks, and we understand that peace building is the work of generations. 

The opening of our Embassy in Bogotá earlier this year marked a significant moment in our relationship with Colombia, and has also enhanced our ability to provide support to the Colombian peace process. Officials at are Embassy monitor developments in this area closely and regularly engage on peacebuilding and reconciliation with the Colombian Government.

My Department supported the travel of three experts from Northern Ireland to Colombia in June to engage with the Government on key elements of the peace agreement and its implementation. Officials at my Department in Dublin were also pleased to meet last week with Dr. Emilio Archila, Presidential Counsellor for Stabilisation and Consolidation of Colombia, who is responsible for the implementation of the peace accords. 

Ireland remains committed to supporting the full implementation of the peace accords in Colombia to ensure a more peaceful future for all Colombians. I look forward to continuing to work with the Government of Colombia and with our EU partners to ensure a coordinated and effective approach that best supports the peace process.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (98)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

98. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to increased military attacks in Yemen (details supplied); and if he raised the deep concerns of Ireland with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. [37283/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I continue to be gravely concerned about the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Over four years of conflict have resulted in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with the country’s economy decimated and millions on the brink of famine. It is vital that we continue to push for a political resolution to the conflict that is driving this crisis. Ireland supports the efforts of the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to bring about such a resolution, including his efforts to ensure implementation of the 2018 Stockholm agreement between the Government of Yemen and the Houthi de facto authorities.

While the UN Special Envoy is mandated to focus his mediation efforts on the two main parties to the conflict, there are many other armed groups operating in Yemen and controlling a patchwork of areas across the country. I was very concerned to hear of a new front opening up in August in the southern port city of Aden, where forces who had previously fought against the Houthis have attacked government forces.

I wish every success to efforts to promote negotiations between the Government of Yemen and southern militia groups, and I regret that the recent talks in Saudi Arabia have not yet led to success.

In addition to the humanitarian crisis, the persistence of widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law is particularly worrying. I have put Ireland at the centre of UN efforts to prepare the ground for accountability in the long term for what has occurred in Yemen.  Ireland is a member of the core group which helped establish the Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen at the Human Rights Council in September 2017. The Group’s second report, released earlier this month, makes for sobering reading with conditions on the ground in Yemen having worsened. There continues to be a lack of accountability for the gross violations of international law committed by all sides. Ireland will push for a renewal of the Group’s mandate at the Human Rights Council so that it can continue to carry out its vital work in recording and reporting on these violations.

Ireland has communicated its concerns about the situation in Yemen directly to the Saudi Arabian and UAE authorities on numerous occasions. In February 2019, I relayed Ireland’s strong views directly to the Saudi Ambassador, particularly on the safety of civilians and humanitarian access. Senior officials from my Department again conveyed Ireland's concerns to the Saudi Ambassador in a meeting last week.

Since 2012, Ireland has provided over €22 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen, including a contribution of €5 million this year. Ireland will continue to do what we can to assist the political and humanitarian effort in Yemen, through supporting the efforts of the UN, as well as advocating for an end to the conflict in our bilateral contacts.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Ceisteanna (99)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

99. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had recent discussions relating to outstanding issues for the victims and relatives of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. [26844/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

17 May last marked the 45th anniversary of the appalling attacks of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in which 33 people were murdered. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charles Flanagan TD, represented the Government at the remembrance ceremony in Dublin.

The Government stands in solidarity with all those who lost loved ones or were injured on that day, and who suffer still as a result of these bombings.

The implementation of the All-Party Dáil motions relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings is a priority for the Government, as highlighted in the Programme for a Partnership Government. 

The All-Party motion on the 1974 Dublin Monaghan bombings 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. We have consistently raised the issue with the British Government on a bilateral basis, including at the British-Irish Inter-Governmental Conference, most recently on 8 May.

I and Minister Flanagan made clear to our counterparts at the Conference that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government, and that there remains an urgent need for a response. 

The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on this request, at senior political level and in official level engagement by my Department, to pursue all possible avenues to achieve progress on this issue, consistent with the request made by this House and until a resolution is found.

The Government maintains a close and cooperative relationship with Justice for the Forgotten, as we continue work to seek the full facts of the appalling events of 25 May 1974 and of other attacks in this jurisdiction during the Troubles.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (100)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

100. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans regarding the way in which the single market will be protected. [37404/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Among the priorities of the Government’s approach to the Brexit negotiations is the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and protect the EU’s Single Market and Ireland’s place it.  The ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement remains the best plan to deliver these twin objectives.  Only the backstop provides an all-weather legal guarantee through alignment with those rules of the Single Market and Customs Union necessary to avoid a hard border and protect the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. This is why the backstop remains an absolutely necessary part of the Withdrawal Agreement.  

However, given the current political uncertainty in London, there is a significant risk of a no deal Brexit.   In the absence of a Withdrawal Agreement, there are no easy solutions. We continue our work with the European Commission to address the shared twin objectives of protecting the Good Friday Agreement and protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it. 

Any solutions agreed will be clearly sub-optimal to the backstop. A no deal Brexit would have far-reaching consequences on the island of Ireland, with a particular impact on North-South trade, which could no longer be a frictionless as it is today.  The impact of tariffs, and of the customs and SPS requirements and associated checks necessary to preserve the integrity of the Single Market and Ireland's full participation in it, would be significant for the operation of the all-island economy, with additional costs and disruption for businesses throughout the island.

The Government will continue its efforts to protect the Good Friday Agreement and the gains of the peace process – this will never be in question. Similarly, our place in the Single Market is at the core of our economic model, and will remain so.

Middle East Peace Process

Ceisteanna (101)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

101. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on a proposal for Israel to annexe parts of the occupied West Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37568/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Promises made during the election campaign in Israel, including threats to annex lands in the West Bank, are irresponsible and have a damaging impact on the prospects for a peace agreement and an end to the conflict.

Unhelpful election rhetoric is not unique to Israel, and Ireland and the EU will ultimately judge the next Israeli Government on its actions. But such words are not without consequence, since they send dangerous messages and contribute to a climate of fear and insecurity among Palestinians.

Annexation of territory by force is illegal under international law, including the UN Charter. Any unilateral annexation by Israel of occupied territory would have no legitimacy, and would not be recognised or accepted by Ireland or the international community more generally.

The position of Ireland and the EU is clear. We will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders, including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. It has long been proposed that a future peace agreement may involve some agreed mutual border adjustments, but such changes can only be by mutual agreement.

With regard to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks last week about the Jordan Valley, I would not usually comment on what is said in the course of an election campaign. However, due to the gravity of the issue, I felt it was important to make my views known. I also directed my officials to speak to the Israeli Ambassador and to request that he convey Ireland’s position directly to his authorities.

The EU position has also been reaffirmed publicly following PM Netanyahu's comments. As set out in numerous Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the EU will not recognise any changes to the pre-1967 borders including with regard to Jerusalem, other than those agreed by the parties. The settlement policy, including in East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law. Its continuation undermines the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace. Ireland and the EU will monitor closely the actions of the next Israeli government in this context.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (102)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

102. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made representations to the Indian authorities regarding oppression and human rights issues in Kashmir; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37569/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am aware of the ongoing situation in Kashmir and my Department is monitoring developments closely. I hope that the situation will be resolved peacefully, and support the EU’s position, which is in favour of direct dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Ireland also supports UN Secretary-General Guterres' call for restraint from all parties, and continues to work within the EU and the UN to address concerns of human rights violations in Kashmir. The EU’s recent statement at the UN Human Rights Council, which Ireland supports, encouraged the Indian Government to continue to lift remaining restrictions and to maintain the constitutional rights and freedoms of the affected population.

Officials in my Department, including in our Embassies in India and Ankara (which is accredited to Pakistan), will continue to monitor the situation.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (103)

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

103. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on representations he has made regarding the political and military situation in Sudan; if he has discussed the situation in Sudan with his European Union colleagues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37570/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The recent political events in Sudan followed many months of demonstrations, which began in December 2018 and were led by a diverse coalition of groups known as the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC). Demonstrations were triggered initially by spiralling costs of living and quickly developed into calls for ex-President al Bashir’s resignation, after 30 years in power. Control was seized by the military who dissolved the Government and announced a takeover by the Transitional Military Council (TMC).

Ireland continues to engage with our EU partners to ensure a strong and unified EU position on the situation in Sudan.  On 17 June the Foreign Affairs Council discussed how the EU could best support a peaceful transition to a civilian-led transitional Government in Sudan.  As EU, we urged all regional and international actors to play a constructive and coordinated role in support of the African Union.  We also strongly condemned the violence against protestors, including sexual and gender-based violence.  

Following several months of negotiations, which took place against a backdrop of ongoing demonstrations and violence against protesters, on 17 August the military and the opposition signed an agreement to establish a transitional Government in Sudan. The EU remains fully engaged in the situation in Sudan, and as an expression of strong political support, the EU along with a number of other international partners, signed the agreement as a witness. The EU welcomed the agreement as an important milestone and called on all parties to implement it in good faith.  

The Tánaiste also warmly welcomed the signing of that agreement. He acknowledged the prominent role played by women and youth in the protests, and commended the strong engagement of the African Union and Ethiopia in mediating the talks. Together with our EU partners, Ireland will support a civilian-led political transition, which we hope will pave the way for peace, security and economic growth in Sudan.

Ireland further welcomes the recent establishment of the new civilian-led transitional Government in Sudan, including the appointment of a civilian Prime Minister and the inclusion of four women in the new cabinet. It is also very positive that the African Union has recently lifted the suspension on Sudan.

Sudan’s current economic outlook is of pressing concern. Significant financial support will be required from the international community and the EU has committed to assisting Sudan in this regard.

Since the crisis first erupted, senior officials from my Department have met with the Sudanese Ambassador to Ireland on a number of occasions to express Ireland’s concerns at the political situation, most recently on 15 July. My officials have also met with members of the Sudanese community in Ireland to listen to their concerns and views on the current situation.  

Ireland also took the opportunity at the 41st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in July to voice our concerns about the current human rights situation in Sudan. We particularly welcomed the inclusion in the agreement of a commitment to establish an independent and transparent investigation into the violent crackdown against protestors in Khartoum on 3 June.  

My officials visited Khartoum in April, as part of Ireland's role in chairing the OCHA donor support group (the UN’s humanitarian coordination agency), and met with many stakeholders, including representatives of the Sudanese Foreign Ministry.   Officials took the opportunity to raise concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country and the need for the timely delivery of principled humanitarian assistance and protection. Ireland continues to respond to ongoing humanitarian needs in Sudan through the provision of humanitarian funding, with almost €30 million provided through our UN, NGO and Red Cross partners since 2012, including over €3.5 million since the beginning of 2019. 

As events evolve, my officials continue to actively monitor developments in Sudan, through Ireland’s Embassy in Nairobi, and in cooperation with the EU Delegation in Khartoum.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (104)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

104. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to have a bilateral meeting with his Croatian counterpart to discuss Brexit and to strengthen ties between Croatia and Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37583/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland enjoys very good bilateral relations with Croatia, and, as has been the case with all EU member states, the Government has maintained frequent contact with our Croatian counterparts with regards to Brexit.

Most recently, I met with the new Croatian Foreign Minister, Gordan Grlic-Radman, on August 10th and was able to comprehensively brief him on Brexit and the details of the backstop. He expressed full solidarity with the Irish and EU position on Brexit, and I am confident that ties between our two countries will continue to develop along positive lines.   

The Government will have close engagement with our Croatian counterparts in the run-up to the Croatian Presidency in 2020, including during at the monthly meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (105)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

105. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has stated his support for Mr. Michel Barnier to be retained until Brexit discussions are completed. [37406/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Taoiseach and I have made clear on a number of occasions Ireland’s full support for Michel Barnier in his role as the EU’s chief negotiator regarding the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU.  We fully support Ursula von der Leyen’s assessment, as incoming President of the European Commission, that he has done an outstanding job since his appointment in July 2016.  

Mr Barnier has been strong and consistent in presenting a very clear EU position during negotiations with the United Kingdom.  During this time, he and his team, have demonstrated a deep understanding and sympathy for the unique position Ireland faces.  This has been reflected in the positions taken by the EU throughout the negotiations, .

I understand that Ms von der Leyen has said she will hold talks with Mr Barnier about extending his mandate as Chief Negotiator after she takes office on 1 November. Ultimately, this remains a decision for the incoming President.

EU Meetings

Ceisteanna (106)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

106. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken with the new European Commissioner for Trade, Mr. Phil Hogan; and his plans to meet with the Commissioner. [37407/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have maintained close contact with Commissioner Hogan throughout his time in office and publicly congratulated him on his nomination as the new European Commissioner for Trade, which was announced by President-elect von der Leyen on 10 September 2019. The European Parliament will hold hearings with all Commission nominees between 30 September and 8 October, with a vote on the whole Commission to take place on 23 October, after which the new Commission will take up office on 1 November.

Phil Hogan has been an excellent Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development who has served Ireland and the European Union very effectively over the past five years. His nomination to the key position of Commissioner for Trade is a positive reflection of his skills and of his contribution to the EU.  It is good news for Ireland and the EU.  

I look forward to speaking to Commissioner Hogan again in the near future and wish him every success as he prepares for his Parliament hearing.

Property Tax Assessments

Ceisteanna (107)

Jackie Cahill

Ceist:

107. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Finance the way in which local property tax is calculated in circumstances in which a residence has a granny flat attached to the main residence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37489/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that under the relevant legislation any self-contained dwelling, such as a granny flat, should be treated as a separate residential property that incurs a separate local property tax (LPT) liability. However, Revenue recognises that certain types of dwelling that are an integral part of a larger building may be difficult to value and sell on the open market. Therefore, where the same person owns the entire building, that person is allowed to choose to value the granny flat either as part of the overall building or as a separate residential property. However, where a different person owns the granny flat, it should be valued separately for LPT purposes.

Tax Reliefs Data

Ceisteanna (108)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

108. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Finance the number of properties availing of the tax relief available under section 50 of the Finance Act 1999; the number of properties that have converted from student purpose-built accommodation to private rented accommodation following the end of the ten year stipulation for section 50 builds to remain as student accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37544/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Section 50 of Finance Act 1999 provided for a student accommodation scheme whereby expenditure incurred on student rental accommodation can be set against the rental income from the property and against other Irish rental income, thus reducing the taxable income of the person incurring the expenditure. The relevant provisions in the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 are contained in Part 10,

Chapter 11, sections 372AK to 372AV.

The scheme has now terminated, in so far as the termination date for incurring qualifying expenditure has now passed. The qualifying period applied up to 31 December 2006, although under certain circumstances the qualifying period could be further extended to 31 July 2008. Claims in relation to qualifying expenditure incurred before the termination date may continue to arise.  

I am advised by Revenue that the number of properties availing of tax relief for student accommodation, up to the most recent year for which data are available, is as follows:

Year

Uptake

2017

246

2016

292

2015

361

2014

414

2013

537

 2012

 606

 2011

 640

Information on the number of properties that have been converted from purpose-built student accommodation to private rented accommodation following the end of the ten-year stipulation is not available from tax returns.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (109)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

109. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance his plans to include non-married couples as being eligible for income tax credits (details supplied); the reason non-married cohabiting couples with and without children are excluded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36967/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The basis for the current tax treatment of married couples derives from the Supreme Court decision in Murphy vs. Attorney General (1980). This decision was based on Article 41.3.1 of the Constitution where the State pledges to protect the institution of marriage. The decision held that it was contrary to the Constitution for a married couple, both of whom are working, to pay more tax than two single people living together and having the same income. 

The treatment of cohabiting couples for the purposes of social welfare is primarily a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Ms Regina Doherty, T.D. .  However, it is also based on the principle that married couples should not be treated less favourably than cohabiting couples. This was given a constitutional underpinning following the Supreme Court decision in Hyland v Minister for Social Welfare (1989) which ruled that it was unconstitutional for the total income a married couple received in social welfare benefits to be less than the couple would have received if they were unmarried and cohabiting.

The Single Person Child Carer Credit (SPCCC) is intended to support the labour market participation of single and widowed parents.  It is available to the primary claimant, who is the individual with whom the child resides for the whole or greater part of the year.  The primary claimant must be either the child's parent or the individual who has custody of the child and who maintains the child at his or her own expense for the whole or the greater part of the year.

Where the child's primary carer is married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting they are not entitled to the SPCCC, on the basis that the relevant child is not, in the main, being cared for by a single person, and therefore no credit is available. 

Issues concerning this credit are outlined in detail in the review of the SPCCC conducted by the Department of Finance in 2015 contained in the Report on Tax Expenditures, available online at

http://budget.gov.ie/Budgets/2016/Documents/Tax_Expenditures_Report_pub.pdf. 

Revenue Commissioners Investigations

Ceisteanna (110)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

110. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the duration of time the attention of the Revenue Commissioners has been drawn to circumstances relating to bogus self-employment at a company (details supplied) in County Cork; the progress made by the Revenue Commissioners in investigating same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36973/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Section 851A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 requires Revenue to uphold taxpayer confidentiality and prohibits the release of any information that could lead to the identification of taxpayers. The Deputies will also be aware that I am precluded from being involved in individual tax cases.

Revenue has however assured me that it carries out a full range of interventions to combat all types of tax evasion and non-compliance. This includes a clear focus on the practice of disguised employment and challenging the inappropriate classification of workers as self-employed contractors. Revenue has also advised me that it carries out significant numbers of outdoor ‘site’ visits each year, many of which are conducted on a multi-agency basis with other Departments or Agencies, including the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) and the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to identify and rectify bogus self-employment situations and ensure the proper operation of the PAYE system.

I am also advised that there are dedicated processes and procedures in place to deal with situations where taxpayers are dissatisfied with Revenue determinations or actions. These include Revenue’s own complaints procedures, the details of which are available on its website at link /www.revenue.ie/en/corporate/documents/customer-service/cs4.pdf and by way of appeal to the independent Tax Appeals Commission (TAC).

Revenue has not provided me with any details of the case in question and I cannot therefore confirm the duration of time its attention has been drawn to the matter.

However,  I can confirm that Revenue is aware of the circumstances involved.

IBRC Legal Cases

Ceisteanna (111)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

111. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the number of compensation payments made to persons in respect of a case concerning IBRC damages as a result of negligent misstatement and misrepresentation in respect of oral and written statements made by a bank (details supplied); if cases have been referred to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman in respect of the verdict of the case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36978/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by the Special Liquidators of IBRC that a settlement agreement was entered into between the parties to the proceedings to which the Deputy has referred to and, due to the confidentiality provisions in the settlement agreement, its terms cannot be disclosed.

In respect of investors other than the individual who brought the aforementioned proceedings, no compensation payments have been made following those proceedings since the appointment of the Special Liquidators in February 2013.

I have been advised that IBRC (in Special Liquidation) has not been notified by the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman of any cases referred to it following on from the judgment of the Court of Appeal in those proceedings.

Motor Insurance Data

Ceisteanna (112, 113)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

112. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the estimated date for publication of the national claims information database by the Central Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37005/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

113. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance if information published on the national claims information database will be disaggregated by insurance undertakings to which each claim relates. [37006/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 113 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the National Claims Information Database (NCID) is intended to facilitate a more in-depth analysis of annual trends in motor insurance claims.  This was seen as key to developing an understanding of how claims costs are impacting premiums, in particular understanding the relationship between the price paid by a customer for motor insurance and the cost to insurance undertakings.

To do this, the NCID will produce an annual statistical analysis of the factors related to the cost of motor insurance, including the underlying trends in the market such as where claims are settled, the various costs associated with the claims process, etc.  It is this bigger picture perspective that needs to be obtained, if we are to develop a greater clarity on how the market operates, in order to provide us with the evidence necessary for an appropriate policy response.  Arising from this, the majority of information collected will be at an aggregate level only, i.e. not split at firm-level or on a claim-by-claim basis.  Some claim–by-claim level information will be collected on very large claims, but no personally identifiable information, as defined by GDPR regulations, will be collected.

The Deputy will recall that an important point that the Oireachtas considered during deliberations on the NCID legislation was on the need for the database to be established in the short-to-medium term.  The aggregate nature of the data collected has meant that there are fewer legal and technical complexities involved, and that is why it has been possibly to have the NCID established already.  To that end, the NCID came into operation earlier this year, with the enactment and commencement of the Central Bank (National Claims Information Database) Act 2018.  

To conclude, I understand that the Central Bank has collected the required data under the NCID from motor insurers and is in the process of validating and analysing the data submitted.  I look forward to its first report on motor insurance claims later this year.  I am also expecting it to report to me soon on the feasibility of adding employer and public liability insurance, to the scope of the NCID.

Tax Reliefs Data

Ceisteanna (114)

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

114. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Finance the projected yield from abolishing the special assignee relief programme for 2020; and the projected full year yield thereafter. [37012/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Deputy will be aware that the relief cost €18.1 million in 2016. 

It is not possible to estimate with any degree of reliability the likely savings that would accrue to the Exchequer in 2020 or in the years beyond that if the SARP were abolished.

The reason for this is that there are currently no data available that would enable such a calculation to be made. The Deputy will be aware that in Finance Bill 2018 I re-imposed an upper salary ceiling of €1 million on the relief with effect of 1 January 2019 for new entrants and for existing beneficiaries of the programme from 1 January 2020. Such data as are available within the system relate to years before 2019 (no cap existed between 2015 and 2019). It would therefore be necessary to assess the cost-saving impact of cap as well as taking account of evolution in the take up of the relief during the current year in order to estimate the savings that might arise in 2020 from the abolition of the programme.

SARP is currently the subject of an independent review, carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants. I expect to receive that review shortly and it will inform any decisions I make in relation to the relief in the context of the forthcoming Budget and Finance Bill.

Property Tax Review

Ceisteanna (115)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

115. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance his plans on setting a revaluation date in respect of the local property tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37019/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The review I initiated of the Local property Tax (LPT) has been completed by the Department of Finance in conjunction with the Departments of the Taoiseach, Public Expenditure & Reform and Housing, Planning & Local Government and the Revenue Commissioners, and was published in April (available at www.gov.ie/en/publication/1e5c76-review-of-local-property-tax/).  In accordance with its terms of reference, the review focused on the impact of house price movements on LPT liabilities under a series of scenarios involving different rate and tax band structures.

However, against a background of significant but geographically uneven increases in residential property price levels I believe it is necessary to engage in further consultation to identify a scenario that would deliver on the condition I set that there should be relative stability for all taxpayers in their LPT liabilities and that any increases should be modest, affordable and fair.

Having considered the findings of the review report,  I decided to defer the valuation date from 1st November 2019 to 1st November 2020, and this was effected by S.I. No. 166/2019. This will give sufficient time for the Budgetary Oversight Committee to consider the review report in the context of the Committee’s recommendations in its report on LPT of 21 March 2018.  Importantly, as a result of my decision, the LPT bills of those liable for the tax will not be increasing in 2020. 

I met with the Committee in June and began what I hope will be a constructive process of engagement. 

In order to bring this matter forward, we will need to introduce legislation. Amendments to the LPT legislation are separate from the Finance Bill process as they involve local rather than national taxation.

Mortgage Protection Policies

Ceisteanna (116)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

116. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the suite of protections that apply to a buy-to-let mortgage holder; his plans to make changes in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37030/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by the Central Bank of Ireland that its Consumer Protection Code 2012 (the CPC) contains a number of protections for mortgage holders, including buy-to-let mortgage holders. The CPC sets out requirements around information which must be provided to a mortgage borrower prior to taking out the mortgage, and establishes timeframes for assessing mortgage applications. The CPC also imposes ‘Knowing the Consumer and Suitability’ requirements on lenders.  Under these requirements, lenders are required to assess affordability of credit and the suitability of a product or service based on the individual circumstances of each borrower. 

With respect to arrears handling, the protections of the Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears 2013 may apply to a buy-to-let mortgage if the mortgage relates to a residential property which is the only residential property owned by the borrower in the State. Otherwise, the arrears handling provisions of the CPC apply, including the requirement that the regulated entity must seek to agree the approach that will assist the consumer in resolving the arrears.

The European Union (Consumer Mortgage Credit Agreements) Regulations 2016 provide a framework within which lenders in the European Union must operate and applies to relevant credit agreements that come into effect after 21 March 2016, including buy-to-let mortgages.  The Regulations set out further requirements on provision of information and creditworthiness assessments.  

The Consumer Credit Act 1995 (CCA) also includes requirements for housing loans, including buy-to-let mortgages. Under the CCA, lenders must include a summary of prescribed information relating to the loan on the front page of the loan agreement.

I currently have no plans to make changes in relation to the suite of protections that apply to buy-to-let mortgage holders.

Credit Register Data

Ceisteanna (117)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

117. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the role of the Central Credit Register and an organisation (details supplied); the obligation on banks to consider the content of the credit history of a person on the register or the organisation; if a bank is prevented from lending to a customer based on their history; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37031/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Central Credit Register (CCR) is established by the Central Bank under the Credit Reporting Act 2013. The CCR is a database of credit information based on credit applications and agreements, and its primary purpose is to assist lenders to make more informed decisions on applications for credit.

Under the Act a lender is required to access information held on the CCR which relates to a person who has made a relevant credit application to that lender, or who has requested a change in the terms of an existing credit agreement.  Section 16 of the Act sets out the purposes for which information from the CCR may only be used by lenders such as verifying information provided in connection with credit applications and evaluating risk associated with the provision of or restructuring of credit.  As such, the information provided from the CCR will be available for consideration by a lender, along with other relevant information obtained by the lender from the applicant for credit (such as information on the applicant borrower’s income, employment, expenses etc), in carrying out an assessment of the likely ability of the applicant borrower to meet the terms for the provision and repayment of credit.

The information provided by the CCR is factual in nature and it contains no guidance, recommendation or prohibition for lenders on what decision they should make on an application for credit.  Subject to complying with applicable law and regulatory requirements, it is a matter for lenders to make their own lending decisions in accordance with their own credit policies and risk appetites.  In particular, the Credit Reporting Act does not prohibit a lender from providing credit based on a CCR credit report.

Regarding the other organisation referred to by the Deputy, that is a privately owned organization and neither I nor the Central Bank have any statutory function in relation to it.