Defence Forces Data

Ceisteanna (6)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

6. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the number of females who joined the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service in 2018 and to-date in 2019; the number of females who are in training for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service as at 30 September 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40926/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

The following table illustrates the number of females that joined the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service in 2018 and to-date in 2019 by Branch, as at 30th September 2019.

Army

Air Corps

Naval Service

Total

Inducted 2018

39

1

10

50

Inducted 2019

13

1

2

16

All members of the Permanent Defence Force who are not deployed on operations or engaged in duties, while remaining available for service at all times, are otherwise engaged in constant ongoing training.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities. This is underlined by a commitment in the Programme for Government to increase the level of female participation in the Defence Forces.

Civil Defence

Ceisteanna (7)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

7. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the policy for the disposal of Civil Defence uniforms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40937/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Defence)

Civil Defence policy is set by me as Minister with Responsibility for Defence through the Civil Defence Branch of my Department.

There are policies with regard to the disposal of Civil Defence vehicles and boats. Currently there is no policy regarding the disposal of Civil Defence uniforms. This issue is being addressed by my officials.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (8)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has jurisdiction over the inner six mile zone around Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40623/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The waters within Northern Ireland’s 0-6 mile limits are part of the 12 nautical mile territorial sea adjacent to Northern Ireland and are relevant for the purposes of the longstanding ‘voisinage arrangement’. Under that arrangement Northern Ireland vessels have been permitted to fish in the State’s 0-6 mile limit, and Irish vessels to fish within the same limits off Northern Ireland. The arrangement was an exception to the general rules on fishing access made by the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, and these arrangements were carried over into the Common Fisheries Policy when both Ireland and the UK joined the then European Economic Community.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (9)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken to or met with his UK counterparts or other EU counterparts since the UK Government submitted its written alternative suggestions to the backstop to the EU; his views on whether it is a final offer; and his further views on whether the Prime Minister is determined to scrap the backstop. [40811/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My officials and I remain in on-going contact with representatives from other EU Member States and the European Commission on a range of EU issues including Brexit. It is clear from these engagements that our EU partners remain strongly committed to ensuring a fully operational solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the all-island economy and the integrity of the Single Market.

I met with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith on 4 October where we discussed a range of issues including the on-going challenges regarding Brexit. However, as has been the case throughout this process, I have been clear that discussions on the Withdrawal Agreement, and the future relationship, are led by the Commission, on behalf of all Member States, and cannot be treated as a bilateral issue.

The UK put forward its proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland on 2 October. While Mr Barnier has welcomed the tabling of formal proposals, there is work to be done to narrow the considerable gap between the EU and UK positions. Discussions are continuing in Brussels with a range of significant concerns on the EU side, notably as regards the British proposals on customs arrangements and on governance arrangements.

Ireland and the EU want a deal – but it is very clear that any deal must respect the EU’s core objectives. Any alternative to the backstop must meet all of its objectives. It must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, protecting North South cooperation and the all island economy, and protecting the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place in them.

With 9 days until the European Council and 23 until 31 October, we hope that the UK engages constructively with Michel Barnier and the Task Force as we all continue to work towards a deal and orderly UK withdrawal. I and my officials will remain in contact with Michel Barnier and his team.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (10)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if an extension will be applied for and granted to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union if it is not possible to negotiate or agree a Brexit deal at the EU Council meeting in October 2019 in view of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 (details supplied); and if the EU is planning for all scenarios. [40814/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Under Article 50.3 of the Treaty on European Union, an extension of the article 50 process requires the unanimous decision of the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned.

We note the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019, which, inter alia, would require an extension to Article 50 until 31 January 2020 be sought, if the House of Commons has not approved a deal, or has not approved leaving the EU without a deal, by 19 October. At the same time, we note Prime Minister Johnson’s stated intention that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the application of UK legislation in this matter.

If a request is made by the UK to extend the date of its departure from the EU, Ireland, together with our European partners, will consider it carefully, taking into account the reasons for a possible extension and the duration. Bearing in mind these considerations, Ireland is open to such a request.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (11)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the written alternative arrangements from the UK relating to the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union are a breach of the agreement between the two Governments in December 2017; and his views on whether the Good Friday Agreement is also breached by same. [40815/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

We welcome the fact that the UK has tabled formal proposals on 2 October. As President Juncker has noted, the move towards full regulatory alignment of goods for Northern Ireland is a good step.

However, any alternative to the backstop must meet all of its objectives. It must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, protecting North-South cooperation and the all-island economy, and protecting the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place within in this framework. The UK’s proposals as tabled with the Commission Taskforce on 2 October, do not meet all of these objectives.

It is deeply disappointing that the British Government have stepped back from their commitments of December 2017. Equally, the UK’s new stance on the future relationship, and their rejection of level-playing field issues, makes things more problematic.

Ireland and the EU want a deal – but it is very clear that any deal must respect the EU’s core objectives. This was reconfirmed by EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier at our last meeting.

The Commission is continuing its examination of the UK proposals, and their discussions with the UK are ongoing in Brussels to clarify elements of the proposals. We hope that the UK engages constructively with Michel Barnier and his team to narrow the gap between the EU and UK positions notably in areas such as customs arrangements, governance proposals and protecting the delicate balance of the Good Friday Agreement.

Overseas Development Aid

Ceisteanna (12)

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

12. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken to reach the 0.7% ODA-GNI investment commitment with respect to the overseas development aid budget in advance of budget 2020, as set out in the international development policy of Ireland in order to achieve sustainable development goals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41128/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) is an essential element of our overall foreign policy and national presence overseas, enabling Ireland to respond to complex human needs and humanitarian crises around the world. Peer reviews by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have consistently stated that Ireland’s development cooperation programme is of the highest quality. In addition, the Overseas Development Institute, an internationally recognised policy think-tank, recently ranked Ireland first in its efficiency at targeting extreme poverty.

Along with a group of likeminded countries, including other EU partners, the Government remains committed to making incremental, sustainable progress towards achieving the UN target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2030. The Government reaffirmed its commitment to delivering this target in its Global Ireland 2025 Strategy and in A Better World, Ireland’s policy for international development. In making this commitment, the Government recognised that reaching 0.7% will require a significant expansion in ODA volumes over the next decade and, importantly, that difficult choices would be required between competing priorities, especially if economic circumstances change.

Based on current projections for economic growth achieving this target by 2030 would mean more than tripling the current allocations to ODA. Sustained, substantial and carefully managed increments will be required in order to maintain and improve on Ireland’s reputation for quality and given that the point of departure is 0.31% of GNI this year.

The Government is already making progress, with Budget 2019 seeing the highest increase in funding available to ODA in over a decade. Irish ODA is forecast to reach almost €817 million, an increase of approximately €110 million on 2018’s budget announcements.

Budget 2020 is being prepared in exceptional circumstances and on the basis of Government assessments of the implications of a possible no deal Brexit. Given the challenges that this may present, Budget 2020 is being framed prudently.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (13)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

13. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his latest meeting with Mr. Michel Barnier; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40520/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My officials and I remain in close, regular contact with the Commission Taskforce and with Mr Barnier. I last met with Michel Barnier in Brussels on 27 September to exchange views on ongoing developments, including the Task Force's discussions with the UK. He reiterated the EU’s strong commitment to ensuring a fully operational solution in the Withdrawal Agreement that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the all-island economy and the integrity of the Single Market.

The UK put forward its proposals for a new Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland on 2 October. While Mr Barnier has welcomed the tabling of formal proposals, there is work to be done to narrow the considerable gap between the EU and UK positions. Discussions are ongoing in Brussels with a range of significant concerns on the EU side, notably as regards the British proposals on customs arrangements and on governance arrangements.

Ireland and the EU want a deal – but it is very clear that any deal must respect the EU’s core objectives. Any alternative to the backstop must meet all of its objectives. It must protect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, avoiding a hard border, including any physical infrastructure and related checks and controls, protecting North South cooperation and the all island economy, and protecting the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place in them.

With 9 days until the European Council and 23 until 31 October, we hope that the UK engages constructively with Michel Barnier and the Task Force as we all continue to work towards a deal and orderly UK withdrawal. I and my officials are in ongoing contact with Michel Barnier and his team.

I will meet Mr Barnier again later today in Brussels.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (14)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

14. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the latest engagement by him and his officials with the European Commission regarding the need for and location of checks in the event of a no-deal Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40521/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

As the Government has made clear on a number of occasions, a no deal Brexit would result in far reaching change on the island of Ireland, with a particular impact on North-South trade.

I will meet Michel Barnier later today to take stock of developments across a range of Brexit related issues.

We are working closely with the European Commission to address our shared twin objectives of avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland, and protecting the Single Market and Ireland’s place in it.

These are highly politically sensitive and technically complex issues and officials are in ongoing contact and engagement with the Commission on them.

The goal is to reach an outcome with the Commission which enables us to provide reassurance to Member States that Ireland is taking sufficient steps to protect the integrity of the Single Market, thus protecting our position within it.

Any arrangements for the border in a no deal scenario will inevitably be sub-optimal and interim in nature. They cannot provide the same level of protection as the backstop, and will result in significant disruption for Northern Ireland and the all island economy.

Good Friday Agreement

Ceisteanna (15)

James Browne

Ceist:

15. Deputy James Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views regarding the citizenship of persons (details supplied) and their desire to remain within a country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40658/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government is committed to ensuring that the vital citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are respected and upheld in all relevant policy areas.

In the Good Friday Agreement, the Governments “recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both” and “confirm that their right to hold both British and Irish citizenship is accepted by both Governments” .

The Good Friday Agreement therefore includes an explicit right to both Irish and British citizenship, and an explicit right of people to identify and be accepted as Irish or British or both. These rights must be fully respected and taken account of in all relevant areas.

This question has specifically arisen in relation to immigration rules. In December 2018, I wrote to the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to raise the case of Ms. Emma De Souza, the concerns in relation to the citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement, and to ask for a review of the issues.

In February, the then British Prime Minister acknowledged the serious concerns in this area, and pledged to “review the issues around citizenship urgently to deliver a long term solution consistent with the letter and spirit” of the Agreement.

The Government is continuing to actively seek the outcome of that review with the new UK Government. I will be writing to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith, to affirm the Government’s expectation of an an expeditious and satisfactory outcome to the UK Government review, which is consistent with the letter and spirit of the Agreement.

My Department is remaining in regular contact with the De Souzas on behalf of the Government. The long-running case in the UK is having a considerable impact for the De Souza’s family life, and they face bearing the costs of continuing proceedings on appeal by the UK Government. I will be emphasising my concerns in this respect to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Rights and Citizenship matters under the Good Friday Agreement were also discussed at the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference held in London in May. At the Conference, both the Irish and UK Governments reaffirmed their commitment to working together, along with EU partners, to put in place arrangements that will allow Irish citizens in Northern Ireland to continue to have access to rights, opportunities and benefits that come with EU citizenship.

The Good Friday Agreement was agreed at a time when both Irish and British citizenships also entailed EU citizenship. After the UK exits the EU, this will no longer be the case. In order to fully uphold the spirit of the Agreement, where issues arise, they should be addressed in a way that avoids any difference in entitlements based on citizenship. In particular, people in Northern Ireland should not be required to renounce Irish or British citizenship in order to access an entitlement.

The Government will continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure that the vital citizenship and identity provisions of the Good Friday Agreement are upheld in all relevant policy areas.

Passport Applications

Ceisteanna (16)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

16. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of a passport application in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40669/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

All passport applications are subject to the provisions of the Passports Act, 2008 (“The Act”). Section 14 of the Act provides, among other things, that for a passport to issue to a child under 18 years of age, the consent of all the child’s guardians must be received by the Passport Service.

Passport applications for children have specific witnessing requirements in respect of establishing the child applicant’s identity and establishing that consent for the issuance of a passport from all the child’s guardians has been granted.

I am advised by the Passport Service that the Embassy through which the application was originally lodged has been unable to contact witness noted on the application form through the phone number provided. Staff at the Embassy are currently attempting to contact the witness by alternative means so that the witnessing of the application can be verified but in the event that this is not possible in the coming week the Embassy will be in touch with the child's guardians so that an alternative witness can be provided.

International Agreements

Ceisteanna (17)

Seán Fleming

Ceist:

17. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when Ireland will sign an international treaty on business and human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40675/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises has been under consideration by an open-ended inter-governmental working group on transnational corporations and other business enterprises, which was established on foot of a resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2014 and has held four sessions to date.

The fifth session of the Inter-Governmental Working Group will take place in Geneva from 14 to 18 October and will consider, for the first time, the draft text of a legally binding instrument to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, which has been circulated by Ecuador, the chair of the Working Group. The EU will attend the forthcoming session and, while welcoming the improvements in the draft, will signal that it needs to complete a comprehensive analysis of the text before entering into detailed negotiations. It is also likely that the EU will avail of the opportunity to pose a number of questions on issues of concern.

Ireland is open to looking at options for progress on a legally binding treaty. With regard to its scope, we believe that all economic operators, whether transnational or purely domestic, should be treated in a non-discriminatory manner. We would also wish to see essential human rights principles reflected in any possible instrument, which should reaffirm the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights and stress the primary responsibility of States under existing human rights obligations to protect against human rights violations.

Ultimately, if it is to achieve its objectives, any legally binding instrument should enjoy broad support among UN Member States to ensure its effectiveness as well as international coherence in the framework of business and human rights. On this point, I would note that of the 22 countries which to date have adopted National Plans on Business and Human Rights, 16, including Ireland, are EU Member States. We would like to see any new initiative build on, rather than duplicate, existing measures such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy. Above all we believe that it should be rooted in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In this regard, we are of the view that the UN Working Party on Business and Human Rights and the annual UN Forum on Business and Human Rights provide appropriate fora for consideration of any new initiatives.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (18)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

18. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the situation in Yemen; the recent steps taken by the EU and the international community to address the ongoing instability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40767/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The ongoing crisis in Yemen remains extremely worrying. Ireland and the EU have been clear from the beginning that this situation can only be solved by political means, and that efforts to impose a military solution will be both fruitless and dangerous. We fully support the efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to bring about a political resolution, starting with the implementation of the December 2018 Stockholm Agreement, which was signed by the Government of Yemen and the Houthi de facto authorities.

Despite the positive sign which the Stockholm conference represented, recent months have seen continued violence. Coalition airstrikes in Dhamar province on 1 September killed dozens of people, and Ireland fully supports the EU statement in response to that attack. Mr Griffiths reported in September that there has been some progress on the implementation of the Stockholm Agreement, with discussions taking place in Hodeidah on practical issues such as ceasefire enhancement, disengagement from the frontlines and the redeployment of forces. The release of underage prisoners by the Government of Yemen and the Coalition, and the release of 300 prisoners by the Houthi de facto authorities, represent positive steps. The UN Special Envoy was in Sana’a last week for further discussions.

The opening of a new front in August 2019 around the southern port city of Aden, with the outbreak of fighting between former allies the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council, is a worrying development in what was already a multifaceted and extremely complex conflict. I support efforts to mediate between the two sides in this new situation.

EU Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in Yemen twice this year, and our support for the UN process has been unequivocal. UNSE Griffiths has thanked the EU for its support in getting the parties to the table and sustaining the political pressure, saying it would not have been possible to reach agreement in Stockholm without the EU.

The EU is the largest donor to the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism (UNVIM). UNVIM was established in May 2016 to facilitate more efficient verification that imports of commercial goods at Yemen's ports do not contain arms. Following the Stockholm Agreement, UNVIM has also been assigned the role of supporting the Yemen Red Sea Ports Corporation in the management and inspection of ports. The UNVIM operation is making an important contribution to ensuring the continued flow of commercial goods to Yemen.

This conflict has had devastating humanitarian effects, with almost 80% of the population of Yemen in need of humanitarian assistance. The EU is a very significant donor to Yemen, and has contributed over €700 million in development and humanitarian assistance to the country since the crisis began in 2015, of which €440 million was humanitarian aid. In addition to contributing our national share to these EU funds, on a bilateral basis Ireland has provided €21.5 million in humanitarian assistance in Yemen since 2015.

Ireland's positions on the need for a political solution, on humanitarian access, and on attacks against civilians and violations of international humanitarian law, have been very clearly conveyed to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and to Iran, which has given support to the Houthi de facto authorities. Ireland, the UN, the EU and the wider international community will continue to work to alleviate the humanitarian crisis and press for a political solution for the people of Yemen.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (19, 22)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

19. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on recent developments in Hong Kong; if this matter has been discussed formally at EU level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40768/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

22. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position with regard to recent riots in Hong Kong concerning proposed extradition legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40795/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 22 together.

I remain concerned by the recent developments in Hong Kong, in particular the escalation of violence which took place on 1 October. The Consulate General of Ireland in Hong Kong, along with the EU Office and representatives of other EU Member States, have been engaging regularly in Brussels and locally in Hong Kong on this matter and are monitoring developments closely.

As I have noted previously in this House, Ireland supports the right to peaceful assembly as an important element of democracy. We continue to call upon the demonstrators to express their rights in a peaceful manner. At the same time, I urge the security forces to respond to the demonstrations with full respect for citizens’ rights and that any response to violence should be strictly proportionate.

I fully support the statement which was issued by High Representative Mogherini on behalf of the EU on 2 October which emphasises that violence is unacceptable and that the situation in Hong Kong can only be addressed through restraint, de-escalation and dialogue. In that regard, the recent overtures towards dialogue from Chief Executive Carrie Lam are a welcome move. I also note that on 4 September, the Chief Executive withdrew the proposed extradition legislation, which sparked the initial protests in June.

During the most recent session of the Human Rights Council on 10 September, the EU also expressed support for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' call for the demonstrations to remain peaceful and for the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the freedom of assembly.

Emigrant Support Services

Ceisteanna (20)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

20. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the implementation of the recommendations in the report on addressing barriers faced by returning Irish emigrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40769/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Interdepartmental Committee on the Irish Abroad has been focussed on the implementation, where possible, of the recommendations contained in the Indecon Economic Report on Addressing Challenges Faced by Returning Irish Emigrants.

Of the 30 recommendations, 20 have been addressed. Of the remaining 10 areas, 8 have been partially addressed or are pending further policy development. 2 recommendations were not accepted.

Among the recommendations that have been addressed most recently is the development of a single window information service for returning Irish emigrants. This service, which was initially developed by my Department, is now operated by the Citizens Information Board with support from my Department. Discussions between my Department and the Citizen's Information Board about further strengthening this resource and targetting the information provided more closely to the identified needs of returnees are currently underway. This service allows returning Irish emigrants to plan more effectively for their move back home.

The Interdepartmental Committee on the Irish Abroad, at its meeting in November 2019, will discuss progress made to date in addressing the recommendations contained in the Indecon Report. A report of progress will be submitted to the Government.

Foreign Conflicts

Question No. 22 answered with Question No. 19.

Ceisteanna (21)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

21. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the situation in Venezuela; the EU’s response to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40770/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The ongoing political, social, economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela continues to deteriorate, severely impacting the population and wider region.

I am particularly concerned by the humanitarian situation in the country, where an estimated 25% of the population is in need of humanitarian assistance. Health and medical needs are acute with many reported cases of diseases that had previously been eradicated or near eradication and a widespread lack of access to medicines and medical care. Ireland is fully supportive of the UN-coordinated response mechanism for humanitarian aid in the country, and of the €117 million in funding provided by the EU since 2018 for humanitarian assistance.

The situation in the country is having an ever-growing impact on the wider region, with the number of Venezuelans who have left the country since 2015 now estimated to have reached over 4.3 million. I recently discussed the issue with Colombia’s Foreign Minister, Carlos Holmes Trujillo, whose country has taken in around 1.4 million refugees. I have already authorised the deployment of two Rapid Responders to assist the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in supporting the Colombian Government’s response to the humanitarian needs of Venezuelans in Colombia. Ireland has also contributed €1m to UNHCR towards this effort. We stand ready to assist further as the situation evolves.

I continue to believe that only a peaceful, democratic solution to this crisis will offer the people of Venezuela a return to stability and prosperity. Ireland, along with our EU partners, has regularly voiced our support for the Oslo Talks process that has been facilitated by Norway. While these talks have now been suspended, Ireland, along with our EU partners, encourages both sides to engage in good faith in an inclusive, serious and results-oriented process. We continue to call for genuine engagement and the necessary flexibility to reach a result that enables transparent and internationally monitored elections, and the full reinstatement of relevant public powers, as the basis for national reconciliation and economic recovery.

We also support EU efforts, including through the International Contact Group and Special Adviser Enrique Iglesias. I welcome the statement issued after the ICG meeting of 23 September, which reaffirms the Group's commitment to a negotiated transition leading to credible, transparent and internationally monitored presidential elections, the reinstitution of public powers and a package of guarantees enabling political coexistence. These are essential elements to overcoming the crisis and to achieving national reconciliation and economic recovery.

I welcome the continued outreach efforts of the ICG and SA Iglesias to regional and international actors regarding this crisis. The ICG met with the Lima Group in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York on 26 September, where both groups reiterated their commitment to a peaceful transition and expressed their concern at the humanitarian crisis as well as the serious human rights violations in the country.

Coordination with the Lima Group was evident at the most recent session of the Human Rights Council in September 2019. Ireland, along with several of our EU partners, co-sponsored the resolution presented by the Lima Group, which highlighted our shared concern at the reported grave human rights abuses in Venezuela and called for the establishment of a fact-finding mission to investigate these abuses. I have voiced on several occasions my deep concern regarding the serious human rights violations detailed in the report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet that was published earlier this year, and I also had an opportunity to discuss the siutation with the High Commissioner in Dublin last week.

I will continue to follow the situation in Venezuela closely and will engage on this issue at the highest levels with my EU colleagues, including at the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels on 14 October.

Question No. 22 answered with Question No. 19.

Departmental Staff Recruitment

Ceisteanna (23)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

23. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the estimated cost in 2020 of recruiting three additional full-time architects for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40921/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My Department is responsible for the sourcing, management and maintenance of properties to carry out its functions overseas and well as working with the OPW on buildings in Ireland. The Department manages a total of ninety overseas missions, plus offices in Armagh and Belfast.

The Global Ireland strategy sets out the Government commitment to double the scope and impact of Ireland's footprint internationally. The strategy sets out an ambition to open at least twenty six new diplomatic missions by 2025 and to further strenghten the existing mission network. Nine new missions were opened in the past fifteen months. A Consulate in Frankfurt is now operational and will be formally opened shortly. Next year, new Embassies are planned in Kyiv, Manila and Rabat.

To support the management of properties as well as an expanding overseas network and new projects, it is important for the Department to have sufficient technical capacity in place, including qualified Architects. Two Architects are currently employed on a secondment basis at Assistant Principal level and pay scale. In addition, my Department has one full-time permanent Architect position at Assistant Principal level which is currently vacant. It is the intention to fill this position in the near future.

Visa Agreements

Ceisteanna (24)

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

24. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there has been a change in policy with regard to the working holiday visa agreement between Ireland and the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40993/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

There has been no change in Government policy with regards to the Ireland-US Working Holiday Agreement.

Ireland and the US enjoy strong people-to-people links and this is amply demonstrated by the popularity of educational exchanges, extended working visas, such as under the working holiday scheme, and ever-increasing business transfers and secondments.

466 working holiday visas were issued by my Department in 2018. This is down from a peak of 528 in 2017 but still remains an increase of over 350 per cent from approximately a decade ago. Figures for 2019 have not been finalised but demand remains strong and young people in the US are increasingly seeing Ireland as a destination in which to study and gain professional experience.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (25, 26, 28, 34, 35)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

25. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications made by agrifood businesses to register for an economic operators registration and identification number which the Revenue Commissioners have identified traded with the UK in 2018; and the number of letters written by the Revenue Commissioners to agrifood businesses urging them to register for such a customs number which will be required to continue trading with the UK post Brexit by county in tabular form. [40671/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Robert Troy

Ceist:

26. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications made by SME businesses to register for an economic operators registration and identification number which the Revenue Commissioners have identified traded with the UK in 2018; and the number of letters written by the Revenue Commissioners to SME businesses urging them to register for such a customs number which will be required to continue trading with the UK post Brexit by county in tabular form. [40672/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

28. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Finance the number of companies that do not have an EORI number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40514/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

34. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Finance the percentage of agrifood businesses that do not have an EORI number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40663/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Robert Troy

Ceist:

35. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance the number of applications made by businesses to register for an economic operators registration and identification which the Revenue Commissioners have identified traded with the UK in 2018; the number of businesses that have obtained a number and not obtained a number, respectively, by sector; and the number of letters written by the Revenue Commissioners to businesses urging them to register for such a customs number which will be required to continue trading with the UK post Brexit by county in tabular form. [40670/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 26, 28, 34 and 35 together.

I am advised by Revenue that 90% of the value of imports from the UK in 2018 and 97% of the value of exports trade in 2018 was carried out by businesses who now have an EORI number. This indicates that the businesses that are going to be significantly impacted by Brexit are responding to the call from Revenue to prepare for Brexit by acquiring a customs registration.

I very much welcome Revenue’s intensified Brexit engagement with businesses since July and I strongly urge all businesses that have received a Brexit preparedness letter from Revenue to take note of its advice thereby ensuring they are Brexit ready by 31 October. Revenue have written individualised letters to 102,000 companies who traded with the UK in 2018 and the first half of 2019.

I am advised by Revenue that its Brexit business and trade engagement has included direct discussion with businesses that had imports or exports in excess of €5,000 on an annual basis or had more than one import or export per quarter. Revenue will speak to 44,000 of these companies by telephone.

It is clear from those discussions that for some businesses their preparations for Brexit have involved steps to change their supply chain post Brexit so as to eliminate their exposure to customs formalities and consequently the need for an EORI number.

Some businesses are clearly planning on changing their trade patterns to source products within Ireland or from other Member States post-Brexit. Other businesses are part of larger groups that have customs expertise within the group and may transfer the customs operations to the more experienced part of the business.

In understanding prudent preparations for Brexit, Revenue has encouraged businesses to

- Register for customs by getting an EORI number (if not already done)

- Have the capability to lodge customs declarations, by either getting customs software or engaging a customs agent

- Undertake supply chain and cash flow assessments

- Understand and make arrangements for paying import duties

- Know the origin and commodity code(s) of the goods traded

- Ensure compliance with product certification requirements, and

- Understand the obligations involved if trading in animal or plant products.

- Consider what customs related simplifications or authorisations might be relevant to their particular business that would further ease the smooth and efficient flow of trade and goods at import or export

I am advised by Revenue that 59,069 businesses have an EORI number. 19,024 of these have obtained an EORI number in 2019.

Through analysis of the VAT Information Exchange System (VIES) returns, Revenue identified some 94,000 businesses that traded with the UK in 2018. Of the 94,000 businesses mentioned, approx. 58,000 do not currently have an EORI number. Of the businesses with import or export trade more than €50,000 on an annual basis, and therefore with a potentially significant supply chain exposure to trade with the UK, the number without an EORI number is approximately 3,500.

Table 1 at the link shows the breakdown of EORI registrations by sector. This table is based on the businesses that were identified by Revenue as having traded with the UK in 2018. Table 2 shows the number of letters, broken down by county, sent by Revenue to businesses that traded with the UK in 2018 who did not have an EORI registration. Table 3 shows the number of letters by county issued to the Agri-Food Sector (NACE Code – Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing). For data confidentiality reasons where the number of businesses in any county is less than 10, the number is rounded up to 10.

Table 1 EORI Registrations by sector (identified as having traded with the UK in 2018) (Data as per 4 October 2019)

Table 2 Number of letters by County issued by Revenue to non-EORI registered traders in July 2019 (that traded with the UK in 2018) for all sectors including the Agri-Food Sector.

Table 3 Number of Letters by County issued by Revenue in July 2019 to non-EORI registered traders in the Agri-Food Sector (NACE Code -Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing) that traded with the UK in 2018)

Customs and Excise Controls

Question No. 28 answered with Question No. 25.

Ceisteanna (27)

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

27. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Finance if officials have been requested to assess the technological options for the Border separate to and in the absence of custom checks for certain goods. [40816/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

The Office of the Revenue Commissioners is responsible for customs control of the EU Customs Union in Ireland. Revenue provides whatever relevant technical advice and expertise is required by the Government in the context of assessing technology options to manage the challenges of the UK exit from the European Union. I am advised by Revenue that there are no technology options currently existing that would provide the necessary assurance required to comply with the Union Customs Code.

Question No. 28 answered with Question No. 25.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (29)

Lisa Chambers

Ceist:

29. Deputy Lisa Chambers asked the Minister for Finance if the systems put in place by the Revenue Commissioners to deal with Brexit and the potential for a no-deal Brexit have been tried and tested by external experts to ensure they are capable of dealing with the additional volume of paperwork and customs declarations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40515/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

In Budget 2017, I included provision for a €2 million investment in scaling up the Revenue customs IT framework. Revenue has upgraded the relevant IT systems and worked with the relevant software providers in supporting their preparedness for Brexit. Revenue IT staff working with staff from a number of reputable System Integration companies have undertaken extensive performance testing across multiple scenarios. The necessary assurance of the integrity of the systems has been verified and all performance testing criteria have been passed. I am assured by Revenue that it is confident that its systems are robust and have the capacity to cater for the volumes of trade that will be subject to customs formalities, post Brexit. Revenue has estimated that there will be an increase in customs declarations from current levels of approximately 1.6m per annum (representing import and export trade with non-EU countries) to over 20 million per annum post-Brexit.

Finally, the Deputy should note that Revenue’s IT systems operate to the highest standards and are certified to ISO27001 (Security), ISO22301 (Business Continuity) and ISO29119 (Software Testing) levels.

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (30)

James Browne

Ceist:

30. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the Revenue Commissioners treatment of health foods; if his attention has been drawn to the impact of an alteration on small business owners here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40558/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

As the Deputy will be aware, it is a longstanding practice of the Minister for Finance not to comment, in advance of the Budget, on any tax matters that might be the subject of Budget decisions.