Naturalisation Applications

Ceisteanna (260)

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Ceist:

260. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps that have been taken to reform the process for applications for naturalisation in view of the recent judgments of the Supreme Court (details supplied) delivered on 31 May 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46517/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am fully cognisant of the fact that the recent judgment of the High Court relating to continuous residency under Section 15(1)(c) of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 (as amended) has given cause for concern. The matter remains before the courts, with the Court of Appeal reserving judgement, and is therefore sub-judice. The outcome of the appeal will have a bearing on whether or not legislation is required. Should it be necessary, I intend to introduce a Bill in the Oireachtas as soon as possible this term.

My Department is doing everything possible to put a solution in place on an urgent basis. At the end of July, I obtained Cabinet approval for a proposed Bill to address the matter and intensive work is taking place in the Department where officials are working with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel in the Attorney General’s Office to finalise the draft Bill.

As soon as the legal issues are resolved, my Department will make all necessary arrangements for the next Citizenship Ceremony. Invitations will issue four weeks in advance of the ceremony to ensure everyone has adequate notice.

The advice to those who are planning to apply for citizenship is to continue to collect all of the necessary proofs that support their application and to submit a comprehensive application form. Once a solution is in place, if any additional information is required, applicants will be contacted as part of the processing of their application.

The ruling is not considered to have consequences for anyone who has already obtained citizenship under the Act.

Garda Corruption

Ceisteanna (261)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

261. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the competent authority to investigate allegations of corruption within An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46556/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I would first point out that, as the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC) was established as a statutory independent body under the Garda Síochána Act 2005, to provide independent oversight of complaints made against members of the Garda Síochána. The Policing and Community Safety Bill, which is being developed by my Department, will repeal and replace the Garda Síochána Act 2005. One of its elements will be to reform the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to reinforce its independence and to streamline its processes for handling complaints.

Within an Garda Síochána, I am informed that there is an Internal Affairs Unit which comes under the remit of the Assistant Commissioner Governance and Accountability. This comprises the Discipline, Complaints and Compensations Sections, as well as a GSOC Liaison Office.

The Deputy may also wish to be aware that the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing, published and endorsed by Government in 2018, provides a clear vision for a modern, highly professional, human-rights based police service. A Policing Service for the Future, the four year implementation plan giving effect to the recommendations of the Commission, was published in December 2018.

Among the actions contained within the Implementation Plan is the development of a new Anti-Corruption Unit by An Garda Síochána, as part of a revised discipline system. I am informed that this project is currently at the planning stage. I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that a Chief Superintendent and Detective Superintendent are carrying out the preliminary work on developing the unit, to ensure that it is developed in line with best international practice. I am further informed that there are currently no Garda staff assigned to the unit.

I understand that work is underway on all of these actions, in line with the timelines set out in A Policing Service for the Future.

Garda Data

Ceisteanna (262, 264, 265, 266, 269, 270)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

262. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of quad bikes, all-terrain vehicles, scramblers and similar types seized by An Garda Síochána in each division in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46557/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

264. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of vehicles seized by An Garda Síochána that were sold in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the revenue the sales generated in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46569/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

265. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of seized vehicles not reclaimed and sent to scrappage in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the cost in each year to have the vehicles scrapped in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46570/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

266. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of vehicles seized by An Garda Síochána in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019 that were not reclaimed and released to their owners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46571/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

269. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of vehicles seized by An Garda Síochána in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46574/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

270. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the revenue received from the release of vehicles seized by An Garda Síochána in each of the years 2016 to 2018 and to date in 2019; the number of vehicles released each year in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46575/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 262, 264 to 266, inclusive, 269 and 270 together.

The Deputy will appreciate that in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the administration and management of An Garda Síochána is a matter for the Garda Commissioner.

I have requested a report from the Garda authorities in relation to the matters raised by the Deputy. I will write directly to the Deputy once I receive it.

Garda Transport Data

Questions Nos. 264 to 266, inclusive, answered with Question No. 262.

Ceisteanna (263)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

263. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number, age and condition of the Garda vehicle fleet in the Limerick division by district; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46559/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

In accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005 as amended, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for managing and controlling the administration and business of An Garda Síochána. He is also responsible for the efficient use of Garda resources, in light of identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles across the various Divisions. As Minister, I have no role in these matters.

I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities so as to ensure their optimum use.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that number and type of Garda vehicles assigned to the Limerick Division as of 7 November 2019 is set out in the following table.

Cars

Vans

Motorcycles

4 x 4

Others*

Total

LIMERICK DIVISION

62

16

3

1

2

84

BRUFF DISTRICT

4

2

0

0

0

6

HENRY STREET DISTRICT

39

10

3

1

0

53

NEWCASTLEWEST DISTRICT

12

2

0

0

0

14

ROXBORO ROAD DISTRICT

7

2

0

0

2

11

*The category 'others' refers to MPV, SUV, Minibus or Prisoner Conveyance Vehicles.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that of this total of 84 vehicles, 3 are less than 1 year old; 10 are between 1 and 2 years old, 23 are between 2 and 4 years old, 30 are between 4 and 6 years old and the remaining 18 are more than 6 years old.

Garda management has also advised me that a comprehensive Service Repair and Maintenance programme is in place to ensure that all vehicles are operating to manufacturers specifications.

Finally, the Deputy may wish to be aware that the resources provided by Government to An Garda Síochána have reached record levels, with an allocation for 2019 of €1.76 billion, increasing to an unprecedented €1.88 billion for 2020.

Very significant capital investment is also being made in An Garda Síochána, including a total of €46 million for investment in the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021. I understand from the Garda authorities that this year's capital allocation of €10million for the Garda fleet is being used for purchase and fit-out of over 300 new vehicles for operational use this year. A further €9 million capital funding has been allocated for the Garda fleet in Budget 2020.

This continuing investment is intended to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet and that Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

Questions Nos. 264 to 266, inclusive, answered with Question No. 262.

Garda Data

Questions Nos. 269 and 270 answered with Question No. 262.

Ceisteanna (267, 268)

John Curran

Ceist:

267. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number and location of facilities not in the ownership of the State but that are hired, leased or rented for the storage of vehicles seized by An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46572/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Curran

Ceist:

268. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number and location of facilities owned by An Garda Síochána that are used for the storage of seized vehicles; the capacity of each facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46573/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 267 and 268 together.

I have requested a report from the Garda authorities in relation to the matters raised by the Deputy. I will write directly to the Deputy once I receive it.

Questions Nos. 269 and 270 answered with Question No. 262.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal Data

Ceisteanna (271)

John Curran

Ceist:

271. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of an assessment carried out by his officials of caseload in the criminal injuries compensation scheme; the extent and nature of a possible backlog; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46577/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal administers two schemes:

- the Scheme of Compensation for Personal Injuries Criminally Inflicted; and

- the Scheme of Compensation for Personal Injuries Criminally Inflicted on Prison Officers.

The Tribunal is made up of qualified barristers and solicitors. Under the terms of the Scheme, the Tribunal is limited to a Chair and six ordinary members who provide services on a part-time basis. It is entirely independent in the matter of individual decisions on applications for compensation.

Five Departmental staff act as Secretariat to the Tribunal. These staff receive applications and gather the necessary information from applicants and other stakeholders such as An Garda Síochána in relation to each case. When all required information is available, Tribunal staff send the file to the Tribunal for consideration and decision. Where a decision is appealed, Tribunal staff make arrangements for a Tribunal appeal hearing.

In terms of the duration of the process, I should note that it may take several years before an application for compensation is ready for submission to the Tribunal for consideration and decision. For example, final Garda reports on the crime are required, as are the outcomes of any court cases initiated. In addition, in some cases, the extent of injuries suffered by the victim may not be known for some years. It is also the case that the assessment of loss of earnings for consideration by the Tribunal may be complex to determine and may require employer assessment and social welfare reports. These and other factors can have an impact on the duration of any particular application.

An assessment is currently being carried out by officials of my Department in relation to the caseload in the scheme, including the extent and nature of any possible backlog. This assessment is currently being finalised.

Finally the Deputy may be interested to know that in its fifth work programme, published in March 2019, the Law Reform Commission included a review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme as one of 15 planned projects. I welcome this project as an opportunity for a comprehensive examination of all aspects of this long-established Scheme, to ensure that the State’s arrangements for the compensation of victims of violent crime are in keeping with good international practice and meet society's needs into the future.

Departmental Advertising Campaigns

Ceisteanna (272)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

272. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the role his Department is playing in the winter ready campaign; the expenditure his Department will incur in this campaign; and the details of expenditure on external consultancy and advertising or communication. [46633/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Officials in the Department of Justice and Equality participate in the Be Winter Ready working group, which is chaired by officials in the Office of Emergency Planning under the aegis of the Department of Defence.

To help publicise the 2019 launch of the Be Winter Ready campaign, the Department of Justice and Equality promoted the campaign launch via the Department’s website and social media platforms. No additional expenditure was incurred by the Department in relation to this. The Department did not engage any external consultants or procure any external advertising or communications support in relation to the campaign.

Direct Provision Expenditure

Ceisteanna (273)

John Lahart

Ceist:

273. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the amount that has been paid to private companies for services relating to direct provision from 2014 to date in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46638/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

All accommodation centres for people seeking international protection, whether State-owned or privately owned, are operated by commercial companies. There are currently 39 accommodation centres being operated under the direct provision system.

My Department contracts for an all-inclusive service, which includes catering services, as well as cleaning, maintenance and laundry services. Extensive and detailed information on the amount paid by my Department to each company contracted to provide direct provision accommodation every year up to and including 2015 can be found on the 'Contract Values' section of the following website www.ria.gov.ie. This is in accordance with the Department's policy on the disclosure of financial information, which was agreed with the Office of the Information Commissioner.

The Deputy will appreciate that it is not appropriate to provide the current individual contract values entered into by my Department. Negotiations take place with a number of commercial entities on an on-going basis with a clear focus on achieving the best value for money in respect of each contract. It is not in the interests of yielding best value for the taxpayer that details of current individual contracts are made available to other commercial bodies who are, or may be in the future, engaged in these negotiations.

The following table provides a breakdown of my Department's expenditure on the ‘direct provision’ system in the years 2014 to end of September 2019.

Expenditure Type

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018

2019 (to end September)

Accommodation(including commercial, State-owned and self-catering). Emergency accommodation costs are included from September 2018 when such accommodation was first utilised.

€51.071m

€54.895m

€60.237m

€65.407m

€76.057m

€79.978m

Pre-school (contributions towards some costs)

€0.101m

€0.127m

€0.112m

€0.095m

€0.107m

€0.071m

Additional costs at State-owned centres (incl. gas, oil, water, sewage, etc)

€1.972m

€1.879m

€3.558m

€1.742m

€1.512m

€1.204m

Transport costs(under dispersal policy)

€0.046m

€0.103m

€0.129m

€0.093m

€0.182m

€0.382m

Miscellaneous (payments for personal hygiene products, grants to organisations and miscellaneous costs)

0.027m

0.021m

0.011m

€0.022m

€0.135

€0.488m

Total Expenditure

€53.217m

€57.025m

€64.137m

€67.539m

€77.933m

€82.123m

The 2017 and 2018 figures include an amount of €7.728m and €7.550m respectively for designated Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC). The corresponding figure for 2019, to end September, is €5.524m.

Direct Provision Data

Ceisteanna (274)

John Lahart

Ceist:

274. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of privately owned companies hired for the purpose of facilitating direct provision; his views on whether the services offered by these private companies could not be provided by his Department or by other State bodies; his plans to review the use of these privately held companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46639/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can advise the Deputy that 25 private companies have a contract for services with my Department to provide premises that meet required standards and support services for protection applicants. Two of these companies are contracted to provide management, catering, housekeeping and general maintenance services in state owned accommodation centres.

It is important to note that the Direct Provision system is not just about accommodation. It is a whole of Government system which delivers a wide range of State services to those seeking international protection in Ireland. These services include health services as provided by the HSE, education services as provided by the State's primary and post-primary schools and, for adult education, the Education and Training Boards across the country.

My Department's role is to oversee the provision of accommodation and ancillary services to persons seeking international protection. The International Protection Accommodation Service (IPAS) of my Department links vulnerable and at risk persons with the appropriate services. The IPAS acts as a conduit between residents, staff at accommodation centres, state agencies including TUSLA, the HSE and education services.

Since 2018, all contracts for the provision of accommodation services are awarded through an open tendering competition which complies with EU Directive 24/2014 and are conducted in accordance with the open procedure under the European Union (Award of Public Authority Contracts) Regulations 2016 (Statutory Instrument 284 of 2016). The tenders submitted are assessed on the Most Economically Advantageous Tender (MEAT) criteria, which enables the contracting authority to take account of criteria that reflect qualitative aspects of the tender submission as well as price when reaching an award decision. In the procurement competition, tenderers are required to demonstrate a track record of high quality service delivery and customer care. Service providers are required, as part of the assessment process, to include in their staffing proposal details of qualifications or experience in social care in order to assess their expertise in dealing with vulnerable and at risk persons.

The specifications for bids to be considered under the tendering process requires successful bidders to deliver independent living (cooking facilities for residents and designated living space for families) and to implement proposals to meet the social care needs of residents. These proposals must outline how the bid will provide social supports to residents and how the recreational, cultural and community needs of residents can be met.

It is the aim of my Department that tendering for such facilities ensures that quality accommodation centres can be procured while ensuring value for money for the Exchequer.

The standards of service delivered are constantly being improved. The reforms pursued and implemented by my Department over the past five years have radically overhauled the initial model. The implementation of the McMahon report recommendations, the opting in to the obligations set out in the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive and the new rolling out of standards designed with NGOs have brought about real and valuable improvements. My officials continue to work with centre operators to provide a high standard of service delivery and care to persons seeking international protection.

The provision of these services is kept under review and the Deputy will be interested to note that a High Level Interdepartmental Group established and chaired by my Department has been tasked with ensuring better coordination of provision of services and meeting needs in the short to medium term. An Advisory Group has also been established by my Department and it is chaired by the former Secretary General of the European Commission, Dr. Catherine Day. This Group will advise on the development of a long-term approach to the provision of support including accommodation to persons in the international protection process.

Divorce Process

Ceisteanna (275)

Robert Troy

Ceist:

275. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when the new reduced waiting time for divorce, which was due to be introduced in June or July 2019, can be applied for. [46648/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Family Law Act 2019 was signed into law by the President on 25 October 2019 and makes a number of amendments to existing laws in relation to divorce in Ireland. The Act comprises 3 Parts in all, with Part 1 pertaining to the short title and commencement of the Act.

Part 2 of the Act provides for amendments to Acts relating to family law. The main provision in Part 2 is section 3. Section 3 amends section 5 of the Family Law (Divorce) Act 1996. This reduces the minimum living apart period specified in that Act to two years during the previous three years. Previously the minimum living apart period was four years during the previous five years.

Part 3 of the Act makes provision for the recognition of divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments granted under the law of the United Kingdom, in the event that the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without an agreement that applies to this area of law. I will bring Part 3 into operation only if and when the United Kingdom withdraws from the European Union without such an agreement.

It is my intention to make a commencement order to bring all sections of Parts 1 and 2 of the Family Law Act 2019 into operation on 1 December 2019. At the heart of the Government’s reforms in this area of the law is a desire to ease the burden on people whose marriages have broken down. This legislation will ensure that the process for obtaining a divorce is fair, dignified and humane.

Courts Service Data

Ceisteanna (276)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

276. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the information requested in Parliamentary Question No. 105 of 3 October 2019 will be furnished; if he will intervene to ensure that information is provided by the Courts Service in response to parliamentary questions in a more timely manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46695/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

As set out in my response to the Deputy on 3 October, the data requested is not maintained by the Department of Justice and Equality. I requested the information concerned from the Courts Service and undertook to revert to the Deputy as soon as I received the information.

I consulted further with the Courts Service, upon provision by the Deputy of clarification to my Department in relation to the particular issue of interest to him.

The matter raised also concerns the Central Bank, for which I have no responsibility as Minister for Justice and Equality. I understand that information in relation to the matters raised by the Deputy has been provided to him by the Minister for Finance in his response to Parliamentary Question 56 of 3 October 2019.

I have asked the Courts Service to contact the Deputy directly if they have any further information to add on this matter. If you have not heard from them within 21 days, please contact my office.

Proposed Legislation

Ceisteanna (277)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

277. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the explosives Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46702/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I can inform the Deputy that the Explosives Bill is intended to provide for the repeal of the Explosives Act 1875 and replacement with a modern statutory framework for the control of the manufacture, storage, importation, transport and supply of explosives. It is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and I am informed that drafting is at quite an advanced stage.

Trade Agreements

Ceisteanna (278)

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

278. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation when a final completed sustainability impact assessment of the Mercosur trade agreement will be completed by the European Commission; and if the Directorate-General for Trade is the lead Commission directorate for this impact assessment. [46079/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

DG TRADE is the European Commission Directorate which commissioned an external consultancy for the Sustainability Impact Assessment (SIA) of the EU-Mercosur Agreement. An SIA is an instrument used by the Commission to support trade negotiations conducted by the EU Trade Commissioner on behalf of the European Union to aid our trade negotiators in conducting sound, evidence-based and transparent trade negotiations with partner countries. Accordingly, SIAs are independent assessments produced by external consultants to provide in-depth analysis of the potential economic, social, human rights, and environmental impacts of trade negotiations.

DG TRADE first conducted a Trade Sustainability Impact Assessment on EU-Mercosur in 2009. However, since that time, several factors led to the Commission revisiting that Assessment, including new and emerging trade flows between the EU and Mercosur region, and updated Commission policy on the inclusion of human rights issues as part of SIA considerations.

DG TRADE commissioned a new EU-Mercosur SIA in March 2017 with the publication of Terms of Reference for an updated SIA. This was followed by an Inception Report in January 2018 published by LSE consulting which provided for an overview of the proposed framework for conducting the sustainability assessment analysis and methodologies to be employed, including the consultations activities for the study.

On 4th October 2019, the European Commission published the draft interim SIA report for the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement. According to the report, the Agreement can be expected to have a positive impact on the economies of all parties to the agreement – raising wages and contributing to a reduction in inequalities.

Civil society groups were given an opportunity to comment on the interim report up until the end of October. The independent consultants are now working on a draft final report that should be with the Commission before the end of the year. Civil Society groups will again be afforded the opportunity to comment on the final draft report with their reflections interspersed within the final report where appropriate.

The final report is expected to be published in early 2020 and will be published in advance of the final legal text of the EU-Mercosur Association Agreement, which is currently undergoing a legal scrubbing exercise and is not expected to be tabled until later next year.

In the meantime, the Government has committed to undertake a full economic and environmental sustainability assessment of the agreement for our economy. Terms of Reference for this impact assessment are currently being developed. This study will inform the Irish Government’s approach to this Agreement when the final legal texts are tabled later in 2020.

Trade Relations

Ceisteanna (279)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

279. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation the extent to which she, through the international community, uses her influence to discourage trade wars; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46610/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Business)

As the Deputy will be aware, Trade Policy is a competence of the European Commission under the EU Treaties and defined as the Common Commercial Policy (CCP). The Lisbon Treaty extended this competence to cover foreign direct investment, as well as making the European Parliament a co-legislator alongside the Council on trade matters. Under this architecture the European Commission acts as lead negotiator on behalf of all EU countries regarding trade agreements with non-EU countries. Member States (in Council) approve negotiating directives (or mandates) before negotiations begin, are consulted as the negotiations proceed and have final approval at Council as has the European Parliament. In addition, the EU Commission represents Ireland and other EU Member States at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), taking into account the needs of individual Member States and the collective good of the Union.

The current international trade environment has seen a rise of protectionism, which is an unwelcome development for Ireland, given our open and globalised economy and has the potential to harm market sentiment and disrupt global supply chains should the situation escalate.

Ireland and the EU are strong supporters of multilateral approaches to solving a range of global challenges. In that context, we see the WTO as the forum by which the international community can successfully promote economic development and free trade in support of good jobs for our people. Importantly, it provides a bulwark against damaging trade disputes and remains as relevant today as it was at its establishment in 1995, albeit reforms to meet the challenges of the 21st Century are required.

Ireland is strongly supportive of the EU Commission’s ongoing work on WTO reform, including its previous proposals which I believe to be both practical and sensible in their aim to promote engagement by partners, especially the US, to drive the reform process forward.

Another key support for dependable rules-based trade is the EU’s suite of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), which has evolved over time, from the ‘First Generation’ FTAs dating back to the 1970s which focused on tariffs for goods, to the current ‘New Generation’ of FTAs which go beyond the reduction or elimination of conventional tariff barriers to include; non-tariff and regulatory barriers, services, investment, recognition of professional qualifications, intellectual property rights, access to public procurement, regulatory cooperation, sustainable development, labour and environment. These help to open new markets, break down barriers and provide new opportunities for Irish based firms.

One of the most important aspects of the EU's trade policy is that - alongside protecting European businesses and consumers - it is promoting the EU's principles and values. Furthermore, each Agreement includes arrangements for joint committee oversight which promotes dialogue as a means of settling any potential trade dispute or differences in interpretation, that may arise under the individual Agreements.

The benefits of the establishment of comprehensive EU Free Trade Agreements with third countries must not only be counted in terms of the economic benefits, but also the establishment of strong lines of communication and areas of common interest with other economies. These ties encourage both the EU and its trade partners to adopt a unified, diplomatic approach to any respective areas of concern that may arise within a mutually respectful environment, as valued, respected and equal trade partners.