Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 54.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (61)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

61. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of the most recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to legacy issues and the urgent need to provide proper supports for victims and survivors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46427/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland to seek the full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement legacy framework.

At the meetings of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and in our regular bilateral meetings, I have strongly emphasised to the Secretary of State the urgency of definitively moving ahead to a legislative phase to get the Stormont House bodies established. I will meet the Secretary of State later this week and I will again be raising legacy issues with him, including my concerns about recent media reports about possible pledges that have arisen in the context of the UK general election.

The Stormont House Agreement provides a comprehensive set of institutions to deal with legacy issues, in a way that can meet the legitimate needs and expectations of victims and survivors and support closure and reconciliation for those communities most affected by the Troubles.

Following the UK general election, it is essential that there be a definitive step forward by the UK Government to get this legacy framework that was agreed in 2014 established in legislation, and up and running for victims and survivors, without any further delay.

The Stormont House Agreement also includes provisions in respect of services and supports for victims in Northern Ireland and the Agreement in addition affirms that the needs of victims who do not live in Northern Ireland should be recognised.

On 22 October, the UK Government commenced a public consultation on proposals for a victims' payment, further to a commitment in the Stormont House Agreement and a UK legislative provision in July that requires regulations to establish a UK scheme to be in place by end-May 2020.

In this jurisdiction, the Programme for Government commits to maintaining the needs of the victims and their survivors at the core of our approach as we implement the Stormont House Agreement.

The Government contributes significantly to the EU PEACE IV programme (2014 - 2020), and which includes a specific action on Victims and Survivors. This action is delivered by the Victims and Survivors Service in Northern Ireland, which provides funding supports to organisations to employ Health and Wellbeing Case Managers, Health and Wellbeing Caseworkers, Advocacy Case Managers and Advocacy Caseworkers for victims and survivors irrespective of their place of residence.

A Remembrance Commission was established by the Government in 2003 and operated a Scheme of Acknowledgement, Remembrance and Assistance for Victims of the Troubles in this jurisdiction. The Commission's term of appointment formally came to an end on 31 October 2008 and the Commission disbursed over €6.5m to victims and their families in this time. On the conclusion of the Commission's term of appointment, special arrangements were made to ensure that victims resident in the jurisdiction who require on-going medical treatment for injuries sustained in bombings and other incidents arising from the Troubles may have certain costs reimbursed through the Department of Justice and Equality.

The Minister for Justice and Equality retains responsibility for victims' issues in this jurisdiction.

The Government is deeply conscious of the enduring suffering and hardship that survivors of Troubles-related attacks bear wherever they are resident. As the Government continues work to implement the legacy framework of the Stormont House Agreement, we will maintain our engagement with victims and survivors groups and representatives to take account of their views and needs.

The Government will also continue to work to support the full and prompt implementation of the Stormont House legacy framework, to provide families with a way to access whatever truth and justice that is possible in their cases, and as a very necessary step in achieving a fully reconciled society.

Global Footprint Initiative

Ceisteanna (62)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

62. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts to double the global footprint of Ireland by 2025; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46436/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

‘Global Ireland – Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025', sets out the Government’s ambitions for expanding and deepening our international presence and influence. It includes the expansion of Ireland’s mission network which will deepen our impact across priority regions, provide opportunities to grow our trade and inward investment, strengthen political relationships with our partners, promote our values, and support Irish citizens and our diaspora abroad.

Since its launch last year, my Department has been working closely with the Department of the Taoiseach and a range of other Government partners to ensure the effective delivery of the ambitions set out in Global Ireland.

On July 8th, the Taoiseach and I hosted a summit in Dublin Castle which brought together key stake holders from across Government and civil society to review progress one year on, and to set priorities for the year ahead. Significant progress has already been achieved, as set out in the Progress Report which was published concurrently with the summit and which is available on www.gov.ie.

Over the lifetime of Global Ireland we have committed to opening 26 new diplomatic missions and strengthening the existing mission network. To date new Embassies have opened in Wellington, Bogotá, Amman, Monrovia and Santiago de Chile, and new Consulates General in Vancouver, Mumbai and Cardiff, Los Angeles and Frankfurt. We continue with plans to open new Embassies in Kyiv, Manila and Rabat. Our newly opened Missions are working to enhance Ireland’s international visibility; promote our prosperity by developing high level business, community and political contacts; protect and advance Ireland’s interests and values; and deliver on our commitments under Ireland’s new policy for International Development ‘A Better World’.

In addition to delivering an expanded and strengthened bilateral mission network we have sought to deepen our engagement in the multilateral system, including through Ireland’s campaign for a seat on the United Nations Security Council. This has provided Ireland with an invaluable opportunity to build relationships and contacts across the world which will stand to us long after the campaign has ended.

In October last year we obtained observer status at the Organisation of the Francophonie – an important step in increasing our engagement with the French speaking world.

More recently I launched a new strategy for the US and Canada and a White Paper on International Development Policy. Work is underway on strategies for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the Asia Pacific Region and Africa. A new diaspora policy will soon be completed following a series of public consultations across Ireland and among Irish diaspora communities overseas led by the Minister of State for the Diaspora and International Development, Ciaran Cannon T.D. These policies will provide important strategic guidance and direction to our people as they seek to promote our values and advance and protect Ireland’s interests abroad.

My Department is leading preparations for Ireland’s participation at Expo 2020 in Dubai. Expo will showcase Ireland to a global audience, in a region with huge trade and investment potential and will support a 'Team Ireland' approach to promoting Ireland as a global partner for the development of new ideas and technologies, as well as an attractive location for business and investment.

Human Rights Cases

Ceisteanna (63)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

63. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to increased attacks on indigenous communities and environmental defenders in Brazil; if his attention has been further drawn to the murder of a person (details supplied) which is part of a campaign of escalating violence against Amazon forest protectors; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that 135 indigenous persons were murdered in 2018, an increase of almost 23% from 2017; and if he will raise the issue with his Brazilian counterpart. [46431/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am aware of the concerns regarding attacks on indigenous communities and environmental defenders in Brazil, and concerns that such groups are often a target of violence due to their concerns around the development of indigenous lands without sufficient consultation or consent.

A report released in August 2018 by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, highlights the difficult situation that exists in several countries, including Brazil, for indigenous communities and activists. The report concludes that States carry the primary responsibility for ensuring that indigenous peoples are able to safely exercise their rights, and that accountability is established for violations against indigenous communities and defenders. The report also highlights the necessity to engage in genuine, free and informed consultation with communities prior to development.

Ireland has called on a number of occasions for States, including Brazil, to ensure full accountability for any violence, harassment or intimidation of civil society, indigenous or environmental activists exercising their rights to freedom of expression, and for the respect of indigenous communities' rights. I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that call.

Ireland used the occasion of the 27th Session of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 5 May 2017 to express our concern at the reported regression in the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights in Brazil. Ireland recommended that Brazil take further steps to protect human rights defenders, including those working on the rights of indigenous peoples, by ensuring impartial, thorough and effective investigations into all cases of attacks, harassment and intimidation and the prosecution of all alleged perpetrators of such offences.

In addition to raising these issues at multilateral level, officials of my Department at home and at our Embassy in Brasília engage regularly with human rights activists and civil society leaders in Brazil and across Latin America, including those working on the rights of indigenous communities. Ireland's Ambassador to Brazil has visited the Amazon region on three occasions in the past months and engaged with indigenous communities offering them an opportunity to express their concerns.

I can assure the Deputy that Ireland is committed to supporting human rights defenders, open civil society space and the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms, and that officials in my Department in Dublin and at our Embassy in Brasila, including through coordination among EU Member States represented in Brazil, will continue to monitor the human rights situation.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (64)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

64. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the second report by the Independent Reporting Commission that paramilitarism remains a destabilising factor in Northern Ireland; if he will report on efforts to restart the Executive in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46437/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I very much welcome the publication of the second report of the Independent Reporting Commission. I commend the Commission for its valuable work so far and the efforts it has put into this report.

The IRC report is a sobering reminder of the continuing adverse impact that paramilitarism continues to have on society in Northern Ireland and brings an important and timely focus on what remains to be done to tackle it.

The report states that, 21 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, continuing paramilitarism remains a “stark reality” in Northern Ireland. It notes that, in the last year alone, paramilitaries have been linked to three horrific murders, a number of attacks on the PSNI and scores of paramilitary-style assaults.

The Commission recognise that continued paramilitarism is profoundly de-stabilising in Northern Ireland and, as long as this persists, peace and reconciliation will be much more difficult to achieve. It is against this backdrop that the IRC calls for a renewal of urgency around efforts to bring paramilitarism to an end – in the words of the Fresh Start Agreement – “once and for all”.

The IRC reiterates its view from its First Report of 2018 that the twin-track approach, first pre-figured in the Fresh Start Agreement itself, remains the key to tackling paramilitarism. The twin-track approach is an holistic approach that combines a policing and justice response side-by-side with a comprehensive addressing of the systemic, socio-economic issues facing communities where paramilitaries operate.

The Report also notes the extent and effectiveness of the co-operation between the authorities in both jurisdictions on this island.

The Commission's report makes clear that there are a range of areas where the full and effective implementation of the Executive’s Action Plan for Tackling Paramilitary Activity, Criminality and Organised Crime – which flowed from the Fresh Start Agreement – is hampered by the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland. It is another reminder of the importance of re-establishing the power-sharing arrangements in order that they can work to address the issues of most importance for people in communities across Northern Ireland.

The continuing absence of the power-sharing Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland and the North South Ministerial Council is of grave concern for the Government, as it is for the British Government.

I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland throughout the latest talks process, to encourage the parties to reach an accommodation.

All five political parties have engaged constructively in the talks process with that objective over the last number of months. Progress has been made across a range of important issues. However, some key outstanding issues remain and finding final agreement on these issues will require genuine and courageous dialogue and leadership by the party leaders in Northern Ireland.

The awful murder of Lyra McKee and the outpouring of public feeling that followed demands a serious response at political level. People want the devolved power-sharing institutions up and running again to represent their interests and deal with the issues and challenges that Northern Ireland faces at present, not least the issues raised by the UK exit from the European Union, however this proceeds.

I remain in regular and ongoing contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as we continue to work to seek an agreement between the parties to get all of the institutions of the Agreement up and running again.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (65)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

65. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the revolts and mass protests in Chile, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Ecuador and Haiti with his European counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46486/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade closely monitor international affairs, and situations such as the protests in Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Iraq and Lebanon are regularly discussed with EU counterparts, in Brussels and by Embassies in-country. Where it is necessary in order to set the strategic direction for the EU response, these issues are discussed at Ministerial level.

I am deeply concerned by recent events in Iraq and the significant numbers of fatalities. On 7 November, the HRVP issued a statement on behalf of the EU deploring the excessive use of force against protestors in recent weeks. The EU has been clear that all perpetrators of violations of the right to peaceful assembly must be held to account. The EU is ready to support the Government of Iraq in its work to address the citizen’s demands, such as an end to corruption, improved governance and job creation.

The situation in Lebanon is being carefully monitored and has been discussed among EU colleagues at official level. On 25 October, the HRVP issued a statement on behalf of the EU reiterating solidarity with Lebanon and recognising that the fight against corruption and the implementation of reform measures are of great importance. We appreciate the overall non-violent nature of the protests and that restraint has been applied by security forces.

The ongoing demonstrations in Algeria were discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council in April. The EU strongly believes that the future of Algeria is a matter to be decided by the Algerian people themselves, and we hope that an electoral process later this year will help the country move forward.

My Department has also been receiving regular updates on the situation in Chile, and that in Ecuador, from our new Embassy in Santiago, which is also accredited to Ecuador.

EU Ambassadors in Chile are in regular contact, throughout the ongoing protests and unrest. Ireland supported an EU statement on 30 October expressing concern at the recent violence, the loss of lives, the lootings and the destruction of properties that has resulted in the wake of widespread demonstrations.

In relation to Ecuador, our Ambassador travelled to Quito in September and met with EU colleagues. The Embassy in Santiago has maintained contact with EU Missions in Ecuador throughout the crisis. Demonstrations have since concluded after the President of Ecuador announced that a decision to repeal a long-standing fuel subsidy would be reversed.

Haiti is experiencing political turmoil, a worsening economic situation and violent protests. Ireland supported an EU statement recognising the need for the engagement of all actors in a frank, open and inclusive inter-Haitian dialogue to better respond to the basic needs of the population and identify realistic and lasting solutions to the current crisis. Ireland, along with our EU partners, is committed to support the Haitian people on their path to stability, development and democracy.

The EU supports the right to freedom of assembly, which can be an important means for citizens to express their political views. There is a responsibility on all concerned to ensure that protests are peaceful, and that any action required to ensure public order does not include an excessive use of force. Ultimately, it is important that citizens are facilitated to express their political views through the ballot box, at appropriate intervals.

Officials in my Department, together with colleagues at EU level, will continue to carefully monitor the situation in these countries.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (66)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

66. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the jailing of Catalan political prisoners and the policing response to protests in Catalonia with his Spanish counterpart; his views on whether the way forward is through dialogue and not legal repression; and his further views on whether Ireland can play a mediation role in this regard. [46430/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government follows developments in Spain closely. I am aware of the verdict of the Spanish Supreme Court to which the question refers, as well as of reactions to the decision across Catalonia and the rest of Spain.

I maintain contact with my Spanish counterpart on a range of issues, including the situation in Catalonia. We respect the importance of the principle of the separation of powers in Spain, as in Ireland, and so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the judicial process there beyond noting that the issues considered by the Spanish Supreme Court were legal and constitutional issues.

More generally, with regard to Catalonia, the Government’s position remains that the constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters to be determined by their own citizens, through their own institutions, in keeping with the rule of law. Ireland respects the constitutional and territorial unity of Spain.

The freedom to express contesting views is essential in any democracy, but differences of opinion must be contested with full respect for the law and the rights of all citizens. This is the foundation that underpins and protects modern democratic societies.

The balance between the freedom to demonstrate and the need for law and order must be protected so that people can go about their normal lives.

Tensions are clearly high in Catalonia at present and the question of independence is deeply divisive there. It is important that the voices of all Catalans are fully heard and represented, including those who do not support independence.

Citizens also deserve to have the certainty that the rule of law extends to them and protects them. That is why we continue to support a resolution to the current situation that is based on democracy and the rule of law.

Military Neutrality

Ceisteanna (67)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

67. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the way in which the neutrality of Ireland will be guaranteed and respected in view of the fact that the final statement of the 15th Inter-Parliamentary Conference for CFSP and CSDP on 4 to 6 September 2019 stated that EU defence cooperation should be continued to be coordinated with NATO and should aim to create synergies for both the EU and NATO. [45077/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

EU-NATO cooperation is focused on promoting security and maintaining peace and stability and is developed with full respect for the decision-making autonomy and procedures of both organisations, as well as respecting the specific character of the security and defence policies of EU Member States. This includes those which are not members of NATO.

The EU’s cooperation with NATO is governed by the Lisbon Treaty, including the legally-binding Irish Protocol which expressly states that “The Treaty of Lisbon does not affect or prejudice Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality”. This ensures respect for Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.

Middle East Issues

Question No. 69 answered with Question No. 50.

Ceisteanna (68)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

68. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Israel and Palestine were discussed at his meetings at the UN. [39950/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to be a high priority for Ireland, for the European Union and for me personally.

While in New York in September for the high level week of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, I attended a number of events and meetings and also held a series of bilateral meetings with a range of Ministers and other interlocutors. The Israel-Palestine conflict featured in several of these discussions and meetings. For example, I discussed the issue with the Secretary General of the League of Arab States. I also met with senior White House advisor Jared Kushner to discuss the Middle East Peace Process and the situation in the region. In that meeting I clearly conveyed Ireland's encouragement for any efforts that can bring genuine progress, while also making clear Ireland's support for the long-agreed parameters, which any new Middle East peace initiative would need to include, in order to have a realistic prospect of being acceptable to both parties.

During the United Nations high level week, my colleague Minister Zappone also attended a Ministerial meeting for key partners of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Ireland is a strong and longstanding supporter of UNRWA, which is mandated with providing essential services to the 5.4 million registered Palestinian refugees across the region, including education, healthcare and humanitarian relief. Ireland has disbursed €5 million to UNRWA so far this year and we are in the process of releasing a further €2m in funding.

During that week, the Middle East Peace Process and the situation in the Occupied Palestinian territory was also an important theme in the meetings undertaken by senior Irish officials, for example in a meeting with the EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process Ms. Susanna Terstal.

I will continue to do everything I can to ensure Ireland can influence the political debate with the aim of resolving the conflict and bringing to an end the Israeli occupation.

Question No. 69 answered with Question No. 50.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (70)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

70. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will follow the lead of other states by calling on Myanmar to be brought before the International Court of Justice for genocidal actions against the Rohingya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46255/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am aware that the Gambia has just yesterday submitted an application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging breaches of the Genocide Convention by Myanmar.

Ireland remains deeply concerned over the findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (IIFFM), and other special mandate holders regarding gross human rights violations committed by the Myanmar Military Forces (Tatmadaw), many of which amount to the gravest crimes under international law.

These include a finding by the IIFFM that there is sufficient information to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials in the Tatmadaw chain of command, so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide in relation to the situation in Rakhine State. Ireland, together with our EU partners, has consistently called for the accountability of those who may be responsible for such crimes and has engaged in a number of actions at international level in this regard.

The EU has also worked with international partners, including the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, to press for action at UN level including acting as pen-holder on several key initiatives. These include the establishment of both the UNHRC mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission and the recently operational Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, to further investigate and prepare for fair and independent criminal proceedings in accordance with international standards in order to address the issue of accountability.

At EU level, targeted restrictive measures have been put in place by the EU against senior military officers of the Tatmadaw responsible for these acts and further measures are being kept under review. In addition, the European Commission is currently reviewing Myanmar’s trade preferences under the framework of the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.

Ireland will continue to work with our EU and other international partners to urge Myanmar to hold those responsible for these crimes to account and to press for a long term sustainable resolution to the Rohingya crisis that will provide a pathway for refugees to return.

This approach is considered to be the most effective one at present. Ireland is closely monitoring developments at the ICJ and will continue to liaise with international partners on the best way forward.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (71)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

71. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the negotiations on the Withdrawal Treaty following the Foreign Affairs Council and General Affairs Council meetings. [43260/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

On 17 October, the EU and UK agreed a revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on future EU-UK relations.

Finalisation of the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement still needs to be completed.

Although the House of Commons voted in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill at second reading, elections are now scheduled in the UK for 12 December, and that process is on hold.

On 28 October, EU leaders agreed to the UK's request for an extension of Article 50 process until 31 January 2020. This extension also facilitates an earlier departure should the ratification be completed at an earlier date.

The Government remains firmly of the view that ratifying this Withdrawal Agreement is the best way to ensure an orderly UK withdrawal, and hopes that the extra time provided by the extension will allow for ratification of the Agreement.

Once the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, it is the shared intention of the EU and the UK, as set out in the Political Declaration on the future relationship, to move quickly to begin negotiations on a broad, deep and flexible partnership between the EU and the UK with a comprehensive and balanced Free Trade Agreement at its core.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (72)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

72. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which bilateral and multilateral aid continues to reach the intended targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46375/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Official Development Assistance (ODA) is an essential element of Ireland's foreign policy. In line with the Government’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the new policy for international development, A Better World - published in February - Ireland's international development programme is focused on reaching the furthest behind first through delivery of four cross-cutting policy priorities, namely gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance.

The 2018 Irish Aid annual report, published last month, details the range of partners and channels involved in the delivery of Ireland’s aid programme. In 2018, €449.43 million was allocated through bilateral channels, including over €169 million channelled through NGOs. €342.2 million was disbursed through the EU and the wider multilateral system, where core missions and objectives closely aligned with Ireland’s policy priorities.

Ireland's international development programme is well recognised for its committment to reducing poverty and vulnerability, for its focus on least development countries and small island development states, and for reaching those furthest behind first. Peer reviews by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have consistently found that Ireland’s development cooperation programme is of the highest quality. Earlier this year Ireland was again adjudicated the world’s most efficient donor in targeting extreme poverty by an independent international research body, the Overseas Development Institute.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (73)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

73. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised concerns with the authorities in Northern Ireland and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in relation to the long periods being spent on remand and on bail by persons accused of paramilitary offences; if so, the response he received to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46022/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I am aware that the Deputy has raised concerns about the length of## time some prisoners in Northern Ireland spend on remand and on bail prior to facing trial. Officials from my Department based in Belfast have engaged with the Northern Ireland Office and the Northern Ireland Department of Justice in relation to this issue.

The NI Department of Justice Prison Population report from September 2019 notes that the proportion of prisoners on remand has increased annually over the past number of years, with 30.1% of prisoners being on remand in the 2018/2019 financial year. This follows on from an NI Audit Office report published in March 2018 which showed that there are significant delays in delivering justice in Northern Ireland. The average length of time from the reporting of a crime to completion of Crown Court proceedings is 515 days, which is twice as long as in England and Wales. The report found that the progress of cases through the system is punctuated by practices and processes that are not efficient and that work against the timely delivery of justice. The report also notes the detrimental impact this has on victims, defendants and witnesses.

A number of recommendations were made in the NI Audit Office report which would shorten the time spent on remand, including the removal of the committal process. Implementing such reforms would require a locally elected Justice Minister to be in place as part of a restored Executive, which is an immediate priority of the Government.

There is widespread acknowledgement across the justice system in Northern Ireland that the existing processes need to be reformed and speeded up. The most recent report of the Independent Reporting Commission noted this, where they expressed concern that the efforts of the PSNI in tackling paramilitarism are hampered by the committal process and the delays which it causes. The IRC went on to echo the calls of the Audit Office in seeking that the committal process be removed.

Economic Sanctions

Ceisteanna (74)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

74. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if progress has been made to address the US embargo which continues to this day and which is having a detrimental effect on Cubans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46256/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland and our EU partners have long monitored the US embargo on Cuba, which ultimately is a policy issue for the US Administration. Fundamentally, Ireland believes that the US embargo on Cuba serves no constructive purpose and that its lifting would facilitate an opening of Cuba’s economy to the benefit of its people. In addition, we are not persuaded that the continued embargo is contributing in a positive way to a democratic transition in Cuba.

Recent developments on this issue have related to the US’s Helms-Burton Act, which seeks to internationalise aspects of the US’s embargo and penalise non-US citizens or entities that engage in economic activity with Cuba. The developments in the application of the Helms-Burton Act, which came into effect in the first half of this year, have been discussed on several occasions at the EU Council Working Party on Transatlantic Relations (COTRA), at which Ireland is represented at official level.

Ireland’s reaction to the suspension of waivers under the Helms-Burton act remains in lockstep with that of our EU partners and we also echo the statement made by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on 2 May last, which stated that "The EU considers the extra-territorial application of unilateral restrictive measures to be contrary to international law and will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to its WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute."

Together with our EU partners, Ireland has also firmly and continuously opposed extraterritorial measures that seek to extend the US embargo against Cuba to third countries, as contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade.

I do not believe that developments on the Helms-Burton Act will adversely affect the EU-Cuba Agreement, nor indeed Ireland-Cuba relations, both of which remain strong. I was pleased to note that the President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, visited Ireland in October and met with President Higgins and the Taoiseach. I understand that the Taoiseach had a positive and constructive meeting with President Díaz-Canel and that they discussed the Helms-Burton Act and the US embargo, as well as other issues including human rights, and ways in which both countries can improve economic links and diplomatic ties.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (75)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

75. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Israeli authorities approved plans for 2,342 housing units in illegal Israeli colonial settlements and a new tunnel road in Palestine in October 2019 (details supplied); if he has raised the issue with his Israeli counterpart; and his plans to respond to the alleged continued violations of international law and increased illegal colonial settlement building by Israel. [46432/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland's position on settlement expansion, related infrastructure development, demolition of Palestinian homes and other buildings, and forced removal of Palestinians from their homes, is extremely clear. All actions which compromise the viability of a future Palestinian state are very damaging. Such unilateral actions further diminish the prospects for successful negotiations and an end to the conflict, something which I firmly believe is in the best interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.

On the 4th of November, the EEAS issued a statement with regard to the recent developments to which the Deputy refers. The statement noted that the “all settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace, as reaffirmed by UN Security Council Resolution 2334” and continues, “the EU calls on Israel to end all settlement activity, in line with its obligations as an occupying power.” Ireland fully supports this statement.

Ireland and the EU stand by the internationally agreed parameters for a negotiated peace agreement and continue to urge the Israeli Government to uphold its international legal obligations, including under the Fourth Geneva Convention, on the treatment of a civilian population. Ireland will continue to convey our concerns on related developments on the ground in all relevant international fora, as well as directly with the Israeli authorities.

Brexit Issues

Ceisteanna (76, 78)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

76. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on recent discussions with EU Commission officials regarding Brexit. [39453/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

78. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has spoken with European Commissioners recently in relation to Brexit. [45815/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 78 together.

My officials and I remain in close, ongoing contact with representatives of the EU institutions regarding Brexit, as well as other areas of importance to Ireland.

I participated in the meeting of the GAC in Article 50 format held on the morning of 15 October, during which Mr. Barnier briefed Ministers on the status of the then ongoing negotiations between the EU Taskforce and the UK Government. Prior to that I had met bilaterally with Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels on 8 October, to take stock of developments in negotiations.

We welcome that a deal has been reached between the EU and the UK on a revised Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration, which was subsequently endorsed unanimously by the European Council on 17 October.

Recognising the unique situation on the island of Ireland, the revised draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland provides important safeguards that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected in all its parts, including avoiding a hard border, protecting North South cooperation and the all island economy. It also protects the integrity of the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union and Ireland’s place in them. The agreement also provides a legally operable solution, providing certainty that at the end of the transition period, the benefits of the peace process and the all island economy can continue to be enjoyed.

We welcome that an extension has been agreed by the EU and UK Governments, extending the deadline to 31 January. This extension also facilitates an earlier departure should ratification by the UK and the European Parliament be completed at an earlier date.

We hope that the extra time provided by the extension will be used to ratify the Agreement, in order to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the UK.

Passport Applications

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 76.

Ceisteanna (77)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

77. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the plan in budget 2020 to continue to improve customer service delivery for passport applications will include printing facilities at the Cork passport office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46456/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Passport Service, located in my Department, is one unified service composed of three constituent offices located in Mount Street, Dublin, in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin and in South Mall, Cork.

The Passport Service operates three passport printing machines, two of which are located in our main production facility in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin and one located in the Passport office in Mount Street, Dublin.

All applications are processed through the centralised Automated Passport Service (APS). This means that all production facilities can print a passport irrespective of where the application was processed. This printing system allows for flexibility between printing machines if any one machine has reached capacity. Each passport printer has a printing capacity of 250 passports per hour.

This meets the Passport Service's printing demands and, indeed, there is additional capacity. Therefore, I am satisfied at this time that there is no requirement for an additional printing machine, and as such, there is no plan to expand printing facilities to the office in Cork at this time.

The allocation to the Passport Service in Budget 2020 will increase resources for the Passport Service to meet increasing demand, and to continue to improve customer service delivery and customer experience.

I would like to draw attention to the well-advanced Passport Reform Programme. It continues to deliver major upgrades to the Passport Service technology platforms and business processes as well as significant customer service improvements.

One key element of the Passport Reform Programme is Passport Online which allows customers to apply for an Irish passport online. The Passport Service introduced online renewal of adult passports in 2017 and expanded this service in 2018 to include the renewal of child passports. On October 31 this year, Passport Online expanded to allow first time applicants from Ireland, Northern Ireland, Great Britain, the European Union, European Economic Area and Switzerland to apply through this channel.

Passport Online brings significant benefits to citizens with faster turnaround times at lower costs. 53% of all applications received in 2019 have been online applications. Over 69% of those eligible to use the online application channel have done so. Passport Online has been instrumental in the efficient management overall passport operations and in allowing the Passport Service to allocate staff resources more efficiently to cope with unprecedented demand.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 76.

Northern Ireland

Ceisteanna (79)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

79. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the fact that the Northern Ireland Assembly has not reconvened. [46419/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The continuing absence of the power-sharing Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland and the North South Ministerial Council is of grave concern for the Government, as it is for the British Government.

I have engaged extensively with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland throughout the latest talks process, to encourage the parties to reach an accommodation that will get the Executive, Assembly and the North/South Ministerial Council operating again.

I remain in regular and ongoing contact with Secretary of State Smith as we continue to work to seek an agreement between the parties that will secure this outcome.

All five political parties have engaged constructively in the talks process with that objective over the last number of months. Progress has been made across a range of important issues.

However, some key outstanding issues remain and finding final agreement on these issues will require genuine and courageous dialogue and leadership by the party leaders in Northern Ireland.

People want the devolved power-sharing institutions up and running again to represent their interests and address issues of concern in Northern Ireland at present.

In this context, the political parties - in particular the two largest parties - must live up to their responsibilities and be open to fair and workable compromises on the small number of outstanding issues, to secure the overall interests of people in Northern Ireland and to protect and operate the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement again.

The Governments are determined to use the time immediately ahead to work to get the devolved institutions operating again. Ultimately the challenge is for the parties to find an agreement. This will be difficult, but the two Governments believe that this can, and must, be achieved.