Election Monitoring Missions

Ceisteanna (100)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

100. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if an overseas allowance for Irish citizens who are working with the special monitoring mission with the OSCE will be agreed and put in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46254/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland greatly values the vital role that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine plays in gathering information and reporting on the security situation throughout Ukraine. Since its deployment in 2014, Ireland has continued to provide political, technical, and financial support to the Mission towards the ultimate aim of reducing tensions and facilitating dialogue between all sides.

To date, Ireland has paid assessed contributions totalling €2.725 million to the SMM. In addition, we made a voluntary contribution of €300,000 in 2014. A further contribution of €63,200 was made in 2018 towards the cost of the unmanned drones used by the Mission.

Mission members are seconded to the OSCE and are not employees of my Department. The OSCE advertises vacancies within the SMM on its website. The Irish Mission to the OSCE reviews Irish applications and nominates applicants who meet the minimum criteria. The decision on the selection of successful candidates are a matter for the OSCE.

There are currently 12 Irish civilian monitors seconded to the OSCE. The mission members receive an allowance paid by the OSCE to cover board and lodging. This allowance varies according to the cost of living and degree of hardship at the duty station, but is generally in the region of €125-155 per day.

The question of an additional allowance to be paid by my Department to Irish civilians seconded to the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission will be kept under review.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (101)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

101. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade further to Parliamentary Question No. 45 of 25 July 2019, if officials in the embassy in Colombia met with local human rights groups and visited a mine (details supplied); if so, when the report from the visit will be made available; and if not, the reason therefor. [46262/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland takes a very active role in supporting human rights defenders, open civil society space and the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms. As outlined in the response to the previous PQ you mention, I am aware of the difficult situation that exists for human rights defenders in Colombia, and continue to reject the use of threats, including death threats, intimidation and violence against those exercising and protecting their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Since opening earlier this year, our new Embassy in Bogotá has followed the situation in La Guajira closely and has maintained regular contact with all relevant stakeholders in order to gain a greater understanding of the circumstances and issues raised by the Deputy. Taking into account security and other considerations, a visit by the Embassy to the Department of La Guajira, where the Cerrejón mine is located, was possible in late September 2019.

The two-day visit took place on 23 and 24 September and was led by Ireland's Ambassador to Colombia, Ms Alison Milton. The programme included a tour of the mine itself, which was also attended by NGOs and local-community groups, as well as meetings with all stakeholders involved with the Cerrejón mine, including Cerrejón management, local communities, local government, religious leaders, academics and NGOs, including the local human rights group Fuerzas Mujeres Wayuu.

The La Guajira region has a near-majority indigenous population (over 40% compared to 3.4% nationally), the largest of which is the Wayuu people, who number around 270,000 and for whom the exploitation of La Guajira’s natural resources is a major grievance as they maintain a deep spiritual and ancestral connection to the land. It is also one of Colombia’s poorest regions, where the needs of local communities are acute.

The mine generates almost half of the region’s income and is one of its largest employers providing over 13,000 jobs. While the mine owners attest to their compliance with local and international standards, challenges exist in relation to local governance, leading to a lack of trust between the local authorities, local communities and the mine.

The Embassy has reported on the range and complexity of issues, not least evolving public opinion in relation to the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels, and concluded that efforts should be made to improve communication between the local communities and the mine, and to include the local community in plans for closure of the mine by 2033.

The Embassy will hold meetings with national Government, with national and international NGO partners, and with Cerrejón management in order to share feedback on the visit. Some of these meetings have already taken place.

The Embassy will also continue its engagement on this issue with the EU delegation in Bogotá. The EU Delegation has visited the Cerrejón mine in order to hear stakeholders’ views and maintains regular contact with representatives of sectoral trade unions and other civil society and environmental organisations. The EU Human Rights subgroup also visited the area and met with local communities in February of this year.

Having a presence on the ground in Colombia has greatly enhanced Ireland's ability to engage on and monitor important issues, among them those raised by human rights, environmental and indigenous rights defenders, not least the impact of the Cerrejón mine on the local community and the environment.

The situation of human rights in the country is closely tied to the implementation of the peace agreement. Ireland supports the Colombian Government’s full implementation of these accords. We also aim to continue our financial support to the peace process and to deepen our lesson-sharing programmes, based on our experiences of peacebuilding and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.

I can assure the Deputy that officials in my Department in Dublin and at our Embassy in Bogotá will continue to monitor the human rights situation in La Guajira and across Colombia. Ireland is committed to supporting Colombia in its transition to a stable, peaceful, post-conflict society.

Departmental Offices

Ceisteanna (102)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

102. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of vacant desk spaces available in accommodation allocated to his Department in Civil Service accommodation outside Dublin city; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46295/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Outside of Dublin city my Department has office accommodation in Balbriggan in County Dublin as well as in Cork and Limerick cities. Usage of desks in the Passport Offices in Balbriggan and Cork varies considerably throughout the year, in line with the demand for passports. During the busiest months of March-August all workspaces are fully utilised while during September-February lower numbers of temporary staff are engaged and some desks are temporarily vacant. The Department’s offices in Limerick accommodate staff from the Development Cooperation and Africa, Corporate Services and Finance Divisions as well as from the Evaluation and Audit Unit. There are currently four vacant desk spaces in the Limerick office. These are used as "hot-desks" by colleagues visiting from other offices.

EU Enlargement

Ceisteanna (103)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

103. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposed timeframe for the admission of Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Armenia and Georgia into the European Union. [45803/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland continues to be a strong supporter of enlargement of the European Union. Our support is premised on the basis that it is up to candidate countries to ensure they meet the necessary conditions for Membership. We therefore do not attach a particular timeframe to the admission of specific countries. Accession happens if and when candidate countries meet the conditions.

Serbia and Montenegro have been candidate countries since 2012 and 2010 respectively. They are both currently negotiating Chapters of the Acquis with the European Union. Serbia has opened negotiations on 17 Chapters, with two provisionally closed. Montenegro has opened 32 Chapters and provisionally closed three. The European Commission published its Annual Enlargement Package and country reports on 29th May 2019. The country reports assessed both Serbia and Montenegro as having both made progress over the past year, but there remain areas for improvement. Serbia needs to make significant progress in alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and the normalisation of relations with Kosovo, while Montenegro must address shortcomings in the areas of media freedom, fight against corruption and trafficking, and turn its attention to the closing of Chapters.

Kosovo is a potential candidate for Membership of the EU. The Commission’s report on Kosovo noted that the political situation in Kosovo remains challenging. Rule of law, judicial reform, public administration reform, organised crime and normalisation of the relationship with Serbia are just some of the areas that must be comprehensively addressed in order for Kosovo to advance on its European path. It will be some time before Kosovo can qualify as a candidate country.

North Macedonia and Albania have been candidate countries since 2005 and 2014, respectively. The Commission’s report in May recommended opening negotiations with both countries. North Macedonia has made significant progress in implementing the reforms recommended by the European Council in 2018, and the ratification of the Prespa Agreement shows that even the most difficult bilateral disputes in the region can be resolved. Although the situation in Albania is more complex, it has made progress across all Chapter areas in the past year, and maintained 100% alignment with the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The comprehensive justice reforms are also a significant step in strengthening the judiciary.

The question of whether to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia was discussed at both the General Affairs Council and European Council in October. Unfortunately, agreement could not be reached. Ireland is firmly in favour of opening negotiations with both countries and regrets the delay. A further discussion on enlargement is due to take place at the General Affairs Council in November. Ireland will continue to argue that both countries have met the requirements for opening negotiations.

Armenia and Georgia are not currently candidates or potential candidates for accession to the EU, however, they are participants in the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy, and have aspirations to one day become candidate countries. We are supportive of the aspirations of the countries in the European Neighbourhood, provided they are able to meet the criteria to become candidates.

Freedom of Information Data

Ceisteanna (104)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

104. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when the disclosures log made by his Department under freedom of information was last updated; if this is in line with the disclosure policy of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46469/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

A central tenet of my Department's commitment to transparency and accountability is the public disclosure of all non-personal Freedom of Information requests.

The policy is to publish all non-personal Freedom of Information requests and the responses on the Department's website. Where records pertaining to the request exist, the associated schedule of records is also published. Records that have been granted or part-granted are made available to the public on request.

The most recent update on the Department’s website includes all requests up to the end of August 2019.

Brexit Negotiations

Ceisteanna (105)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

105. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he expects the Brexit discussions to remain positive from an Irish point of view, with particular reference to trade discussions with the UK in the aftermath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46604/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Following agreement on 17 October of a revised Withdrawal Agreement, the EU and the UK have committed to begin the formal process of negotiating a future relationship as soon as possible after the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The framework for the future relationship negotiations is set out in the revised Political Declaration. The Declaration sets the course on what I hope will be a broad, deep and flexible partnership between the European Union and the UK, a partnership centred on a comprehensive and balanced free trade agreement.

Our approach will remain consistent. We want to see the closest possible relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom, while also ensuring adequate level playing field provisions to facilitate fair competition.

The talks will cover a range of issues of importance to Ireland and are likely to be demanding and difficult, as the Brexit negotiations have been to date.

We will continue to ensure our priorities and core principles are appropriately reflected. This will require a whole-of-government effort underpinned by the same coherent, cohesive approach that has characterised our Brexit strategy from the start. We will also continue to engage with stakeholders, our EU partners and the EU institutions.

The Commission has established a new Taskforce for Relations with the UK, led by Michel Barnier.

The outcome on Brexit remains uncertain and the Government is continuing to prepare for all scenarios. However, once the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, its provisions, including in respect of citizens’ rights, financial obligations and the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland, will remain in place, even if no agreement on a future relationship is reached by the end of the transition period.

More broadly, I believe that it is in our shared interest to maintain a strong and constructive bilateral relationship with the UK. We have deep familial, cultural, political and sporting links, as well as a vital trading relationship. The Government is committed to developing and strengthening these relationships over the coming years.

Trade Relations

Ceisteanna (106)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

106. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he, his officials and the embassies and consulates overseas continue to seek out new trading partnerships within the EU and elsewhere; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46605/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Embassy network continues to play a central role in advancing Ireland’s international trade as part of Team Ireland overseas. Embassies and Consulates around the world provide vital support for Ireland’s state agencies, including by supporting their strategic objectives and activities in overseas markets.

In June 2018, the Government launched the Global Ireland initiative, which aims to double the impact and scope of Ireland’s global footprint by 2025. Global Ireland's targets include enhanced global engagement, the expansion of Ireland’s embassy network and strengthening of Ireland’s state agency presence overseas.

Since the launch last year, new Embassies have opened in Wellington, Bogotá, Amman, Monrovia and Santiago de Chile, and new Consulates General in Vancouver, Mumbai, Cardiff, Los Angeles and Frankfurt.

The Taoiseach formally opened the new Consulate in Los Angeles last September and the formal opening of the Frankfurt office took place in October. These latest openings bring the number of diplomatic and consular missions in the network to 90 with 10 opened since the start of the Global Ireland expansion plan.

These locations have been chosen based on a range of factors, including their potential to diversify our markets, increase bilateral trade and investment, and enable Irish companies to take advantage of new opportunities. In light of Brexit, these factors are even more important than ever.

In addition, the Department’s officers overseas engage with host country Governments and multilateral institutions on a range of trade-related issues, including market access, regulatory compliance, visas, phyto-sanitary issues, and Double Taxation Agreements.

The Embassy network also supports Irish businesses in market by providing contacts and information, organising Ministerial visits overseas and supporting trade missions, in partnership with the state agencies. This approach is aligned with the objectives set out in the Government’s trade strategy Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World.

Trade Relations

Ceisteanna (107)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

107. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which Ireland has succeeded in forming new trading relationships throughout Africa; the role his Department plays in such developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46606/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Advancing Ireland’s trade and investment interests is an important aspect of Ireland’s foreign policy. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through its network of twelve missions across Africa, works to advance Ireland’s prosperity and to support Irish companies seeking to expand into African markets, in close cooperation with State Agencies and other Government Departments, in line with the priorities set out in ‘Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World’.

Since the start of this decade, two-way trade in goods and services between Ireland and Africa increased by €1 billion to €4.4 billion. Irish exports in this period increased by 39%, from €2.36 billion in 2010 to €3.28 billion in 2017.

Africa represents a market of 1.2 billion people, with the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world, and is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Africa offers new and growing markets to Irish business and opportunities for market diversification. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement came into effect this year and paves the way for increased trade and economic growth in Africa.

In 2018, ‘Global Ireland: Ireland’s Global Footprint to 2025’, recognised the growing economic potential of Africa. A decision has been take to open an Embassy in Morocco to strengthen Ireland’s presence in an important region close to Europe’s borders. The EU is currently negotiating a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement with Morocco, which will open up further potential for increased bilateral trade. Global Ireland also committed to opening new Embassies in Francophone West Africa, a region that is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, including markets of interest to Irish food exporters.

The sixth Africa Ireland Economic Forum in Dublin in October 2018 brought together business people and thought leaders from across Africa and Ireland, providing an important opportunity for African and Irish businesses to identify areas for mutually beneficial trade. My Department has built on this momentum in 2019, including by hosting a Uganda-Ireland Trade, Tourism and Investment Forum in September; by hosting a panel discussion on Ireland-Africa trade with the participation of the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, Ms. Arancha González; and by engaging with Irish-African business networks in Ireland and across the continent.

This week, the Minister for Business, Enterprise, and Innovation, Heather Humphreys T.D., is leading a trade mission with over 40 Irish companies to South Africa and Kenya, which have been identified as strategic markets in southern and eastern Africa respectively. The mission is focused on highlighting Ireland’s strengths in key growth sectors, including digital technologies, fintech, life sciences, pharmaceutical, medical devices, agri-tech, telecommunications and education. The trade mission is coordinated by Enterprise Ireland with the active support of our Embassies in Pretoria and Nairobi.

My Department will continue its work to increase trade and investment links with the African continent, including through Ireland’s membership of the EU and the ambitious Africa-EU Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (108)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

108. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which Irish overseas development aid continues to arrive at its planned targets throughout the various intended locations globally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46607/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

Ireland’s development cooperation programme is delivered through a broad range of partners and channels, including partner Government systems, Irish and international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and missionary organisations, and UN and other multilateral agencies and organisations. The ability of funding channels to reach the furthest behind first and deliver on the policy priorities of gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance is to the forefront of Ireland’s engagement.

The Government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) annual report, published last month, outlines the range of partners involved and the geographic spread of Ireland’s development cooperation programme. We have a particular focus on poverty reduction in Africa – predominately in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – where our resident Embassies allow Ireland to play a key role in long-term development. A similar strategic role is provided by the Embassy to Vietnam. We also support smaller, more focused programmes in countries and territories such as Palestine, Liberia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Ireland’s development cooperation programme has been independently verified as being of a high quality, not only in successive OECD Development Assistance Committee peer review reports, but also by the Overseas Development Institute, which ranks Ireland as the world’s leading donor in targeting extreme poverty.

Humanitarian Aid

Ceisteanna (109)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

109. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his colleagues, through the aegis of the EU and the UN, continue to be successful in meeting the aid requirements at the ten most sensitive conflict zones globally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46608/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The past decade has seen a sharp increase in the levels of humanitarian need worldwide. The UN estimate that over 148 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, largely as a result of conflict.

Reducing humanitarian need is one of the four key priorities in Ireland's development policy, a Better World. As well as a committment to the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence, humanity and impartiality, Ireland is firmly committed to directing our funding to those in greatest need. A study by the ODI, a respected development think tank, has identified Ireland as the most effective donor at challening humanitarian assistance to the most fragile states for the past two years.

This need to reach the furthest behind first is also something that Ireland actively promotes and champions in EU and UN contexts. Over the past number of years Ireland has taken on some key leadership roles in the international humanitarian system. From 2018-2019 Ireland was Chair of the Donor Support Group of the UN's Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs. In this key role Ireland led discussions with the UN and other major donors on ways to improve the effectiveness of the international humanitarian response to major crises.

Ireland is currently co-Chair of the ICRC's Donor Support Group. The ICRC are one of the world's largest humanitarian organisations, often working in the most difficult and senstive conflict zones globally. Ireland will use this role to discuss with other major donors and the ICRC the role of humanitarian actors in protracted crises, and the need to eliminate sexual and gender based violence in humanitarian crises.

As an EU member, Ireland also directly contributes to the EU's humanitarian response - both financially, and through close policy engagement with the EU institutions and other member states. The EU's Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) provided around €1 billion in humanitarian assistance in 2018, reaching an estimated 120 million people in need. As well as meeting urgent humanitarian needs, the EU also uses its full range of diplomatic, economic and programmatic instruments to address the underlying causes of fragility, including CSDP missions, the EU Trust Fund for Africa, and the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace.

Middle East Peace Process

Ceisteanna (110)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

110. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which efforts continue in the Middle East peace process, in particular with reference to the need for permanent structures to encourage progress in Gaza; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46609/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have given a high priority to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly the situation in the Gaza strip, over the last two years, and have worked consistently to maintain an international focus on the issue, and support for the two state solution.

I regularly discuss this situation with my counterparts in the EU and the region. For example, in February of this year I convened a small gathering of Foreign Ministers in Dublin in February, to discuss the Middle East Peace Process, and how best to encourage a move towards a just and durable peace.

The Israel-Palestine conflict also featured in several of my discussions and meetings during the High-Level Week of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. I raised the Israel-Palestine conflict in my meetings with a range of interlocutors, including 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.

I have always thought it important to keep this issue high on the international agenda, and in December 2018, Ireland proposed a Resolution at the UN General Assembly on a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East. This resolution, which reaffirmed the long-standing and broadly agreed parameters for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was adopted by an overwhelming majority (56 UN states), including common EU support.

Ireland has long worked to keep attention on Gaza in particular. In my most recent visit to Gaza last year, I saw for myself the impact the blockade is having. Ireland contributes humanitarian assistance to alleviate the worst of this suffering, including through our support for UNRWA, which is a key provider of public services, health and education in the area. I have initiated an Irish-funded solar power project in Gaza, which will be co-located with a waste water facility and will help improve water quality in the area.

However, the roots of the problem in Gaza are political and cannot be solved by funding alone. What is needed is the lifting of the blockade, so that normal life and normal economic activity can resume. Gaza faces other challenges, including oppressive rule by Hamas, but the blockade dominates peoples’ lives in Gaza to such an extent that it is difficult to address other issues. I have raised the issue of the blockade with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

I will continue to ensure that the Middle East Peace Process and the situation in Gaza remain high on the international agenda.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (111)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

111. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the international community continues to pressurise Boko Haram and Al Shabaab with a view to curtailing their respective activities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46611/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government condemns, in the strongest terms, the brutal attacks committed on civilian populations by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.

Ireland remains engaged in efforts by the international community including European Union and the United Nations to combat terrorism. We continue to work with international partners to address the root causes of radicalisation and violent extremism in areas affected by these groups.

Ireland strives to promote peace and security in affected regions through our bilateral and multilateral engagement. The Embassies of Ireland in Nairobi and Abuja, as well as in other parts of Africa and the Middle East, actively monitor the situation on the ground and guide Ireland’s humanitarian response and engagement in EU and UN forums on these matters.

Military operations in the region continue to focus on areas in which these terrorist organisations operate, and to this end, the EU has pledged €50 million to support the Multinational Joint Taskforce which promotes regional security in West African territories affected by Boko Haram. The EU provides strong support to the UN-mandated African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). EU support to AMISOM has allowed it to contain al-Shabaab in many parts of Somalia, and ensure avoidance of a security vacuum in areas that al-Shabaab has vacated. AMISOM has been instrumental in the capacity development of the Somali National Army with the aim of a gradual hand-over of security responsibilities to Somali institutions.

The EU also plays a significant role in supporting Somalia’s efforts to promote peace and stability for its citizens by contributing to capacity building within the Somali Security Sector. These efforts are focused on enhancing the Somali authorities’ ability to deal with security concerns, including the threat posed by Al-Shabaab. The three EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions in East Africa, including EUTM Somalia, EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta and EUCAP Somalia are central to this. The former Director of the Irish Coast Guard was appointed Head of Mission at EUCAP Somalia effective 1 September 2019.

In terms of humanitarian assistance, Ireland has, since 2015, provided over €17 million in humanitarian assistance to the Lake Chad crisis through partners such as the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund, the International Committee of the Red Cross and NGOs. Ireland is one of the top ten donors to the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund, which last year allocated €43 million to the Lake Chad region. Ireland has also been a consistent supporter of the humanitarian response in Somalia year on year, providing over €45 million in humanitarian assistance since 2012, including to communities displaced by conflict in Al-Shabaab held areas.

EU Enlargement

Ceisteanna (112)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

112. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position in regard to EU enlargement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46612/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

In regard to the accession status of Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia and Kosovo, I would refer the Deputy to the reply given to Parliamentary Question 45803/19.

In relation to Bosnia-Herzegovina, the European Commission’s Annual Enlargement Package and country reports, published in May this year, set out the opinion that Bosnia-Herzegovina does not yet fulfil the Copenhagen criteria, and is overall at an early stage regarding its level of preparedness to take on the obligations of EU membership. The report concluded that Bosnia-Herzegovina needs to significantly step up the process to align with the acquis. The Commission set out 14 recommendations in the areas of democracy, rule of law, fundamental rights, and public administration reform that need to be implemented before the opening of accession negotiations with Bosnia-Herzegovina can be considered. Ireland is committed to supporting the country on its reform path and towards alignment with the EU, and we will continue to support all of the six Western Balkans countries on their path towards Europe.

On Turkey, the Commission noted that there has been continued backsliding on the rule of law, fundamental rights and democracy, and that Turkey’s accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing. The Turkish Government’s repeated commitment to the objective of EU accession has not been matched by corresponding measures and reforms, and the EU’s serious concerns on continued negative developments have not been addressed. However, it should be noted that Turkey remains a key partner for the EU, particularly in relation to migration. Ireland therefore does not support the notion that the EU should withdraw Turkey’s candidate status or formally suspend accession negotiations. Continued engagement with Turkey in the accession context is in the interests of both Europe and the Turkish people. However, Turkey needs to begin to re-engage constructively with the EU, and also with the Council of Europe in relation to human rights and basic freedoms, in order for the accession process to be set back on the right path.

Humanitarian Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (113)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

113. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the degree to which financial commitments made by the international community in respect of aid to various disaster areas has improved over the past ten years, particularly in the areas of co-ordination and delivery of such commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46613/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The past decade has seen a sharp increase in the level of humanitarian need globally, mainly due to conflict. The UN estimate that over 148 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Given the scale of need, donors have increased their level of humanitarian assistance in recent years. Total global humanitarian funding grew from an estimated $22.2 billion in 2014 to an estimated $28.9 billion in 2018. Ireland has also increased its humanitarian funding - in 2018 alone Ireland contributed over $185 million in humanitarian response.

As well as the scale of funding, the efficiency and effectiveness of international humanitarian response is also vital. Ireland is a strong champion of the multilateral system, and has worked closely with the UN Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in improving the coordination of the international humanitarian response. From 2018-2019, Ireland was Chair of the OCHA's Donor Support Group. In this role, Ireland led discussions with the UN and key donors on improving the effectiveness of the international response to major crises. Ireland also worked closely with OCHA during its own process of reform and reorganisation, helping to improve its ability to effectively coordinate humanitarian responses.

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (114)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

114. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which, through the EU and UN, the international community continues to monitor the top ten conflict locations worldwide involving war, human rights abuses, including genocide and abuse of women and children; if the international community remains effective in dealing with such issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46614/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The number and complexity of humanitarian crises globally has increased in recent years, with the UN estimating that over 148 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection. Conflict is the most significant driver of this increased need.

Reducing humanitarian need is one of the four key priorities in Ireland's new development policy, A Better World. Ireland prioritises the provision of needs based, principled humanitarian aid to high profile humanitarian crises such as Syria but also to ‘forgotten crises’ which receive less attention such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Sudan. Over 90% of Ireland’s humanitarian funding in 2018 was directed in support of those affected by conflict.

Critical to maximising Ireland’s response is our strong and enduring commitment to effective multilateralism, particularly through our membership of the European Union and the United Nations. Ireland is a strong contributor to efforts to prevent and to resolve conflict, prevent genocide, and eliminate the abuse of women and children.

Ireland has a long tradition of contributing to UN and EU peace-support missions, including in some of the world’s most complex and intractable conflicts. Ireland has maintained a continuous presence in UN peace support operations since 1958, and has more than 570 personnel in United Nations mandated missions overseas. The Government is committed to participation in peace-keeping operations as a tangible contribution to the development of global peace and security. This commitment informs Ireland’s decision to seek election to a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the period 2021-22. If elected, membership of the Security Council would allow Ireland to play an important influencing role in the international response to the needs of the most vulnerable.

The Women, Peace and Security Agenda recognises the unique impact of conflict on women and girls and the importance of their full equal and meaningful participation in decision-making at all stages of peace-building and in sustaining peace.

As part of Ireland's commitment to supporting peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts around the world, Ireland is a strong supporter of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. Ireland has already implemented two National Action Plans on WPS: (NAP1 2011-2014) and NAP 2 (2015-2018). Ireland's third National Action Plan launched on 21 June 2019, renews and strenghtens this commitment.

Next year marks the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and there is a push internationally for UN Member States to increase their work in this area and to move from rhetoric to the reality around the implementation of national action plans and the inclusion of women in peace processes. Driven by both conviction and experience, Ireland as a global champion on WPS will continue to push this agenda forward through the activities outlined in its NAP. Ireland also continues to support civil society efforts in peacebuilding and mediation, supporting nine partner organisations in 2018, in addition to Ireland's support for the UN's mediation support and Peacebuilding Fund

Foreign Conflicts

Ceisteanna (115)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

115. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the international community continues to monitor events in Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46615/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

After a months of increasing violence, there has been some positive momentum in recent weeks with regard to the ongoing conflict in Yemen. Nevertheless, the situation remains grave. Ireland and the EU have been clear from the beginning that this crisis 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.

The UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths provides a monthly briefing to the UN Security Council on the situation. In his most recent briefing in October 2019, UNSE Griffiths welcomed fragile signs of hope for the suffering people of Yemen. He pointed to the recent reduction in violence in the north of the country, and promising measures adopted such as the release of a number of detainees by the Houthis.

Since then, the Riyadh Agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia on 5 November 2019 between the Government of Yemen and the Southern Transitional Council is also a welcome development. It is imperative that the Government of Yemen return to Aden in order for state institutions to become fully functional again.

These positive developments, however, take place in the context of extreme human suffering. Almost 80% of the population of Yemen remains 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.

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.

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.

Departmental Advertising Campaigns

Ceisteanna (116)

Jack Chambers

Ceist:

116. Deputy Jack Chambers asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade 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. [46630/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

My Department attends and participates in emergency planning meetings with other Departments. However, my Department does not have a lead role in the winter ready campaign and has incurred no expenditure.

Small and Medium Enterprises Supports

Ceisteanna (117)

Tony McLoughlin

Ceist:

117. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Finance his plans to ensure that micro businesses that operate inside the fossil fuel industry in business such as stove selling and installation, which will be most affected by the introduction of a carbon tax and the move towards a greener economy, are supported if their businesses are forced to close due to the introduction of this new tax; if this will be consistent with the approach to protect those most vulnerable to the changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46083/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I do not believe that businesses selling stoves would necessarily consider themselves to be operating "inside the fossil fuel industry". There is no carbon tax applied on wood or wood pellets and therefore consumers can purchase wood or pellet burning stoves or when purchasing multi fuel stoves can use wood or wood pellets instead of solid fuels, in both cases entirely avoiding the carbon tax.    

As the Deputy will appreciate, solid fuels emit high levels of carbon dioxide as well as other pollutants which are harmful to human health and our environment. The carbon tax increase is part of an overall suite of measures to encourage a move away from fossil fuels to alternative fuels and technologies, and provides opportunities for businesses, including those selling heating solutions.  

I do acknowledge that some sectors and areas will be disproportionately impacted by increases in the carbon tax and it is for this reason that I am ringfencing the additional revenues raised from the increase to protect those most exposed to higher energy costs, to build a Just Transition and to support new investment in climate action.

Departmental Reports

Ceisteanna (118)

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

118. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Finance the number, date of publication and details of post-enactment reports published by his Department since March 2011, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46092/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

Standing Order 164A of Dáil Eireann Standing Orders 2016 and Standing Order 168 of Seanad Eireann Standing Orders 2017 provide that "twelve months following the enactment of a Bill, save in the case of the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill, the member of the Government or Minister of State who is officially responsible for implementation of the Act shall provide a report which shall review the functioning of the Act and which shall be laid in the Parliamentary library."

I can advise the Deputy that between March 2011 and 7 November 2019, seventeen post enactment scrutiny reports ("PESRs") were prepared by my Department and laid in the Parliamentary library. The following document sets out in tabular form a list of the PESRs duly laid. 

My Department is in the course of preparing a PESR in respect of the Markets in Financial Instruments Act 2018 and I expect to be in a position to have this PESR laid in the Parliamentary library in the coming days. 

No

Title of an Act

Date enacted

PESR laid

1.

Credit Reporting Act 2013

23-Dec-13

02-Oct-18

2.

Central Bank Act 2014

04-Jun-14

01-Oct-18

3.

Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland Act 2014

26-Jul-14

01-Oct-18

4.

National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014

26-Jul-14

01-Oct-18

5.

European Stability Mechanism (Amendment) Act 2014

30-Oct-14

13-Feb-19

6.

Central Bank (Amendment) Act 2015

04-Feb-15

01-Oct-18

7.

Betting (Amendment) Act 2015

15-Mar-15

12-Dec-18

8.

Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicles Act 2015

04-Mar-15

14-Nov-18

9.

Customs Act 2015

18-Jun-15

18-Sep-18

10.

Consumer Protection (Regulation of Credit Servicing Firms) Act 2015

08-Jul-15

01-Oct-18

11.

Finance (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2015

20-Nov-15

01-Oct-18

12.

Finance (Local Property Tax) (Amendment) Act 2015

20-Dec-15

25-Feb-19

13.

Finance (Tax Appeals) Act 2015

25-Dec-15

20-Nov-18

14.

Finance (Certain European Union and Intergovernmental Obligations) Act 2016

26-Oct-16

01-Oct-18

15.

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman Act 2017

26-Jul-17

01-Oct-18

16.

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Act 2017

26-Jul-17

14-Aug-18

17.

Insurance (Amendment) Act 2018

24-Jul-18

09-Aug-19

Pension Provisions

Ceisteanna (119)

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

119. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the manner in which the standard fund threshold limit of €2 million applies to persons employed in the public sector; the way in which the fund is calculated in the context of a public servant who is a member of the unfunded public service pension scheme; the taxation treatment that applies in respect of a pension fund amount in excess of €2 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46121/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Finance)

I am advised by Revenue that Chapter 2C of Part 30 of, and Schedule 23B to, the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (TCA) provide for limits on the tax-relieved amount of an individual’s supplementary pension arrangements, including public sector pensions.  As the Deputy states, the standard fund threshold (SFT) is currently €2 million and has been set at that amount since 1 January 2014.  Some individuals were able to claim a “personal fund threshold” (PFT) of up to €2.3 million where the capital value of their pension rights as of 1 January 2014 exceeded €2 million, but eligible individuals had to apply for a PFT before 31 July 2015.

Public service pension schemes are treated for SFT purposes in the same way as all “defined benefit” (DB) pension schemes which provide for a lump sum that is accrued separately to the individual’s pension (rather than providing for possible conversion or “commutation” of part of the pension to a lump sum).  Account is also taken of the fact that part of the individual’s pension fund would have accrued prior to 1 January 2014, before which date the SFT was higher. 

The way the fund is calculated for public servants (and other members of DB pension schemes with lump sums separate from pensions) is best illustrated by way of an example.  For the purposes of this example, it is assumed that the individual has not had a previous “benefit crystallisation event” as defined in paragraph 2 of Schedule 23B TCA (which includes a pension the individual is already receiving), and does not have a PFT.

If an individual retires on 1 January 2020 at age 60 years, gets a pension on retirement of €100,000 - €80,000 of which is deemed to have accrued up to 1 January 2014 (the “specified date”) and the balance of which (€20,000) is deemed to have accrued after that date - plus a lump sum on retirement of €300,000, the capital value of the individual’s pension fund for SFT purposes is the sum of

- The amount accrued up to the “specified date” (€80,000) multiplied by the “relevant valuation factor” on that date (20), which equals €1,600,000, plus

- The amount accrued after the “specified date” (€20,000) multiplied by the “relevant age-related factor” provided in the table to Schedule 23B TCA (30 for age 60 years) which equals €600,000, plus

- The amount of the lump sum, which is €300,000.

The total capital value of the pension fund for SFT purposes for this individual is therefore €1,600,000 plus €600,000 plus €300,000, which equals €2,500,000. 

The pension on retirement for the purposes of the calculation is the annualised equivalent of the amount paid on retirement – any adjustments in the first year (for example, increases in the pension) are ignored.  The “relevant valuation factor” for the specified date (1 January 2014) is 20, while the “relevant age-related factor” ranges from 37 for those who retire at age 50 years or younger to 22 for those who retire at age 70 or over.  For this “split” calculation to apply, the pension fund administrator must be satisfied that an “accrued pension amount” (that is, pension rights accrued before 1 January 2014) arises for the DB pension in question.

For public servants and anyone whose pension fund exceeds the SFT (or the PFT, if applicable) the balance over the threshold, which is called the “chargeable excess”, is subject to “chargeable excess tax” at the higher rate of income tax, currently 40%.  To return to the example, that individual had a chargeable excess of €500,000 (€2,500,000 minus the SFT of €2,000,000) so the chargeable excess tax due at 40% is €200,000.

No reliefs, allowances or deductions may be set against the chargeable excess when calculating the tax due.  In certain cases, standard rate lump sum tax may be offset against tax due on a chargeable excess.

The administrator of the public service pension fund will pay the chargeable excess tax due, which is recoverable from the individual.  The legislation outlines a variety of ways in which the tax can be reimbursed by the individual to the administrator, depending on the amount to be reimbursed - by reducing the lump sum, by direct payment by the individual, or by reducing the individual’s pension over a period not exceeding 20 years, or a permitted combination of these methods.  The legislation also provides for cases where a pension adjustment order applies.

There is an “encashment option” in section 787TA TCA for certain individuals who had both private sector and public sector pension savings and whose overall pension fund exceeded the SFT or PFT, as appropriate.  The provision allows an eligible individual a once-off opportunity to cash in her or his private sector pension rights with a view to eliminating or minimising the chargeable excess that would arise when her or his public sector pension crystallises.  To be eligible to use the option, an individual had to have both public and private sector pension rights as of 8 February 2012.