Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, answered orally.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Questions Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Ceisteanna (9)

Seán Canney

Ceist:

9. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Justice when funding will be put in place to conform with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; the timeline for compliance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22637/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I am happy to inform the Deputy that significant expenditure is being committed by individual Departments in support of the Government's objective of enabling Ireland to fulfil its obligations with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities ('the Convention') by responding to the needs of persons with disabilities. For example, €1.7bn was spent by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection on Disability Allowance payments in 2019. Just over €2.054bn has been allocated in the HSE Service Plan for disability-related expenditure this year. Funding for special education provision in 2020 will amount to €1.9bn which is equivalent to 20% of the gross overall current allocation for education and training.

In respect of compliance with the Convention the Government's approach is one of progressive realisation. Work is continuing on the reforms needed for an optimum level of compliance with the Convention's requirements. The National Disability Inclusion Strategy (NDIS) 2017 – 2021 is the mechanism by which the joined-up working to deliver on Ireland’s commitments to implementing the Convention will be delivered. The NDIS Steering Group, which oversees and monitors the implementation of the Strategy, has an important role in guiding progress in this area. The Group recently carried out a mid-term review of the Strategy which examined how the Strategy is aligned with the articles of the Convention and how the Strategy could be revised and built upon in order to continue progressive realisation of the aims of the Convention. Arising from the midterm review, a commitment was made that my Department will develop an implementation plan, that will include monitoring structures and metrics as appropriate.

As this is a function that is due to transfer, it will of course be a matter for my colleague, Mr. Roderic O'Gorman, T.D., the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to bring this matter forward.

Questions Nos. 10 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.

Immigration Policy

Ceisteanna (13)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

13. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice the steps taken to date to create new pathways for long-term undocumented persons and their dependants residing here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22920/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to create new pathways for long-term undocumented people and their dependents meeting specified criteria to regularise their status within 18 months of the formation of the Government, bearing in mind European Union and Common Travel Area commitments. Ireland along with other Member States of the EU, has committed, under the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum (2008), to a case-by-case approach as opposed to mass regularisation. However, the Government recognises that some of our own citizens face similar challenges abroad and is sympathetic to the situation of people who find themselves in an undocumented position through no fault of their own.

A policy paper on the matter is being drafted by my Department at the present time. This will include an assessment of international best practices. I recently met with the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland to listen to their proposals for undocumented minors and I am also engaging with other key organisations working with migrants including the International Organization for Migration.

In 2018, my Department established a scheme to regularise the status of non-EEA nationals who held a student permission during the period 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2010, that had expired. Over 3,100 applications were received primarily from former students and their family members and over 2,200 applicants were successful in regularising their immigration status. The Scheme concluded on 20 January 2019, and will be considered, alongside other schemes, in any future policy on undocumented migrant children.

In all cases, people must engage with the authorities if they wish to be permitted to remain here legally. I would encourage any person who is resident in the State without permission to contact my Department or their local immigration office and to take all appropriate steps to regularise their own and their family's status.

It is important to say that my Department does not actively seek information from other Government Departments or agencies relating to the immigration status of people with whom they are dealing. We have actively encouraged undocumented migrants to access health care, social supports or assistance from An Garda Síochána at any time and especially during the COVID-19 crisis. I want to take this opportunity to repeat that they have nothing to fear from doing so and they should continue to engage with supports where needed.

Policing Authority

Ceisteanna (14)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

14. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice her views on the future role of the Policing Authority especially regarding the appointment of senior officers of An Garda Síochána; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22833/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Government is committed to rapidly implementing the Report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland and in that context to introduce the Policing and Community Safety Bill. Work on the development of the General Scheme of this Bill is at an advanced stage in my Department. Following consultations with the Garda Commissioner and the oversight bodies, which are underway at present on the detail of the proposals, I hope to bring the matter before Cabinet in the near future.

I hope the Deputy will appreciate that this consultative process is underway and the question of approval of the detailed approach will be a matter for Government in the normal way.

However, it may be helpful that I set out the background and the rationale to the proposals that are currently the subject of consultation.

As the Deputy will recall the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland, chaired by Dr Kathleen O’Toole and comprising a group of national and international experts drawn from diverse backgrounds, was established by Government to undertake a fundamental examination of all aspects of policing including all functions undertaken by An Garda Síochána and the bodies that have a role in providing oversight - the Policing Authority, the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, the Garda Ombudsman Commission, my Department and Government. Its 2018 report followed wide-ranging consultations and intensive deliberations. All of its recommendations were accepted by Government which published the 4 year plan “A Policing Service for our Future (2019-2022)” to support its implementation and under which, I am pleased to say, much has been achieved.

The Policing and Community Safety Bill is an important element of that plan. It will, as I have said, provide a new coherent governance and oversight framework for policing. This is in response to the Commission’s serious finding that the existing framework is complex and confused and acts to the detriment of accountability on the part of individuals and the Garda Síochána itself. Such a serious finding cannot be ignored. The new framework, as recommended by the Commission, will clearly delineate between the management of the Gardaí and independent external oversight to ensure that all parts of the system have clear and distinct roles supporting strong internal governance, clear and effective oversight and accountability and ultimately better policing.

Under the new framework responsibility for running the Garda organisation will be situated where it belongs in any organisation - with the head of the organisation, the Garda Commissioner, who will be accountable to a non-executive Garda Síochána Board in line with best practice. Robust independent oversight will be provided by a new body merging many of the functions of the Policing Authority and the Garda Inspectorate. That body will continue public scrutiny of policing, which the Authority has done to good effect, and will have the added benefit of an in-house empowered inspection function to support its work.

As regards the selection and appointments of senior officers currently undertaken by the Policing Authority, the Commission’s strong view was that the Garda Commissioner must be empowered to act as CEO of the Garda Síochána and be given the levers to run the organisation and drive reform. Responsibility for appointments is clearly within the remit of the Board and CEO of any large organisation and, should the final decision follow this recommendation, in the context of the proposed new governance and oversight framework, it would be appropriate for the Commissioner and the Garda Síochána Board to be given responsibility for senior appointments. Such responsibility would, of course, need to be subject to the rigorous standards that characterise recruitment to our public services to ensure that the processes are fair and perceived to be so.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (15)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

15. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Justice the position regarding the relocation of residents from a direct provision centre (details supplied); when she expects the final residents to be relocated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22845/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

On 18 March 2020, in response to the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, my Department entered into a 12 month contract to use the former Skellig Star Hotel in Cahersiveen as a temporary accommodation centre for international protection applicants.

My Department's policy is always to withdraw from emergency accommodation as quickly as possible and as soon as places become available in our permanent centres. On 30 July 2020, I announced that the residents in Cahersiveen would be transferred to permanent accommodation centres, in line with that policy, and that this process would be completed as soon as possible and by no later than the end of the year.

I am pleased to say that we have fulfilled that promise and the final transfer of residents from the Skellig Star was completed last week. There are no remaining residents onsite.

Residents have been transferred to a number of centres from across our accommodation portfolio, based on an assessment of the most suitable accommodation available to meet their individual or family needs.

No new residents will be transferred into the Skellig Star following the completion of this relocation process and my Department has no plans to utilise the premises going forward.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (16)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

16. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice if her Department has formally identified a body to fulfil the role of independent inspectorate for direct provision centres; if this body will be empowered to carry out unannounced inspections of direct provision centres and emergency accommodation; and the criteria for the inspections. [22378/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

In August 2019, the National Standards for accommodation offered to people in the international protection process were published by my Department.

The Standards were prepared by an Advisory Group, established in 2017 and comprising officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion as well as representatives from AkiDwA, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Core Group of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service, SPIRASI, and UNHCR Ireland.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) also provided guidance during that process on how to develop high quality implementable standards in Direct Provision accommodation.

The agreed Standards will come into force in January 2021 and the plan is that the new inspection regime will be rolled out on an incremental basis with effect from that date.

The policy on how the new inspection process will operate, in accordance with the Standards, has yet to be finalised including the determination of who will undertake the inspection process. This will be a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration to take forward following the Transfer of Functions to his Department.

Currently, all permanent accommodation centres under contract to my Department are subject to three unannounced inspections per year. Twice by officials of the Immigration Service of my Department and once by an independent company (QTS Limited). Inspections cover a wide range of issues including fire safety and other health and safety issues.

Any issue identified during an inspection is communicated in writing to the contractor and the contractor is required to address any issue identified immediately. Officials from the Immigration Service follow up to ensure that relevant issues have been addressed.

As a result of health and safety restrictions with respect to the COVID-19 crisis, it had not been possible to date to carry out inspections at this time. I am pleased to say that the independent inspector, QTS Limited, has indicated they are in a position to commence inspections within the next two weeks. It is also intended that the inspections team in my Department will re-commence inspections in the coming weeks. All necessary safeguards for inspectors, residents and staff in accommodation centres will be in place to ensure that the welfare and safety of all continue to be protected.

Garda Transport Provision

Ceisteanna (17)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

17. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the funding made available to An Garda Síochána for the purchase of new vehicles; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22891/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Deputy will be aware that in accordance with the Garda Síochána Act 2005, the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the management and administration of An Garda Síochána. In addition, the allocation of Garda resources is a matter for the Commissioner, in light of identified operational demands. This includes responsibility for the allocation of Garda vehicles. As Minister, I have no role in these matters. I am assured, however, that Garda management keeps the distribution of resources under continual review in the context of crime trends and policing priorities, to ensure their optimum use.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that as of 31 August 2020, there were 3,015 vehicles attached to the Garda Fleet, including vehicles attached to the national units. For clarity, this figure does not include the additional 210 vehicles which have been hired by An Garda Síochána this year, to provide additional capacity during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Significant capital investment is being made in An Garda Síochána, including a total of €46 million specifically for the Garda fleet between 2016 and 2021. This continuing investment is intended to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet and that Gardaí can be mobile, visible and responsive on the roads and in the community to prevent and tackle crime.

Of this investment, a total of €9 million was made available for purchase and fit-out of additional Garda vehicles in 2020. I am also informed that in order to protect the ongoing availability of vehicles and in anticipation of the impact of public health restrictions on motor factory or fit-out workplaces, 94 additional vehicles were purchased by the Garda authorities in March 2020 at a cost of €2.4m and fit-out costs of €600,000. The allocation of these and all other vehicles in the fleet is entirely a matter for the Commissioner and his management team.

Direct Provision System

Ceisteanna (18)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

18. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Justice the engagement she has had on the planning and roll out of vulnerability assessments to asylum seekers within 30 days of application as required under EU law and as identified for fast-tracking in the June 2020 briefing note of the advisory group on direct provision; and the number of vulnerability assessments excluding physical health screenings that have been carried out in 2018, 2019 and to date in 2020. [22377/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

Discussions are ongoing between officials in my Department and the HSE to enable formal vulnerability assessments for applicants for international protection by the end of the year. This will ensure that a coherent process is in place for both the health and non-health aspects required in formalised assessments.

To assist in determining how best we can meet the health and related needs of applicants, the HSE National Office for Social Inclusion has recently commissioned research to explore the concept of vulnerability with a view to further improving our existing processes and I look forward to the outcome of this research.

I expect that the Advisory Group on Supports including Accommodation to Persons in the International Protection Process, chaired by Catherine Day will report by the end of this month

In June 2018, Ireland opted into the EU (recast) Reception Conditions Directive. This Directive lays down the standards for the reception of international protection applicants. The Directive requires Member States to take into account the specific situation of vulnerable persons and to assess their special reception needs.

A whole-of-Government approach to the provision of services to applicants for International Protection means that several Government Departments and agencies work closely together to ensure the necessary supports and services are provided to residents accommodated by my Department.

If a protection applicant chooses to accept an offer of accommodation from my Department, they will, in normal circumstances, be first brought to the National Reception Centre in Balseskin, Dublin. At Balseskin, they will be offered a health assessment by the on-site HSE team, which comprises a nurse, nurse specialist, area medical officer, general practitioners, social worker and psychologist. This ensures that applicants can be assessed for any special reception needs that they may have before they are designated an accommodation centre.

Safetynet, a primary care health service, carries out health screening, on behalf of the HSE, in a number of the temporary accommodation locations currently in use by the Department. The International Protection Accommodation Service work closely with the HSE screening team and with Safetynet to ensure that protection applicants are moved to locations where their medical needs can be met. We also work collaboratively to ensure that any special accommodation arrangements are in place as required.

Every effort is made to ensure that residents' specific needs are met. My Department officials routinely identify vulnerabilities and assess applicants for any special reception needs to meet their accommodation requirements. This is especially the case for families with young children and for applicants with a disability. During the COVID pandemic, assessments have also been made for our older residents to ensure that their cocooning needs are met. Where more intensive healthcare needs are required, such cases are referred directly to the HSE.

Proposed Legislation

Ceisteanna (19)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Ceist:

19. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the progress made to date in the introduction of legislation to tackle hate crime. [22853/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The Programme for Government commits to introducing, within 12 months, legislation to address those who target victims because of their association with a particular identity characteristic, and to revise and update the Incitement to Hatred Act and I can assure Deputies that my Department is working to prepare this legislation on hate crime and hate speech as a priority.

As part of this work a comprehensive public consultation has been carried out which included a public survey and an opportunity for stakeholders to make formal submissions. This consultation was conducted to ensure that the Department fully understands the lived experience of those impacted by hate speech and hate crime as well as the views of professionals and other stakeholders in the field. This is necessary to ensure the laws developed are robust, clearly understood and effective in dealing with unacceptable incidents.

I am pleased with the high level of engagement by the public with this important topic and can inform the Deputy that my Department received in the region of 3,800 written responses to the consultation, including approximately 175 detailed written submissions.

In addition to this comprehensive consultation and in order to ensure that the final legislation can be that is effective, my Department also carried out comparative research on international best practice on hate crime legislation. This research is currently being finalised and I expect to publish it in the coming weeks.

My officials are continuing to analyse all of the materials gathered, as well as other relevant legal and policy information, to ensure that the legislative proposals presented are evidence-based, proportionate and effective, while respecting freedom of expression. There will be a further opportunity for stakeholders to share their views when the legislative proposals on this important issue are published for discussion.

I am confident that the approach taken to the reform of our legislation in this area - including through the research conducted and providing the opportunity for experts and members of the public to provide their views through consultation - will ensure that the legislation we develop plays a significant part in delivering a safer, fairer and more inclusive Ireland for everyone, now as well as into the future. This is the mission of my Department and as Minister I am fully committed to the combatting racism and prejudice as a key part of this.

Proposed Legislation

Ceisteanna (20)

Pa Daly

Ceist:

20. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice when the family court and family law Bill promised in the programme for Government will be delivered; and the way in which the Bill plans to make family law proceedings less adversarial. [22960/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

My Department is actively working to deliver the much needed modernisation of the family law system in Ireland. This modernisation includes the introduction of a new Family Court Bill and the development of a dedicated family court system. The development of sensible, comprehensive and sensitive family law procedures particularly for vulnerable families, will be central to the new system.

The Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee of the Reform of Family Law System which was published towards the end of last year made almost 40 recommendations across the area of family justice. As the Deputy will appreciate, the recommendations are extensive and merit a considered and careful response.

One of the key recommendations of the committee is the establishment of a dedicated and integrated family court within existing court structures. As the Deputy notes, the enactment of legislation on the establishment of a family court is a commitment in the Programme for Government and my Department is currently preparing the general scheme of a Family Court Bill which I will be bringing to Government for approval to draft shortly. The proposals in this scheme are a result of a broad consideration as to the best means of providing access to various family law mechanisms available to those families involved in private family law cases.

A Family Justice Oversight Group has recently been established within my Department which, in addition to departmental officials, includes representation from the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Consideration of the recommendations contained in the committee’s report will be integrated into the work of that group.

Pending approval by Government, it would not be appropriate for me to go into too much detail as to the content of the Scheme. However, I can say that the Family Court Bill will:

- Streamline family law court processes to make them more efficient and more user-friendly, while encouraging greater use of alternative dispute resolution to assist in more timely settlement of family law cases.

- Clarify jurisdictional issues so that cases can be dealt with by the most appropriate court notwithstanding the value of assets.

- Provide for a set of Guiding Principles applicable to all of the parties which could help ensure that the court would operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner.

Courts Service

Ceisteanna (21)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

21. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice the timeline for the eProbate project to go live in each office; the status of the project; if the Revenue Commissioners have been incorporated and gone live on eProbate; the status of the implementation of each recommendation in the report of the probate services review group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22919/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

The Probate Office is an office of the High Court and management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions under the Courts Service Act 1998.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that the priority project in the probate area for 2020 is to remove the manual Revenue affidavit from the probate process and to replace it with an on line system. This project, which is in partnership with the Revenue Commissioners, will go live on 14th September 2020 and will reduce the waiting times for all applications.

The proposed e-Probate project remains on the Courts Service's list of modernisation projects to deliver a more citizen-centred service. The timetable for its implementation has yet to be determined and it will continue to be considered in the context of other priority projects in the areas of civil, criminal and family law.

The review of the probate process is now complete. All actions which assisted in reducing the waiting times have been taken. The reduction in waiting times for solicitor applications reflects the outcome of the review and the outcomes from other initiatives that have taken place over the past two years.

Statutory Instruments

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 6.

Ceisteanna (22, 48)

James Lawless

Ceist:

22. Deputy James Lawless asked the Minister for Justice her responsibilities with regard to the coordination of new public health regulations with the Department of Health. [22854/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

48. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice the nature and extent of consultation between her Department and the Department of Health on the guidelines published in SI No. 326 of 2020 (Health Act, 1947) (Section 31A- Temporary Restrictions) (Covid 19) (No. 4) Regulations 2020; the nature and extent of consultation with An Garda Síochána on the instrument; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22832/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 48 together.

As the Deputy will be aware, the development of public health regulations and guidelines in response to the current pandemic is led by my colleague, the Minister for Health. As Minister for Justice, I have no role in the coordination of this. My Department provides support for the public health regulations by consulting and advising on issues relating to Garda enforcement of the public health measures and through consultation and coordination with An Garda Síochána and any other relevant agencies.

Under the recently inserted section 31A of the Health Act 1947, the Minister for Health, when making Covid-19 regulations, specifies which of those regulations are penal provisions. Non-compliance with a penal provision, or in the first instance, a Garda direction to come into compliance with a penal provision, is an offence. In making such regulations, the Minister for Health consults with relevant Ministers. Throughout this consultation process, my Department engaged with An Garda Síochána in relation to enforcement of those provisions.

In supporting the public health regulations, the Garda Commissioner and his senior team have implemented a carefully graduated policing response, based on its strong tradition of policing by consent. Garda members engage, explain and encourage members of the public to comply and, only as a last resort, make use of their enforcement powers under these regulations. These principles have been central to the policing operation over the last six months.

In order to ensure that the policing of these public health restrictions is carried out in an appropriate, proportionate and human rights compliant manner, the Policing Authority were requested to review the policing performance of an Garda Síochána and to provide reports to myself as Minister. These reports have been published throughout on my Department's website. I am glad to note that the Authority has consistently found the performance of An Garda Síochána to be of a consistently high standard in supporting the public health guidelines.

In that context, I am informed that under Operation Navigation, An Garda Síochána has conducted thousands of checks on licensed premises, and continue to find widespread compliance with the public health guidelines. There is, however, a small cohort of premises that are not complying with the public health measures where enforcement becomes necessary.

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 6.

Legislative Process

Ceisteanna (24, 33)

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

24. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Justice the role her Department will play in overseeing new regulations being brought in by the Minister for Health that will be made into criminal offences under section 13 of the new Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018; if there will be a vote taken in Dáil Éireann prior to the regulations becoming law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22926/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

33. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Justice if a commitment will be given that new regulations that are to become criminal offences by section 13 of the new Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 will be debated and voted on by Dáil Éireann prior to the regulations becoming law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22923/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Justice)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 33 together.

Section 13 of the Criminal Justice (Corruption Offences) Act 2018 has no relevance here.

It may be that the Deputy has in mind section 13 of the Criminal Justice (Enforcement Powers) (Covid-19) Bill 2020. This will enable the Minister for Health to prescribe penal Covid-19 regulations, breaches of which are offences under section 31A of the Health Act 1947, to be enforceable under the Bill in respect of licensed premises and clubs. The Bill provides for compliance notices, immediate closure orders, emergency closure orders and temporary closure orders, as well as new grounds for objection to renewal of licences or club certificates.

In making regulations under section 31A, the Minister for Health consults relevant Ministers. Any such regulations are, under the 1947 Act, laid before both Houses, and can be annulled by resolution of either House within 21 sitting days.