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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 60 - 74
 Header Item Roads Maintenance Funding
 Header Item Passport Application Numbers
 Header Item Diplomatic Representation Expenditure
 Header Item Diplomatic Representation
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Good Friday Agreement
 Header Item Good Friday Agreement
 Header Item EU Council Meetings
 Header Item Trade Agreements
 Header Item Freedom of Information Requests
 Header Item Overseas Development Aid Expenditure
 Header Item Passport Applications
 Header Item Legislative Process RIA

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 825 No. 3

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Written Answers Nos. 60 - 74

Roads Maintenance Funding

 60. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if funding was allocated in budget 2014 for a new bridge at Cockhill, Buncrana, County Donegal along the R238 Cockhill Road; if not, when funding will be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54404/13]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities own resources supplemented by State road grants.  The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is a matter for the local authority.  

As the Deputy will be aware, Donegal County Council applied to the Department in 2010 for funding under the Specific Improvement Grant Scheme for funds for the Cockhill Bridge Scheme. The projected cost of the project was €2.95m. Given the costs associated with the project it was not possible to approve this application and no further formal funding application has been received by my Department. Given the need to prioritise funding for repair and strengthening works, the Specific Improvement Grants Scheme is being suspended in 2014. While provision may continue to be made for bridge repair and rehabilitation works I understand that the Cockhill Bridge proposal as submitted in 2010 would be outside the scope of such works as it involves major widening works. It is important to reiterate that the role of the Exchequer grant aid is to supplement Councils' own resource spending on regional and local roads. I will announce the 2014 regional and local road grant allocations early in 2014.

Passport Application Numbers

 61. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the number of new passports issued in the years 2012 and to date in 2013. [54843/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The Irish Passport Service produced a total of 632,073 new passports in 2012. The Irish Passport Service produced a total of 623,955 new passports from 01 January 2013 to 13 December 2013 (inclusive).

Diplomatic Representation Expenditure

 62. Deputy Kevin Humphreys Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he will provide a sum in euros of the value of trade conducted between Ireland and Iran for each year from 2011 to 2013; the annual cost of running the embassy there before it closed; his plans to reopen an embassy in the Islamic Republic of Iran; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54905/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore The decision to close Ireland’s Embassy in Teheran in 2011 followed a thorough review of the overseas diplomatic network in which particular attention was paid to the promotion of Irish economic interests and the economic return from missions abroad. Ireland’s diplomatic and consular network is comparatively modest in size and includes 56 Embassies, 7 multilateral Missions and 10 Consulates General and other offices. The size and deployment of the State’s network of missions abroad is kept under ongoing review and any possible future reconfiguration would have regard to national priorities and available resources. Those priorities include the State’s strategic economic and political interests, including trade and inward investment, support for Irish exporters, and the promotion of our values as regards human rights, the role of international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes within and among states. Total trade in goods between Ireland and Iran was €66.4million in 2011, €51.6million in 2012 and €43million from January to September 2013. Comparable statistics on trade in services are not readily available. The total administrative cost of running the Embassy for 2011 was €321,704. This figure includes all expenditure items charged to the Mission budget. Salaries and related costs of staff posted from Ireland are not included as they are a charge on the overall budget of the Department.

Diplomatic Representation

 63. Deputy Kevin Humphreys Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the number of requests or letters urging him to reopen the embassy in the Islamic Republic of Iran he received in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54906/13]

 64. Deputy Kevin Humphreys Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the number of requests or letters urging him to reopen the embassy in the Vatican he received in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54907/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I propose to take Questions Nos. 63 and 64 together.

  I can confirm that since 1 January 2013 I have received a total of sixteen requests or letters asking me to reopen the Embassy to the Holy See. With regard to the reopening of the Embassy in Teheran, I have received no requests or letters substantially on this topic in 2013.

Passport Services

 65. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore his views on the current processing of passports; his views on the timeliness of the processing of passports, particularly during summer months; the further improvements he has planned in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54973/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore In 2012 my Department issued 631,947 passports. We are currently on track for the issuance of a similar number in 2013. Customers applying through the Passport Express service are given a commitment by the Passport Service that ten days from the date of receipt of properly completed applications, a passport will be issued. Last year over 83% (428,000) of all persons applying for their passports in the State used Passport Express. At present the turnaround time for passport express applications is 5 working days. However passport demand in Ireland is seasonal. Almost 50% of all passport applications are received in the four months April–July. Currently the passport service is receiving 8,000 applications a week. This contrasts with 19,000 applications per week in July. For this reason, as we advise applicants on the information note accompanying the form and our website, during the peak summer period application processing times for this service can lengthen. Therefore I strongly advise citizens who are planning to renew their passport in 2014 to do so in the off peak period.

The minimum turnaround time for a passport is 3 working days. However every effort is made by the Passport Service to meet a travel date in cases of genuine emergency. Emergency passports are issued only in circumstances where the Passport Service is satisfied, on the basis of the application and supporting evidence, that: the proposed journey is related to the death, serious injury or illness abroad of a close relative or a medical emergency relating to the applicant him/herself and that the need to travel has arisen at short notice

In 2013 the Passport Service moved from the very successful pilot to full implementation of the appointments service in the Molesworth Street office. This service allows customers to book, via a simple web based system, guaranteed time slots before travelling into the office. The public have responded very well to this and in particular are very welcoming of the fact that the need to queue has been eliminated. Priority in the system is given to those with urgent travel needs (travelling in 3-10 days) with the majority of appointments available to those who fit into this category.

Good Friday Agreement

 66. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he has had recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Members of the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to the Irish Language Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54987/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore In ongoing contacts with the British government, most recently at my meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, on 18 December, I continue to stress the importance of both Governments supporting the full implementation of all aspects of the Agreements. I am firmly of the view that an Irish Language Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland. All parties to the Good Friday Agreement recognised the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity in Northern Ireland. In the St Andrews Agreement, the British government committed to introducing an Irish Language Act and to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.

Since the restoration of the devolved Institutions on 8 May 2007, the question of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland has been a devolved matter and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and in particular the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Ms. Carál Ní Chuilín MLA.

Officials in my Department maintain regular and ongoing contact with the Irish language community in Northern Ireland including those involved in cross-community Irish language activity.

Good Friday Agreement

 67. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he has had recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and Members of the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to the proposal to establish a civic forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [54988/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I have previously put on the record of the Dáil that I support the establishment of a Civic Forum which would provide for a broad range of voices on community relations and stimulate informed public debate in relation to key societal challenges. On my regular visits to Northern Ireland, I continue the practice of engaging with civil society representatives. In my address to the SDLP Party Conference in Armagh on 8 November, I reaffirmed the commitment of the Government, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, to realise its full potential, including through the creation of a Consultative Forum. In my ongoing contacts with the Secretary of State I take the opportunity to discuss full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. With the Northern Ireland Executive, including in the context of the North South Ministerial Council, most recently on 8 November, the Government has continued to support the re-establishment of the Civic Forum as a valuable and, as yet, unimplemented provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

I welcome the recent consultations which Richard Haass, Independent Chair of the Panel of Parties, and Meghan O’Sullivan, Independent Vice-Chair of the Panel of Parties, have undertaken with community groups and with representatives of wider civil society in order to ensure that their views and perspectives are considered in the context of the current Talks process.

I hosted a Reconciliation Networking Forum event in Dublin Castle on 30 October 2013 for people who are involved in community, peace-building, public policy or reconciliation work, to discuss what civil society, including the community sector, can and should do to meet the reconciliation challenges ahead. This is in line with the view of the Government that a strong and resilient civic society can play an important role in building a more reconciled and prosperous Northern Ireland.

EU Council Meetings

 68. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the issues discussed at the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting of 16 December 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54991/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Brussels on 16 December.This was the final scheduled Council meeting of the year. We had a full agenda addressing a wide range of issues. Conclusions were agreed across a number of key policy areas; the full text of these Conclusions may be accessed on the official EU website http://www.consilium.europa.eu/ueDocs/cms_Data/docs/pressData/EN/foraff/140119.pdf. In opening the Council meeting, High Representative (HR) Ashton briefed Ministers on the recent round of talks with Iran which she led in Geneva on 20-24 November, at which an interim agreement was reached on the difficult nuclear dossier. I took the opportunity to praise the efforts of HR Ashton in leading the negotiations within the framework of the E3 +3 (UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US). The agreement represents an important achievement, which opens up a real possibility of resolving this long running and dangerous issue. Many challenges lie ahead in terms of implementing what was agreed, and translating it into a final agreement, but we welcome this important first step. Short Conclusions were adopted.

  A major focus of discussions at the Council meeting was the outcome of the recent Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius on 28-29 November, and in particular the decision by Ukraine not to proceed with signature of an Association Agreement with the European Union. HR Ashton reported back to Ministers on her recent visit to Kiev and condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters. We expressed our disappointment and deep concern about developments in Ukraine. We agreed that the door remains open to Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement, together with a Deep and Comprehensive Free trade Agreement, but that the decision is one for Ukraine to make.

  The Council also considered EU relations with Russia, in light of the Eastern Partnership Summit and in advance of the EU-Russia Summit at the end of January. Ministers were joined at lunch by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, which provided an opportunity for a frank exchange of views. There are a number of areas on which we co-operate constructively with Russia, most recently in the context of the Iranian nuclear dossier, and efforts to destroy chemical weapons in Syria. However, concern was also expressed by Ministers over the pressure from Russia which seems to have led to Ukraine’s decision to suspend the Association Agreement process with the EU. In my remarks, I also highlighted concerns relating to the human rights situation in Russia, and in particular the recent LGBTI-related legislation. The forthcoming EU-Russia Summit will provide a further opportunity to discuss these issues.

  The dramatic deterioration of the situation in the Central African Republic was also addressed by Ministers. Conclusions were adopted which emphasised the need to address the humanitarian situation and to support efforts to stabilise the situation. Ireland, along with other Member States, is increasingly troubled by reports of humanitarian suffering and of gross human rights abuses in the Central African Republic. In my intervention, I welcomed the leadership role being taken by the African Union force (MISCA) and France to date. However, we continue to believe that a UN-led response remains the best mechanism to address the crisis and restore law and order in the country.

  Ministers considered the latest developments in Syria, including prospects for the Geneva II conference in January, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis which is affecting not only Syria but also neighbouring countries. In particular we discussed Lebanon which has been severely impacted. Council Conclusions were adopted, which acknowledge the important role that Lebanon has played in welcoming refugees from Syria, and reiterate the EU’s willingness to provide support to the country.

  There was a short discussion on the Middle East Peace Process. Council Conclusions were adopted which express support for both sides in their efforts to arrive at a negotiated solution, and confirm EU readiness to contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement. We expect to revisit this issue early in 2014.

  Finally, the Council had a brief review of developments in the Western Balkans region and in Myanmar/Burma. Short Council Conclusions were adopted.

Trade Agreements

 69. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the progress made in relation to the proposed trade agreement between the European Union and Ukraine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54992/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore It is assumed the Deputy is referring to the Association Agreement which includes a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area between the EU and Ukraine and which was initialled in March 2012 after lengthy negotiations. While important progress was made, Ukraine announced shortly before the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius last month that it was suspending the preparations to sign the Agreement. The decision has been met with protest demonstrations in Kiev and elsewhere. While the process is now on hold, I would emphasise that the European Union’s comprehensive and generous offer remains on the table. We do not believe that what has already been agreed should be renegotiated at this late stage.

We had an extensive discussion on the situation in Ukraine at the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 December and agreed on the urgent need for meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders to find a negotiated solution to the current political stalemate following the demonstrations. High Representative Ashton reported to the Council on her visit to Kiev last week where she held talks with President Yanukovych and other government representatives, the opposition and civil society. She delivered the EU’s main message, namely the urgent need for dialogue and respect of the right to peaceful protest.

After our meeting, High Representative Ashton reiterated the EU’s readiness to sign the Association Agreement as soon as Ukraine is ready and the relevant conditions set by the Council last December have been met. I fully agree with her that the Association Agreement offers the best way to address Ukraine’s political and economic challenges and that it provides a blueprint for the requisite reforms. This package was the most ambitious offer made to any partner by the EU. It was also one very much in the interests of Ukraine and its people in terms of the long term benefits it would bring. Of course, ultimately it is a matter for Ukraine to decide freely what kind of engagement it wishes to have with the EU and it should be allowed to make its choice freely and without external pressure.

In the meantime, I have urged the Ukrainian government to fully abide by its international commitments to respect the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In the current very tense and fluid situation, it is incumbent on all sides to show the utmost restraint and I would stress the importance of dialogue to help reduce the tension and to try to find an agreed way forward.

Freedom of Information Requests

 70. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the number of freedom of information requests received by his Department in 2012 and to date in 2013; the number of requests for which a search and retrieval fee was sought; the maximum fee sought by his Department in respect of a request received; the number of requests not proceeded following the non payment of the search and retrieval fee sought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55002/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore In 2012, my Department received 136 Freedom of Information requests, twelve of which incurred a Search and Retrieval fee. To date in 2013, 85 requests have been received, and ten have incurred a Search and Retrieval fee.Where Search and Retrieval fees are incurred, requesters have the option to reduce the scope of their request to reduce or eliminate such fees. My Department works with requesters who wish to explore this option. Since 2012, seven requests were eventually deemed to have been withdrawn as no further contact was made by the requesters following notification of Search and Retrieval fees. Where a Search and Retrieval fee was incurred and the request was proceeded with, the maximum fee sought by this Department was €83.80 in 2012 and €188.55 in 2013.

Overseas Development Aid Expenditure

 71. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he will confirm the cut to Ireland’s overseas aid budget for 2014; the criteria that he will use to determine which part of the programme he will cut; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55021/13]

 72. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if he will confirm that, in applying the most recent cuts to Ireland’s overseas aid budget, he will ensure that those programmes that are most directly linked to real and lasting changes for poor people are exempt from those cuts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55022/13]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe Costello): Information on Joe Costello Zoom on Joe Costello I propose to take Questions Nos. 71 and 72 together.

Ireland’s new Policy on International Development ‘One World One Future’ affirms our commitment to poverty reduction and to the centrality of development cooperation to Irish foreign policy. The Policy focuses sharply on the poorest countries and communities in sub-Saharan Africa and on three goals: reducing hunger; supporting sustainable development and inclusive growth; and better governance, human rights and accountability.

As the recent budget demonstrates, Government expenditure on ODA has broadly stabilised in spite of the very difficult economic circumstances. In 2014, the Government will be providing in the region of €600 million for Official Development Assistance. This will represent a small reduction on spending in 2013. Our new Policy, which has been widely welcomed, provides a coherent framework for the prioritisation and allocation of resources across the programme to maximise impact, strengthen accountability and demonstrate value for money. It also commits to improving efficiencies and strengthening performance across all the partners supported.

Our development programme in the years ahead, as it has done in the past, will continue to save lives, reduce hunger, build livelihoods and strengthen capacity for the day when development aid will no longer be needed in many of our Key Partner Countries.

Passport Applications

 73. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare qualifies for an Irish passport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [55042/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore All passport applications are subject to the provisions of the Passports Act, 2008 (the Act). This broadly provides that a person must be an Irish citizen and that his/her identity is known to the Minister for Foreign Affairs before a passport can issue to that person. Section 6(2)(a) and (b) of the Act provides that: “(2) An application for the issue of a passport to a person shall be –

made in such form as may be specified by the Minister for that type of passport,

accompanied by such information and documents in relation to the person as the Minister may require under section 7, ….”

This legal provision underpins the information contained in the Application Form Notes that accompanies each application form. It is long-standing passport policy for first-time applicants to require documents such original long-form civil birth certificates, photo-identity and proofs in regard to the use of the applicant’s name and address.

The person in question is a first-time applicant and her application at this stage is practically complete save the requirement for photo-identity. On 11 November last, the Department wrote to her requesting this remaining part of her application. In this regard she was asked to provide her original current passport from her home country or in the event that is not available, a certified copy of her driver’s license, work ID, student card, social membership card etc.

Her reply in this matter is awaited by the Department.

The issue of a passport is the culmination of an important and legally-binding process. The series of checks and balances within that process embraces the standard principles, provided for in the Passports Act, of ensuring that the identity of the applicant is known and that the person in question is an Irish citizen. The receipt of all these documents is an important aspect of this system, which helps to maintain the worldwide good reputation and integrity of the Irish passport, which in turn ensures the safe travel and wellbeing of Irish citizens, as they travel abroad.

Legislative Process RIA

 74. Deputy Lucinda Creighton Information on Lucinda Creighton Zoom on Lucinda Creighton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore the total number of Bills that have been published by his Department since he was appointed Minister; the number and title of those Bills that included a regulatory impact assessment in advance of publication; the regulatory impact assessments published; the total number of promised Bills for publication; if he will list the Bills that will include a regulatory impact assessment; the regulatory impact assessments that will be published before publication of the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [55129/13]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Information on Eamon Gilmore Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  Regulatory Impact Assessments are carried out on all legislation as necessary. However, most of the legislation brought forward by my Department does not impact significantly on the regulatory environment and since March 2011 no Regulatory Impact Assessments have been carried out by my Department. I have sponsored two items of legislation - the European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2012 and the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012. My Department has no bills promised for publication.


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