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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 263 - 289
 Header Item Social Welfare Code
 Header Item Brexit Issues
 Header Item United Nations
 Header Item Human Rights
 Header Item Human Rights
 Header Item Protected Disclosures Data
 Header Item Human Rights Cases
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Passport Applications
 Header Item Passport Data
 Header Item Insurance Costs
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Diplomatic Representation Expenditure
 Header Item Trade Missions
 Header Item Passport Services
 Header Item Passport Applications
 Header Item Foreign Naval Vessels
 Header Item Public Sector Staff Recruitment
 Header Item National Monuments

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 944 No. 2

First Page Previous Page Page of 84 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 263 - 289

Social Welfare Code

 263. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the definition of a farm under the social welfare code, with particular reference to eligibility for a means tested social welfare payment for those owning a non-viable portion of land. [15497/17]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The primary support my Department offers farmers is the farm assist scheme which is a means tested scheme for farmers on low incomes. To qualify for the scheme a person must satisfy the means test and be engaged in farming. The 2017 Revised Estimates for my Department provide for expenditure of approximately €83 million on the farm assist scheme.

Social welfare legislation defines a farmer as a person engaged in farming, farming farm land including commonage, which is owned, and used for the purposes of husbandry, is leased, and used for the purposes of husbandry, or does not form part of a larger holding and is used for the purposes of husbandry. Husbandry is defined as the working of the land with the object of extracting the traditional produce of the land. This can include the cultivation of crops or trees (forestry) and the keeping of livestock and poultry. There is no definition of a farm in social welfare legislation and there is no minimum acreage requirement.

It is not sufficient for a person simply to own a farm of land to qualify for farm assist. The legislation prescribes that the claimant himself/herself must be engaged in farming. Therefore, a person who owns a farm of land, but leases, lets or rents out the entire holding does not satisfy this condition and so cannot qualify for farm assist.

In assessing means for social assistance payments such as jobseeker’s allowance, account is taken of the income and the value of property, including capital, of the claimant and their spouse or partner. Social welfare legislation provides that the yearly value of property, including capital, owned but not personally used or enjoyed is assessable for means testing purposes. In such cases, the current market value of the property or land is established (having regard to local property prices) as well as the amount of any outstanding mortgages, if any. The balance (market value less outstanding mortgage) is assessed as capital as follows: an initial amount (€20,000 for most social assistance schemes) is disregarded; amounts between €20,000 and €30,000 are assessed at €1 per €1,000; amounts between €30,000 and €40,000 are assessed at €2 per €1,000; and amounts over €40,000 are assessed at €4 per €1,000.

However, it is important to note that capital assessment does not include property which is being personally used or enjoyed by the claimant such as the family home where they reside or a premises or a farm of land used by the claimant in carrying out a business.

Where a person is farming their land, the assessment of means, including for farm assist, is designed to reflect the actual net income from farming and looks at gross income, less allowable expenses necessarily incurred. Income and expenditure figures for the preceding year are generally used as an indicator of the expected position in the following year. However, account is taken of any exceptional circumstances so as to ensure that the assessment accurately reflects the current situation.

In Budget 2017 I introduced new measures in relation to the assessment of means for farm assist. Since 8 March 2017, farm income is now be assessed at 70%, down from 100%, with an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children also introduced. It is estimated that this will cost €8.5 million in 2017. All existing farm assist recipients currently assessed with means will have their payments adjusted to take into account the changes in Budget 2017. As also announced in Budget 2017 Farm Assist recipients have also benefitted from the 85% Christmas Bonus paid December last and the €5 per week increase in the weekly rates of payment.

  Question No. 264 withdrawn.

Brexit Issues

 265. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the plans within his Department once Article 50 is triggered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14948/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The British Government has confirmed that it will trigger Article 50 on 29 March.

Once Article 50 has been triggered, the Government’s immediate focus will be on working as part of the EU 27 team to adopt guidelines defining the framework for the negotiations. The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has committed to circulating draft guidelines to the EU27 within 48 hours of the triggering of Article 50. These draft guidelines will be discussed among the EU27 throughout the month of April, with a view to their adoption by the European Council on 29 April. On the basis of the guidelines adopted, negotiating directives will subsequently be prepared for the adoption by the General Affairs Council in May. The negotiating directives will provide a formal mandate for the European Commission negotiating team, led by Michel Barnier, and authorise the opening of negotiations with the UK, most likely in early June.

The triggering of Article 50 on 29 March will represent the formal commencement of a process for which Ireland has been preparing intensively and extensively over the last nine months. Indeed, our analysis and contingency planning have been under way ever since late 2014. This has included coordinated analysis of all the issues across Government and extensive consultation, including through the all-island Civic Dialogue, as well as with a range of stakeholders. Through the Cabinet Committee on Brexit, which is chaired by the Taoiseach and of which I am a member, we have identified our particular concerns and priorities and developed our positions ahead of the negotiations. My Department is working closely with the Department of the Taoiseach with a view to publishing a position paper with regard to the forthcoming negotiations before the European Council meets on 29 April.

The Government has continued its programme of extensive engagement with EU partners with a view to ensuring that our unique priorities and concerns are clearly understood in advance of the negotiations. It is also essential to understand the concerns and perspective of other Member States and of the EU Institutions. In March alone, I have met with my counterparts from Italy, Luxembourg, Germany and Denmark. Meetings at political level have been supplemented by numerous intensive discussions at official level, in Dublin and in other capitals. By the end of this month, there will have been face-to-face meetings with all other Member States, in most cases a number of meetings.

I am confident that these efforts are bearing fruit, as instanced by the reference made during his recent address to the Committee of the Regions on 22 March, by Mr Barnier to the European Union’s role in supporting the Good Friday Agreement and in ensuring that the UK’s departure from the EU does not disturb the balance of the peace settlement and the process of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. This is consistent with Mr Barnier’s previous public comments, as well as the comments of European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, following his meeting with the Taoiseach last month.

My Department has played a central role in preparing and supporting these efforts and will continue to do so. Given the cross-cutting nature of the EU-UK dossier, a number of Divisions are very closely engaged with this issue, as are our Missions, under the overall direction of the Secretary General. The European Union Division contains a specific team dedicated to the EU-UK negotiations, which will take the lead on the Article 50 process within the framework of the whole-of-government approach to Brexit, which is led by the Department of the Taoiseach. Ireland’s Permanent Representation to the European Union in Brussels will also play a key role.

We will continue to build on this firm foundation in the coming weeks and months, so as to ensure that our priorities are heard and understood across Europe and are reflected in the EU’s position for the forthcoming negotiations.

United Nations

 266. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if his attention has been drawn to the resignation of a person (details supplied) from the UN due to its failure to accept two ESCWA reports describing an apartheid regime being applied in Israel; if his attention has further been drawn to these reports; his views on these reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14999/17]

 271. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he will report on the recent resignation of a person (details supplied) following the withdrawal of a report on current developments in the occupied territories of Palestine; his position and the measures he is taking on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15120/17]

 272. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan his views on the resignation of a person (details supplied) in the United Nations; his plans to raise the reasons given by this person for their resignation at EU or UN level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15121/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I propose to take Questions Nos. 266, 271 and 272 together.

I am aware of the resignation of the former UN Under-Secretary General and Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Executive Secretary, Rima Khalaf, and also of the report commissioned and published by the ESCWA member states on 15 March. I understand also that another ESCWA report was withdrawn last month on the instruction of the UN Secretary General.

I cannot comment on the content of the report, which has been withdrawn on the order of Secretary General Guterres. Similarly, I do not wish to comment on Ms Khalaf’s resignation without being fully sighted on the circumstances surrounding her decision.

It is relevant also to note that the majority of the eighteen ESCWA member states do not recognise the State of Israel.

Nonetheless, there are issues of enormous concern in the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, and a clear need for these to be discussed in an open and impartial manner.

I have argued consistently and repeatedly at EU and UN level that there needs to be a greater focus on the actions and developments in the occupied Palestinian territory which are unjust and which undermine the possibility of reaching a peace agreement. Ireland has focused in particular on settlement expansion, and on related issues demolitions, evictions and expropriations, but also on a broader range of concerns such as the treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli security forces, restrictions on the provision of humanitarian assistance to populations in need, and restriction of access to water supplies. We have made known our concerns regarding discriminatory practices resulting from the occupation.

A specific recent concern is the legislation passed by the Knesset in February, which aims to retrospectively legalise Jewish settlement outposts built on privately-owned Palestinian land.

Ireland, and the international community, remains committed to trying to achieve a two state solution to this conflict between neighbours. The two state solution has been supported by public opinion and by responsible leaders in both Israeli and Palestinian society for many years, based on clear reasoning, and analysis of the various options and alternatives. A two state outcome remains better than any other model that has been considered.

Ireland will continue to support the two state solution, which can deliver peace, equality, security, freedom and justice for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

Human Rights

 267. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if his attention has been drawn to the fact that refugees who escape North Korea by crossing the border to China are regularly returned by China to North Korea; his views on whether this violates international law; and if he will raise the issue with his Chinese counterpart. [15018/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I am concerned about reports of cases of DPRK refugees and asylum seekers being arrested in China and facing refoulement to the DPRK. I would urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that they do their upmost to meet their international and humanitarian obligations in this regard.

The risk of serious harm for the returned is very high, as documented by the 2014 Report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK.

It is a fundamental principle of international law that states are prohibited from returning asylum seekers to a state in which they would be in likely danger of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. This principle, known as the principle of “non-refoulement”, is set out in Article 33 of the Convention on the Status of Refugees of 1951. Ireland and China are both party to the Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

China is also obliged by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984 not to return, expel or extradite anybody to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he/she would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

Furthermore, under the terms of its 1995 Agreement with the UNHCR, China is bound to cooperate in the field of international protection of and humanitarian assistance to refugees. In consultation and cooperation with the government, UNHCR staff may have unimpeded access at all times to refugees. UNHCR also conducts refugee status determination for asylum seekers in China. However, it is not allowed to do so for DPRK citizens as China considers any such citizen entering illegally as an economic migrant.

The EU raises the issue of non-refoulement of refugees from North Korea with China regularly and through a number of fora including raising individual cases of concern with the Chinese side. Specifically, the issue is raised in the context of the annual Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and China. The last session of this dialogue took place in November 2015. The next session is scheduled to take place shortly. The issue of North Korean refugees has been raised in this dialogue since the inception of the dialogue in 1995. The issue is also raised with China by the EU, where appropriate, in other meetings at both working level and at political level including at the annual EU-China Summit and EU-China High-level Strategic Dialogue.

Human Rights

 268. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if his attention has been drawn to new legislation that allows the Israeli Government to ban persons who advocate for boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements from entering the country, which stops them transiting to Palestine (details supplied); his views on the fact that Irish citizens will be banned and deported. [15019/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Every country has of course the right to determine for itself the conditions for entry to its territory.

  Nonetheless I consider that the recent Israeli law on visa restrictions, which was strongly opposed by many parties in the Knesset, is deeply regrettable and unjust. It aims to exclude people on the basis of their having expressed non-violent political opinions, and is cast in the broadest and most general terms, which could apply to very large numbers of people. It is akin to earlier legislation which used the same broad definitions to make Israelis who advocated the same opinions liable for financial damages.

  This law, and other recent legislation in Israel, are deeply damaging to that country’s international image, and reputation as a democracy. Close scrutiny will now be paid to how the law is operated in practice.

  As well as the territory of Israel, Israel also de facto controls entry to the occupied Palestinian Territory, and it would be further unjust if persons are prevented from entering that territory on the basis of non-violent political opinions held about that occupation, and the behaviour and actions of the occupation authorities. I am already concerned that Israel is in practice more and more acting to exclude from Palestinian territory international aid and human rights workers, and even political observers, who seek to examine and document the operation of the occupation and the actions of the authorities. No military occupation should endure in the longer term, but if it is justly operated it should have nothing to hide.

Protected Disclosures Data

 269. Deputy John McGuinness Information on John McGuinness Zoom on John McGuinness asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the process within his Department for dealing with protected disclosures under the 2014 Act; if the examinations of such disclosures are carried out by an independent authority or persons other than those within the organisation to which the disclosure refers; the number of disclosures received by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15076/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Any worker in my Department who has a reasonable belief in relation to one or more of the serious wrongdoings set in the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 can disclose the relevant information to any designated person of grade equivalent to or not lower than Principal Officer in my Department in the first instance. Where, after an initial assessment, it is decided investigation of a disclosure is warranted, such an investigation would be carried out by a senior officer of the Department. However, to date no disclosures have been received in my Department.

Human Rights Cases

 270. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan Information on Thomas P. Broughan Zoom on Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he will report on the current negotiations between the Government and the Egyptian authorities relating to the well-being of a person (details supplied); the measures he is taking on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15119/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan This matter is an urgent priority for the Government and exceptional levels of resources are being devoted to the provision of consular support to the citizen and his family.

  My Department does everything possible to monitor the health and welfare of this citizen and we have at all times emphasised the need to protect his health and welfare directly with the Egyptian authorities. I raised the issue with Minister Shoukry earlier this month. Following representations from the Irish Embassy, the Court ordered a medical assessment of this citizen at a hearing in this case in December. A further assessment was ordered at the most recent hearing on 22 March. It is important that these medical assessments take place.

  I am disturbed by recent reports about this young man’s health and I am seeking urgent clarification in this regard.

  We have made it clear to the Egyptian authorities that we hold them responsible for ensuring this citizen’s welfare by carrying out regular medical checks and providing all required medical treatment. The Egyptian authorities have consistently given us assurances on these points.

  The Government maintains open lines of communication at all levels with the Egyptian Government.

   Our Embassy in Cairo has undertaken an exceptionally high number of consular visits to this citizen. The most recent consular visit was on March 1st. A further consular visit will be arranged in the coming days.

  Questions Nos. 271 and 272 answered with Question No. 266.

Passport Services

 273. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he will report on the preparations being made for the seasonal increase in the volume of passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15126/17]

 274. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan if he will employ extra staff in the Passport Office in view of the expected increase in the volume of passport applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15127/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan I propose to take Questions Nos. 273 and 274 together.

For a number of months now, we have experienced a rise in passport applications. This increased volume of applications is likely be sustained into the summer months and my Department has put in place a number of measures to mitigate the impact.

The Passport Office is working hard to address the rise in applications. 230 Temporary Clerical Officers (TCOs) have been assigned to the Passport Service to assist with the processing of passport applications and to respond to customer queries via phone, email and social media. This is an increase of 59 officers over the number recruited in 2015. The majority of these TCOs are already in place and the remaining officers are expected to join in the coming weeks. My Department has also requested the Public Appointments Service to assign additional Clerical and Executive Officers to fill recent vacancies in the Passport Service.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Passport Service is engaged in a significant programme of reform which will result in greater efficiencies and convenience for applicants. The introduction of on-line enrolment option for passport applications is a key customer service initiative under the programme and I expect this new service to start rolling out shortly.

I will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the effective deployment of staff and other resources in order to minimise the impact of the exceptionally high demand on turnaround times for applicants and on customer service.

I would ask the Deputy to help to promote good practice in her communications with constituents. As a matter of best practice, applicants should allow six weeks for a passport applications. Applicants should check the validity of their passport before booking travel. If travel is already booked, applicants should consult the Passport Office website to ensure they use the correct channel for their application. The Passport Office offers a free renewal reminder email service to Passport holders and I urge passport holders to avail of this service. See www.dfa.ie for more information.

Passport Applications

 275. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the circumstances under which a person applying for a passport can have an application expedited; and the process in place for such cases. [15128/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Applicants with no immediate travel plans or who are travelling in three weeks or more should submit their application through the An Post Passport Express Service. Passport Express is the cheapest and most convenient option for applicants and is available at post offices nationwide.

  The target turnaround time for standard, accurately completed passport applications submitted via Passport Express is 15 working days. Applicants are advised that this is a guideline rather than a guarantee of service and that current average turnaround times may be consulted at the www.dfa.ie/passport site. There are currently over 70,000 passport applications in the system and average turnaround times for Passport Express applications lodged through the An Post network are 16 working days for renewals at present.

  In all cases, I strongly recommend that people check the expiry of their passports before they book travel and that they apply at least six weeks before the date of intended travel.

  There are certain circumstances under which passport applications can be expedited. Applicants travelling in less than 15 working days (three weeks) in the case of renewals and 20 working days (four weeks) in the case of first time applicants should make an appointment online at www.passport.ie to attend the Passport Offices in Dublin or Cork in person.

  Applicants can also request to have an application expedited in the case of very urgent travel within three days. There are a limited number of these rapid renewal appointments available through the online system and they are posted at 12.30 pm the day before. Applicants are required to show proof of travel as evidence of the need to expedite the application. A fee of €55, which is additional to the applicable fee for the issue of a passport, must be paid by the applicant. An expedited service is not provided in first-time adult applicant cases and cannot be guaranteed where an applicant cannot produce his/her previous passport due to loss or theft. Cases where a passport is required for travel necessitated by an emergency such as the death or illness of a family member receive the highest priority.

  It is very important that the applicant choose the most appropriate channel at the outset and I am grateful for the continued assistance of Deputies in advising constituents. The Passport Express service is for applicants who have no immediate travel plans. Those who are travelling in less than three weeks should make an appointment online.

  The Passport Service offers a free email reminder service to passport holders whose passports are due for renewal and I would also urge the Deputy to promote use of this facility where possible. See:www.dfa.ie/passports-citizenship/top-passport-questions/when-should-i-apply-for-a-new-passport/.

Passport Data

 276. Deputy Ruth Coppinger Information on Ruth Coppinger Zoom on Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the number of passport cards issued in the years 2015, 2016 and to date in 2017; his plans to promote this service; and his further plans to make reforms to this service. [15129/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Passport Service has issued a total of over 42,000 passport cards since the launch in October 2015 (see the table). The convenience of the card in facilitating travel to 31 countries in Europe, along with its portability and innovative security features, have clearly resonated with the public and I am very pleased with its success to date.

  I will launch a new online service for adult passport renewals shortly. As part of this service, citizens will be offered an option to apply for the passport card and passport book at the same time and at a reduced fee. I expect that the ease with which citizens will be able to apply for a passport card while renewing their passport book online will further drive strong uptake of the card.

  A promotional campaign will accompany the launch of the online passport renewal service. The passport card, as an integral part of the online service, will benefit from the increased publicity and levels of public awareness resulting from this campaign.   

  An annual breakdown of passport cards issued is set out in the following table.

Year of IssuePassport Cards Issued
201512,406
201624,716
2017 (to 20 March)5,105
Total42,227

Insurance Costs

 277. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the cost of insurance under different insurance headings such as public liability, buildings cover, employer liability and so on for his Department and each body under its aegis; the name of the insurance provider for each year since 2010, in tabular form; the number of current outstanding insurance claims against his Department or the body under its aegis; the estimated cost of those claims if available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15181/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan In replying to this PQ, as agreed with Deputy McGrath, my Department has focused solely on our building portfolio in Ireland. As the Department is covered in terms of its buildings under State indemnity, the issue of insurance does not arise.

  The Department is currently processing two claims under the State Claims Agency in relation to its buildings. It is not possible to estimate the cost of these claims at this moment.

Passport Services

 278. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the expenditure allocated to the Passport Office service from 2012 to 2016 and to date in 2017, in tabular form; the number of staff employed in the Passport Office service in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15230/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The expenditure allocated to the Passport Service from 2012 to 2017 to date is outlined in the table. These figures include salary costs for all years except 2017 and they exclude accommodation costs.    

YearExpenditure
2012€24,914,421
2013€24,879,963
2014€22,612,818
2015€27,347,875
2016€31,637,414
2017 (to-date)€3,323,833


  The figures also capture spend on the passport reform programme (2016-2018) to date of €4.4m. The programme is delivering major upgrades to passport service technology platforms and business processes as well as significant customer service improvements. This includes an online passport application service which will be launched shortly.

  The following table details the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff permanently employed by my Department and assigned to the Passport Service on 1 January for each of the years requested.
YearNo. of Staff (FTE)
2012306.8
2013297.8
2014286.9
2015272.6
2016269.7
2017301.7


  In addition, a number of Temporary Clerical Officers are engaged each year for the Passport Service to assist in responding to seasonal passport demand increases.

Diplomatic Representation Expenditure

 279. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the estimated cost of running the embassy and consular service in 2017; his plans to open new embassies or consular services in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15231/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan The Department is responsible for two Votes – Vote 28 (Foreign Affairs and Trade) and Vote 27 (International Cooperation).

  The work of our embassy and consulate network around the world continues to be important in Ireland’s economic recovery and the restoration of our international reputation. Our Embassies’ work in support of Ireland’s interests includes:

  - Promoting Ireland as a source of high-quality exports, a destination for investment, research, study and tourism to targeted audiences and contacts.

  - Supporting trade missions and other trade focused high-level visits, record numbers of which have taken place in the last five years.

  - Directly assisting Irish companies with advice, introductions and working to resolve regulatory or market access issues, in partnership with Enterprise Ireland.

  - Providing frontline consular and passport services to Irish citizens overseas.

  - Influencing and negotiating for Ireland on issues that could impact our interests and priorities.

  The estimated cost of running the network of 80 Irish embassies and consulates around the world for 2017 is €70.5 million.

  My Department keeps the coverage of Ireland’s mission network under review. Any decision to alter the mission network is a matter for the Government.

Trade Missions

 280. Deputy Darragh O'Brien Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the trade missions planned for 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15232/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan Ministerial-led trade missions are a central element of the Government’s support for Ireland’s exports, inward investment, tourism, and international education. An intensive programme of trade missions is a key part of our overall strategy of pursuing market diversification and building resilience into our economy in response to changes in the global trade and investment environment, and the complex challenges presented by Brexit.

  As set out in the Government’s new trade and investment strategy, entitled Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World, which was launched by the Taoiseach on 8 March last, we are committed to intensifying the number, focus and market reach of trade and investment missions and events in 2017, in order to deepen existing trade and investment relationships and forging new linkages.

  The overall number of ministerial-led trade missions has increased substantially in recent years. These high level missions, led by a range of Ministers across all Departments, complement the ongoing year-round work of our Embassy network and agencies in-market, including Enterprise Ireland, IDA Ireland, Bord Bia, Tourism Ireland, in promoting awareness of and confidence in Ireland as a place to invest and do business and in showcasing Ireland’s unique strengths.

  The development of the trade mission programme is a collaborative exercise involving input from my Department, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Enterprise Ireland and other state agencies. Under Ireland Connected: Trading and Investing in a Dynamic World, we have committed ourselves to further enhancing coherence across Government around trade missions to ensure that these activities are strategically targeted and adaptive to our evolving trade and investment priorities.

  I am acutely conscious of the importance of minister-led trade missions in terms of securing high level access for Irish companies seeking to grow their businesses overseas and increase jobs at home. Our 80-strong network of embassies and consulates fulfil a vital role in supporting such missions.

  This year, 46 international ministerial-led trade events are planned by Enterprise Ireland with a focus on market diversification and intensification.

  Full details can be accessed at the following link:

www.enterprise-ireland.com/en/News/PressReleases/2017-Press-Releases/Enterprise-Ireland-Launches-International-Trade-Mission-Programme-for-2017.html.

Passport Services

 281. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the steps he is taking to ensure persons can track the progress of their passport applications in real time in view of the fact that the various stages of the process do not update on his Department's website in a timely manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15285/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan As the Deputy may be aware, the Passport Service launched a new online tracking system at the end of last year. The tracker provides tailored information on progress with applications and the estimated issue date to applicants. In recent weeks, there have been some technical difficulties with the tracker resulting in delays in status updates for a small number of applications.

The Passport Service has worked to resolve these issues and I can confirm that minor system bugs were located and repaired last week. The online tracker is now functioning effectively and updating as normal.

My Department will continue to monitor the tracker’s functionality and will follow-up swiftly on applicant feedback in order to ensure that the information communicated by the tracker is fully accurate.

Passport Applications

 282. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the status of a passport for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15320/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan All applications are subject to the provisions of the Passports Act, 2008 (the Act), which provides, among other things, that a person must be an Irish citizen before a passport can be issued to him/her. In order to meet this legal requirement, each person must demonstrate an entitlement to Irish citizenship in his/her application.

The applicant referred to was born on 11/2/2015. His entitlement to Irish citizenship is governed by the terms of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1956 as amended (the 1956 Act). Section 6A of the Act provides that a person born in the State on or after 1 January 2005, where neither parent is an Irish or British citizen or otherwise entitled to reside in the State or Northern Ireland without restriction at the time of that person’s birth, may claim citizenship by birth in the State (and thereby establish eligibility for an Irish passport) only where a parent has been lawfully resident in the State for three years of the four preceding his/her birth (a total of 1,095 days).

The parent of the child has made a declaration that she came to Ireland on 1/07/2012. As her period of residency in Ireland prior to the birth of the child is 955 days, the child’s entitlement to Irish citizenship has not been demonstrated and consequently the child is not entitled to an Irish passport. There is no discretion allowed under the Act for shorter periods of residency.

Ultimately as citizenship is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality, it is open to the parent of the applicant to pursue the matter with that Department.

In the event that an application for naturalisation is successful and a naturalisation certificate issues, a new passport application may be submitted.

Foreign Naval Vessels

 283. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan the details of the circumstances surrounding the docking of a US warship (details supplied) at Cobh Harbour on 21 March 2017; the reason it was docked; the purpose of its journey; the permissions that were granted and by whom for the docking of the warship and for military and navy personnel to patrol the quay; if the vessel has been searched to ensure there are no nuclear weapons on board; the steps that have been taken to ensure no military exercises were or will be carried out in Irish waters; the consultation that took place with An Garda Síochána prior to the docking of the vessel; if this is the same warship that fired the first tomahawk cruise missiles into Baghdad almost 14 years ago on 20 March 2003 resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Iraqi citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15342/17]

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan In response to a request from the US Embassy, my Department granted permission for a visit by the US naval vessel, USS Donald Cook, to visit the port of Cobh from 21-25 March 2017. The purpose of the visit to Ireland was crew rest and relaxation.

As is the case, for all requests for ships to pay routine calls to Irish ports, my Department seeks the views of other agencies including An Garda Síochána and the Naval Service prior to permission being granted.

In seeking permission for this visit, clear assurances were received from the US Embassy that the vessel in question would not be carrying any nuclear weapons and would not engage in any military exercises while in Irish territorial waters. These conditions are imposed in line with Ireland’s longstanding policy that visiting naval vessels not carry nuclear weapons and not engage in military exercises while in Irish territorial waters.

Routine courtesy visits by naval vessels to foreign ports are a regular feature of international relations and help to further bilateral ties between friendly nations. Ships from our own Naval Service also regularly pay such visits to foreign ports. Permission was granted in this case in consideration of the deep ties of friendship between Ireland and the US.

Security arrangements for such visits are a matter for An Garda Síochána with whom my Department consults before granting permission for naval visits.

Public Sector Staff Recruitment

 284. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if his attention has been drawn to an anomaly which is deterring mobility within the wider public service (details supplied); his plans to address this anomaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14832/17]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe In general, a person being appointed to a post in the public service by way of open competition will start at the minimum of the scale in accordance with the rules of the recruitment competition. While this policy had applied for many years, increased levels of recruitment to the Civil Service following the lifting of the moratorium gave rise to queries in respect of the appropriate pay point at which existing public/civil servants should be assimilated. It was recognised that starting at the minimum of the scale was a barrier to mobility where the successful candidates were existing public servants seeking a new appointment elsewhere in the public service at an analogous grade.

In the context of Action 15 of the Civil Service Renewal Plan "to expand career and mobility opportunities for staff across geographic, organisational and sectoral boundaries and the matter will be examined in further detail" it was decided to review the policy relating to the starting pay of appointees from elsewhere in the public service, to the Civil Service.

Such appointees had been treated as new entrants to the Civil Service and appointments were made at the minimum of the scale.  It was decided that with effect from 30th November 2015, where the appointee had been serving elsewhere in the public service in analogous grade and pay-scale, the appointment could be made at the appointee's current point of scale. This meant that such appointees could be assimilated on their current pay point on the same basis as a civil servant.  Appointees would be required to mark time where their current salary was not an exact match in respect of incremental points.

The revised arrangements outlined above apply only to appointments in an analogous grade and pay-scale and not to appointments to a higher grade which would be considered as a promotion.

In respect of the Civil Service, officers who secure promotion by way of internal competition, either via interdepartmental or departmental competition, have their starting pay calculated under the provisions of Circular 34/77 Starting Pay on Promotion or Establishment. In general, this means the minimum of the scale of the new post where the officer is currently on a lower point or, if more beneficial, at a point equivalent to existing pay plus accrued increment, if any, plus an immediate increment on the new scale.

Where an officer secures a higher post by way of open competition, paragraph 11 of Circular 34/77 applies and this provides that the starting pay of such officers is determined by the entry pay provisions of the Conditions of Service prescribed for the particular competition. In most cases this will mean appointment at the minimum of the scale unless there is specific provision otherwise but in some cases an officer may enter the scale of the new grade above the minimum on an off-scale point.  Essentially this allows the officer to retain their current level of pay on a mark time basis.

Currently there are no formal arrangements in place allowing similar treatment of staff moving from other State bodies to the Civil Service. However, in light of the wider use of open recruitment to the Civil Service, my Department is conducting a review of policies in this area.

National Monuments

 285. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the person or body that is responsible for the destruction of the Donaghmore souterrain. [15167/17]

 286. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe his plans to repair damage done to the Donaghmore souterrain in County Louth, which is the only souterrain here that is designated a national monument (details supplied). [15168/17]

 287. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the reason, following the collapse of the Donaghmore souterrain in two places in 2010 caused by the reckless movement of building equipment, no action was taken except to close the souterrain to the public for safety reasons. [15170/17]

 288. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the reason an archaeological survey was not carried out to assess damage done to the Donaghmore souterrain. [15171/17]

 289. Deputy Peadar Tóibín Information on Peadar Tóibín Zoom on Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the reason the national monuments department of the OPW did not react to news of the damage done to the Donaghmore souterrain in 2010 and repair this monument which is in its care. [15172/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Seán Canney): Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney I propose to take Questions Nos. 285 to 289, inclusive, together.

Donaghmore Souterrain is a National Monument in State care and is maintained by the Office of Public Works. The site is privately owned and is one of the many locations managed by the OPW under the Guardianship provisions of the relevant National Monuments legislation.

It came to the attention of the OPW in 2010 that the Donaghmore site had suffered some damage. Specifically, one of the lintols had cracked. Additionally, a number of vents providing airways into the structure appear to be blocked. This rendered the site potentially unsafe for visitors and public access, which had previously been available through a local keyholder, was curtailed immediately the damage became known.

The OPW is not in a position to state conclusively who was responsible for the damage and is now focused on carrying out the necessary investigation works to assess the possible repairs to the structure. To date however, the necessary staff have been addressing other more urgent priorities and it has not been possible to make a substantive start on assessment works. It should also be reflected that, while a number of examinations of the site have been undertaken, the work is hampered by the unstable condition of the Monument and because, it is a confined space as defined by Health and Safety legislation. This adds considerably to the logistical difficulties involved in accessing the interior of the structure to inspect it fully.

The damage sustained to the Monument is a potential structural failure in the first instance and although Archaeological advice is key, the solution and repair will be primarily led by engineering considerations. Relevant archaeological staff of the Department of Arts Heritage Rural Regional and Gaeltacht Affairs have inspected the site and are working with the OPW to devise the necessary remedial work.

It is expected that the investigation will be progressed in 2017 and will be undertaken by the National Monuments Service staff based locally in Trim. Given the underground nature of the site and the particular hazards associated with such spaces, it is not clear at this time whether the reinstatement of public access to the Monument will be feasible. This will be considered only when relevant Architectural and Structural Engineering staff can carry out the necessary work and make a fuller assessment.


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