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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 143-159
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Irish Language
 Header Item Regional Aid
 Header Item Local Authority Funding
 Header Item Departmental Strategies
 Header Item Defective Building Materials
 Header Item County Development Plans
 Header Item Housing Estates
 Header Item Homelessness Strategy
 Header Item Wastewater Treatment
 Header Item Regional Aid
 Header Item Human Rights
 Header Item Middle East
 Header Item Election Monitoring Missions
 Header Item Working Family Payment

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 999 No. 4
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 58 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 143-159

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 143. Deputy Paul Kehoe Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the reason restaurants that do not sell alcohol have been excluded from the Covid-19 adaption fund; her plans to open the fund up to these restaurants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30846/20]

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin The administration of the COVID-19 Adaptation Fund is an operational matter for the Board and management of Fáilte Ireland. Accordingly, I have referred the Deputy's question to them for further information and direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 144. Deputy Neale Richmond Information on Neale Richmond Zoom on Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the level to which boxing clubs can operate under Covid-19 restrictions; the engagement she has had with an organisation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30859/20]

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin Under Level 3 of the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19, no matches or sports events are permitted other than those which are specifically exempted under the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Where these exempted events are taking place at Level 3, they must be held behind closed doors with no spectators permitted. Training is permitted, in non-contact groups of up to 15 outdoors; only individual training is permitted indoors.

There has been, and will continue to be, a regular, ongoing engagement with the sports sector, including with the body referred to by the Deputy. In addition to direct engagement with Sport Ireland, the statutory agency for the development of sport in Ireland, sporting organisations including the body referred to by the Deputy have also contributed to regular meetings of the Sports Monitoring Group, which is chaired at Ministerial level. Moreover, the Expert Group on Return to Sport, which is chaired by my Department, has reviewed and provided, via Sport Ireland, feedback to the body referred to by the Deputy on its return to sport protocols.

Irish Language

 145. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan Information on Cian O'Callaghan Zoom on Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin if additional supports and resources will be provided for Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta, TG4 and Raidió Rí-Rá in 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30870/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jack Chambers): Information on Jack Chambers Zoom on Jack Chambers The Deputy will be pleased to learn that, in line with Programme for Government commitments, it was announced in Budget 2021 that additional funding of €14.8m will be provided for the Gaeltacht and Irish language sector next year, bringing its funding allocation to over €78m. This includes an increase in Údarás na Gaeltachta’s capital allocation for job creation, taking it to just under €14.5m, thus going beyond a commitment made in Project Ireland 2040. This will assist An tÚdarás in protecting its client-companies from the full impact of Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Gaeltacht will also benefit from increased allocations for the statutory language planning process and for community and language supports, in line with the Government’s 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language. Additional funding of €1.799m will also be provided for cross-border co-operation in the languages sector, thus ensuring that An Foras Teanga will see its first funding increase since 2016 and allowing the southern Government fulfil its financial commitments to the Irish language under the New Decade, New Approach agreement.

The Government has also provided an additional allocation of €1m for the Department’s Language Support Schemes outside the Gaeltacht. These schemes have contributed greatly to innovative Irish language technology projects in recent years and I look forward to seeing ogress in this area over the coming year, in particular with regard to the popular music radio station targeted at teenage Irish speakers, Raidió Rí-Rá.

I can also inform the Deputy that, under my Department’s Media allocation, funding to TG4 is being increased by €3.5m to bring it up to its recommended level of funding of €40.7m.

Regional Aid

 146. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the value of regional aid granted under the regional aid guidelines granted by her Department or agencies under the remit of her Department in each of the past seven years; the value by county or lowest possible NUTS level over the period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30907/20]

Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin I am advised that two agencies under the remit of my Department – Údarás na Gaeltachta and Fáilte Ireland – have engaged in expenditure under the Regional Aid (Industry and Services) Scheme General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) 2014-2020, during the period in question. As the Deputy will be aware it is not possible to provide information by county or NUTS, as all aid is reported at aggregate level for a Scheme under the GBER.

  Details in respect of aid granted by Údarás Na Gaeltachta are set out in the table below.    

Year 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020
Value of aid Scheme launched €2.46m €2.21m €3.3m €2.18m €2.52m Not yet available


   With specific regard to any regional aid that Fáilte Ireland has granted through its tourism capital grants schemes under the Regional Aid Investment category of the General Block Exemption Regulation(GBER) Rules during the period in question, I am referring the Deputy’s question to Fáilte Ireland as an operational matter for direct reply to the Deputy. Please contact my private office if you have not received a reply within ten working days.

Local Authority Funding

 147. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if he will consider issues raised in correspondence from a local authority (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30655/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Local authorities derive their income from a variety of sources, both locally raised and from central government. Elected members have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, which includes adopting the annual budget. It is a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process, having regard to both locally identified needs and the resources available.

Central government funding to local authorities presents a complicated picture, with transfers from a wide range of Departments and Offices, not solely from my Department, for various purposes. Some streams of funding are delivered directly from funding Departments to local authorities, while others are routed through Departmental agencies. The Comptroller and Auditor General reports on the central government funding of local authorities as part of his annual report, which provides an overview of the funds flowing from and through central government sources to local authorities and the purposes for which funds have been provided. Across all schemes and funding sources my Department provided €31.8m to Monaghan County Council in 2018 and €40.1m in 2019.

At the current time, all local authorities are experiencing financial challenges. In order to support the local government sector generally, my Department continues to keep local authority income, expenditure and cash flow generally under review and will continue to work with all local authorities on both collective and individual issues that arise.

Departmental Strategies

 148. Deputy Denise Mitchell Information on Denise Mitchell Zoom on Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the date on which the towns first strategy will be published; if consultation will be involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30713/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien While our towns and villages have shown remarkable resilience through recent crises, they require specific policy supports to ensure that they continue to function as viable, vibrant and attractive locations for people to live and work, to raise families, to act as the service, cultural and recreational hub for the surrounding areas, and to facilitate social and community interaction. The challenges they face include those associated with the provision of adequate employment opportunities, addressing vacant and derelict properties, the impact of online shopping on town-centre retail, and the general move away from town centre living and commercial activity.

In this context, the Programme for Government (PFG) has committed in outline to the development of a Town Centre First (TCF) policy. With a view to giving effect to this commitment and the actions outlined in the PFG, a TCF inter-Departmental Group (IDG) will be established to consider the regeneration of our towns and villages. Both my Department and the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Islands are currently formulating this joint approach which will involve both the Terms of Reference for the IDG and an initial scoping of the policy proposal.

As outlined above, a TCF policy is at the very early stages of development which will require both a scoping of high-level objectives through the forum of the IDG with many strands to be considered including that of appropriate stakeholder engagement and public consultation.

Defective Building Materials

 149. Deputy Francis Noel Duffy Information on Francis Noel Duffy Zoom on Francis Noel Duffy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if his attention has been drawn to the increasing number of homes impacted by defective building materials in County Clare; if he will consider expanding the pyrite and mica scheme to County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30728/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The regulations for the Defective Concrete Blocks Grant scheme came in to operation on 31 January 2020. The Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks in Construction (Remediation) (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2020 provide for a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo only, to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to the use of defective concrete blocks.

The scheme opened for applications at the end of June 2020. I have no plans currently to extend it to other local authority areas.

County Development Plans

 150. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien his plans to suspend or extend the county development plan preparation and consultation processes in view of the restriction on public gatherings as a consequence of Covid-19. [30763/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien In light of the impacts of the Covid-19 emergency, the Government, on 29 March 2020, made an Order under section 251A of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended (the Act), which resulted in the extension of time for a range of specified or appropriate periods and timelines in the Planning Acts and associated planning regulations. Further orders were signed on 16 April 2020 and 9 May 2020, the last of which expired on 23 May 2020. The three Orders had the combined effect of extending the relevant planning periods and timelines, by an aggregate of 56 days/8 weeks during the time period in which they have effect.

On 15 September 2020, the Government published its latest response to managing Covid-19 - Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for living with Covid-19. While I don't envisage any further actions will be required for the planning system in relation in the context of this framework at this time, I continue to keep this matter under review.

In particular, I note the role that public participation plays in the process of making or varying a County Development Plan and there are specific requirements in Section 11 of the Act in this regard. Local authorities must endeavour to operate to satisfy these requirements in accordance with public health guidance and related operating procedures, which are likely to require innovative solutions to ensure that public consultation requirements can be satisfied. In view of public health considerations, public engagement should maximise the use of electronic means, where possible.

It is important to note that under Section 12(16) of the Act, the validity of a development plan may not be questioned by reason only that certain procedures were not completed within the timeframes set out in the Act.

Housing Estates

 151. Deputy Ged Nash Information on Ged Nash Zoom on Ged Nash asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the legal ownership of open green areas in estates that have been taken over by a respective local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30820/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Whilst the ownership of property lies with the registered owner, the taking in charge process under section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended (the Act) provides that the local authority shall, on completion of the process set out in the section, take responsibility for public open spaces (green areas) or public car parks within the attendant grounds of the development. The green areas which are taken in charge must remain accessible to the public.

Where development has been carried out on lands pursuant to a permission given under section 34 of the Act, to which a condition requiring the provision or maintenance of land as open space was attached to the permission, or it was either explicit or implicit in the application for the permission that land would be provided or maintained as such open space, the planning authority is empowered to take further action in relation to such open space under section 45 of the Act.

In this regard, under section 45(1)(c) of the Act, the planning authority can serve on the owner of the land a written request that, within a period specified in the request (being a period of not less than 8 weeks commencing on the date of the request), he or she will provide, level, plant or otherwise adapt or maintain the land in a manner so specified, being a manner which in its opinion would make it suitable for the purpose for which the open space was to be provided.

Where the owner fails to comply with a written request to undertake the specified requested actions on the open space, the planning authority may, if it thinks fit, publish in a newspaper circulating in the district a notice (an “acquisition notice”) of its intention to acquire the land by order under this section and the acquisition notice shall specify a period (being a period of not less than 4 weeks commencing on the date on which the notice is published) within which an appeal may be made by the owner to An Bord Pleanála.

Subject to the outcome of any appeal that may be lodged, the planning authority can make an order to vest the land to which the acquisition notice relates and send the order to the registering authority under the Registration of Title Act 1964, and thereupon the registering authority shall cause the planning authority to be the registered owner of the land in accordance with the order. Any claim for compensation in respect of land to which an order relates shall, in default of agreement, be determined by arbitration under the terms of the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Act 1919 in like manner as if such claim arose in relation to the compulsory acquisition of the land in question.

Homelessness Strategy

 152. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if he will advise on a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30847/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien As Minister, I have said on a number of occasions that I am particularly concerned about the number of single adults accessing homelessness services. Single adults represent over 75% of the total number of households accessing homelessness services and in recognition of this fact I launched a ‘Call for Housing 2020’ in July, with a particular focus on sourcing one bed properties.

I have also allocated €40 million for the refurbishment of 2,500 vacant properties which will be completed and allocated to people on the social housing list this year. The Programme for Government recognises the importance of ensuring an appropriate mix of housing design types and aims to continue to expand the Housing First approach with a focus on the construction and acquisition of one-bed homes and the provision of relevant supporting services.

Preventing people from entering homelessness in the first instance is a top priority for my Department and that is why at the end of July I brought forward the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020. The Act came into effect on August 1st and protects tenants experiencing rent arrears from eviction/rent increases prior to 11th January 2021, and applies nationwide subject to the tenant making an appropriate declaration. The Programme for Government commits to improving security and affordability for all renters. To achieve this, the Government is developing a Cost Rental model and programme for delivery of housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for construction and management of homes.

In Dublin, where homelessness is most pronounced, we know that from the start of 2020, 59% of families presenting to homeless services were prevented from having to enter emergency accommodation by way of a tenancy having been created. Indeed, during the second quarter of 2020 alone, two out of every three families who presented to homeless services were prevented from having to enter emergency accommodation in Dublin. It is due to progress such as this that we have seen the number of families accessing emergency accommodation nationally fall to its lowest number since June 2016.

The Homeless HAP Place finder service is an important aid for homeless households or households who are in danger of falling into homelessness, and who are finding it difficult to secure HAP tenancies. The Place Finder service has proven to be very effective, with HAP responsible for approximately 65% of the exits from homelessness recorded in 2019. More than 11,500 tenancies entered the HAP scheme on foot of a referral from a local authority Homeless Unit by end Q1 2020.

Other important homelessness prevention services include the national Tenancy Protection Service which is provided by Threshold with funding from my Department. This service links tenants at risk of losing their homes to Local Authorities and with Social Protection services in order for them to access supports before becoming homeless, enabling them to continue in their existing tenancies.

My Department is also working with the Residential Tenancies Board in ensuring that vulnerable households in the private rented sector are fully aware of their rights and where tenancies are terminated resulting in households becoming homeless.

I have also established a High Level Homelessness Taskforce and I am also in regular contact with my colleague the Minister for Health, as I believe a strong collaboration between both Departments will help those with complex health and mental health needs successfully exit homelessness.

Budget 2021, which was announced on 13 October, makes provision for €218m in funding for homeless services. This is an increase of €22m on 2020 (€196m) or an increase of 11%. This additional funding in 2021 reflects the priority that I as Minister, and the Government, is giving to homelessness.

Wastewater Treatment

 153. Deputy Jackie Cahill Information on Jackie Cahill Zoom on Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the date on which funding will be made available to a county council (details supplied) that applied for funding to deal with wastewater treatment plants in housing estates to allow it to take these estates in charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30848/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien On 21 September, I announced allocations under the new multi-annual capital investment programme for the progressive resolution of housing estates with “developer provided water services infrastructure”, to enable the taking in charge of these estates. The announcement followed an independent Expert Panel review of all valid bids. The Panel’s recommendations are based on criteria set out in the Framework document issued to local authorities when requesting bid proposals.

  The focus of the first multi-annual programme is on estates in towns and villages where the resolution is to connect their water services to the public networks. The programme will also support a number of pilot projects where connection is not feasible in the immediate future. These pilot projects, together with a major study to be under taken by Irish Water, will inform future policy on resolving sub-standard developer provided infrastructure with sustainable solutions in such areas. This, the first funding cycle of the new multi-annual programme, runs to the end of 2021.

  All local authorities that submitted bids were informed about the outcome of their bids in a circular which included a copy of the Expert Panel report on the bids process. The report provides the commentary of the Panel on their evaluation in the case of unsuccessful bids and guidance for the local authority in making future bids in upcoming programmes. The Deputy will find that the circular and report addresses all of the items raised in the question.

  The circular is available on my Department's website at the link under:

  https://www.housing.gov.ie/water/water-services/circular-ldpi01-2020-approval-projects-residential-estates-under-developer

Regional Aid

 154. Deputy Louise O'Reilly Information on Louise O'Reilly Zoom on Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the value of regional aid granted under the regional aid guidelines granted by his Department or agencies under the remit of his Department in each of the past seven years; the value by county or lowest possible NUTS level over the period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30901/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien While my Department is responsible for a range of infrastructure and other programmes that bring significant benefits to all areas of the country, it does not operate formal regional aid schemes along the lines of those to which the Deputy refers.

Human Rights

 155. Deputy Joe O'Brien Information on Joe O'Brien Zoom on Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney his views on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain; his plans to raise these issues as part of membership of the UN Security Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30718/20]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Respect for human rights is an integral part of Ireland’s foreign policy, and we consistently raise our concerns on human rights issues through the most effective and appropriate channels. This commitment to human rights will consistently inform and underpin our approach on the Security Council, and we will continue to champion human rights through all appropriate multilateral fora, above all the UN Human Rights Council.

The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia remains a matter of serious concern. Last month at the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland co-signed a Joint Statement on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia that expressed concern about the treatment of human rights defenders, use of the death penalty, and accountability for the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi, among other issues. Human rights issues are regularly raised in our bilateral contacts with the Saudi authorities.

Although Bahrain has repeatedly stated its commitment to improving its human rights record and safeguarding human rights as enshrined in the Bahraini Constitution, we are concerned by ongoing instances of violations of fundamental freedoms, including violations of freedom of opinion and expression, as well as the targeting of human rights defenders. My officials regularly meet with the Bahraini authorities to discuss the full range of bilateral and multilateral issues, including human rights.

As an EU Member State, Ireland also discusses human rights in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia through EU mechanisms. The next session of the informal EU-Bahrain Human Rights Dialogue, due to take place next month, will be an opportunity to discuss these issues. In addition, plans are at an advanced stage to establish an EU-Saudi Arabia Human Rights Dialogue, with the first session currently scheduled to take place in December. This will provide a valuable additional forum to discuss human rights issues, including individual cases.

Middle East

 156. Deputy Patrick Costello Information on Patrick Costello Zoom on Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if his attention has been drawn to the increase in demolitions and seizures of Palestinian structures in the West Bank (details supplied); the response of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30754/20]

 157. Deputy Patrick Costello Information on Patrick Costello Zoom on Patrick Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney if his attention has been drawn to a school in Ras al-Tin near Ramallah (details supplied) that is at risk of imminent demolition; the steps his Department has taken to prevent the demolition of the school and other schools and structures in the West Bank; and the steps his Department has taken to secure compensation for demolished or seized aid. [30755/20]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 and 157 together.

  The demolition of Palestinian homes, and demolition or seizure of related structures such as water tanks, wells, solar panels, schools and animal housing, are cruel and unjust actions. This is of particular concern when those structures confiscated or demolished are donor-funded. The only possible conclusion we can draw from the systematic nature of these policies, especially in areas where illegal Israeli settlements have already been constructed, is that they are aimed at forcing Palestinians off their land.

  Ireland joined the European Commission-led West Bank Protection Consortium in 2017 at my instigation, during my first visit to Israel and Palestine as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Consortium plays a leading role in supporting threatened communities and coordinating the provision of essential services to them, including material assistance and legal aid. Ireland’s membership of the Consortium underlines our commitment to reducing the vulnerability of Palestinian communities living in Area C of the West Bank.

  My primary concern is the hardship and injustice that demolitions and confiscations cause for Palestinian families. But it is right that the question of recompense for humanitarian relief funded by our taxpayers should also be pursued. Ireland is part of a group of EU Member States which pursue this issue consistently through the West Bank Protection Consortium. It is the practice of the Consortium to raise this directly with the Israeli authorities and to date, Consortium have sought compensation of over €625,000 in respect of confiscated or demolished assets.

Demolitions and seizures of Palestinian property and humanitarian aid, including Palestinian homes, continue, despite previous commitments from Israeli authorities not to target Palestinian residential structures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The monthly average for 2020 shows an acceleration in demolitions, the September situation report of the West Bank Protection Consortium notes an average of 31 demolitions per month, higher than the average of 28 in 2016 which was previously the high-water mark.

  With regard to the specific case the Deputy mentions, Irish officials are aware of this and have been following it closely. Ireland’s Ambassador in Tel Aviv has raised this case with the Israeli authorities, along with a group of EU and non-EU colleagues. Ireland regularly conveys our views on these actions to the Israeli authorities, both directly and through the EU. I have done so myself on my visits to the region.

The practice of demolition and confiscation of humanitarian assets, including education infrastructure, is contrary to Israel’s obligations under International Law, including provisions of international humanitarian law, and in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention. These practices also cause suffering to ordinary Palestinians, and impinge on the right of children to an education.

Election Monitoring Missions

 158. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the number of members on the election observation roster; the steps taken to establish the number of roster members able and willing to volunteer for overseas election observation missions in view of the Covid-19 pandemic; if he will make temporary additions to the roster by the appointment of experienced observers in order to ensure Ireland is in a position to make a meaningful contribution to international election observation missions as they arise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30840/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Colm Brophy): Information on Colm Brophy Zoom on Colm Brophy The current roster of volunteers available for nomination to election observation missions organised by the EU and OSCE has 199 members, as listed in the response to Parliamentary Questions No. 338 and No. 342 of 21 July 2020. Roster members were selected on the basis of an open competitive application process in 2018. The roster, which is facilitated by the Department of Foreign Affairs, is effective as of 1 January 2019 and is set to run through 2023. Those successful in the competition have subsequently been vetted and trained, and thus there is a large pool of high-calibre election observers available for nomination when the public health situation allows. By way of context, the average number of roster members participating in missions annually is fewer than 60.

At present, based on public health advice and measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19, the Department of Foreign Affairs advises against non-essential overseas travel. Election observation missions pose particular challenges in the context of COVID-19, given extensive travel within the destination country and close contact with residents as well as election observers from other countries. This has implications not only for the health of election observers but also of those with whom they would come into contact in carrying out their duties and upon their return from mission.

In light of these concerns, and as outlined in response to Parliamentary Question No. 396 of 6 October 2020, the Department has taken the decision not to nominate volunteers for election observation missions at this time. Officials are continuing to monitor the situation, taking into account Government policy as well as communications with EU and OSCE focal points for election observation missions. As mission requests arise, we will continue to evaluate the epidemiological situation, health and travel advice, and safeguards put in place both by mission organisers as well as host countries, and will decide on nominating observers accordingly. Given the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and its current resurgence, the health and safety of volunteers, as well as of their families and broader contacts, is at the core of our considerations.

For information, the OSCE has advised that planned election observation missions to Ukraine, Georgia and Republic of Moldova in October and November 2020 have been reconfigured as limited election observation missions not requiring volunteer observers due to the difficulty which OSCE members have in nominating volunteers given the extent of the pandemic. Similarly, the EU has scaled back election observation for the forthcoming general election in Bolivia, which will be an election expert mission not requiring volunteer observers.

Working Family Payment

 159. Deputy Sorca Clarke Information on Sorca Clarke Zoom on Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Defence Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney the number of persons employed by his Department that are in receipt of the working family payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30645/20]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Simon Coveney): Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney The Working Family Payment is a weekly, tax-free payment available to employees with children. It gives extra financial support to families with children with rates depending on their incomes and family size. The payments are administered by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

  The table below contains details provided by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection of the number of persons employed by the Department of Defence who were in receipt of Working Family Payment as at week-ending 9 October 2020.

Department of Defence Occupations Number in receipt of WFP
Assemblers/Lineworkers 1
Electrical/Electronic Trades 1
NCOs and Other Ranks, Armed Forces 67
Other Occupation 1
Ship and Aircraft Officers, Air Traffic Planners and Controllers 1
Civil Servants and Civilian Employees 31
Grand Total 102


  These figures indicate that around 0.8%, of the current strength of the Defence Forces and 3.8% of the combined number of civil servants and civilian employees employed by the Department of Defence are currently eligible to receive Working Family Payment. It should be noted that these figures may fluctuate marginally from week to week.


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