To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on recent events in Venezuela; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 12th April, 2017.
Ref No: 18292/17
I am deeply concerned by the situation in Venezuela following rulings on 28 and 29 March by the country’s Supreme Court which rescinded the constitutional powers of the democratically elected National Assembly of Venezuela. Venezuela is facing grave and deteriorating political, economic, and social crises.
While domestic and international pressure led to the rescinding last week of most of the rulings of the Supreme Court, it remains the case that the Court has declared the National Assembly as being in contempt of the constitution and ruled that legislation passed by the National Assembly is null and void. This order which has been in place since August 2016 undermines the core democratic principle of the separation of powers.
I reiterate the European Union’s call for all parties in Venezuela to respect the country’s constitution and the role of the National Assembly, as well as democratic principles and the rule of law. My EU counterparts and I discussed Venezuela at the recent Foreign Affairs Council and we agreed on the importance of a peaceful solution to the current crisis. Critical to this is the establishment of a clear electoral calendar. In this context I welcome the resolution passed unanimously by the Organisation of American States on 3 April urging action by the Venezuelan government to ensure the full restoration of democratic order and share the grave concern expressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at restrictions on freedom of movement, association expression and peaceful protest in Venezuela.
I am alarmed by the shortages of food and medicines being faced by the people of Venezuela, and the unacceptable level of violence used by Government authorities in recent days against protesters and in particular against democratically elected opposition Deputies attempting to reach the National Assembly building.
The Government of Venezuela must restore the country’s democratic institutions and work together with the National Assembly and other national actors to address the many serious challenges facing the country.
To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the situation in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien.
The situation in Syria continues to be a matter of grave concern. 13.5 million Syrians are now in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria including 6.3 million internally displaced people, 1.5 million are living under siege conditions which gives rise to serious protection concerns, and a further 5 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region.
I was horrified to learn of the apparent chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun last week which killed scores of civilians and seriously injured many more. The attack was simply barbaric, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families. I condemn unreservedly the attack and those responsible.
I am also aware of course of the US missile strikes on Shayrat Airfield in Syria. I understand that the US intention was to prevent further chemical attacks. The High Representative, Federica Mogherini, issued a statement on behalf of EU Member States in response to those missile strikes.
The attack in Khan Sheikhoun further underlines the need for accountability and a genuine political transition in Syria. The search for a sustainable peaceful resolution to the conflict, and, as part of that, ensuring full legal accountability for all war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria, is a top foreign policy priority for Ireland.
I had the opportunity to discuss the situation in Syria with EU Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council last week. My EU colleagues joined me in condemning the continued widespread abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law by all parties, especially the Syrian regime. We also agreed the new EU Strategy for Syria, and reiterated our position that there can be no EU support for reconstruction until a comprehensive, genuine and inclusive political transition, owned by the Syrian people, is firmly under way.
Minister of State McHugh attended the Conference on supporting the future of Syria and the Region in Brussels last Wednesday at which Ireland pledged an additional €25million in humanitarian assistance for Syria and the neighbouring refugee hosting countries in 2017. Ireland has already contributed €76.5 million to the humanitarian effort in Syria. This is Irish Aid’s largest response to a single crisis in recent years, which is indicative of the level of priority we attach to this issue.
Ireland fully supports the UN-led Geneva peace process and the work of UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and remains committed to supporting efforts towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict. It remains to be seen how the events of the past week will impact on these efforts.
The proportion of the €1 million funding provided for in budget 2017 for community CCTV schemes which will be allocated to north County Dublin
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the proportion of the €1 million funding provided for in budget 2017 for community CCTV schemes which will be allocated to north County Dublin; when she expects this money to come into effect; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien
I am very conscious of the value that communities, especially rural communities, place on CCTV as a means of deterring crime and assisting in the detection of offenders.
The Deputy will be aware that the Programme for a Partnership Government commits to providing investment in CCTV systems and that I have secured €1 million in Budget 2017 to begin a new round of community CCTV schemes in line with the Programme. I expect to make an announcement in this context shortly.
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if Rush Garda station is included in the six stations being examined for reopening under the pilot programme..
- Darragh O'Brien
The Deputy will appreciate that the Garda Commissioner is primarily responsible for the effective and efficient use of the resources available to her, including in relation to Garda stations.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Garda Síochána District and Station Rationalisation Programme gave rise to the closure in 2012 and 2013 of some 139 Garda stations, including Rush Garda Station, following the completion by An Garda Síochána of a comprehensive review of its district and station network. That review was undertaken with the objective of identifying opportunities to introduce strategic reforms to enhance service delivery, increase efficiency and streamline practices within the organisation. I have been advised by the Garda authorities that the closures have allowed front line Garda to be managed and deployed with greater mobility, greater flexibility and in a more focused fashion, particularly with regard to targeted police operations.
The Programme for Government commits the Government to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and to deter crime. A cornerstone of this commitment is the Government plan to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 personnel by 2021 comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. Revisiting the decisions made to close Garda stations is also part of that commitment.
In this context, I have requested the Garda Commissioner, while fully cognisant of her statutory functions, to identify 6 stations for reopening on a pilot basis to determine possible positive impacts that such openings will have on criminal activity, with special emphasis on burglaries, theft and public order. The pilot will feed into the wider review being undertaken by the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, at the request of the Policing Authority, of the dispersal and use of resources available to An Garda Síochána in the delivery of policing services to local communities.
I understand that work is continuing in An Garda Síochána to identify the 6 stations for inclusion in the pilot and that consultations have taken place with relevant stakeholders, including the Policing Authority. In this context, I am sure that the Deputy would agree that a comprehensive and evidenced-based analysis should be carried out, taking account of all the relevant factors, before a final decision is made in respect of the stations to be reopened by the Commissioner.
I expect to receive a report from the Commissioner by the end of May in connection with the exercise.
Lengthy delays being experienced by passengers entering Ireland through Dublin airport due to the long queues at immigration
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the regular lengthy delays being experienced by passengers entering Ireland through Dublin airport due to the long queues at immigration; her plans to reduce waiting times; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
- Darragh O'Brien
Information supplied by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) in relation to queue times for arriving passengers at Dublin Airport shows that over 90% of all travellers are processed through immigration control in a matter of minutes with the figures being even higher for passengers of EU nationalities. This is in the context of passenger numbers at Dublin Airport reaching record levels last year with almost 28 million passengers using the Airport. On the rare occasions that passengers may experience delays this can be for a variety of reasons including congestion arising in the terminal building due to the number of passengers disembarking from flights at peak daily periods, delayed flights due to weather conditions, or other factors including the conducting of enhanced checks on passengers or current building works in one of the immigration areas which has reduced the space available.
The allocation of immigration personnel at Dublin Airport is designed to have the maximum number of staff on duty during peak periods. Every effort is made by immigration officers to exercise their function as speedily as possible consistent with the requirement to protect our borders and facilitate legitimate travellers. Nonetheless, a very high number of flights within a contracted arrivals time period (which happens frequently at Dublin airport) and the consequent increased passenger numbers within these peak times, can impact on queuing times over these periods. Although, the immigration authorities at Dublin Airport have no control over the number of flights or their arrival times, they have an excellent relationship with the Dublin Airport Authority and air carriers and work closely together to address queue management issues where they arise so as to ensure that waiting times are kept to a minimum.
The Deputy will appreciate that the protection of our borders is a matter of the utmost priority and that checks undertaken on passengers must be thorough and appropriate. Issues may arise that require further processing and checks of individual passengers but every reasonable effort is made to minimise the impact on travellers. In this context, and in line with developments in other EU Member States, my Department and An Garda Síochána continues to progress a broad series of initiatives to strengthen border security. For example, since November 2016 an automated connection to INTERPOL’s Lost and Stolen Travel Documents database was rolled out to all international airports and seaports and passengers are systematically checked against this database. This has not had any significant impact on immigration processing times.
Later this year the Irish immigration authorities will begin to process Advance Passenger Information on flights into the State from outside the EU and preparations are also under way to implement the EU Directive on Passenger Name Records (PNR). These systems will provide further protection for our borders against crime, terrorism and illegal immigration threats. In addition, I expect to be in a position to award a contract for the provision of automatic border control (ABC) gates in the next few months and to begin installation at Dublin Airport later in the year. This facility will be available for EU nationals with e-passports to effectively self-immigrate through the Airport.
Furthermore, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department will this year take on the front line checks in Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport (they already carry out this function in Terminal 1 and the Transit area of Terminal 2) which will release further Gardaí for core policing duties.
Department of Education's policy to include provision for an ASD unit or units in all new primary and secondary school building projects
To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if it is his department's policy to include provision for an ASD unit or units in all new primary and secondary school building projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for organising and planning provision for children with special educational needs, including establishing special classes in mainstream primary and post primary schools.
It is general practice to include a Special Needs Unit in the accommodation brief for new primary and post schools, unless local circumstances indicate that it will not be required or where site conditions preclude construction.
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