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Reduction in Garda resources for Cavan/Monaghan Division not acceptable – Brendan Smith TD

It is most regrettable that Garda Management at Headquarters level have reduced the funding, made available at the start of this year, for policing in the Cavan/Monaghan Garda Division.

It is not acceptable that the Department of Justice and Garda Headquarters continue to ignore the unique policing demands of a border division which has a long land border with a neighbouring jurisdiction.  I have outlined in detail on numerous occasions the need to provide additional resources and personnel for An Garda Síochána in the Cavan/Monaghan Division and instead of additional funding resources have been cut.

Unfortunately both urban and rural areas throughout both counties are subjected to criminal activity and increasing anti-social behaviour.  Communities need adequate policing and security.

Most recent Parliamentary Question I tabled to the Minister for Justice below –

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 20/09/2018 

Question Number(s): 110 Question Reference(s): 38203/18 

Department: Justice and Equality 

Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D. 

______________________________________________

QUESTION

To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality his plans to restore the budgets for the Garda divisions in the northern region which were recently reduced; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that such reductions impede the essential policing requirements of Border divisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is the Accounting Officer for the Garda Vote and as such is responsible for the effective and efficient use of the resources at his disposal. Those resources have reached unprecedented levels, with an allocation for 2018 of more than €1.6 billion, including almost €100 million for overtime. I am informed by the Garda authorities that policing requirements are addressed in accordance with operational requirements, as determined by the Commissioner.

This budgetary provision as well as the significant capital investment in An Garda Síochána in recent years are in support of the Government’s commitment to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country, to maintain and strengthen community engagement, provide reassurance to citizens and deter crime.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government has put a plan in place to achieve an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 Garda personnel by 2021, comprising 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. Taking account of projected retirements, Garda numbers are expected to reach 14,000 by the end of this year and 15,000 during 2021.

In terms of capital investment, €342 million is being invested in Garda ICT infrastructure between 2016 and 2021 to enable An Garda Síochána to deploy the latest cutting edge technologies and to deliver projects associated with the Garda Modernisation and Renewal Programme. The Capital Plan 2016-2021 also provides €46 million for investment in the Garda Fleet to ensure that An Garda Síochána has a modern, effective and fit-for-purpose fleet, in addition to the investment of almost €30 million in the fleet in the period 2013 to 2015. Significant investment is also being made in addressing deficiencies in the Garda estate. In particular, the Garda Síochána Building and Refurbishment Programme 2016-2021 is an ambitious 5-year programme, based on agreed Garda priorities, involving over €60 million exchequer funding and benefiting over 30 locations around the country.

 

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Any diminution on backstop proposal not acceptable – Brendan Smith TD

Brexit image.png

The Government must ensure that there will be no change or diminution to the backstop proposal as agreed in December 2017. This is essential in the further negotiations between Britain and the European Union in relation to Brexit.

Below is reply by the Foreign Affairs Minister to my most recent Parliamentary Question –

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 20/09/2018 

Question Number(s): 46 Question Reference(s): 38193/18 

Department: Foreign Affairs and Trade 

Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D. 

______________________________________________

QUESTION

                                                                              REPLY

Question No. 46

Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas 
 
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if there will be no change or diminution to the backstop proposal as agreed in December 2017 in negotiations between Britain and the European Union in relation to Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
 


– Brendan Smith.
 
* For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 20th September, 2018.
 
Ref No: 38193/18 

REPLY

From the outset of these negotiations, the Government has been clear and consistent in our position that a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland must be avoided under any circumstances. A legally operable ‘backstop’ which avoids a hard border and protects the integrity of the single market is essential for agreeing the Withdrawal Agreement, so as to provide the certainty that no matter what the outcome of the negotiations on the future relationship, there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.

While our preference would be to see these issues resolved through the future relationship, this ‘backstop’ must be legally operable and, in the event that it is triggered, must be in place unless and until another solution is found. It cannot be temporary. This is what we agreed to, and what the UK committed to in December last year, and it is what the EU will hold them to.

On Tuesday I met with Michel Barnier and heard from him his assessment that it is time to ‘de-dramatise’ the Protocol and focus on agreeing the workable solutions that it offers at its core. Ireland fully supports this approach. Barnier confirmed once again his view that without a backstop there can be no Withdrawal Agreement.

This support was echoed by our partner EU27 Member States at the GAC Article 50 the same day, and I remain grateful to them for the unity displayed in recognition of this as an essential element of the Withdrawal Agreement.

Both sets of negotiators have committed to bringing new energy to the talks, including on the Irish specific issues, and I welcome this. We remain confident that a deal can be reached, and refuse to be distracted by speculation or mischaracterisation of what the backstop is.

We cannot allow uncertainty about the border. It is not an academic issue, but one that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people every day, and has an impact on the peace process as well. A backstop that does not guarantee to remove this uncertainty is not acceptable to us, to the Task Force, or to the EU27. This shared position has, and will, remain constant.

 

FF 10 point plan will help ease income crisis for farmers – Brendan Smith

dairy

10 Point Plan

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says a new 10 point plan devised by the Party’s agriculture team will help combat the fodder and income crisis being experienced by farmers.

The plan was launched at the National Ploughing Championships in Screggan this week.

Deputy Smith commented, “Farmers across Cavan and Monaghan are all too aware of the failures of this Fine Gael government to address the issues facing them day in, day out.  Minister Creed and his Cabinet colleagues refused to acknowledge the fodder crisis, which was clear to anyone on the ground to see, until it was a full blown crisis.  This year could be even worse unless urgent action is taken.

“Fine Gael is completely out of touch with ordinary farmers and is failing to grasp the seriousness of the income crisis facing many of them.

“The government must at once bring forward a nationally financed hardship fund to help farmers who have been severely impacted by the fodder crisis, escalating costs, falling cattle prices and extreme weather conditions all year. This would provide funding to support farmers sourcing feed and fodder and deal with mounting input costs.

“Minister Creed is simply not standing up for our farmers.  While there may be some flexibility on the GLAS scheme, he has failed to approve appropriate funding measures to support farmers impacted by bad weather and falling incomes.  He should follow the lead of other EU countries like Sweden and Germany, which have allocated €117m and €300m respectively, to cover feed shortages for livestock and income loss.

“The long promised €25 million low cost Brexit loan scheme for farmers and fishermen, has still not materialised, further emphasising just how far down the government agenda agriculture and rural Ireland is.

“The government urgently needs to wake up to the seriousness of the situation – it has now become a national emergency which is putting a huge strain on farmers’ mental health and creating animal welfare issues.   Our plan will go a long way to addressing the issues affecting hard pressed farmers and I am urging Minister Creed to adopt these policies in the interests of protecting our agriculture sector”.

 

Post Office closures

I raised again directly with the Communications Minister the concerns of communities in Cavan/Monaghan in relation to Post Office closures.  I outlined clearly again my support for the people in Killeshandra and Kilnaleck to have their Post Offices retained.

I refer to the remarks made by Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahony when she spoke about how she learned about the economic and social benefits of post offices provided for local communities through her work in the post office during the years. None of us should ever ignore the fact that most postmasters and postmistresses went beyond the call of duty during the years in assisting people who might not have had good numeracy or literacy skills. As a society, we are being abusive to people who do not have those skills, may not have access to technology or are not technology-friendly. We should be able to provide a service to ensure people will not be left behind because of a lack of numeracy or literacy skills or an inability to travel a distance by car to receive their pension.

Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher referred to the fact that the wrong measurement of the population of an area had been used. People are going by the last census. We know that the entire population of a town might not be included in a census. Two of the streets in Killeshandra where the post office is closing have not been factored in in the number of people who use that post office.

 

That is why there is a review mechanism.

It is very important that there be a realistic measurement to take the entire catchment area into account. I said this at a public meeting last Saturday in Kilnaleck where I saw people from a wide catchment area who would not have been factored in in the population taken into account.

Human rights monitors in Palestinian communities to appear at Foreign Affairs Committee

An international human rights group active in Palestinian communities will appear Thursday before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence to discuss rising threats to a Bedouin village and to wider support programmes for Palestinian refugees.

Today’s meeting with representatives from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) begins at 10 a.m. in Committee Room 1 of Leinster House.

It can be viewed live here and on Android and Apple devices using the Houses of the Oireachtas app.

Since 2002, EAPPI has deployed observers into Palestinian towns and villages to provide community support and to monitor and document violations of international law.

Thursday’s discussion with EAPPI representatives is expected to explore two issues in detail:

  • The ramifications of an Israeli Supreme Court judgment authorising the imminent involuntary relocation of Bedouins from the West Bank village of Khan al-Ahmar.
  • The United States’ decision last month to withdraw funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The agency, known as UNRWA, provides employment, education, health care and social services to Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

“The U.S. decision to stop supporting UNRWA undermines essential supports for millions of Palestinians who rely on the United Nations’ many life-saving and life-changing programmes, from hospitals to schools,” said Committee Chairman Brendan Smith TD.

“Hopes of achieving a two-state solution rest, in part, on maintaining acceptable international levels of humanitarian support for the Palestinian people,” Deputy Smith said. “Representatives of EAPPI can offer valuable witness to how the lack of adequate funding for UNRWA programmes threatens the welfare of Palestinian communities. Committee members also seek an update on the latest situation as Israeli authorities appear poised to demolish the community of Khan al-Ahmar east of Jerusalem.”

3 Reports now await publication re North/South Interconnector – Brendan Smith TD


Below is Report of Oral Questions to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dáil Éireann on 18th September re proposed North/South Interconnector with particular reference to the delays in publishing independent reports which were commissioned following the passing of Fianna Fáil Motions in Dail and Seanad Éireann.

North-South Interconnector

Timmy Dooley

Question:

48. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he plans to publish two reports that his Department has commissioned on the feasibility of undergrounding the North-South interconnector and provide compensation for owners of property near high voltage transmission lines; and the status of these plans. [37631/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

50. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he has received the two independent reports on the proposed North-South interconnector; if so, when he plans to publish the reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37595/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

80. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when he plans to publish the two independent reports on the proposed North-South interconnector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37594/18]

Shane Cassells

Question:

83. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the status of the North-South interconnector project. [37619/18]

More than a year ago the Fianna Fáil Party introduced motions in this House and Seanad Éireann calling on the Government to commission independent studies of the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector. It is welcome that following the motions the Minister has commissioned two studies. I understand the reports have been with him for some time. Communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath are anxious to know what has been recommended in them. I hope the Minister is in a position to indicate to us that the reports will be published without further delay.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48, 50, 80 and 83 together.

As the Deputies will be aware, in 2017 I commissioned two studies designed to address the main points of the motions passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann, as well as key concerns expressed by those opposed to the development of the North-South interconnector, NSIC, as an overhead line. The first is an independent study to examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the interconnector. Three international experts in the field of electricity infrastructure development carried out a comprehensive analysis of international developments in undergrounding technologies since publication of the international expert commission’s report in 2012. That was a key request of the representatives of the communities concerned about the proposed overhead line development. Two of the consultants appointed were members of the 2012 commission, while the third was a member of the 2014 independent expert group appointed by my Department to review key electricity grid projects. Therefore, all members of the commission were familiar both with the development of transmission grids across Europe, as well as the project in the context of Ireland’s all-island electricity grid.

The North-South interconnector is critical to ensuring a safe, secure supply of electricity throughout the island of Ireland. It also supports the core objectives of European and national energy policy, namely, sustainability, security of supply and competitiveness. The project is the subject of legal challenges in both Ireland and Northern Ireland, with important legal dates imminent in both jurisdictions this month and next. EirGrid and ESB Networks are awaiting the outcome of the judicial challenges before they proceed to discharge their operational duties in the construction of the interconnector.

The second study is focused on the levels of compensation provided for land and property owners in proximity to high voltage transmission lines in a European context. This study was undertaken to consider a separate concern raised by public representatives at meetings with me on the impact of transmission lines on land and property values and the level of compensation paid in lieu of such impacts. Levels of compensation provided for land and property owners are considered to be a reflection of the impact of transmission lines on land and property values; therefore, this study, undertaken by KHSK Economic Consultants, analysed the compensation regimes in other European and selected international countries. Both studies have been completed and submitted to me.

In order to have the most up-to-date assessment of the implications of Brexit for the energy sector before bringing the reports to the Government, I sought the views of the energy regulator and electricity and gas transmission system operators on the implications for the electricity market in Ireland in the event of a hard Brexit, including for the single electricity market, SEM, timelines for the delivery of programmes such as DS3, delivering a secure, sustainable electricity system, and the North-South interconnector and continued secure cross-Border electricity trading across interconnectors.  The outcome of this analysis was submitted to my Department last week and is being considered. I have previously indicated to this House that it is my intention to bring the relevant reports to the Government for consideration prior to their publication. I expect to do this shortly.

I thank the Minister for his detailed response. He has told me previously in response to numerous parliamentary questions that he expects to bring the report to the Government shortly or within a few weeks. That dates back some time.

The Minister mentioned the people who had been given sight of the report. Has EirGrid had sight of it? Was it asked for comments or submissions on either of the studies? The Minister is fully aware that in no circumstances will communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath allow the transmission cables to be overground, if the project is to proceed. The fundamental issue is that if the project is to proceed, the transmission cables need to be placed underground. We know for some time that EirGrid has accepted that it is technically feasible to place the transmission cables underground. In addition, the cost differential in undergrounding or overgrounding the cables has narrowed significantly from the time the project was initially commissioned ten or 12 years ago. The Minister needs to give a very strong commitment to communities in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath that if the project is to proceed, their concerns will be taken into account. Those individuals, families and communities will not accept the transmission cables being placed overground in any circumstance.

The reports were requested by me on behalf of the Oireachtas. A decision was made by the Government in that regard. I will present the reports to the Government. The hold-up has been that it was incumbent on me to consider the implications of a hard Brexit for our electricity system, the single electricity market, our gas market, the North-South interconnector and the ongoing DS3 project. I wanted to have a comprehensive position to present to the Cabinet.

The third report specifically engaged with EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland on the implications of a hard Brexit. Before the summer, the European Commission requested of me that that be carried out. We will report back to the Commission on the report.

EirGrid has had sight of both reports.

No. My reference to EirGrid and Gas Networks Ireland related to a third report I sought regarding the implications of a hard Brexit for our electricity and gas systems. It will be presented to the Cabinet along with the other two reports. It was only received by my Department at the end of last week. The intention is to turn it around quite quickly and bring all three reports to Cabinet very soon.

A very distinguished and reputable journalist, Michael Fisher, who does a lot of work for The Northern Standard newspaper in Monaghan and is a former RTÉ correspondent, did a great public service in obtaining through freedom of information requests correspondence between the Minister’s Department and EirGrid. Reading that correspondence over the summer months, one would think that EirGrid is a division of the Department. It is obvious that it was consulted and its views sought on any move by the Department. It was not kept at arm’s length but, rather, seems to be a de facto division of the Department, which is utterly wrong.

I am the first Minister for a long time to meet and directly engage with interested groups—–

We welcome that.

—–and colleagues on the matter. I do not think any Member questions my sincerity or commitment to a fair process in this matter. I have the reports. I hoped to bring them to Cabinet earlier, but having received the request from the Commission, I believed it was fair to bring all three reports together. It is my intention to do so quite soon. Once they have been brought to the Cabinet, I intend to publish the first two reports and report on the third one to the Commission.

I am very interested in where the Minister intends to go with this monstrous pylon project, as are my constituents in County Meath and those of my colleagues, Deputies Niamh Smyth and Brendan Smith, who are present, in County Cavan. As Deputy Brendan Smith stated, we have intently read the weekly publication of what have come to be known as “the EirGrid files” in The Northern Standard over the summer. They comprise documents obtained by the respected journalist, Michael Fisher, who has unearthed some fascinating stuff. Most shockingly, he exposed the “best buddy” relationship which the documents show exists between the Minister’s Department and EirGrid officials. More important in the context of the underground review group about which the Minister has today been asked is the fact that EirGrid officials emailed proposed agendas for meetings with the underground review group to his Department. I have those emails in front of me. How can the Minister call this an independent review when the body being looked at put together the agenda for meetings? The last time I checked, the defendant in a court case does not prepare the case for the prosecution. Following the intervention by EirGrid, an email from the Minister’s Department to the independent review group stated that EirGrid was trying to structure a Thursday meeting a little and had suggested a draft agenda for the meeting. That is a little more than trying to structure the meeting a little. Like my colleagues and, most importantly, the people of County Meath, I am very interested in the work the Minister has on his desk. However, I would love to hear his insights into those serious revelations by Michael Fisher in regard to the process.

I have not read the articles referred to by Deputies Cassells and Brendan Smith and, therefore, will not comment on them.

The Department has seen everything else.

As soon as the reports have been presented to Cabinet, I intend to publish them so that people can read them for themselves.

As we speak, EirGrid is trying to canvass farmers at the ploughing championships and get them on board with its project to traverse the land of farmers and that of their neighbours with monstrous pylons across counties Meath, Cavan and Monaghan. It will not succeed. The cosy relationship between the Minister’s Department and EirGrid was exposed by Michael Fisher in the EirGrid files which I am holding in my hand. They show a very unhealthy link between the Department and EirGrid which scuppers any belief in the integrity of the process. The Minister spoke of meeting interested parties. Such people no longer have any belief in the process after reading those reports in The Northern Standard which were published over eight weeks.

EirGrid officials went so far as to monitor my social media account with the intent of giving a heads-up to officials in the Minister’s office that he should expect questions on the matter from me in the Dáil. I will save them the bother of having to do so. I will add the Minister as a friend on Facebook and he can monitor it himself and read what I intend to say. The only thing such officials will find on Facebook is a resilient community in counties Meath, Monaghan and Cavan which will not be bullied by EirGrid.

I will obtain the EirGrid files published by The Northern Standard for the Minister because they contain serious insights into what is, as has been said, a very unhealthy relationship between the Minister’s Department and EirGrid.

I do not monitor anyone’s social media account, nor do—–

I have the evidence here. Shall I read it out?

I do not dispute what the Deputy stated but—–

I have it here. I will hand it to the Minister.

——I do not monitor social media accounts, nor do any of the staff who work with or were personally appointed by me. Every Member of this House is legitimately entitled—–

The Minister’s senior officials are listed in the email.

—–to raise any issue in the House with me or any other Minister and I will always try to respond to the best of my ability. I understand the frustration that the reports have not yet been published but it was important for me to provide the Cabinet with a comprehensive review of all aspects of the matter, and I think Deputy Brendan Smith in particular will understand and appreciate that. Brexit is a big issue and it is important that we carry out a full assessment of its possible implications. I intend to bring that to Cabinet very shortly and I will publish the two reports to which I have referred as soon as I have done so.

Deputy Brendan Smith had two questions in this grouping so is entitled to another speaking slot.

I anticipate some interesting discussions at the Cabinet table when the Minister presents those reports because his colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, stated some time ago that one would expect civil disobedience if the project were to proceed on the basis of the transmission cables being overground.

I was very surprised that the Minister, Deputy Naughten, allowed the procurement process to continue while the projects are the subject of proceedings in the Irish Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. Why was the procurement process allowed to continue while the project is the subject of those court proceedings? We know that decisions cannot be made on major infrastructural projects North of the Border because of the governance situation in Northern Ireland.

As Deputy Brendan Smith is aware, there are judicial proceedings under way North of the Border and in this jurisdiction. As he is also aware, on 6 September the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Karen Bradley, announced that legislation is to be introduced in the House of Commons to deal with the issues that have been raised regarding the Arc21 waste incinerator judgment. There are similar issues in regard to the North-South interconnector. As the Deputy is aware, we expect that the judicial review in this jurisdiction will be heard soon. No works have commenced during this procurement process. I have stated that on several occasions in the House and explained why the process is proceeding, but there will be no works until we have clarification regarding the consent process.

Smith questions delay in publication of North-South Interconnector studies

Meath protest

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has raised questions over the Minister for Communications’ refusal to publish two independent reports relating to the North-South Interconnector.

Minister Naughten has admitted that both studies are completed and have been submitted to him but has failed to give any reason for the delay in publishing the reviews.

Deputy Brendan Smith explained, “These reports examined the cost of undergrounding the North-South interconnector, as well as considering the levels of compensation which should be provided to land and property owners, and were commissioned following two Fianna Fáil motions in the Dáil and the Seanad.

“It is clear that this Government is not willing to listen to the concerns of local communities in Cavan, Monaghan and Meath.  Fianna Fáil fully supports the undergrounding of the interconnector – it is the only safe and secure option.  Costs have fallen significantly over the past decade and there is no valid reason why Fine Gael is continuing to press forward with the pylon option.

“The fact the Minister Naughten has still not published either of these reports, despite them sitting on his desk, raises serious questions.  Is he concerned that the undergrounding option is now feasible?  All indicators would suggest that undergrounding is a real alternative.

“I am calling on the Minister to publish these reports immediately so that all stakeholders are aware of the options open to them with regard to this project.”

 

______________________________________________

For Written Answer on : 07/09/2018 

Question Number(s): 1057 Question Reference(s): 36757/18 

Department: Communications, Climate Action and Environment 

Asked by: Brendan Smith T.D. 

______________________________________________

QUESTION

[Ref No.: 36757/18]

* To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment when his Department received the two independent reports in relation to the proposed North-South Interconnector; when it is planned to publish these reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Brendan Smith.

* For WRITTEN answer on Friday, 7th September, 2018.

(1817 Received on 31st August, 2018.)

REPLY

In 2017 I commissioned two studies designed to address the main points of the motions passed in Dáil and Seanad Éireann as well as key concerns expressed by the parties opposed to the development of the North South Interconnector as an overhead line. The first is an independent study to examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the interconnector. The second study is focused on the levels of compensation provided to land and property owners in proximity to high-voltage transmission lines in a European context.​

Both studies are now completed and have been submitted to me. I expect to bring both reports to Government in the coming weeks and will publish them as soon as possible thereafter.