Category Archives: Uncategorized

No Executive or Assembly in Northern Ireland

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For Written Answer on : 15/02/2018 

Question Number(s): 94 Question Reference(s): 7977/18 

Department: Foreign Affairs and Trade 

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 QUESTION REPLY

Question No. 94

Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas 
 
To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress to date in the talks regarding the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
– Brendan Smith.
* For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 15th February, 2018.
Ref No: 7977/18 

REPLY

As co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government, working with the British Government, has spared no effort in supporting and facilitating talks on the formation of a new Executive, over many months. Fully functioning, devolved, power-sharing Institutions are the only way forward for Northern Ireland, and are urgently required.

Yesterday’s developments in Stormont, in particular the DUP statement, are obviously of serious concern to all of us who want to see the establishment of a functioning, power-sharing Executive in Northern Ireland, and the other Institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.

I was in regular contact with the Secretary of State yesterday, both before and following this announcement, and will remain in close contact as we reflect on the next steps the two Governments need to take in relation to the political process.

The two Governments have worked steadfastly together over the past year, assisting and facilitating the parties in their efforts to reach agreement on the formation of a new power-sharing Executive. In recent days, we believed that there was a genuine basis for an accommodation between the two largest parties. Such an accommodation would then have facilitated broader engagement with all the political parties on the establishment of a new Executive.

Ultimately, however, devolved power-sharing government can only operate on the basis of an agreement between the two largest parties. Unfortunately, this has not been achieved to date, despite intensive engagement.

The Government is working with the British Government to see if there is any prospect of re-engagement with the parties in the period ahead.

As co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, the British and Irish Governments have an obligation to uphold and protect the letter and spirit of that Agreement, and we will also be considering how best to do so in the current situation.

 

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East West route ideal for Capital Plan – Brendan Smith TD

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For Written Answer on : 14/02/2018

Question Number(s): 268 Question Reference(s): 7790/18

Department: Transport, Tourism and Sport

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 QUESTION

 To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if specific funding will be allocated in 2018 for a road improvement programme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied) – necessary upgrading of the East West route from Cootehill, Co. Cavan to Shercock/Carrickmacross/Dundalk.

REPLY

 Proposals to deliver an upgraded East-West route linking Dundalk to Sligo, taking in Cavan, involve linking elements of the national road network and regional roads along as direct a route as possible. Essentially the route involves upgrade/realignment works on the regional routes from Dundalk to Cavan and on national routes from Cavan to Sligo.

As regards the regional road aspect of the proposal, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in its area is a statutory function of local authorities in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act, 1993.  Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants.

My Department provided funding to Cavan County Council (acting as lead authority with Monaghan and Louth County Councils) with over €2m in the period 2007-2014 to progress the regional road element of the project to preliminary design.

This year I have given an allocation of €25,000 to Cavan County Council to enable the Council to undertake a preliminary appraisal, in line with the current requirements in the Public Spending Code and the Capital Investment Framework, of the Cavan to Dundalk section of the route.  The aim of this appraisal would be to assess the extent to which the scheme or elements of it can be justified in terms of appraisal and advanced for further consideration in relation to schemes for development post 2021.

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For Written Answer on : 14/02/2018

Question Number(s): 269 Question Reference(s): 7791/18

Department: Transport, Tourism and Sport

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QUESTION

 To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport his plans to ensure that provision is made in the capital plan to provide for the upgrading of an arterial route (details supplied) in view of the importance of this particular route for a large portion of the border region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Details Supplied) development of the East West route Cootehill to Dundalk

REPLY

 Proposals to deliver an upgraded East-West route linking Dundalk to Sligo, taking in Cavan, involve linking elements of the national road network and regional roads along as direct a route as possible. Essentially the route involves upgrade/realignment works on the regional routes from Dundalk to Cavan and on national routes from Cavan to Sligo.

As regards the regional road aspect of the proposal, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads in its area is a statutory function of local authorities in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act, 1993.  Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants.

My Department provided funding to Cavan County Council (acting as lead authority with Monaghan and Louth County Councils) with over €2m in the period 2007-2014 to progress the regional road element of the project to preliminary design.

This year I have given an allocation of €25,000 to Cavan County Council to enable the Council to undertake a preliminary appraisal, in line with the current requirements in the Public Spending Code and the Capital Investment Framework, of the Cavan to Dundalk section of the route.  The aim of this appraisal would be to assess the extent to which the scheme or elements of it can be justified in terms of appraisal and advanced for further consideration in relation to schemes for development post 2021.

 

 

Criteria for School Transport Scheme must be updated – Smith

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Education Minister to seriously examine the criteria for access to the School Transport Scheme ahead of the beginning of the new school year in August.

Deputy Smith again raised the issue in the Dáil, outlining a series of problems which have arisen in recent years, particularly affecting families in rural and isolated areas.

“While I appreciate that difficulties can arise with any general scheme that is dealing with rural areas, there needs to be an element of flexibility when it comes to our school transport service.  Many families chose either to move to a particular area because of family connections or because they grew up in a certain parish and want to stay there.  Those who have set up home in these areas would have been conscious of transport links to local schools, but because of recent changes in the administration of the School Transport Scheme, some students are no longer eligible for a place on their school bus”, explained Deputy Smith.

“I have also been dealing with cases where older siblings were granted a place on their school bus but younger siblings are only being granted a place if they go to a different school – this is a ridiculous situation – there has to be some flexibility in these cases.  Bus Éireann personnel, in delivering the service, should be allowed some flexibility by the Department in dealing with local issues.

“The use of Google maps in the online application process has resulted in distances being measured using roads that are not capable of carrying cars, let alone school buses.  It is in this context that I’m arguing for greater flexibility for families.  If older children have attended one school, younger ones should not be forced to go to another school to qualify for a school bus place.

“I fully appreciate that a scheme cannot be designed to suit every family but previous attendance patterns need to be taken into account. By and large, all the difficulties being encountered by these families could be ironed out in a few years.

“I am calling on Ministers Bruton and Halligan to adopt a common sense approach to this issue and to make use of the local knowledge available rather than relying solely on a centralised online process”.

School Transport Eligibility – Thursday, 1st February 2018

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to improve the criteria for school transport eligibility commencing for the 2018-19 school year in view of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years, particularly for some families in the more rural and isolated areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4886/18]

Deputy Brendan Smith: Through parliamentary questions and in a Topical Issue debate, I have raised the problems that have arisen due to the change in the criteria for school transport, especially since 2014. (Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Brendan Smith: ] There have been instances in which younger children who were about to start secondary school were not able to avail of the transport services their older siblings had availed of. This has created serious difficulties for many families. This is a particular issue in more remote parts of rural Ireland. I would like further consideration to be given to the overall transport scheme. An effort should be made to ameliorate the criteria to ensure families do not encounter additional costs and difficulties in gaining the easiest possible access to their local post-primary school centres.

Deputy Richard Bruton: The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, on whose behalf I am answering this question, has been very open with Deputies. He has met Deputies who have suggestions and concerns. I suppose I need to outline the position. It is a significant operation. It is managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. Some 115,000 children, including almost 12,000 children with special educational needs, are transported in 4,500 vehicles to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country each day. These vehicles cover approximately 100 million km each year. This service was provided at a total cost of almost €190 million in 2017. The purpose of the Department’s school transport scheme is, having regard to available resources, to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remote from their nearest school. Children are generally eligible for school transport if they satisfy the distance criteria and are attending their nearest school. I think the relevant distance at primary level is 3.2 km and at secondary level is 4.8 km. It is important to note that all eligible children are accommodated under the terms of the scheme.

Arising from commitments in the programme for Government, a review of the concessionary charges and rules element of the school transport scheme has been undertaken. The review, which was published in December 2016, made recommendations on the charges and the rules elements of the concessionary school transport scheme. The recommended course of action in respect of the charges for concessionary school transport was to continue with the current policy of imposing charges in respect of those in receipt of concessionary places. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, agreed with this recommendation on the basis that those applying for concessionary transport are making a conscious decision to do so, understand that they are not eligible for school transport and understand the implications of this choice at the time of application. The report also recommended that the number of concessionary places should be reduced in line with the rules introduced in 2012 on a phased basis. Previous plans to advance this option were put on hold, pending the completion of the review. After considering the review and discussing the matter with the cross-party working group which

was established to feed into the review, the Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, decided there should be no planned programme of downsizing in the coming years, other than in line with normal operational decisions under the current scheme. The terms of the school transport scheme are applied equitably on a national basis.

Deputy Brendan Smith: I thank the Minister for his reply. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has been very forthcoming and receptive to meetings with all of us. He indicated in response to a Topical Issue I raised in this Chamber that a small amount of additional money would enable him to provide a better service to many people. The Minister has quite rightly pointed out that significant resources are invested in the school transport scheme, which is particularly important in rural Ireland. We can talk about introducing various schemes with the aim of regenerating rural Ireland, but if we do not have a satisfactory school transport scheme there will be a substantial deficit in rural Ireland. Everyone who has the privilege of representing a rural constituency – my colleagues, Deputies Niall Collins and Eugene Murphy, represent constituencies that are much like my constituency – knows that many families decide to set up homes in rural parishes on the basis of access to schools and availability of transport to primary and secondary schools. I appreciate that there will always be difficulties in any overall general scheme that is based on boundaries. There needs to be some flexibility in decision-making at local level. As we all know, changes in the old catchment areas that were assigned to schools that closed in the past can mean that rural communities fall into different towns or villages. In cases in which older siblings went to certain post-primary centres, flexibility is needed to ensure younger siblings are not denied the transport services that were available to other family members. If those services are not available, it will impose an additional cost burden on families.

Deputy Richard Bruton: Every Minister of State and every Deputy has grappled with this difficulty. If we want the rules to apply nationally on an equitable and fair basis, we need to ensure they apply in every community. The rules cannot differ from one community to another. The Deputy is looking for a different rule to apply in his area because of its special circumstances. The problem is that a scheme cannot be run on that basis. We have rules and criteria relating to the distance from the school and the question of whether it is the nearest school. Children have been accommodated in circumstances in which there were places on local buses. They were always accommodated on the basis that it was not being done as of right. The Deputy is suggesting that we should create a right for such children. That would be an entirely new rule and it would have to be applied everywhere. Many better brains than my brain have tried to grapple with what the Deputy is saying, but they have not been able to move away from the sort of rules-based approach that guarantees equity to every community.

Deputy Brendan Smith: I am not suggesting the Minister set out to do so, but he has not accurately represented what I said. I said that additional costs should not be imposed on a family that has had a traditional pattern of attendance at a post-primary centre in the event that the level of school transport service that was made available to older siblings in that family is denied to a younger sibling who is about to enter secondary school. In recent years, the use of Google maps when people have been applying for school transport online has resulted in distances being measured using roads that are not capable of carrying motor cars or school transport buses. It is that context that I am talking about local flexibility and local knowledge. I fully appreciate that a scheme cannot be designed to suit every family. We should have flexibility. Past patterns of attendance should be taken into account. That washes out of the system anyway as the years go on. By and large, all the difficulties being encountered by specific families, with which all of us have dealt, will be ironed out within a

few years. I remind the Minister that many of the costs associated with the concessionary transport scheme are being met by families that are under financial pressure.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): I understand that Deputy Durkan wants to make a brief comment.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: I can empathise with Deputy Smith’s dilemma. I ask the Minister to consider the point that a little modern imagination should be used when the rules are being defined at local level. It has been shown that it is possible for this to be done without breaching the national rules. As Deputy Smith has said, a precise measurement can sometimes be achieved by satellite but, depending on the circumstances, this is sometimes not possible. I would like this to be looked at along the lines mentioned by Deputy Smith. Such an approach would be beneficial in reaching a solution that removes much of the angst in a local area without any breaching of rules.

Deputy Richard Bruton: If there is a mysterious solution that can work within the rules without changing the rules, while nonetheless achieving a different outcome, I am sure it is a wonderful scheme.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan: Absolutely.

Deputy Richard Bruton: I do not know what it is.

Deputy Brendan Smith: The Minister needs to give a commitment and put it to the test.

Deputy Richard Bruton: The basic problem is that we have €190 million to spend at a time when the number of concessionary pupils is growing substantially. It has doubled to 27,000 in the last four years. The core number of eligible pupils who always get their transport delivered is 77,000. As I understand it, the problem that has arisen is that some people who have been receiving concessionary transport feel that they and their siblings should have an entitlement on the basis that a pattern has been established. That is where problems arise. I can understand exactly what the Deputies are saying. I have not seen a solution that involves allocating the existing budget of €190 million in a different way that is seen to be fair to all communities and treats all communities in an equitable way. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, has grappled with this difficulty, as others did before him. I do not have a solution I can offer to the Deputies. The Minister of State is always open to considering suggestions and evaluating them with the officials concerned.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): We have to grapple with the question of modern information over modern technology.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Local knowledge is important. It might be better than any Internet.

 

Potential collapse of National Broadband Plan on the cards following Eir’s withdrawal – Smith

– Rural communities now doubting if broadband will ever be delivered –
– Ability of FG to deliver on national development projects has to be questioned –


Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has said that the ability of the Government to deliver large national infrastructural projects is in serious doubt following Eir’s announcement that it is withdrawing from the bidding process for the National Broadband Plan.

Deputy Smith commented, “The decision by Eir to withdraw from the NBP represents a damning indictment of Fine Gael in office. Rural communities across Cavan, Monaghan and further afield have been kept waiting for the roll out of high speed broadband by this government.  Figures released to my party last month revealed that it would be another 5 years before rural homes and businesses would have access to a high-speed broadband connection.

“Following yesterday’s announcement, the 2023 date is in serious doubt, and I have genuine concerns about the future of the rollout of the plan as a whole.  I get the sense that the Government isn’t really serious about rural communities in Cavan and Monaghan or anywhere else.

“Broadband is not a luxury for schools, families, businesses and farmers – it’s an absolute necessity. If it is not delivered soon, the benefits may be lost for ever as investment will not flow to rural and regional Ireland.

“Successive Government Ministers have failed miserably to bring this crucial national project to completion.

“I am sad to say that I have serious doubts about when, if ever, it will be delivered. It represents to me one of the greatest government failures in living memory, and demonstrates that when it comes to thinking big and delivering for rural Ireland, Fine Gael always fall short,” concluded Deputy Smith.

-Ends-

 

Government needs to ensure recruitment to the Permanent Defence Forces and also to the Reserve Defence Forces – Smith

Reply by Minister to my most recent Parliamentary Questions

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For Oral Answer on : 24/01/2018 

Question Number(s): 10,42,43 Question Reference(s): 3254/18, 3357/18, 3457/18 

Department: Defence 

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 QUESTION

 * To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the position regarding Defence Forces recruitment; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Tony McLoughlin T.D.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 24 January, 2018.

* To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the numbers serving in the Permanent Defence Forces at the end of 2017; the projected number of enlisted personnel for 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Brendan Smith T.D.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 24 January, 2018.

* To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence when he expects the Permanent Defence Forces numbers to reach the agreed ceiling of 9,500; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

– Lisa Chambers T.D.

For ORAL answer on Wednesday, 24 January, 2018.

 REPLY

 The Government is committed to maintaining the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500 personnel, as set out in the White Paper on Defence.

  To achieve this, there is significant on-going recruitment. In 2017 some 751 new personnel were inducted into the Permanent Defence Force, comprising of General Service Recruits, Cadets and specialists for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. As of the 31st of December 2017, the strength of the Permanent Defence Force stood at 9,173 Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) personnel.

  In 2018, similar recruitment will take place and plans for this are currently being finalised. At this point it is not possible to predict precise numbers that will be recruited but it is anticipated that this will be in the region of 800 personnel.

  Certain specialist posts such as Pilots and Air Traffic Controllers and certain Technicians are presenting challenges for recruitment and retention. I have previously acknowledged this fact, which is reflective of the current economic circumstances and attractive job opportunities in the private and commercial semi-state sectors.  The extensive professional training that such specialists receive within the Defence Forces makes such personnel very attractive within these sectors.  This is not a unique challenge for the Defence forces and is also faced by military forces elsewhere.

  The Public Service Pay Commission is further examining the issue of the recruitment and retention of specialist personnel within the Defence Forces, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018 – 2020. The Department of Defence is currently preparing a submission on recruitment and retention.

  In addition to the ongoing development of specialists within the PDF, I am also addressing specialist vacancies with a range of recruitment methods including direct entry competitions for certain specialist positions. The scope to further expand direct entry is being considered. I have also directed civil and military management to develop proposals to facilitate former PDF personnel with appropriate skill-sets to re-enter the Defence Forces.

  Following acceptance by the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations, the pay increases available under the Lansdowne Road agreement were applied to the Defence Forces. I was delighted that both PDFORRA and RACO have also signed up to the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 which is an extension of the Lansdowne Road agreement. This provides for further pay increase of between 6.2% and 7.4% over its lifetime.

  I remain committed to maximising recruitment of capable personnel, developing serving personnel, and so achieving the best personnel and skills combination to ensure the Defence Forces retain the capacity to operate effectively across all roles.

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For Oral Answer on : 24/01/2018 

Question Number(s): 36 Question Reference(s): 3358/18 

Department: Defence 

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QUESTION

To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the numbers serving in the Reserve Defence Forces at the end of 2017; the projected enlistment for 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

REPLY

 The Government appreciates the service of the members of the Reserve Defence Force.  The White Paper on Defence is clear that there is a continued requirement to retain and develop the Reserve and it confirms that the primary role of the Reserve is to augment the Permanent Defence Force in times of crisis. In non-crisis situations, the main focus will be on training to prepare for this role. The Government has also assigned a formal role to the Reserve of contributing to State ceremonial events.

  As of the 31st December 2017 the number of personnel in the Reserve Defence Force was as follows:

  First Line Reserve: 271 personnel

Army Reserve: 1,732 (effective) personnel

Naval Service Reserve: 124 (effective) personnel

  I am aware that there is a shortfall between current strength and the establishment, which provides for 4,069 personnel for the combined Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve.  The most recent recruitment campaign for the Army Reserve and Naval Service began in July 2017 and attracted 1,221 applications. A total of 139 personnel were inducted to the Reserve Defence Force in 2017.

  It is my intention to hold a further Reserve recruitment campaign in 2018 and I have directed the military authorities to maximise recruitment to the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve, having regard to training demands arising from the significant ongong recruitment to the PDF.

 

 

Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement must highlight commitment to peace and prosperity on the island of Ireland – Smith

– Community groups, schools and cultural organisations
should be involved in programme –

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith has called on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to ensure that the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is commemorated appropriately – not only marking the successful completion of an historic agreement, but also acknowledging the progress made across all communities over the past two decades.

Deputy Smith commented, “The Good Friday Agreement marked a watershed moment in our country’s history, when on the 22nd May 1998 people on the island of Ireland were given the opportunity to vote on their country’s future.  With 94.39% of the population in the Republic, and 71.12% in the North voting “yes”, it was a remarkable achievement.

“It would have been difficult to believe then, just how far things would come in the intervening 20 years.  Peace and reconciliation has had an extraordinarily positive impact on both sides of the border.  Even though the EU is not explicitly mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement, it underpins the agreement and I would like to see a significant input from the European Union to mark the anniversary.

“The agreement would not have been possible without the EU, as our joint membership and the many bilateral meetings held between British and Irish Ministers and officials every week, often on a daily basis, played a vital role in thawing and improving relationships between both islands.

“I am disappointed, however, that coming up to this prestigious event, Northern Ireland is without an Executive and Assembly.  I sincerely hope we will have those institutions back up and running and representing the people of Northern Ireland. The one mandate we all have on this island comes from the referendum of May 1998 but unfortunately, the will of the people in Northern Ireland, is not being implemented at present. What has passed for politics in Northern Ireland for the past 12 months is totally unacceptable.

“I welcome Minister Coveney’s commitment to hold commemorations and events on our island, in Washington and elsewhere.  I hope that these commemorations will be fully inclusive – the Minister might consider involving schools, community groups and cultural organisations to represent the diversity of this island, the extraordinary people who live here and the positive influence that peace has brought over the past 20 years”.

Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had discussions with political parties, statutory agencies or Departments in respect of an appropriate commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. [1626/18]

  1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to date with regard to an appropriate commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. [1625/18] Deputy Brendan Smith: In marking the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in a significant and comprehensive manner, we would be doing more than just commemorating the successful completion of an historic agreement. We would be reminding people in leadership roles in all parts of these two islands of the crucial importance of the three strands of relationships that fundamentally underpin the Good Friday Agreement and how using those three strands between the two communities in Northern Ireland, between North and South and east-west between the two islands provides us with the opportunity to protect all of our interests post Brexit.                                     Deputy Simon Coveney: I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 and 17 together.

I thank the Deputy for these questions.  A programme of events at home and abroad is being developed to highlight the important anniversary and to mark the achievement of the agreement, which continues to be the cornerstone of our commitment to peace and reconciliation on this island.  My Department is engaging with other Departments on the island of Ireland generally and through our overseas embassy network at home and abroad with a range of individuals, groups and institutions that are considering and planning conferences, seminars, cultural responses, acts of commemoration and other initiatives to mark the 20th anniversary of the achievement of this agreement.

The Government’s programme will include events in Dublin, Washington, London, and Belfast.  These will include a revised production of Rising to Reconciliation, which was developed for the 18th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and uses poetry, images and music to reflect on the troubled journey towards peace and reconciliation on the island of Ireland.  Events to mark the people’s vote for the agreement on 22 May are also under development.  I hope to announce more details on the programme in the coming weeks.

All of these events will also be an opportunity to reflect on the peace process, as the Deputy suggested, past and present, to remember the loss of life during the years of conflict and to look back at all that has happened on the journey of peace and reconciliation since then.  This journey is of course an ongoing one and the continued imperative to work to realise the full potential of the Good Friday Agreement will form an essential part of the Government’s approach to the 20th anniversary.

We intend to work with all communities and political parties to make sure that the commemorations are respectful and accurate.  We hope they will provide inspiration for the new leadership that is needed in the context of some of the challenges we currently face in terms of ensuring that the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement can function and be re-established.

Deputy Brendan Smith: I thank the Minister for his positive response.  I welcome the fact that he intends to hold commemorations and events on our island, in Washington and elsewhere.  We should also press for a significant input from the European Union to mark the achievement.  The EU is not explicitly mentioned in the Good Friday Agreement but it also underpins the agreement.

  The chair of the negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement, the former US Senator George Mitchell, acknowledged the importance of the EU recently.  He said the agreement would not have been possible without the European Union, as our joint membership of the Union and the many bilateral meetings held between British and Irish Ministers and officials every week, often on a daily basis, played a vital role in thawing and improving relationships between both islands.  Those improved relationships led to the peace process and the finalisation of the Good Friday Agreement.

  The Minister quite rightly referred to the significant date of 22 May 1998 when, thankfully, for the first time on the island since 1918, those of us who had the opportunity to do so cast a vote.  We were a privileged generation, in that we were the first since 1918 who voted with the people of Northern Ireland on the same question.  The Minister will recall that in our State, 94.39% of the people voted “Yes” and in Northern Ireland, 71.12% of the people voted “Yes”, despite the major unionist party at that time not agreeing to what had been achieved.  There was very little support in campaigning terms from Sinn Féin for the referendum.  It was a remarkable achievement.

  I sincerely hope that the events which will be held will not involve the usual invitation list.  We want to get people involved from society in general in commemorating these events and marking what we achieved and where we came from.  The Minister or his Department might consider involving schools, in particular second and third level institutions, in order to make that generation aware of the progress which has been made and the need to maximise the potential of the agreement from now on.

Deputy Simon Coveney: I know how personally committed Deputy Smith is to the peace process and its maintenance.  We are still in a design phase in terms of what the commemorations will look like, although others are engaged in planning.  Queen’s University will hold a big event and an event also is planned in New York.  We will obviously contribute and support those events.  We will also host some of our own events.  It is something on which we would like to get input from other political parties.  If the Deputy has ideas and suggestions we will certainly try to take them on board.

Given my responsibilities, I am very conscious that the most important thing we could do to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is to get devolved government up and running and functioning again, as well as the institutions which come from that in terms of the North-South Ministerial Council and so on.  We have not had that for a year.  We had some initial conversations on that yesterday. This is not going to be easy but we have a responsibility, as co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement with the British Government, to try to get those structures up and running.  Many of the commemorations would be somewhat hollow if people saw the progress so many people worked so hard to achieve over the past 20 years being undermined and reversed, and without the essential institutions, which are at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, and the process of reconciliation, which ultimately needs to be the number one priority Northern Ireland.

Deputy Brendan Smith: I fully agree with the Minister.  Properly marking the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement will remind us of what we all risk losing in the longer term owing to the short-term partisan gains of two political parties.

  This year, 2018, marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the 50th anniversary of civil rights, the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the centenary of the 1918 election.  My deepest fear is that we would be commemorating these anniversaries at a time when Northern Ireland is without an Executive and Assembly.  I sincerely hope we will have those institutions back up and running and representing the people of Northern Ireland.

  I wish the Minister, Secretary of State Bradley and all the political parties represented in Stormont every success in the negotiations that began yesterday.  It is reprehensible that the Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly have not been functioning for the past 12 months.  The one mandate we all have on this island comes from the referendum of May 1998.  The will of the people, endorsed by 94% of the people in this State and almost 72% of people in Northern Ireland, is not being implemented at present.

  I was in Fermanagh and Armagh at the weekend and in Belfast on Sunday and Monday.  I noted there is a yearning in those locations to get a government and local executive back in place without further delay.  What has passed for politics in Northern Ireland for the past 12 months is totally unacceptable.

Deputy Simon Coveney: I am doing everything I can to facilitate a process to allow an accommodation between the two largest parties, and also engagement and involvement on the part of the other three parties, to try to get a fully inclusive Executive up and running again and making decisions for people in Northern Ireland.  That is what everybody wants.  It is a difficult political exercise because there were two very divisive elections, in the spring and summer of last year.  I reassure people, however, that progress has been made over the past six or eight months, although that is often not covered.  There is still work to do, however.  There is a new Secretary of State in Northern Ireland who, like her predecessor, is absolutely determined to work with me and all the political parties to achieve what I have outlined.  Those efforts will intensify in the coming days.

Smith receives confirmation that Dublin-Monaghan bombings will be raised with new Northern Ireland Secretary of State

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith says he has received confirmation from the Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade that he will be raising the Dublin-Monaghan bombings directly with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley MP.

Deputy Smith explained, “I have been calling on the Irish government to increase pressure on the British government to provide access to papers and files relating to the 1974 Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The Dáil has debated this issue many times and passed three motions calling on the British government to release this documentation.

“In reply to a Parliamentary Question on the matter, Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that he “discussed the matter with the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, and will likewise be pursuing the issue directly with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley”.

“This is a welcome development, but the Minister must ensure a more focused effort is made to progress the issue. The matter has been raised with successive Secretaries of State, with no result. I along with members of my party have been working along with the families and support groups to continue to shine a light on this awful atrocity. The 17th May 1974 marks the darkest day in the legacy of the Troubles – 34 people were killed and 300 were injured.

“It is shocking to think that more than 40 years after this horrific event, we appear to be no closer to the truth. I am urging Minister Coveney to work with Karen Bradley to secure the release of these British government files, which could shine a light on this appalling massacre”.

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For Written Answer on : 18/01/2018 Question Number(s): 45 Question Reference(s): 2710/18 Department: Foreign Affairs and Trade

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QUESTION

REPLY

Question No. 45 Parliamentary Question – Oireachtas To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to discuss the need for the British government to provide access to papers and files pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as requested in motions passed unanimously in Dáil Éireann on three occasions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. – Brendan Smith. * For WRITTEN answer on Thursday, 18th January, 2018. Ref No: 2710/18

REPLY

Dealing with long-outstanding issues relating to the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland are of the utmost importance to the Government. The Programme for a Partnership Government highlights this priority, with specific reference to implementation of the All-Party Dáil motions relating to the Dublin Monaghan bombings. I acknowledge also those across the House who work on a cross-party basis with the Government on this issue and the tireless efforts of Justice for the Forgotten. The All-Party motion on the 1974 Dublin Monaghan bombings that was adopted by the Dáil on 25 May 2016 has, like those adopted in 2008 and 2011, been conveyed to the British Government. These motions call on the British Government to allow access by an independent, international judicial figure to all original documents relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk and the murder of Seamus Ludlow. The Government is committed to actively pursuing the implementation of these all-Party Dáil motions, and has consistently raised the issue with the British Government. I am actively engaged with the British Government on an ongoing basis on this issue, as are officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I discussed the matter with the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, and I will likewise be pursuing the issue directly with the new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley. As part of this engagement, the Government underlines that the Dáil motions represent the consensus political view in Ireland that an independent, international judicial review of all the relevant documents is required to establish the full facts of the Dublin Monaghan atrocities. I have also advised that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government and indeed this House, and I have emphasised the urgent need for a response from the British Government. The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the request in relation to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, and pursue all possible avenues that could achieve progress on this issue, consistent with the request made by this House.