Working in the Community, Working for the Community

Author Archives: Workers and Unemployed Action Group

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I welcome the opportunity to speak on budget 2019. The budget is shamefully
inadequate in view of the extreme crisis in housing and health and the need
to fully restore cuts in welfare, disability provision, public service pay
and pensions and other areas. Some might say that today’s budget is a missed
opportunity. It is not. It is a conscious and deliberate policy decision by
Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil to protect the massive
increase in wealth of the Irish super rich from fair taxation and to make
further tax concessions to them. Prudent budgeting does not require limiting
spending to the shamefully inadequate figures in today’s budget. The
European Union’s fiscal treaty does not require it either, and it does not
forbid raising extra revenue provided it is recurrent.
Significant additional income could have been raised if the Government was prepared to
make the super rich pay their fair share in taxation. The Minister said
numerous times that his income tax and USC measures are to ease the burden
on those on low and middle incomes. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a budget for the super rich.
What happened in this budget? According to the CSO, 1.18 million workers are
on incomes of less than €30,000 per year. Some 1 million of them are PAYE
workers and 180,000 are self-employed. They comprise 40% of the workforce.
There is no income tax gain for the 1 million PAYE workers in this category,
not even a cent. The income tax gain for the 180,000 self-employed is the
princely sum of €40 per year, less than €1 per week. The EU tells us that
inflation next year will be 1.3%, which will wipe out the huge figure of €40
per year. There is an increase of €5 in social welfare payments. Social
welfare recipients must wait until next March to get it and it does not go
anywhere near restoring the pre-cut levels of payment. For the third year in
a row there is no increase in child benefit.
Contrast that to what has happened to people of wealth, the rich and
powerful in our society. The CSO says that 53,000 individuals have incomes
ranging from €150,000 to €2 million per annum. They get the full tax and USC
benefits of this budget, totalling €13.1 million. There is a golden circle
of rich and powerful individuals in this society who have not been touched
by the budget. There is no wealth tax on their assets, and they have huge
assets. The top 10% of these wealthiest individuals have assets that are €40
billion above peak boom levels. They will not pay a cent on them. The
overall financial assets are now €77 billion above peak boom levels and
there is not a single cent of taxation on them either. The 300 wealthiest
individuals who have €100 billion will not pay a cent on those assets.
Last week, the Comptroller and Auditor General reported on how these
individuals avoided tax. He described it as tax avoidance by the super rich.
Some 83 of these high net worth individuals, with in excess of €50 million
in assets, declared taxable income of less than the average industrial wage
of less than €36,500. It is shameful. With regard to the banks, Bank of
Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB had profits last year of €2.5 billion. They
did not pay a euro in tax on them and they will not pay one euro this year
or for the next 20 years. The last Government and this Government have
exempted them from such tax. These are the banks that the taxpayer bailed
out. They are the banks that brought huge and savage austerity on the backs
of families throughout this country. They continue to evict families from
their family homes, but they will not pay a single cent in tax.
This budget continues the bonanza for landlords. The provision of 100%
mortgage interest relief to them in respect of the purchase, improvement and
repair of properties will be hugely damaging to the housing market. It will
enable landlords to outbid young people in the purchase of houses and it
will drive up prices even further. This provision should be withdrawn
immediately. This budget also provides an additional €121 million for
landlords under the guise of the HAP scheme, on top of the €1.1 billion
provided in 2018 under this scheme for landlords. This is hugely damaging to
housing and families. The Government is again putting its trust in private
developers and private landlords to solve the housing crisis, which they
have never done and never will do. It is time the Government changed its
policy on housing. We need public housing on public land and in huge
numbers.
This budget widens the divide between the rich and poor. Ireland is a
wealthy country. Taking GDP per head of population, Ireland is wealthier
than Germany, the UK, the US, France and Italy. Overall, Ireland is ranked
eighth in the world in wealth terms. The top 10,000 earners here have
incomes totalling €6 billion per annum, which is an average of €600,000
each. They have received the full benefit of the income tax and USC
reductions over the past three years and in this budget. The top 5% of all
income earners on incomes of €180,000 per annum received income tax and USC
reductions in the past two budgets totalling €172 million. Today, they again
will benefit in full from the income and USC reductions and fabulously
wealthy people will escape any additional imposition on their massive and
growing wealth.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul, SVP, budget submission months ago
sketched the background to this budget. Its document entitled, Paving a
Pathway out of Poverty, sets out the situation for ordinary people in this
country. Some 780,000 people are living below the poverty line; 70,000
children are growing up in poverty; 10,000 people are homeless, including
almost 4,000 children; there are 100,000 families on local authority housing
waiting lists; there are 102,000 working poor; 48% of people went without
heating owing to cost; 520,000 adults have poor literary skills and, last
year, the society received 130,000 calls for assistance and supported
families to the tune of €27 million. Today’s budget will do nothing for the
people the SVP helped last year and have been helping for years. If the
issues raised by the SVP are to be tackled, rich and powerful people in this
society will have to be made pay their fair share. If national and local
issues are to be tackled successfully and if public services are to be
improved and additional services provided, wealthy people in this country,
which is the eighth wealthiest in the world, must be made pay their fair
share.
Issues need to be dealt with in my constituency of Tipperary. There is an
urgent need for acute inpatient mental health beds in Tipperary. These beds
need to be put in place to replace the beds lost when former Minister of
State, Kathleen Lynch, unfairly, unjustly and, in my view, outrageously
closed St. Michael’s unit in Clonmel. Moneys from this budget must be
ring-fenced to ensure beds are opened to replace those that were wrongly
closed and to properly resource, staff and fund community mental health
teams and CAMHS teams in Tipperary. Mental health services in the county are
substandard, acute beds are non-existent and these issues need to be tackled
urgently. I have raised them on numerous occasions and will return to them
in the near future.
Communities in rural towns throughout the country, including Tipperary town,
Carrick-on-Suir, Thurles, Nenagh and Roscrea, have been abandoned by this
Government and by previous Governments. They need support from Government so
that they can develop economically and socially and create jobs, boost the
retail trade, build public housing and support community facilities. The
Project 2040 plan is not fit for purpose when it comes to rural Ireland and,
in particular, rural market towns. This plan must be revisited urgently to
ensure towns such as those I have mentioned are targeted for development and
job creation.
I have referred to the health services in Tipperary but I would like to
address the issue of the assessment of needs for children with disabilities.
Under the Disability Act 2015 assessments of need are required to be
completed within six months of a referral but throughout the country,
including in Tipperary, this provision is not being adhered to. The HSE is
breaking the law in this regard. I have been contacted by numerous families
who have been told in writing by the HSE in Tipperary that their child will
not be seen for two years. It is vital that young children are assessed at
an early age if they are to benefit from the services that should be
provided for them.
There is also a white elephant in Cashel, County Tipperary, in what was
formerly Our Lady’s Hospital. That hospital was upgraded at a cost of some
€14 million and fully fitted out as a hospital, but the ward areas have been
closed for years now. That refurbished area was to be opened up as a 65 bed
hospital to provide step-down, palliative care and district hospital
facilities. It is a shame that it is still vacant and it should be opened to
provide a back up to the other hospitals in the area – South Tipperary
General Hospital and University Hospital Limerick.
On roads, I welcome the additional investment of €40 million for the upkeep
of local and regional roads. Regional roads and local roads, in particular,
are in an absolutely atrocious state across the country, including in
Tipperary. The figure which Tipperary County Council management has
indicated would be needed to upgrade the roads in the county to a reasonable
standard is €196 million. Obviously, €40 million nationally will not go very
far on that. I wish to raise the question of the upgrading of the N24 to
motorway status again. That is the lifeblood of social and economic activity
all the way from Limerick to Wexford. The upgrade would include the
bypassing of Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir. That needs to be
done as soon as possible.
On education, the increase in capitation is welcome even though it is not
huge. It would appear that some money has been made available for leadership
and working principals. I hope there is enough money in that to ensure that
principals are able to properly carry out their functions on an ongoing
basis and have the time and space to do same. There does not appear to be a
change in class sizes, nor does there appear to be any provisions in place
regarding official panels, which are badly needed.
I have spoken consistently about housing in this Chamber for a number of
years. Like earlier speakers, I must also say that the provisions in this
budget on housing are disappointing to put it mildly. The fact of the matter
is that there is a housing emergency out there. It is time this Government
acknowledged that emergency and implemented the Private Members’ motion
which was passed here last week, requesting the declaration of a statutory
emergency by the Oireachtas. Unless and until that is done, the housing
situation will get worse. On a daily basis I have families contacting me who
are homeless, have got notice to quit or are couch-surfing with relatives
and friends. The situation has gotten worse over the last 12 months and the
provisions in this budget will certainly not make any effective difference
to it. We need the emergency to be declared and we need evictions to stop.
There is a need for families to be allowed to retain their tenancies in sale
situations so that they are not forced out of their private rented
accommodation into homelessness. We need a huge emergency building programme
of public housing on public land and we need to do that quickly.
I ask the Government again to look at the proposal by Irish Water to bring
water from the Shannon to Dublin. This is a hugely wasteful proposal which
will be a waste of public money if it goes ahead. The pipes in Dublin are
leaking over 50% of the water that goes into them. It is a situation that is
seen nowhere else in the western world. In most European countries and
cities the maximum leakage is in the region of 10%. The highest figure that
we know of is in London which is at 25%. Apart from the words of the Fight
the Pipe Ireland organisation in Tipperary and Ms Emma Kennedy who has done
an analysis on this, a professor in Dublin City University has recently said
that going ahead with this project is akin to throwing money out of an open
window. As I have said, this is hugely wasteful and completely unnecessary.
The pipes in Dublin need to be replaced because otherwise water will be sent
from the Shannon into the ground in Dublin because the pipes will be leaking
out over 50% of the water.
I am not at all happy that this budget deals with the real world in any way.
This Government, the Independent Alliance and Fianna Fáil have lost all
contact with ordinary people and this budget book of Estimates proves that.


 

Earlier today Deputy Seamus Healy TD raised again in the Dáil at Leaders Questions with the Taoiseach the issue of the lack of adult inpatient psychiatric beds and the need for the provision of a properly resourced, properly funded and integrated mental health service in Tipperary with the Minister, He will as always keep you updated.


This Saturday in Clonmel a petition will be taken up at the Main Guard in support of the people of Palestine.

I recently spoke in the Dáil of my support of the Palestinian people following the most recent atrocities there and asked that Ireland expel the Israeli ambassador and his staff and recall the Irish ambassador from Tel Aviv. Ireland must end the bilateral arms trade with Israel. It should call for an international military embargo on the state of Israel on the basis that it is murdering vast numbers of Palestinians in cold blood. Ireland must call for the suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement on the basis that Israel is in clear breach of the human rights clause in the agreement. Furthermore, the 11-year siege of Gaza must be lifted. We must commence an extensive boycott of Israeli goods and services. In 2014 both Houses of the Oireachtas unanimously called for the formal recognition of the state of Palestine. The Government must formally recognise it immediately.

In addition the Occupied Territories Bill 2018 introduced by Senator Frances Black is in Seanad Éireann on 11 July 2018, a Bill I fully support. It is Ireland’s time to take the lead and stand up for justice in Palestine and end trade in illegal settlement goods.

Statement in full:
Seamy Healy TD:
I condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest massacre of unarmed Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. Last Monday, 14 May, was the single deadliest day for Palestinians in the occupied territories in over four years. The Great March of Return protests took place on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the expulsion – perhaps it might be better explained as ethnic cleansing – of over 750,000 Palestinians, or two thirds of the indigenous Arab population, from their homes by Israeli forces between 1947 and 1949. On Monday 60 unarmed Palestinians were shot dead and over 2,000 wounded. In the previous six weeks another 45 unarmed Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli state forces. The slaughter of unarmed Palestinian protesters carried out by Israel on Monday as part of its response to the Great March of Return in the past six weeks was cold blooded murder. As we all know, it was the very same as the shoot to kill policy implemented by British state forces in the Six Counties in previous years. The conduct of the Israeli state forces can rightly be compared to the outrageous and despicable campaign of murder and mayhem visited on this country by the infamous Black and Tans.

In the face of seven decades of consistent failure by the international community to enforce the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, Palestinian civil society has taken it upon itself to assert its UN-mandated right of return. Unarmed protesters who are seeking to do this are being met with Israeli sniper bullets. Nothing has been done to punish Israel for the slaughter of over 100 unarmed Palestinians in the past two months. Instead, the United States has moved its embassy to Jerusalem and blocked UN Security Council resolutions condemning the killings, while the European Union has continued to reward Israel with increased co-operation. The entire situation is utterly shameful and sickening. The massacre of unarmed protesters while the world, including the European Union and the Government, stands idly by is utterly shameful. The protestors are simply demanding their rights under international law. They include the right to return, as set down in UN Resolution 194; the right not to be the subject of the collective punishment of an entire population, as is happening with the 11-year siege of Gaza; and the right not to have their lands illegally annexed for Israeli settlement expansions.

While it is all very fine for the Government to call in the Israeli ambassador, talk is cheap and action is needed. We need to expel the Israeli ambassador and his staff. We need to recall the Irish ambassador from Tel Aviv, just as South Africa has recalled its ambassador. Ireland must end the bilateral arms trade with Israel. It should call for an international military embargo on the state of Israel on the basis that it is murdering vast numbers of Palestinians in cold blood. Ireland must call for the suspension of the EU-Israel association agreement on the basis that Israel is in clear breach of the human rights clause in the agreement. Furthermore, the 11-year siege of Gaza must be lifted. We must commence an extensive boycott of Israeli goods and services. In 2014 both Houses of the Oireachtas unanimously called for the formal recognition of the state of Palestine. The Government must formally recognise it immediately. I commend all of the organisations, including the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, that are supporting the Palestinian people. I commend all of the people from Ireland who have visited the Palestinian territories in support of the cause. My own daughter has just returned from such a visit. She and her companions were blackguarded at the airport. They were held and interrogated for six hours. Some in the group were refused entry. It is time the international community, including the Government, stood up to Israel and supported the rights of the Palestinian people.


 

Priority Question 5. To ask the Minister for Health his plans to open adult inpatient psychiatric beds in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28609/18]

 

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
This raises again the need for the provision of a properly resourced, properly funded and integrated mental health service for County Tipperary with particular reference to the need to reopen adult inpatient psychiatric beds wrongly closed at St. Michael’s unit in Clonmel in 2012.

 

Jim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)  The provision of acute inpatient care to the adult population of north Tipperary, which is in CHO 3, is provided between the acute unit in University Hospital Limerick, which has 50 beds, and the acute psychiatric unit in Ennis, which has 39 beds.

The 44 bed department of psychiatry based at St Luke’s General Hospital, Kilkenny, is the designated approved centre for acute inpatient services for south Tipperary, which is in CHO 5. This enables all acute inpatient admissions for this CHO area to be managed at a single site. Referrals to St. Luke’s are through a consultant psychiatrist who makes the clinical decision to admit based on the level of acute presentation or need. In addition to the department of psychiatry, a dedicated psychiatric liaison team operates out of the emergency department in St. Luke’s. All service users presenting to the emergency department who require psychiatric assessment will receive that assessment within agreed timeframes in line with relevant guidelines. Onward referral pathways are agreed with all service users upon completion of psychiatric assessment in the emergency department. Pathways can include admission to an acute unit, referral to a relevant community mental health service team or referral back to a GP.

There are a range of other mental health services for adults in Tipperary. These include, for example, psychiatry of old age teams, non-acute beds, day hospitals and day centres. In addition, there are community mental health teams and high, medium and low-support community residences. In respect of those under 18, there are three CAMHS teams operating in Tipperary, one in north Tipperary and two in south Tipperary. The CAMHS acute units at Eist Linn in Cork and Merlin Park in Galway, which have a total of 42 beds, serve the Tipperary catchment area.

The HSE indicates that the south east community healthcare area has the second lowest rate of acute psychiatric bed provision. If this area were to be provided with the national average rate of bed provision, an additional 18 acute psychiatric care beds would be required. Evolving demographic pressures have recently led to over-occupancy at the departments of psychiatry at both St. Luke’s General Hospital Kilkenny and University Hospital Waterford.

The Deputy will be aware that I met local delegations on several occasions over recent months to discuss current and future provision of mental health services in Tipperary, including reviewing bed capacity. I also visited mental health facilities in south Tipperary in February last. Further to my correspondence of 11 May with the chief officer of CHO 5, the south east mental health service management team met a delegation of local representatives and discussed in detail all issues concerning the delivery of mental health services in Tipperary, including the potential for additional acute psychiatric beds across the south east community healthcare area. South east community healthcare mental health services has also engaged with HSE estates on the potential to develop psychiatric inpatient beds at the four acute hospital sites in the region.

I will continue to monitor the development of all mental health services in Tipperary, particularly in the context of progressing new service developments agreed under the HSE service plan and through additional investment for mental health provided by Government.

 

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)

I acknowledge the interest and involvement of the Minister of State in this issue since his appointment. As he said, he met representatives of the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee and Oireachtas Members on two occasions in Leinster House. He has visited the services in Clonmel and met all the stakeholders involved, including mental health service management in the south east. There is a serious and growing concern about the state of mental health services in the county, specifically that they are substandard and that there are no inpatient beds. A new umbrella organisation, Tipperary’s Fight for Mental Health Services, has been involved recently in public meetings and a public march on this issue. That organisation is supported by all the local Oireachtas Members and a large number of councillors as well. The Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee has been engaging with mental health service management in the south east. At our most recent meeting, the management accepted that there was a shortage of beds in the south east and that Tipperary had a strong case for additional beds. They also indicated it would be helpful if the Minister of State was in a position to meet the negotiating team. Will he do that?

 

Jim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)

The Deputy was present at the meeting with local Oireachtas representatives on 2 May and he has consistently been proactive on this issue. On 11 May, I wrote to the chief officer of CHO 5 outlining that there is a need to restore some acute bed provision for adults in Tipperary following the closure of St. Michael’s unit some years ago and given the consequent transport and access difficulties to St. Luke’s mental health unit in Kilkenny and to Ennis, which were highlighted to me. I emphasised the need for progress to construction as quickly as possible of the new respite crisis house in Clonmel to replace the existing facility there, including the provision of a construction date for that facility. I also highlighted the inadequate enhancement of community-based services since 2012 to compensate for the closure of St. Michael’s, particularly comparing the level of services envisaged by the HSE against what has been delivered, and referred to the inadequate staffing levels for both adult and CAMHS teams in Tipperary. I referred to the further issue of poor access to Eist Linn CAMHS unit in Cork, resulting in long stays for under-18s in adult health facilities in Tipperary, which has always been a concern of mine. The Deputy will be aware that I have spoken to a number of parents of children who have been left waiting in South Tipperary General Hospital, which is not appropriate or acceptable.

 

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)

The representatives of the Save Our Acute Hospital Services Committee have met mental health service management on three occasions. On the most recent occasion, they accepted that there is a need for additional beds in the area and that south Tipperary has a strong case. They also indicated that the Minister of State’s involvement at a future meeting would be helpful and I ask again if he would be prepared to do that. At this stage, we need action and political input at the highest level to move this issue forward.

 

I would be more than happy to continue the engagement I have had with the Deputy. I am concerned about the issues in south Tipperary and have a good understanding of them. I am awaiting a response from the chief officer of CHO 5. I asked my officials this week to follow up to ensure that I get a written response, which I expect to have in the next week or ten days. As soon as I have it, I will certainly be happy to engage further with the Deputy. There is potential in the development of the new 50-bed unit. I have asked HSE estates section to consider the provision of a number of those beds for mental health services without distorting the plans that are in progress. It should not create a delay. That is the route I am following and I will certainly meet with the Deputy, Oireachtas colleagues and whomever they want me to meet in Tipperary. My focus on working with the HSE and as soon as I receive a response from the chief officer, I will progress the issue.


 

Séamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)     Since Operation Pontus in the Mediterranean became Operation Sophia, the number of refugees landing in Italy has more than halved. For a considerable time, there has been serious concern that the price that the EU and Ireland are prepared to pay for stemming migration is the gross abuse of the human rights of migrants. The Irish office of Amnesty International has stated, “The Libyan coastguard is intercepting people in distress at sea and transferring them to Libya, where they are being held in detention centres and exposed to systematic and widespread human rights violations such as arbitrary detention, torture, rape and exploitation.” The statement goes on to indicate that while Ireland is not directly sending people back to Libya, it shares responsibility due to Europe’s joint actions to strengthen the capacity of the Libyan coastguard to intercept people and return them to Libya. Amnesty International has said that EU member states, including Ireland, cannot plausibly claim to be unaware of the grave violations being committed by some of the detention centre officials and coastguard agents with whom they co-operate. It has also argued that European Governments, including Ireland, stand accused of being knowingly complicit in the torture and exploitation of thousands of migrants and refugees by the EU-financed Libyan coastguard and officials running the country’s detention camps. The UN human rights chief, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has also described the suffering of migrants in these camps as “an outrage to the conscience of humanity”. Médecins sans Frontières has also supported, in various reports, the views of those other organisations.

In view of the human rights abuses in Libya I have outlined, will the Taoiseach order Irish vessels to cease all co-operation with the Libyan coastguard? Will his Government cease participation in the training and funding of the Libyan coastguard through Operation Sophia? In a reply to a recent parliamentary question, I was told that, on its tour of duty, the LÉ Niamhrescued more than 600 migrants, 294 of whom were put ashore in Italy. Will the Taoiseach tell the Dáil to what non-Irish vessels were the remaining more than 300 migrants transferred? Where were those transferred migrants put ashore in each case? Will the Taoiseach give an assurance that none of these migrants was transferred to the Libyan coastguard by the LÉ Niamhor to any other vessel to which they had already been transferred?

 

Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)    The Deputy asked if we will withdraw from our mission in the Mediterranean in Operation Sophia. We will not do so. I am very proud of the work that our Naval Service and Defence Forces are doing in the Mediterranean, rescuing migrants from the sea and training the Libyan coastguard to do what a coastguard should be able to do, namely, secure its seas and do its work, at least in its own territorial waters. It is an operation of which we are part. We are very proud of our Naval Service for being part of it. That will continue. The Deputy asked if people were transferred to the Libyan coastguard. I am advised by the Minister of State with responsibility for defence that this was not the case and people transferred to other boats were brought to Italy. I will seek confirmation of that to ensure I am correct in that regard.

It is evident to everyone in Europe that we face a large amount of migration from the Middle East and Africa. The numbers have decreased very considerably in the past couple of years.

Anyway, it has had a huge effect. It has had a big effect on the politics of Europe. We see that from the elections in Italy, where a populist anti-immigrant government has been elected and in the countries of central and eastern Europe, where anti-migration governments have been elected. We cannot be in denial about the fact that this has changed politics. Public opinion in Europe is changing too. We see it evident in Germany, which was initially welcoming to millions of migrants. Now, public opinion is in a very different place in Germany and we cannot be blind to the realities of that.

John McGuinness (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)    It is happening in Austria as well.

 

When it comes to co-operation with source countries and transit countries, we have to bear in mind why people risk their lives to travel to Europe and to cross the seas in the way they do. It is because they come from countries that are badly governed or unsafe or where there is no economic opportunity. That is why it must be part of the core mission of Europe, when it comes to the Middle East and Africa, to try to build peace and security and bring about economic opportunities in the Middle East and Africa. We have seen how the power of the free market in Asia has lifted 1 billion people out of poverty in 20 years. We need to see that kind of power happen in Africa as well so that people are not forced to travel.

We need to step up border security as well because what is happening is terrible. People are travelling huge distances. Traffickers put them in dinghies and boats that are not seaworthy knowing full well that European navies and others will come to the rescue and bring them the rest of the journey. That is something that cannot be encouraged. None of us should in any way encourage human trafficking of that nature. The Libyan coastguard has a big job to do to deal with that.

 

I note he failed to give an assurance that Ireland will stop training and funding the Libyan coastguard and, through the coastguard, the Libyan Government, which is torturing migrants in these camps.

The Taoiseach is Minister for Defence and, as such, he is responsible for this area of operations. In a parliamentary reply recently I was told that 139 suspected people smugglers or traffickers had been apprehended under Operation Sophia and that 545 boats were taken from criminal organisations. Were any of these boats or smugglers handed back to the Libyan coastguard? More important, were any of the refugees or migrants on these boats handed over to the Libyan coastguard or any other Libyan ships to be sent back to detention centres in Libya?

 

I will double check so that I am sure, but I am informed that none of them was handed over to the Libyan coastguard and that they were taken to European countries.

The Deputy ascribed comments to those various organisations. I am not sure that they said that about the Government. One or two might have but they certainly did not all say that. It is very much our position as a government that the camps or detention centres should be run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, or the International Organization for Migration, IOM.

 

The UNHCR said it.

 

That is very much the point I will make at the summit of European prime ministers later this week. Reception centres, where they exist, should be run by the UNHCR or the IOM so that we can be assured human rights are upheld and standards are protected. At the same time, we need to ensure we never equivocate on human trafficking. No one should do anything to facilitate these people smugglers and human traffickers.

I am afraid that some actors in this area are doing that. It might not be their intention but they are doing it.

 

 



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