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Simon Coveney: Irish foreign minister to face confidence vote

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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney (pictured) is to face a confidence vote later when the Dáil (Irish parliament) returns from its summer recess, writes the BBC.

Coveney has been criticized for his handling of the appointment of former government minister Katherine Zappone as a UN special envoy.

He has denied that he was lobbied to appoint her but apologised for not informing cabinet before a meeting in July.

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She has since turned down the post.

Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of no confidence in Mr Coveney, but the government is to put down a counter, confidence motion which will be debated by TDs (members of parliament) and voted on later.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin, of Fianna Fáil, described it as an "oversight" that Coveney had not informed his government colleagues about the appointment ahead of the cabinet meeting, a move which has been reported to have caused divisions.

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Coveney's party, Fine Gael, is part of a coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party.

Katherine Zappone
Katherine Zappone was a ministerial colleague of Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar

It later emerged that Coveney's party leader Leo Varadkar had not been aware of the appointment of a "Special Envoy to the UN for Freedom of Opinion and Expression" until a week before cabinet, when Zappone texted him about it.

In messages released by Varadkar in September, he showed that he subsequently asked Coveney about the role before the cabinet meeting in July.

Zappone replied that her contract was soon to be finalised.

On 4 August, Zappone announced she would not take on the special envoy position as she believed "it is clear that criticism of the appointment process has impacted the legitimacy of the role itself".

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald has called for Coveney to be sacked and raised the prospect of a vote of no confidence.

She branded his actions as not being "of the standard expected of a minister".

The Labour Party has indicated that it does not have confidence in the government, but leader Alan Kelly said there were "bigger issues" than the row.

On Tuesday (14 September), Coveney told a party conference that he was "embarrassed" that the appointment had led to a "fiasco".

"It's not been my finest month in politics," he said.

Ireland

Irish government sets out biggest ever investment plan

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The Irish government has announced the largest national development plan in the history of the state as it unveiled spending proposals for the next decade, writes the BBC.

The plan envisages a total investment of €165 billion (£141 million) between now and 2030 on various capital projects such as housing and transport infrastructure.

Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin hailed it as "unprecedented in scale".

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He said the plan will "drive the next phase of our post-pandemic recovery and will create thousands of jobs".

The investment will include extra money for cross-border projects, with capital funding for the government's Shared Island initiative to be "at least doubled" to €1bn (£853m) until 2030.

Mr Martin said the planned spending of €3.5bn on north-south infrastructure was a "significant increase" in investment on infrastructure projects.

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He described the investment as "a pragmatic approach on our side".

Those projects include the Irish government funding the Narrow Water Bridge between counties Louth and Down, the Ulster Canal and the A5 road as well as more money to be spent on greenways, higher education, biodiversity and industrial parks.

However, opposition parties have questioned the government's costings and timescales, with the Labour Party dismissing the plan as a "work of fiction".

Outlining the coalition government's investment priorities, the taoiseach said they would "respond to the housing crisis and tackle the climate emergency" at the same time as reforming public services.

He announced a target to build 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, which would include 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes.

He also said there would be a swift reform of the planning system to address "the planning and legal delays which bedevil infrastructure and housing projects in Ireland".

The investment will including extra money for cross-border projects, with capital funding for the government's Shared Island initiative to be "at least doubled" to €1bn (£853m) until 2030.

Housing protester
The new plan contains a target to build 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030

The investment proposals were presented as the revised "National Development Plan" - an updated version of a capital spending programme first outlined in 2018.

The revised version is more costly and ambitious, as it involves almost €50bn (£42m) of extra spending that had been envisaged three years ago.

The new plan includes a €35bn (£30m) investment package for Ireland's transport system, including proposals for new light rail systems and 1,000 km of new and improved walking and cycling infrastructure.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan, who is both the minister for the environment and minister for transport, said it would create a "cleaner, greener, connected Ireland".

"It means that for every euro we invest in new road infrastructure we're investing twice as much in new public transport," Mr Ryan added.

However, the Labour Party's spokesperson on finance and public expenditure, Ged Nash, called the revised National Development Plan "a work of fiction".

"The glossy updated plan is an expensive reheat of the 2018 version," he said.

"How can we take a plan to develop public transport links like Metro Link and the Dart extension to towns like Drogheda seriously if no costings or firm timelines are published?" Mr Nash asked.

"If government had the confidence that the vast number of projects mentioned in the plan would be delivered, then they should publish clear costings and the indicative delivery dates."

Sinn Féin's housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the plan was "very disappointing news for housing".

He claimed the actual extra spending on social and affordable housing in 2022 "will be minimal".

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Brexit

Commission approves €10 million Irish support measure for fishery sector in the context of Brexit

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The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, a €10 million Irish scheme to support the fishery sector affected by the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, and the consequent quota share reductions foreseen in the provisions of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) between the EU and the UK. The support will be available to companies that commit to temporarily cease their fishing activities for a month.

The aim of the scheme is to save part of the Irish reduced fishing quota for other vessels, while the beneficiaries temporarily suspend their activities. The compensation will be granted as a non-refundable grant, calculated on the basis of gross earnings averaged for the fleet size, excluding the cost of fuel and food for the crew of the vessel. Each eligible company will be entitled to the support for up to a month in the period between 1 September to 31 December 2021. The Commission assessed the measures under Article 107(3)(c) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), which allows Member States to support the development of certain economic activities or regions, under certain conditions.The Commission found that the measure enhances the sustainability of the fishery sector and its ability to adapt to new fishing and market opportunities arising from the new relationship with the UK.

Therefore, the measure facilitates the development of this sector and contributes to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy to ensure that fishing and aquaculture activities are environmentally sustainable in the long term. The Commission concluded that the measure constitutes an appropriate form of support in order to facilitate an orderly transition in the EU fishery sector following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. On this basis, the Commission approved the scheme under EU State aid rules.

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Today's (3 September) decision does not prejudge whether the support measure will eventually be eligible for Brexit Adjustment Reserve ‘BAR' funding, which will be assessed once the BAR Regulation has entered into force. However, it already provides Ireland with legal certainty that the Commission considers the support measure to be compliant with EU State aid rules, irrespective of the ultimate source of funding. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.64035 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Unmasked: 23 detained over COVID-19 business email compromise fraud

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A sophisticated fraud scheme using compromised emails and advance-payment fraud has been uncovered by authorities in Romania, the Netherlands and Ireland as part of an action co-ordinated by Europol. 

On 10 August, 23 suspects were detained in a series of raids carried out simultaneously in the Netherlands, Romania and Ireland. In total, 34 places were searched. These criminals are believed to have defrauded companies in at least 20 countries of approximately €1 million. 

The fraud was run by an organised crime group which prior to the COVID-19 pandemic already illegally offered other fictitious products for sale online, such as wooden pellets. Last year the criminals changed their modus operandi and started offering protective materials after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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This criminal group – composed of nationals from different African countries residing in Europe, created fake email addresses and webpages similar to the ones belonging to legitimate wholesale companies. Impersonating these companies, these criminals would then trick the victims – mainly European and Asian companies, into placing orders with them, requesting the payments in advance in order for the goods to be sent. 

However, the delivery of the goods never took place, and the proceeds were laundered through Romanian bank accounts controlled by the criminals before being withdrawn at ATMs. 

Europol has been supporting this case since its onset in 2017 by: 

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  • Bringing together the national investigators on all sides who have seen been working closely together with Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to prepare for the action day;
  • providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators, and;
  • deploying two of its cybercrime experts to the raids in the Netherlands to support the Dutch authorities with cross-checking in real-time information gathered during the operation and with securing relevant evidence. 

Eurojust co-ordinated the judicial co-operation in view of the searches and provided support with the execution of several judicial cooperation instruments.

This action was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).

The following law enforcement authorities were involved in this action:

  • Romania: National Police (Poliția Română)
  • The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)
  • Ireland: National Police (An Garda Síochána)
  • Europol: European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)
     
EMPACT

In 2010 the European Union set up a four-year policy cycle to ensure greater continuity in the fight against serious international and organised crime. In 2017 the Council of the EU decided to continue the EU Policy Cycle for the 2018 - 2021 period. It aims to tackle the most significant threats posed by organised and serious international crime to the EU. This is achieved by improving and strengthening cooperation between the relevant services of EU member states, institutions and agencies, as well as non-EU countries and organizations, including the private sector where relevant. Cybercrime is one of the priorities for the Policy Cycle.

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