Go raibh maith agat, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as ucht an seans a thabhairt dom an cheist seo a phlé leis an Aire.
Noel Bradshaw is a 49 year old Christian Brother, a native of Portarlington, County Laois, who has been involved in humanitarian work in Africa for many years. Brother Bradshaw had originally worked in Liberia until the civil war approximately ten years ago forced him out of the country. Since then he has been working as a teacher with the victims of war in Sierra Leone. It now appears Brother Bradshaw, together with two priests, one from Italy and one from Sierra Leone, were taken hostage on 28 February, but news of the kidnapping emerged only within the past few days. His captors are apparently members of the Revolutionary United Front.
The situation in Sierra Leone has been very unstable, with widespread violence in recent months. There is effectively a civil war situation with the Revolutionary United Front in conflict with the Government, which is in turn backed by Nigerian troops and forces from other west African countries. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, recently condemned what he called the merciless murders and inhuman mutilations carried out by the rebels on the innocent inhabitants of the capital, Freetown. However, he also noted in a report to the Security Council that troops of the Nigerian led ECOMOG force, which is backing the Government, had been accused of summary executions.
Sierra Leone is inhospitable for outsiders, but typically, when the situation deteriorated further in December, Brother Bradshaw refused an offer of evacuation saying he wanted to remain with the children with whom he had been working. His family has not heard directly from him since then.
Brother Bradshaw's family and the other members of his religious community are clearly very worried about his safety, particularly given a number of recent high profile kidnappings in international trouble spots. I appeal to the Minister for Foreign Affairs to take all possible efforts to secure his release and safe return. In this regard I welcome the reported release of 31 children who had also been kidnapped by this group and the call by the leader of the Revolutionary United Front, Foday Sankoh, for the release of Brother Bradshaw and his two colleagues.
Ireland has diplomatic relations with Sierra Leone, and although we do not have an ambassador there, we do have an honorary consul in Freetown. However, I hope the Minister will take a personal interest in this case and use the good offices of our EU colleagues, who have resident diplomatic missions in Sierra Leone, to use all their good offices to secure the release of Brother Bradshaw. I also hope the Minister uses all the channels available through the United Nations to impress very strongly to the Government of Sierra Leone the need to avoid any actions that could endanger the life of Brother Bradshaw. I also ask the Minister to ensure that full contact is kept with Brother Bradshaw and his religious order so that they are kept up to date with all efforts being taken to secure his release.