Other Questions

Foreign Conflicts

Mick Wallace

Question:

34Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the action he has taken to date and any future action he plans to take in addressing the ongoing disturbances in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, in view of the reports of civilian deaths; his views on the export of weapons to these States by countries such as Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2339/12]

Mick Wallace

Question:

54Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the manner in which he is addressing the ongoing civil unrest in Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain, in view of the fact that he was keen to lend moral support to the NATO intervention in Libya in 2011; his views on the sale of arms by Western States such as the UK to these countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2338/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 54 together.

I have made clear my strong condemnation of the ongoing violence and serious repression of human rights in Syria, most recently in a statement on 20 December and in my reply to Question No. 47 on 11 January. The UN estimates that more than 5,000 people have been killed by Syrian forces since last March. I am gravely concerned that, despite the presence of an Arab League observer mission since 27 December, the killings of unarmed protestors and widespread human rights abuses continue and I fully support the call from Arab League Secretary General el-Araby for a complete cessation of all violence in Syria.

The international community, including the EU, the UN and the Arab League, has reacted to the violence in Syria with a series of robust economic, political and diplomatic measures to compel the Syrian regime to cease its appalling and unacceptable attacks on the Syrian people. I will outline these measures in more detail in other questions on Syria later. However, the important point is that the international community is determined to maintain strong and united political pressure on the Syrian regime until it ends the violent repression against its own people and begins a process of transition. I will be discussing the current situation in Syria with EU colleagues at next week's Foreign Affairs Council.

In Bahrain, while I welcome the positive steps taken by the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, I remain concerned about continuing tensions within the country and allegations of excessive use of force employed by the police against peaceful protestors. These concerns are shared by our EU partners and will be relayed to the Bahraini authorities.

In Yemen, presidential elections are scheduled to take place on 21 February following former President Saleh's resignation in November. His resignation marked the first step in Yemen's political transition. EU High Representative Ashton has emphasised to Vice President al-Hadi that the transition process must be inclusive and reach out to the large numbers of unemployed young people, the youth movements and other groups. While protests have continued since President Saleh's resignation, I regard it as a positive that these have not resulted in violent clashes of the kind witnessed prior to the transfer of power.

In regard to the export of arms, I fully support the restrictive measures against Syria adopted by the EU, which includes an arms export ban and an export ban on equipment which might be used for internal repression. In regard to the export of arms to Bahrain and Yemen, the decision to transfer or deny the transfer of any military technology is at the national discretion of each exporting state.

In 2008, the EU adopted a Common Position which defines the rules governing the control of exports of military technology and equipment by member states. Under this Common Position, member states assess all licence applications for military exports against eight separate criteria, including the human rights situation on the ground. As a result, I would note that armaments companies in the EU are in compliance with one of the strictest export control regimes in the world. The operation of the Council Common Position is kept under constant review by member states in light of changing circumstances in individual buyer countries.

The restrictions placed on Syria are welcome. However, it is a pity he has not taken the same robust approach to Yemen and Bahrain where the disturbances might not be on the same scale but the principle is similar. In Bahrain, for example, the US gave a green light to Saudis to go in and crush local peaceful protest, enhance religious sectarianism, organise secret trials and sentence prisoners to death. Bahrain is not a lovely place at the moment. Only last week, the British Government issued licences to allow arms manufacturers in Britain to export arms to Bahrain. It is sad to say that money decides most things. Irrespective of that, they can all say "I wish things were better in Bahrain", but as long as they continue to export arms to that government what do they expect? They will do anything for profit. I would like to see the Tánaiste expressing his dislike to David Cameron about the idea of issuing new licences for arms to Bahrain at the moment.

When I attend the House to answer parliamentary questions, I do so on behalf of the Irish Government. The position as far as Ireland is concerned is that we have not issued any licences for the export of military goods.

I did not say you had.

Yes but that is the question. My responsibility to this House is on behalf of the Irish Government. To make it clear, the position is that Ireland has not issued any licences for the export of military goods to Yemen or Bahrain in 2011.

I acknowledge Deputy Wallace's support and his comments on the strong position Ireland has taken in respect of Syria, but we are not cutting and dicing here. As far as the Government is concerned, the issues of human rights and democratic rights are not divisible. They are not applied one way in one country and another way in another country. As far as we are concerned, they are universal rights.

As the Deputy knows, the Bahrain independent commission of inquiry undertook a comprehensive and impartial investigation into the events at the Salmaniya medical complex and concluded that there was no evidence that any of the medical professionals refused treatment to any injured or sick person based on ethnicity. The commission also found that the allegations that medical personnel provided protestors with weapons were founded.

At a court hearing on 28 November 2011, the report was submitted in evidence at the request of the legal team representing the medical professionals. At the most recent hearing, on 9 January 2012, the court deferred consideration of the case to a further hearing on 19 March. All of the medical professionals remain at liberty while the current legal proceedings continue. Incidentally, that was a specific call I made on behalf of this country - that all the medical personnel who had been arrested and detained should be released pending the appeal of their cases.

The Tánaiste says he is only responsible for Irish issues. However, while he did not set up Guantánamo Bay himself, he has criticised it and was dead right to do so. It is an absolute disgrace that of over 800 people who were thrown into it, only six were convicted, which is a smaller number than the military personnel who have left because of the unfairness of the system there.

We might not be exporting any arms to Bahrain or Yemen but, given that the Tánaiste was prepared to express his disquiet about Guantánamo to the Americans, surely he could also complain about the fact that in Yemen today they are using tear-gas canisters with "Made in America" written on them. With regard to Bahrain, it would be nice if the Tánaiste could let Mr. Cameron know that Ireland was always perceived as a neutral country. The Tánaiste has a great opportunity to enhance that and ensure that we are not seen to be taking sides with anyone, and that we disagree with this sort of behaviour by any country.

As I said earlier, there is a common EU position on the export of military equipment. Eight separate criteria must be met before a country can export either military equipment or equipment used for military purposes to any other country. Those eight criteria include strong human rights criteria. Ireland's position is that we expect all EU member states to comply with those criteria. The Deputy may be assured that at the Foreign Affairs Council where this issue will be discussed, I will be making that position very clear on Ireland's behalf.

Overseas Development Aid

Pearse Doherty

Question:

35Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will clarify the nature of Irish Aid disbursed to Colombia; the way it is allocated; and the terms of same. [2342/12]

The Government's aid programme, which is managed by Irish Aid, is sharply focused on the fight against global poverty and hunger. It is recognised internationally for its effectiveness, and for its particular concentration on some of the poorest countries and communities in sub-Saharan Africa. Ireland does not have a full bilateral aid programme with Colombia. However, Irish Aid has for some years provided funding support for the work of development non-governmental organisations and Irish missionaries in Colombia. Since 2009, over €3.5 million has been provided in this way for long-term development work, and in response to humanitarian needs.

Funding for NGOs is allocated by Irish Aid on the basis of a series of eligibility criteria, which include a proven organisational capacity for the effective use of funding, and a solid track record of delivery. NGO partners submit proposed programmes of work based on their own strategic priorities and capacity. NGOs supported by Irish Aid for their work in Colombia over the past year included Trócaire, Christian Aid, HelpAge International and Mercy Corps Scotland. The main focus of this support was on the promotion of human rights in Colombia, strengthening the peace-building process and increasing the ability of communities affected by conflict to advocate for their rights and interests.

For all NGO funding, including that in Colombia, Irish Aid assesses and evaluates programmes of assistance against specific objectives and expected results. Procedures to ensure funding is used for maximum benefit include regular field monitoring visits to programme partners, annual reporting, including financial reporting against agreed objectives and budgets, and end of programme evaluations and reviews. Ireland can be proud of its contribution to human rights and peace-building in Colombia over recent years and it is important we continue to support poor communities to consolidate the peace-building process and realise their rights.

I congratulate Deputy Costello on his appointment as Minister of State. We worked on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs and I look forward to continuing our work. What the Minister of State has outlined is very welcome. I had the opportunity to read one of the excellent reports by Trócaire on the impact of the trade agreement between the EU and Colombia and Peru, to which Trócaire has outlined its opposition in clear and coherent terms. I raised this matter during a previous Question Time in the Dáil. There is concern about traditional support from the US and the UK in terms of military aid or aid to civilian components of the military there. There is concern that Ireland may be indirectly contributing to this through the EU. Are we aware of any EU programmes to which Ireland financially contributes that could in any way link us to supporting this type of initiative? This would be unwelcome.

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for his complimentary remarks about my appointment. We engage with Trócaire and last year over 50% of the aid was given to Trócaire, which is active in respect of human rights, advocacy and humanitarian provision. The trade agreement to which the Deputy refers is a multi-party trade agreement with the European Union. This is the best way of moving forward so that all the countries in Europe are together in dialogue with Colombia. The trade agreement was essentially negotiated by the European Commission. There is some dispute on the question of mixed competences, whether this is an exclusive agreement with the EU or whether the 27 member states must also grant approval. While the agreement has been initialled, it has not been approved. In any case, it must receive the approval of the European Parliament, which has not been granted at this time. The agreement cannot be ratified until the approval takes place. The concerns voiced by Trócaire remain to be dealt with.

Barack Obama, who is the President of the United States, and other senior Democrats have sought a reduction in funding. There is a shameful history in Latin America of the CIA and such organisations, who trained despot regimes. Thank God people in those countries are rising up and electing governments. There are concerns in Colombia about the ongoing human rights situation and the fact that it has the record in the world for murders of trade unionists and human rights defenders. It has an appalling and shameful history. Directly or indirectly, Ireland should not be allocating money that will be of benefit to the military objectives of the Colombian Government. I welcome the range of NGOs referred to by the Minister of State in his response. That is commendable and follows the record of Irish Aid but I am concerned that, either directly or indirectly through the EU, we are funding that type of aid.

I am not aware that Ireland has any hand, act or part in respect of funding of that nature. Our commitment is to human rights and peace building. Last year, we provided €100,000 for the protection of front line defenders in that area. We will also be associated with the good work done by SIPTU in this respect. I met a number of trade unionists from Colombia over the past number of years in respect of their concerns about human rights. That is the kind of work and advocacy that is taking place and that is the direction in which our money has been spent and will continue to be spent.

Human Rights Issues

Gerry Adams

Question:

36Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recent attack by the Bahraini security forces of Mr. Nabeel Rajab, President of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who was hospitalised after a group of police beat him with truncheons while he was participating in a peaceful protest calling for the release of political prisoners; and his further views that those responsible for the violence should be held accountable immediately. [2345/12]

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

50Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recent deportation from Bahrain of Dr Richard Sollum, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, as he attempted to witness the trial of, among others, Irish trained surgeons Ali Al Ekri and Bassim Dahif; and the steps he is taking today to protect these doctors who were trained here. [2346/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 50 together. I have made clear my ongoing concern at the human rights situation in Bahrain, including in the cases of the medical professionals originally sentenced by a military court to heavy prison terms following last year's disturbances but whose cases are now being retried in a civilian court. I therefore welcome the publication of the report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry and the significant steps taken by the Bahraini authorities to implement the recommendations of the report, including the establishment of a follow-up commission. It is essential that the Bahraini authorities address the serious shortcomings identified in the report in a timely, transparent and thorough manner. I call on all sides to participate in the work of the follow-up commission as part of a process of national reconciliation founded on constructive dialogue.

I particularly urge the Bahraini authorities to hold accountable those who, according to the report, were responsible for violations of human rights. In that regard, I welcome the commencement of the trial in Manama of five police officers accused of involvement in the death of the Bahraini blogger Zakariya al-Ashiri in April last year. I also regard as a positive development the King of Bahrain's commitment to reform Bahrain's laws to meet international standards and to give greater legal protection to the right to freedom of expression and assembly. Ireland, and our EU partners, stand ready to support Bahrain through this reform process and experts from one EU member state have already initiated a training programme for the Bahraini police.

However, I remain concerned that more needs to be done to address the legitimate demands of those peacefully seeking reform and greater inter-communal dialogue in Bahrain. Large-scale demonstrations are still continuing and, in this regard, I am perturbed by the violence which took place at one such event last week, which resulted in a serious assault on human rights defender, Nabeel Rajab. I urge the Bahraini authorities to carry out a full investigation into the events surrounding the hospitalisation of Mr. Rajab and to take steps to ensure the police do not employ excessive force against peaceful protestors.

I have repeatedly called for independent observers to be allowed to monitor the ongoing legal proceedings concerning the re-trial of the medics. While I understand that representatives from EU embassies attended the most recent hearing on 9 January, which deferred consideration of the case to a hearing on 19 March, I urge the Bahraini authorities to permit all international observers from reputable NGOs such as Physicians for Human Rights to attend the trial to demonstrate the authorities' genuine commitment to improving human rights in the kingdom.

I thank the Tánaiste for his forthright comments on Bahrain. Any time I have raised the issue, the Tánaiste has been strident in his condemnation of the human rights abuses that have taken place.

It is worrying that despite the efforts of the Tánaiste and of the international community the authorities in Bahrain continue to crack down on legitimate peaceful human rights protests.

It is of significant concern that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, has a commercial partnership with the Bahraini regime but has yet to condemn publicly the arrest, detention and shockingly cruel treatment of doctors acting in accordance with the Hippocratic oath and who were trained by the RCSI. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade wrote to RCSI but I have seen no public condemnation of the regime by the college. I cannot fault the Government. I can fault that body, which carries considerable international merit.

Will the Tánaiste call on RCSI to condemn publicly the actions of the Bahraini regime and urge it to cease its violent actions against peaceful human rights protesters?

I thank Deputy Mac Lochlainn for his kind remarks in respect of the action taken by the Government with regard to the situation in Bahrain. As I indicated in my reply, we will continue to monitor what is happening in Bahrain, particularly the retrial of the medics and the protests and abuses of human rights.

It is important to acknowledge any indications of progress and of a response from the Bahraini authorities to calls from the international community, including Ireland. I did that in my reply. It is important to encourage the progress and improvements being made.

The RCSI is a private institution. I respect that. I have met senior personnel from RCSI and I have discussed the situation in Bahrain with them.

Emigrant Support Programmes

Niall Collins

Question:

37Deputy Niall Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the specific services and projects that will be affected by the €1.3 million reduction in support for Irish emigrants in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2359/12]

The emigrant support programme, ESP, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, provides funding to non-profit organisations and projects to support Irish emigrant communities overseas and to facilitate the development of more strategic links between Ireland and the global Irish.

Between 2004 and 2011 over €93 million has been provided under the programme. The priority of the ESP, and of the organisations it supports, is in assisting the most vulnerable members of Irish communities overseas. These organisations have made a substantive difference to the lives of Irish people living abroad, reducing homelessness, tackling social isolation and enabling Irish emigrants to access their local statutory entitlements.

I do not expect frontline welfare to be adversely affected by the reduction in the overall 2012 budget. In 2011 some €11.27 million was provided to support over 200 organisations in 20 countries worldwide. A further €254,000 was spent on Global Irish Network related activities including hosting the Global Irish Economic Forum in October 2011. The 2012 allocation of €11.6 million is therefore broadly in line with 2011 expenditure. The reduction will, however, limit the programme's capacity to fund large scale capital projects as has been done over recent years.

The reduction is not related to, or attributable to, any particular country and all applications for funding in 2012 will be assessed on their merits. The 2012 ESP grant round will be open from 18 January to 29 February and information will be circulated publicly and to previous applicants as normal.

I welcome the Tánaiste's response on this matter. We are all proud of what has been done in the last decade or more and of the allocation of more than €90 million to support vulnerable Irish people abroad. The public consciousness may be focused on elderly disadvantaged people in the United Kingdom. However, as the Tánaiste has said, 20 countries have benefitted from these funds, which reached a height of €15 million in 2008 and are down to about €10 million in the current year. I welcome the Tánaiste's assurance that funding will be intelligently spread across the services.

Can the Tánaiste assure the House that he will look at some of the destination countries of the new wave of emigrants? Do we have a programme in Canada, for example? Many Irish people are heading there at present. We would need to be doing something in that area.

In the objectives set out for emigrant support services reference is made to promoting projects and initiatives that support the outcomes of the Global Irish Economic Forum. What sort of initiatives have been followed in that area since the Tánaiste came into office and does he have any projects in mind for the funding that will be available in 2012?

Will the Tánaiste continue actively to support the young Irish people who are now abroad so we can maintain links with them and ensure they continue to have heritage, cultural and sporting experiences in the countries where they are now and that we achieve the objective that is dear to all our hearts and encourage their ultimate return to these shores?

I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl for his response and for his question. The round of grant allocations for 2012 is about to be opened. Those who have benefited from allocations in the past and any new organisations that have emerged since then will be eligible to apply. Our objective is to maintain our commitment to the provision of frontline support services to Irish emigrants. As the Deputy said, much of that has gone to emigrants in Britain, many of whom emigrated in the 1950s and 1960s and are now in difficult circumstances and in advanced years. We are anxious to continue support for them.

We must also consider the needs of the new Irish emigrants. I have met support organisations in the United States and heard of their difficulties and challenges. In Canada, for example, a new Irish support centre will be opened soon. I am conscious of the need to support our emigrants in Canada and Australia.

We are working through organisations such as the GAA, which is doing a huge amount of work with new Irish emigrants. It is a point of contact. We have concentrated on the capital side in helping the GAA to develop facilities, which are available for wider community use. We support the GAA in maintaining a network of contacts, particularly with new Irish emigrants.

Human Rights Issues

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Question:

38Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he is taking to support the Congolese community of Ireland, many of whom are Irish citizens, in their struggle to highlight the human and political situation in the Congo, which is currently on the brink of war; and his views that it is his duty to support the Irish Congolese community in their efforts to highlight their plight. [2351/12]

The Government shares the concern about the political and humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

Presidential and parliamentary elections were held in November and President Joseph Kabila was declared to have won a further term. However, there have been widespread allegations of fraud and incidents of serious violence before, during and since the elections. These are a matter of great concern, and it is now essential that all parties work to reduce tensions.

The European Union sent an election observer mission to monitor the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which included six Irish participants. The preliminary report of the mission is highly critical of the process, pointing to irregularities and a lack of transparency in the elections. These are serious issues, and we are now discussing with our EU partners our joint response to the authorities in the DRC.

The people of the DRC have for years suffered the appalling consequences of ethnic conflicts within the country and in the wider region, which have claimed millions of lives. There have been atrocities and the most serious violations of human rights over many years. Ireland has repeatedly condemned these atrocities, and supported the bringing to justice, including through the International Criminal Court, of those responsible for war crimes and human rights violations.

Through Irish Aid, we have provided significant humanitarian assistance to communities affected by the conflict in the DRC, including €13 million over the past two years.

I am very familiar with the views of representatives of the Congolese community in Ireland, and have already met with them as Minister of State in order to hear their views on the situation in the country and to discuss the role which Ireland can play in helping support democratic progress and improve the situation of the people. I have agreed to meet with them again after the votes for the election of members of the Congolese Parliament have been counted and the EU observer mission report is complete.

As with the Minister of State, I availed of the opportunity to meet representatives of the Congolese community late last year, listen to their concerns and learn of their expertise as Congolese citizens. The circumstances are deeply alarming. I welcome the tone of the Minister of State's comments. What is occurring is an appalling tragedy when one considers the vast natural resources of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It would be of benefit if these resources could be deployed for Congolese citizens.

What support can we give to the Congolese community in Dublin? Would the Minister of State acknowledge that the indiscriminate violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo poses a serious threat to Congolese lives? The Congolese citizens in Dublin wish to have this acknowledged.

I acknowledge that. During the course of the elections, 20 people lost their lives. The European Union provided a very substantial amount of money, in the region of €50 million, for the election itself and security. The Union, therefore, has invested heavily. We await the full report. The presidential election results have been counted. They have not been counted in a transparent way such that we are not clear about the tabulation of the votes. That has been heavily criticised by the observer missions. The results of the parliamentary elections are being counted at present and that is why I have asked for a further report. I will be meeting our own observers and also members of the Congolese community after the count is complete and the full report is available. That is expected at the end of March or beginning of April. At that point, I will be in a position to return to the Deputy with further details.

We do not have time to proceed to the next question. Sin deireadh le Ceisteanna.

There are three minutes.

There are only six minutes allowed per question and many Deputies have tabled questions on the next topic.

My question is next.

We only have two minutes remaining and three Deputies have similar questions tabled.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is trying to afford the House a reasonable opportunity to interrogate the Taoiseach. That is appreciated.

There will be injury time the next day out.