Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014

Vol. 826 No. 1

Other Questions

Northern Ireland Issues

Brendan Smith


6. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he discussed recently with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State the serious issues relating to collusion outlined in the publication, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1480/14]

I welcome Ms Anne Cadwallader's publication. Reading it was chilling. She recounted the stories of 120 people murdered by loyalist gangs, some of which had been armed from UDR depots. All bar one of those 120 people were not involved in violence. Just one was linked to the IRA. The rest were citizens going about their daily work. Some were active members of the SDLP or the GAA. That was their only public involvement. What their families deserve at minimum is the truth. Society deserves the truth about those awful murders.

I have read Ms Cadwallader's book, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland. It is important to say that the 1972-78 period, which forms the backdrop to the book, was a dark one in the history of Northern Ireland and our island as a whole. While the book concentrates on sectarian attacks on the Nationalist community, the author acknowledges that the agony in those dark days was by no means restricted to one community and that dozens of individual Protestants, RUC officers and UDR soldiers lost their lives also.

Allegations of collusion, investigations and calls for public inquiries have featured in our discussions with the British authorities since the 1970s. More recent accusations about collusion between state actors and paramilitaries, including in Ms Cadwallader's book, have brought to the fore painful reminders of the devastation that the conflict had on families and communities across Ireland. Allegations about collusion and murder are stark evidence that dealing with the past remains a central issue for society. That is why it has been a key focus of the recent negotiations led by Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan. At various times when speaking with the Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers, in recent weeks, particularly during the intense discussions around the Haass process, I raised the issue of collusion while more generally discussing how best to deal with the issue of the past. I continued to emphasise dealing with the past as a priority as those talks reached their conclusion.

As mentioned by Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan in their statement on 8 January, the proposals, if implemented, would make real progress towards contending with the legacy of Northern Ireland's past. We continue to urge all parties to grasp the opportunity offered by the proposals to address the legacy of the past as part of a comprehensive agreement.

I welcome the fact that the Tánaiste raised in the Haass talks the issue of collusion. Ms Cadwallader's book raises a series of questions about the past that have a strong bearing on those talks. Murder is murder and no one would condone the murder of any person, regardless of his or her political beliefs or religion.

Some years ago, a unanimous motion in the House called on the British Government to co-operate on the matter of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Of the 120 murders outlined in Ms Cadwallader's book, one third were south of the Border. Sadly, a number of people were killed in my constituency - in the Belturbet bombing and in the bombing of Monaghan town. It is important that we address the issues of the past.

Representatives of the families of the disappeared and of other victims addressed the Good Friday committee just before Christmas. The demand of those families is for the truth. They do not want revenge, just the truth. I compliment Margaret Irwin of Justice for the Forgotten and Anne Cadwallader on their ongoing advocacy work on these very difficult issues. They will make a presentation to the Good Friday Agreement committee tomorrow as well, which is important.

The Tánaiste must assure the public about the issues in regard to collusion. I listened to Seamus Mallon and Denise Mullen some months ago in Armagh. Denise Mullen was a four year old child when her father was murdered. Seamus Mallon gave an outline, in chilling terms, of the number of people he knew and could practically identify who colluded in the murder of innocent people. It is important that this issue is given momentum and is not forgotten, and that the families are assured that the issues of the past and the loss of their loved ones will be given the attention they deserve.

Like Deputy Smith, I have met with some of the relatives of the victims of these murders. I met Denise Mullen in Armagh last November and talked with her about her memory, the many other murders that were committed and the suffering it has caused subsequently for families. The families and survivors want to find out the truth. The outcome of the Haass process has produced the framework within which that can be done. What has been proposed on how to deal with the past is a means by which these issues can be addressed, and survivors and families can get information and get closure on what has been a hugely agonising experience for them. It is important that we make more progress with that, that we get those proposals implemented and that there is a means by which families can pursue the truth. I hope it will be possible to do that.

Foreign Conflicts

Seán Crowe


7. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the deepening crisis and continued violence in the Central African Republic; if his Department pledged funding and assistance to those affected; and if he has discussed the crisis with his EU counterparts. [1439/14]

Brendan Smith


81. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the assistance provided to date by Irish Aid to the Central African Republic; the proposals he has to provide further humanitarian assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1638/14]

Bernard Durkan


91. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his colleagues at EU and UN level can actively engage with the various factions in the Central African Republic with particular reference to the need to bring about an early cessation of violence and the instigation of a peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1777/14]

Recently, in a welcome move, the President and Prime Minister of the Central African Republic have stepped down. Hopefully, this will help to calm the situation there and restore hope and order, which will not be easy. We have all heard the shocking stories about massacres and seen the horrific images emanating from that country.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 81 and 91 together.

I share the concern about the dangerous situation in the Central African Republic. At the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on 16 December, I welcomed the decision of the United Nations to upgrade the crisis in the country to a Level III emergency, which should facilitate increased delivery of humanitarian aid. I also welcomed the peacekeeping role being undertaken by the African Union and by France. I drew attention to the appalling violence and human rights abuses which have been reported and I expressed the view that a comprehensive UN-led response, including a UN peacekeeping operation, will be required to ensure long-term stability. At the Council, Ministers agreed to examine the possible use of EU common security and defence policy instruments to help in the stabilisation efforts. We will discuss these options further, and the international humanitarian response to the crisis, at the January meeting of the Council in Brussels next Monday.

It is clear that the worsening security situation is limiting humanitarian access to those in need in the Central African Republic. The UN estimates that 935,000 people, approximately one in five of the entire population, are now displaced within the country. A total of 2.2 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Ireland has been responding strongly. We are among the top ten international donors of humanitarian assistance to the Central African Republic, in line with our commitment to addressing protracted, and often forgotten, humanitarian crises. Since 2008, Ireland has provided €12 million in humanitarian aid to the Central African Republic, including an allocation of €2 million just last month.

I welcome that the Government has pledged €2 million in funding to provide life-saving emergency assistance to civilians in the Central African Republic. That country is one of the most disadvantaged states in Africa. Its population was extremely vulnerable before the outbreak of this crisis, so I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to do all it can to alleviate the suffering of those civilians.

Today, Mr. John Ging of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that the Central African Republic was in a mega crisis, so to speak. The violence has also led to the displacement of almost 1 million people who have had to leave their homes throughout the country. Does the Government have any specific plans to help these displaced people?

The Tánaiste said that the matter will be discussed shortly by EU foreign ministers, including the possibility of sending an EU military force to the Central African Republic. Has the Tánaiste been involved in discussions leading up to this and is he in favour of sending Irish troops to the region? Has this been discussed at Cabinet level?

I expect we will discuss the situation in the Cental African Republic at the Foreign Affairs Council next Monday. I welcome the adoption by the United Nations Security Council on 5 December 2013 of Resolution 2127. It authorised the deployment of an African Union-led peacekeeping force for 12 months, and the deployment of French forces to support the African Union mission. At a conference in Paris in December, African leaders also indicated that the number of African troops to be deployed to the Central African Republic will increase to 6,000. I commend the African Union and France for their leadership roles in the crisis. I hope the peacekeeping mission can help to bring stability to the country and restore security and public order, as well as protecting the civilian population.

We have been intensifying our humanitarian effort together with our EU partners. It is our view, however, that a comprehensive UN-led response is the best mechanism to deal with the root causes of the crisis, to restore law and order, and ensure long-term stability. In this context, I hope the option of a UN peacekeeping operation will continue to be considered.

Have we any answer to helping the displaced people from that region? Have there been discussions on Irish involvement in sending EU military forces to the Central African Republic?

I welcome that the Government has provided substantial aid and I hope it will be possible to continue that assistance. I urge the Tánaiste to ensure every opportunity is taken, at both official and political levels, to highlight the terrible situation facing so many people. I recall reading that more than 1 million people have had to leave their homes. An official of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that the situation for people outside the capital was even worse because they are geographically isolated. It is harder, therefore, to get assistance to them. For some the options are stark: stay in the jungle and die or come back and possibly be killed. It is a frightening situation. I welcome the aid that has been given and one hopes it will be possible to provide more assistance at an early date.

Ireland's approach to this issue is, first, to concentrate on the humanitarian assistance we can provide. I have indicated that we are doing that. Second, we are urging that this be dealt with through a UN mechanism. A possible European Union common security and defence policy, CSDP, mission, maybe as some kind of an interim measure pending a UN mission, has been given some consideration. I expect it will be discussed again on Monday.

In regard to Irish involvement in missions, we are governed in this regard by the triple lock mechanism of a UN mandate, a Government decision and a decision of the Dáil. We have not discussed or been asked to participate in any such mission. In any event, it would be a matter I would have to discuss with the Minister for Defence. Our approach to this is on the humanitarian side and to continue to urge a UN-led approach to dealing with the problem.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Brendan Smith


8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the most recent discussions he has had with the US Administration and Members of the US Congress in order to progress the Immigration Reform Bill in view of the difficult position facing many undocumented Irish; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1479/14]

Charlie McConalogue


22. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of times since coming to office he has met with US officials to discuss immigration reform and in particular the plight of the undocumented Irish citizens in America, his plans to meet with US officials on this issue over the next six months, and his view on when reform on this issue will happen. [1474/14]

The difficulties facing the undocumented Irish have been aired often in this House through questions and at committee level. Will the Tánaiste ensure that every effort is made at political and official levels to keep pressure on the Members of Congress in the United States to ensure that 2014 will be the year of immigration reform?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 22 together.

This is an issue to which I accord very high priority. I am conscious of the difficulties experienced by Irish citizens who are undocumented in the United States and I have met and spoken with many of them on my working visits there and also with the various groups who lobby on their behalf. I have maintained contact, directly and through our embassy in Washington, with many key players in Congress who are influential in steering the process of US immigration reform. Over the last four months, the embassy and I have had direct contact with some 70 Members of the House of Representatives and their staff, including Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, Chair of the House Budgetary Committee and former Vice-Presidential nominee; Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee and several other leading Republican members of that Committee, including Immigration Sub-Committee Chairman, Trey Gowdy; Minority House Leader, Nancy Pelosi; Chair of the Congressional Friends of Ireland, Pete King; House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and their staffs. I have also maintained contact with key figures in the US Administration and with Irish-American community representatives. I have reiterated throughout all of these contacts the Government’s interest in all aspects of immigration reform and, in particular, our interest in seeing an overall agreement reached which provides relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and a facility for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US.

In this context, we very much welcomed the US Senate’s approval of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Bill by a 68 to 32 margin on 27 June last year. The comprehensive draft legislation, which was prepared over several months by a bipartisan group of eight US Senators, provides for extensive reform of the US immigration system. It includes provisions that would legalise the status of undocumented Irish people and provide a path to permanent residency. It also provides for future flows of legal migration between Ireland and the US via the proposed E-3 visa.

The focus has since shifted to the House of Representatives for its consideration of the issues and a key factor here remains convincing the Republican House majority of the importance of making progress. It remains to be seen whether a consolidated Bill can be agreed between the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is generally accepted that securing overall agreement will be a complex and challenging process, also in light of other issues on the Congressional agenda which may be unrelated but can impact negatively on efforts to secure the necessary bipartisan agreement.

The next window of opportunity for any movement on immigration reform is expected to arise during the first months of this year but the exact shape and form of such movement remains to be seen. The most recent development has been the announcement last week by Speaker Boehner that he is preparing to release a set of “principles” and “standards” to guide the House Republican side’s consideration of immigration reform. These are expected to become available in the coming weeks.

I am determined to continue to deploy all necessary resources at political, diplomatic and Irish community level to make progress on this vital issue. In support of this ongoing effort, a delegation of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade visited Washington DC in October last for a programme arranged by our Embassy during which they met with key members of Congress and with Irish-American community representatives. More recently, I wrote to US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on 12 December last, reiterating our position and underlining our continuing strong interest in the prospect of reform of the US immigration system. I expressed the hope that the House will engage further on these issues in early 2014 leading to a positive legislative outcome.

The Government will continue to raise this issue with high-level political contacts in the period ahead, particularly during the St. Patrick’s Day period in Washington DC. In addition, the Embassy in Washington continues our intensive follow-up work with all of our contacts on Capitol Hill and particularly with the Republican House leadership. It also continues to co-ordinate our lobbying efforts with our Irish-American community representatives. I acknowledge the critically important role being played by these community organisations, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform and the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. We have been kept updated on the efforts being made at embassy level and on the constant lobbying of Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. We have discussed in this House the very difficult position facing many families and individuals, people whose position is not regularised in the United States and who have been unable to come home for family events, whether celebrations or bereavements. As public representatives, we all have encountered instances of families in which perhaps the mother or father is ageing. These people are concerned that they may not have a family member visit them. There is a concern among many people because family members have been unable to return.

As the Tánaiste said, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Boehner, stated in December that reform of the immigration laws will be a priority in 2014 for the House of Representatives. He also stated that immigration is next on the agenda once the Senate passes a bipartisan budget deal for the next two years. I urge the Tánaiste to continue his work in this area. I realise he has been constantly working at it but we need to send a message to our constituents and the people at large that this issue is being given due consideration at home and in the United States. We wish to recognise the important role of all the people, including Members of Congress, who have been friends of Ireland over the years in this area.

I am mindful of the human dimension of this problem. I have met people who have been in the United States for a number of years and who are undocumented. They cannot come home for family funerals or other family events. I have seen members of families having to travel out to see newly born grandchildren because they cannot bring them home. It is estimated there are approximately 50,000 Irish citizens in that situation in the United States.

The Bill passed by the Senate would resolve the problem. It would provide a means by which the undocumented would be regularised and legalised and it would also provide a means for a flow. The problem is that it has not been possible to progress it in the House of Representatives. As I remarked in my reply, there are many political issues at work in the House. We saw what happened last year in respect of the budget issues. We have seen issues arise with health care and so on as well. There is a political divide there. The Speaker, Mr. Boehner, has indicated his desire to move forward. He has referred to publishing a set of principles.

We will continue to remain in close contact with him and to work with him. We have been concentrating our efforts on the Republican side of the House. As I indicated, we have spoken to in the order of 70 Members of the House at this stage. I have spoken to some them directly, including at meetings that I have had in Washington. I have also spoken to several of them by telephone. This is a top priority for our ambassador and staff at the embassy in Washington. Obviously, we will use the opportunities that will arise in the lead-in to St. Patrick's Day to intensify that work. It is a major priority for us.

Does the Tánaiste believe conditions have improved since his last visit? There was considerable optimism when we were there working on the matter. The Tánaiste mentioned St. Patrick's Day. Does he see that as a key period for the lobbying work by the Government and Members of this House, as well as Irish America?

Another area highlighted during the visit was those who are Republican donors and those from the business community. Does the Tánaiste envisage those people having a significant role in the run-up period to try to bring about the positive change we want?

I wish to acknowledge the good work done by the members of the Oireachtas joint committee who visited Washington last year. It is most helpful to have parliamentarians from Ireland talking with their counterparts in the United States about this issue.

In respect of the Irish interest in immigration reform, our representations are generally very well received and there is no difficulty in making our case. There is a difficulty, however, in that the situation of Irish immigrants is part of a much larger immigration issue in the United States. As I said, approximately 50,000 Irish citizens are caught in this situation, alongside some 11 million immigrants from other countries, including Mexico and Latin America. Deputy Crowe is correct that employer organisations and interests in the United States have signalled their desire for progress on immigration reform. Many of the people concerned are working in the economy and employers are keen to have their employees' situation regularised.

I hope 2014 will be the year in which we see significant progress on this issue. Part of the problem is that it gets tied into the political cycle. Immigration in the United States, as in this and many other countries, is a tricky and sensitive political issue. Depending on the constituency, it can play out in various ways. The issue remains a major priority for us and we will continue our efforts to address it.

Middle East Peace Process

Bernard Durkan


9. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he, his EU colleagues and the international community continue to assist in the Middle East peace process; the extent to which major issues are being addressed in this context; the degree to which continuous dialogue has been established between the various factions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1433/14]

Brendan Smith


12. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the ongoing efforts of the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, in the Middle East peace process will be discussed at the next EU Foreign Affairs Council; if he has had any direct contact with either the Israeli or Palestinian authorities or with the Secretary of State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1481/14]

Bernard Durkan


89. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he, together with his EU and UN colleagues, continues to influence positively the Middle East peace process, with particular reference to the need to address and isolate contentious issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1775/14]

At the beginning of this year the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, held talks with Israeli and Palestinian representatives in an effort to secure a framework for a final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Six months since the talks overseen by Mr. Kerry began, it is hoped that he will be able, within weeks, to present a framework agreement, after which the finer details will be worked out. It is disappointing to learn, however, that Israel is apparently demanding that it be allowed to retain a military presence under any future peace deal with the Palestinians. I hope the Tánaiste will be able to update us on these proceedings.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 12 and 89 together.

Direct negotiations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, with United States participation, began at the end of July 2013 and have continued to date, with some interruptions. All three parties are restricting their public comments on the details of the talks, and we should do likewise. The range of issues to be resolved – often referred to as "final status" issues – are well known and have been discussed many times. The United States, and Mr. Kerry in particular, have remained closely engaged with these talks, despite competing priorities. It is widely expected that the US may soon bring forward ideas to stimulate more detailed engagement by the two sides, in the form of a framework for further discussion which will seek to focus the issues for decision.

We are all aware of the difficulties, but these talks represent the best chance to achieve a peace agreement for many years, a chance that may not recur if they fail. Ireland and our EU partners remain committed to giving every support we can to this process, without seeking to intrude into and complicate the actual negotiations. We wish both to encourage the parties and to consider what practical help the EU might give, including in the period after an agreement is reached. The Foreign Affairs Council next week is due to discuss the issue and although the Council agenda is crowded, I expect both aspects to be discussed. I have not had direct contact with the parties in recent weeks, although we remain in regular contact at official level. At political level, the participants are consciously not discussing the details of the process with others.

I take positive note that Israel released a further batch of Palestinian prisoners on 30 December - the third such release - as a confidence-building measure. I am dismayed, however, that Israel quickly followed this positive signal with a very negative move, by announcing a further substantial set of settlement construction approvals on 10 January. Settlements constitute one of the major problems to be resolved in these talks. To continue to exacerbate the problem which needs to be resolved, even while talks are in progress, sends a negative message to all sides and inevitably casts doubt on Israel's real commitment to a solution.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. It is very disappointing that Israel last week announced plans to build 1,400 new homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Indeed, if I recall correctly, it was a dispute over settlement construction that put an end to the last peace talks. I welcome Commissioner Catherine Ashton's statement calling on Israel to halt all construction in the West Bank immediately.

She stated that the building of settlements is detrimental to the ongoing peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. That message must be sent out to the international community in very clear terms. Commissioner Ashton also stated, "The settlements are illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make the two-state solution impossible". We previously discussed the Government's intention to ban goods from the illegal Israeli settlements. Has progress been made at either national or European Union level in respect of such a ban?

In the context of the talks process, in many ways this is a last-chance scenario. In the past people wished that the United States would engage in a serious way in leading discussions towards a peace settlement in the Middle East. That is now happening. Secretary of State Kerry is very committed to the process and I have spoken to him directly in respect of this matter on a number of occasions. I am aware of his commitment, energy and effort in the context of trying to bring about a settlement. I hope the process will succeed. As already stated, it will not be helped by the announcement of additional settlements. Such settlements make the practical establishment of a two-state arrangement very difficult.

The issue of settlement produce is the subject of a separate question tabled for today. Work is ongoing in respect of the development of labelling guidelines at EU level. Realistically, such guidelines are unlikely to be finalised while the current talks are in train. The talks are scheduled to run until the end of April. If progress is not made at EU level, we will pursue the development of guidelines at national level.

How viable is a two-state solution at this stage? I have spoken with Palestinian and Israeli people and I discovered that they are of the opinion that we are paying lip service to the idea of a two-state solution. When one takes the settlement issue into account, one reaches the conclusion that there is not going to be a viable state left for the Palestinians in view of the level of encroachment on the area in which they live. Various statements have been made regarding the illegality of the settlements but they continue to be established. Apart from the illegality or morality of settlements, they also have a huge environmental impact in the context of the preservation of open spaces and the supply of water.

Does the Tánaiste agree that the Palestinians are probably one of the most persecuted peoples on the planet? In view of the fact that it has defied more UN resolutions than any other country in the world, does he agree that Israel has got away with a great deal of aggressive behaviour? Does he agree that, unless the settlement issue is challenged in a proper manner, a two-state solution is probably impossible? Does he agree that it is time for the EU to take a stronger approach in its dealings with Israel, particularly if it wants to establish fairness for the people of Palestine?

It is clear that a continuation of the settlements process will make a two-state solution very difficult to achieve from a purely physical point of view. The talks are premised on a two-state solution being achieved. That is something we support and I have not heard any viable alternative in the context of reaching an agreement. At this point we must support the talks and encourage everyone involved to engage and to try to ensure that an outcome is reached. It is in the interests of both Israel and the Palestinian people to obtain a settlement in respect of this long-standing issue.

The European Union has been very clear in its stance on this matter. As the Deputies are aware, it has adopted funding guidelines and the clear intention behind these is to ensure that European Union funds cannot be used to support illegal settlements or entities in the occupied territories, including east Jerusalem. The European Union-Israel agreement on research co-operation under the Horizon 2020 programme fully incorporates this principle. As stated earlier, the European Union is proceeding with work to develop guidelines on the labelling of produce from the occupied territories. If this does not materialise, we will be obliged to consider taking action on a national basis when the talks process concludes at the end of April.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.