Priority Questions

Northern Ireland Issues

Brendan Smith


1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts he has made to try to progress the Haass talks to a successful conclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23289/14]

I note that we have Foreign Affairs oral questions on 1 July and on that occasion we will have an opportunity to pay tribute to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and his current role in government.

It is essential that both Governments, as co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, take a hands-on approach in efforts to bring to a successful conclusion the Haass talks. Urgency must be attached to the finalisation of proposals to deal with the very important matters of parades, flags, identity issues and the past.

Last Friday, I met with Dr. Richard Haass in Dublin ahead of the planned resumption of the Northern Ireland party leaders’ talks. Dr. Haass also met with British Prime Minister, David Cameron, and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, last week. Under Dr. Haass’s chairmanship of the Panel of Parties talks, the Northern Ireland parties made enormous progress in seeking an agreed approach to dealing with flags, parades and the past. Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan consulted widely across society in Northern Ireland last year and took back to the table a clear message from the people that they want to see the party leaders finding new, comprehensive and credible ways of dealing with legacy issues.

We have seen on numerous occasions in recent weeks that the legacy of the past has seriously disrupted political and community life in Northern Ireland. A lack of agreement or progress within the talks process would be an unhelpful backdrop to the approaching marching season. As I have said repeatedly, there is a window of opportunity between now and the summer recess for the party leaders to reach an agreement on these contentious issues. I urge the party leaders to use this time well. They need to set an early date to meet. Procrastination will not make the job any easier. The British and US governments agree that there is a need for renewed urgency by the parties, with the support of the governments, to make real progress.

I agree with Dr. Haass’s assessment that there is deep and wide public support for these issues to be dealt with in a comprehensive way. I have perceived this at first hand during my visits to the North. As Dr. Haass said following his meetings in London and Dublin, both governments see the opportunity and necessity of making progress.

There is broad agreement among the Northern Ireland parties on the basic architecture for moving forward on each issue. There needs to be progress now in closing any gaps between the parties in terms of the basic principles of each issue and for developing the practical mechanisms and timeframe for implementation.

It is in the best interests of Northern Ireland that agreement be reached now. I will be meeting with the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, in Dublin tomorrow. There is a shared expectation across both Governments that after the elections we will see progress.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. Unfortunately, a number of deadlines have been missed - the end of December, St. Patrick's week, Easter time and the election dates. I sincerely hope that what has been outlined by the Tánaiste in his concluding remarks can gain traction and that the issues can be dealt with. I note that comments attributed to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, indicated that talks should begin as a matter of urgency. Has the Tánaiste been in contact with the leadership of the DUP or the Ulster Unionist Party about the need for them to take a positive approach to this very important issue?

Both the Irish and the British Governments are clear that progress needs to be made. Deputy Smith is correct that we had hoped agreement would be reached in the new year following the Haass talks. Unfortunately, that did not happen, although much progress was made. There was a period of talks after that involving the party leaders. For a variety of reasons, those talks were interrupted and resumed again. The window of opportunity we have now is post the election period and in the run-up to the marching season. I have had a number of discussions with the Secretary of State and will meet her tomorrow in Dublin to discuss further what we can do together to move forward on each issue. There has been quite an amount of discussion at official level between my officials and officials of the Northern Ireland Office and between the Taoiseach and the Prime Minister. Over a period I have also been in contact with the leaders of all the parties in Northern Ireland. We have been urging the DUP, the Unionist parties and all the parties to fully engage and to conclude the process.

Can we hope that tomorrow, in the Tánaiste's talks with Theresa Villiers, he will give a clear indication that both Governments will take a hands-on approach in dealing with these issues? As I mentioned on numerous occasions, any time we made progress on the issues pertaining to this island on North-South development, the agenda was driven by two sovereign Governments. We had the Downing Street Declaration, the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. I genuinely believe that without the active and leading role being played by both Governments we will not see the progress made that needs to be made for the sake of all the people on this island.

It is my view and that of the Irish Government and the British Government that both Governments must and do have a hands-on approach to these issues. Both the Secretary of State and I were in Belfast for the concluding stages of the discussions prior to the new year. We have remained in contact. We have talked and liaised about our respective contacts with political leaderships in Northern Ireland. It is also worth bearing in mind that we now have a devolved Administration in Northern Ireland and that there is responsibility on the political parties in Northern Ireland to conclude this agreement. We are both of one mind - we have talked about this on a number of occasions - on the fact that we work together and that we also work in co-operation with the US Administration, which has been very supportive and has been in close contact with us, particularly in recent times, about what we can all do to encourage agreement among the political parties. It is important that we recognise that this requires agreement by the parties in Northern Ireland. While the governments can have all the hands-on approach that we can muster - that is the approach we intend to take - agreement must be reached by the political parties in Northern Ireland, and we will continue our efforts to do that. I will be discussing that with Theresa Villiers tomorrow.

We have spoken a number of times on the phone over the course of the past couple of weeks and we will discuss all of this when I meet her tomorrow.

Middle East Peace Process

Seán Crowe


2. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the breakdown of the peace talks between Israel and Palestine; his views on Israel’s decision not to release the last batch of Palestinian prisoners as agreed before the talks, which led to the collapse of the negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23262/14]

The background to this is the collapse of another peace process and the discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. I ask this question about a number of concerns I have about the Israeli actions which seemed to precipitate the collapse of this agreement. In the agreement which was facilitating new negotiations Israel promised to release 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners in four tranches in exchange for the Palestinian Authority pledging not to move to seek membership of UN or other international organisations. Israel refused to release the final tranche of prisoners.

The direct peace talks begun in July 2013 have not definitively ended but they have been suspended and it is not considered that they are likely to be resumed quickly. The talks did, however, make some progress and promote understanding on some issues, and we would hope very much that this progress is not lost and the talks can move forward. We are not privy to the exact understandings between the parties on which the talks were based but it is generally understood that this included a specified programme of prisoner releases, accepted by Israel as a confidence building measure in place of a settlement freeze. Release of prisoners, especially those convicted of violent crimes, is a difficult issue for any society. Nonetheless, I consider that the release of the final batch of prisoners should not have been made conditional on a further Palestinian concession beyond the original agreement, and therefore that it should have gone ahead.

There were other steps taken by both sides, however, and Israel has argued that further talks had come very close to agreeing terms for the prisoner release to go ahead when the process broke down. The root of the problem goes deeper than this issue and centres on a deep lack of trust between the parties. A critical and destructive element of this has been the relentless process of settlement announcements by Israel during the talks. It is noteworthy that despite the breakdown in the talks, both sides have been quite measured in the steps they have taken and have been careful, so far, not to burn any bridges. The United States has understandably stepped back from the process for the moment, and the Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, has rightly called on both sides to reflect on their positions, the prize of peace which is readily attainable, the leadership and compromises needed to get there and on the cost of failure to both peoples. I strongly endorse that call.

Will the Irish Government be supporting the Palestinian Authority's request to join the approximately 15 international agencies on the back of this issue? There are 240 Palestinian prisoners who have entered a second month of hunger strike, which is a critical phase, and 40 of them have been hospitalised. Does the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade oppose the use of this so-called administrative detention and support the basic demands of prisoners?

Last week it emerged that the Israeli Army shot dead two unarmed Palestinian protestors just outside Ramallah. From the video evidence it seems the two youths posed no threat and were murdered in cold blood. The UN and US have called for an independent investigation in this regard but I have yet to hear anybody from the Irish Government doing so. Will the Irish Government make a statement on that? The prisoner issue seems to be getting more critical and I would like to hear the Minister's views on it, particularly with regard to the Robben Island declaration. Has the Government a view on that?

Deputy Crowe has raised many supplementary issues. With regard to the use of administrative detention, it has always been our view that the use of extraordinary powers should be as minimal as possible, carefully safeguarded and in accordance with international law. I am concerned that detention orders, rather than an extraordinary measure only applied in the most exceptional cases, are being used as part of the broader system of control of Palestinians. I will make a statement on the killing of the young people and I am also concerned about the question of Marwan Barghouti, and that issue has been considered by the joint Oireachtas committee. As the Deputy knows, we have previously supported applications by the Palestinian Authority for representation on international bodies. We tend to look at that on a case by case basis and the Irish Government has always been quite supportive of the Palestinian Authority in that regard.

We have the background of a collapse in the talks but the Minister has mentioned what is possible. There is a need for the Irish Government to put forward its own initiatives and proposals and be as supportive as is possible. There are a number of current issues and it is important for the Irish Government to stand up and break away from the crowd. It should make positive proposals and be more supportive of the Palestinian people who are in this dreadful position. The big worry is the possibility of another intifada and some groups operating on the ground have seen the tension worsening. There are arbitrary arrests, harassment and the killing of civilians, which means the tension is ratcheting up all the time. It is a big worry. Will the Irish Government do what it can through statements or initiatives?

Considering all the issues attracting international attention currently, including in the Ukraine, Syria and in a number of cases in Africa and particularly north Africa, the Irish Government has repeatedly and consistently kept the issue of the Middle East peace process and the Palestinian position very much on the international agenda. We have done this repeatedly at the European Union and the United Nations, as well as in public statements. I hope we will continue to do so. I very much regret the talks have not brought the kind of conclusion for which we all hoped but we cannot give up on them, and I hope they can be revived. Issues must be addressed now and the Irish Government will continue to provide in the international community the leadership role we have had for a long period with regard to the Middle East peace process and the position of Palestinian people.

Northern Ireland Issues

Maureen O'Sullivan


3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline his engagement with Northern Ireland and British authorities regarding prisoner issues in Northern Ireland; his views on the concerns of those who see these matters as threatening peace and stability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23287/14]

My question relates to the Government's engagement with authorities both in Northern Ireland and in Britain on continuing serious issues of prisoners in prison in Northern Ireland. It is having an effect on the peace process.

Policing, prisons and overall criminal justice policy have been the responsibility of the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland, David Ford MLA, since the devolution of policing and justice in 2010. The Irish Government has a close and excellent working relationship with the Minister and his Department and co-operation between An Garda Síochána and the PSNI to combat criminal and terrorist activity is excellent. As Minister responsible for foreign affairs I very much value my engagement with the Minister, Mr. Ford, and our exchanges cover a wide range of issues. Since 2010, the Irish Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the justice systems which are in place are robust and consistent with the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement and the other agreements for which we are co-guarantors.

Prison policy forms a central part of the Northern Ireland Department of Justice’s remit and an executive agency, the Northern Ireland Prison Service, implements prison policy in that jurisdiction. A prisoner ombudsman is also appointed by the Minister and the ombudsman operates entirely independently of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

The Northern Ireland Prisoner Ombudsman and his team investigate complaints from prisoners and visitors to prisoners in Northern Ireland, as well as deaths in custody.

I wholeheartedly agree with the analysis of the Minister of Justice, Mr. Ford, that delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building a more positive future for Northern Ireland. I commend the work under way to give effect to the far-reaching recommendations related to prison reform in Northern Ireland contained in Dame Anne Owers' 2011 report. The Government’s position continues to be that full implementation of all of the recommendations made in the Owers report remains the most effective way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard. The Minister, Mr. Ford, and I have discussed it and are of one mind on the matter.

A central aspect of my engagement with the Minister, Mr. Ford, is the Government’s absolute support for the men and women of the PSNI and the Northern Ireland Prison Service in their work to support the rule of law and a new beginning for justice in Northern Ireland. The men and women in these excellent public services face persistent and severe threats to their lives and well-being from those who are enemies of the peace process. People who threaten and have acted to murder, harm and threaten police and prison officers act in defiance of the criminal law. They also defy the sovereign will of the people who freely endorsed the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement in an all-island referendum just over 16 years ago on May 22 1998. I call on all Irish republicans who try to justify threats against public servants to listen to the people. It is long past time to end the violence. The door is open to join the rest of us who seek change through dialogue, persuasion and the ballot box. The people have chosen peace and they should heed their will.

As previously indicated in the House, the arrangements agreed for the devolution of policing and justice in 2010 include a role for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in national security matters. I am aware that such prisoner cases have had resonance historically in communities here and abroad. My officials in the British-Irish Intergovernmental Council secretariat in Belfast continue to monitor prisoner cases which arise from the exercise of such competences. As the House will know, I have on a number of occasions raised the Government’s perspective on humanitarian issues in certain cases directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Such issues are part of my regular and comprehensive discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as we work together to guarantee that peace, policing and power sharing are supported by all of us all of the time.

Everybody in the House agrees that we are all on the same wavelength when it comes to bringing an end to violence; nobody wants to see a return to violence. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is aware that an Oireachtas group has been paying frequent visits to prisoners in Northern Ireland. I stress again that our focus with the prisoners is on their human rights and also on ensuring there is no threat, undermining or destabilising of the peace process in Northern Ireland. We paid our most recent visit last Monday week and the four of us who were there emerged feeling extremely alarmed and disturbed by what we had heard from both republican and loyalist prisoners on continuing issues that were not being addressed. A dirty process ended almost four years ago, at the end of which agreements were reached. An ombudsman’s report was carried out and various forum meetings took place in the prison. The group from the Oireachtas has met the Minister of Justice, Mr. Ford, on several occasions. We also met the Secretary of State and officials in the Northern Ireland Office. All of us agree that these issues remain unaddressed. I refer to controlled movement, strip searching and access to education. Prisoners with political affiliations who should not be there are in a care and supervision unit, CSU, in the prison. It is like a punishment block and operates on a 23 hour lock-down basis. One particular prisoner received an indeterminate five year custodial sentence because his fingerprint was found on a plastic bag containing a pipe bomb. I am not in favour of pipe bombs, but the evidence was circumstantial. Other prisoners guilty of pipe bomb explosions received lesser sentences, which suggests something is wrong in the North. These serious issues are not being addressed.

I am aware of the good work done by a group of Members of the Oireachtas who have been visiting prisons in Northern Ireland and in contact with the prison service. I am open to receiving and dealing with any report, comment or observation that comes from the group. My officials are open to this also. The officials in the British-Irish Interparliamentary Council secretariat in Belfast are very much aware of the situation and we are very happy to pursue matters relating to prison conditions and humanitarian issues. However, we must also factor in the threats that have been made to prison officers. Since 2009 dissident groups have been responsible for the deaths of two British army personnel, two PSNI officers and a member of the Northern Ireland Prison Service in November 2012. Threats continue to be made to these officers and this must stop. We will deal with the reports coming from Members of the Oireachtas who visit the prisons. I discuss such matters on a continuing basis with the Minister, Mr. Ford, and also the Secretary of State, in so far as her limited responsibility in the area is concerned in terms of prisons in Northern Ireland.

Our concern is that matters will get worse unless the long-standing prisoner issues on which agreement was reached at the end of the dirty protest are addressed. A prisoner is chained to a police officer on leaving prison and the chain is not released until he comes back to the prison. He is strip searched both on leaving and returning to the prison. During the G8 summit in the North we saw the extent of the security operation and there has been no movement on the introduction of an alternative to strip searching. A prisoner was released recently on certain conditions. There is a six month period during which he cannot live near his home. The position will be reviewed and there is a possibility that the condition will be extended for a further six months. The person concerned has to wear an electronic tag for six months and there is a curfew between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. He cannot associate with people on a list, some of whom he does not even know. He is not permitted to hold a valid passport or make an application for one during the first six months of release. He spent four months in Maghaberry Prison because his licence was revoked. During the four years he was not interviewed by the PSNI and never charged with an offence, yet he faces the conditions I have outlined on his so-called release. I do not know the motivation of the Secretary of State and the Minister, Mr. Ford, but they are escalating dissident activity in the North. Nobody wants to see this happen, but nobody is trying to engage with them to find a solution to these matters.

An early priority for the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland was prison reform. The Owers report was commissioned and I understand some progress has been made on its implementation. I have discussed the matter on a number of occasions with the Minister, Mr. Ford, and will continue to do so.

Will the matter be raised tomorrow?

I will not meet the Minister tomorrow; I will meet the Secretary of State. The Minister agrees that a reformed justice and prison system has a major part to play in ensuring a more positive future for Northern Ireland. Our position is that there must be full implementation of the recommendations made in the Owers report. That is the best way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard. We will continue to have that discussion with the Minister and the Secretary of State and through the British-Irish Interparliamentary Council secretariat. We are open to hearing the comments and receiving the observations of the Oireachtas group that has visited the prisons and ensuring the issues raised are addressed.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Brendan Smith


4. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress made this year in securing a legislative compromise in the United States Congress to provide a way of securing the future of the undocumented Irish there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23290/14]

As all of us in the House know, there are approximately 50,000 Irish people in the United States, commonly referred to as “the undocumented”, who need to have their status regularised. Their current status is extremely difficult for them as they go about their daily business. We must also bear in mind in many instances the hardship and heartbreak for their families at home. The inability of many of the undocumented to travel home for family occasions is truly a burden families should not have to endure. Does the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade envisage any early movement on the legislation in the House of Representatives?

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 have met and spoken to many of them during my working visits to the United States. I have also met the various groups which lobby on their behalf. Immigration reform and the challenges faced by the undocumented remain central to our bilateral engagement with the United States. I have raised the issue consistently at meetings, in telephone calls and written correspondence with senior US political contacts. I have instructed Ambassador Anderson and her team, working with the Irish-American lobby groups which have already put in a great effort, to continue their lobbying of Members of Congress and seize every opportunity to make immigration reform a reality.

The issue was also discussed extensively during the Taoiseach’s St. Patrick’s Day visit to Washington DC in March. In addition to substantive discussion of the issues involved with President Obama and Vice President Biden, the Taoiseach also discussed the prospects for progress with a range of other Members of Congress, including the Speaker, John Boehner; Congressman Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary which has responsibility for immigration legislation in the House; Congressman Paul Ryan; the Congressional Friends of Ireland; and Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary that oversaw the passage of the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform Bill last June. The Taoiseach called in the strongest possible terms for Congress to show leadership and deal with the immigration issue.

While we have been encouraged by feedback from Democrats and Republicans indicating that there is a growing momentum for reform, it remains difficult to assess exactly when and how this might occur, not least in view of the upcoming mid-term US congressional elections. The most recent indications suggest there may be some prospects for another push for immigration reform activity at House of Representatives level during June and July. However, the situation is evolving continuously and any prediction needs to be made with caution. In this context, I intend to travel to Washington DC next month for a series of further meetings with key contacts on Capitol Hill, as well as with representatives of Irish-American lobby groups. Although much uncertainty still remains as to how events in the US Congress will unfold, it is important that we continue to demonstrate at a high political level the importance we attach to progress being made on this vital issue and that we position ourselves to best advantage on behalf of the Irish people and their families who are directly affected.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply and fully appreciate the effort he has made to date. It is welcome that he will be in Washington next month. There have been a number of developments which seem to give some optimism that progress will be made. The Speaker, Mr. Boehner, was recently quoted as stating progress could be made with the Democrats through building goodwill on several unrelated legislative measures. I hope this can be achieved. The New York Times has reported that bipartisan moves between the two sides mean that Democrats in the Senate are seeking Bills unrelated to the immigration issue which they can pass to build goodwill between Republicans and Democrats. It is significant that 250 senior Christian pastors went to Congress to lobby their representatives. The intervention and involvement of senior CEOs of major corporations and chambers of commerce are new dimensions supporting the work done by various lobby groups duing the years. Is the Tánaiste more optimistic now than he was a number of weeks ago about the likelihood of progress being made in the House of Representatives?

Earlier the Deputy mentioned that we would have an opportunity to take questions on foreign affairs and trade issues on 1 July.

There is a contest for the leadership of my party and I expect to be in this office until 4 July. I have been giving some consideration to the issues to which I should apply my attention and in the intervening period I intend to apply my attention to two issues which are the responsibility of the Department. They are Northern Ireland to try to have some advance in the window before the start of the marching season in the Haass talks process and immigration reform to see if we can make progress in dealing with the very difficult situation in which the undocumented Irish find themselves in the United States. We are receiving reports that there may be some potential for movement in June and July. I do not want to exaggerate it because we have been here before and there have been false dawns. These are the two issues to which I intend to devote the remaining time I have in office.

I thank the Tánaiste for his remarks and fully agree with him that we all hope to see progress being made on these two issues. I hope that in the next five to six weeks progress can be made. As we have discussed in committee and the House on numerous occasions, much hardship is imposed on individuals and families owing to the current status of more than 50,000 Irish people. There is truly a need for progress to be made. I compliment the Tánaiste and his officials who have persistently pursued the issue at political and official level. If he has an opportunity to do so, I urge him to make contact with Mr. Boehner before his visit to highlight the importance we as a country attach to this issue.

We have met people who are undocumented in the United States. They are working and, in some cases, running businesses. They also have families. They have been there for a very long period and cannot come home for funerals or family events. It is a very difficult issue and across the political spectrum in the United States there is agreement that it needs to be addressed. This time last year I was very hopeful there would be potential to make progress, but last autumn the budget in the United States unravelled and there was a difficult political environment. This made it politically difficult for progress to be made on the immigration issue. We have had a number of positive statements in recent months from President Obama and Speaker Boehner who spoke in May about the possibility of making some progress. We receive feedback and maintain contact all the time through our embassy with Members of the House of Representatives, the Senate and the Administration to see where the window is and what can be done. I intend to contribute more to this issue and travel to Washington in the coming weeks to talk to people on Capitol Hill and do what we can at a political level to try to move things forward.

Foreign Policy

Maureen O'Sullivan


5. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made or will make representations to the United States authorities on the continued unjust incarceration of three of the Cuban five, in view of revelations regarding the undercover construction of a mobile phone message system by the United States with the goal of overthrowing the Cuban Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23288/14]

My question concerns Cuba and the group of men known as the Cuban five, particularly in view of recent activities under the ZunZuneo programme.

Ireland enjoys excellent bilateral relations with Cuba and I look forward to Irish-Cuban relations developing further in the period ahead. I also welcome the recent agreement by the European Union and Cuba to open negotiations on a political dialogue and co-operation agreement which will provide a strong framework for the European Union’s relationship with Cuba. I am pleased to note that a first round of negotiations took place successfully in Havana from 30 April to 1 May. I am aware of the cases to which the Deputy refers of the three men serving prison sentences in the United States on charges relating to their activities as unregistered agents of a foreign government and related offences. As this is a bilateral consular issue between the United States and the Cuban authorities, the Government has no standing in the matter.

With regard to reports on US funding in the past for a mobile phone social networking project in Cuba, the Tánaiste and I have asked officials in the Department to keep us informed on the issue.

There have been 50 years of a rather unjust policy between the United States and Cuba. We saw this in the case of the blockade. I understand only three or four countries in the United Nations disagree with lifting the blockade. The aim of the ZunZuneo programme was to destabilise the government and economy of Cuba.

The Cuban five, or Miami five, were arrested in 1998. This arose out of very serious movements by Cuban-Americans to destabilise the Cuban Government and economy, which led to the deaths of approximately 3,500 Cuban nationals. The Cuban Government took the option of getting five of their men to infiltrate these terrorist organisations in America. They got the information and brought it directly to the American authorities who, instead of arresting those involved in terrorist activities, arrested these five men. After a lengthy trial they received prison terms of 15 years to double life. There were severe restrictions on visiting rights for their wives, and visa requests for visits by family members were also restricted.

I accept what the Minister of State said about the relationship, but as we do have a good relationship with the American authorities, can we address them on this when we have the opportunity? There is an opportunity now for President Obama to give a pardon in his final year, but he will not unless people with whom he has a relationship ask him to do so.

The people to whom the Deputy refers are the original Cuban five. They were sentenced in 2001. Two have already been released. Another is due for release in 2017 and another in 2014, and the last person was charged with other serious matters.

The thrust of the question is the link between the Cuban five and the activities in which they were engaged in the United States, and there is a suggestion that the US was also engaged in covert operations in respect of a social media platform. Unfortunately, there is very little information in the public domain on that report, apart from the Associated Press report of last month which provided the story that US Aid was engaged in providing a particular social network platform and that this operated in Cuba from 2009 to 2012. We have been in touch with the Cuban authorities about this matter. We have asked our officials to find out what they can about it.

One of the five could end up spending the rest of his life in jail. That is very serious. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights, various international human rights groups, trade unions, legal experts, Nobel prize winners, religious organisations, members of parliament in various countries and Amnesty International feel that there is a terrible injustice here.

A commission of inquiry into this issue was held last March in London. It included former chief justices from India, South Africa and France. Its findings were:

1. There are serious concerns about whether any of these people have had the full benefit of the fundamental human right to a fair and speedy trial ...

a. all five Cuban nationals were placed in solitary confinement for about seventeen months before the trial began;

c. [they did not have] the opportunity to consult with their legal representatives ...

The trial was held in a part of Miami where, according to three of the judges in the United States Court of Appeals “a fair trial could not be guaranteed”. The report continues: “ ...these five human beings were certain of their fate only eight years after the trial in the District Court had been concluded.”

There are grounds to ask President Obama to issue a pardon before he leaves office. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, supported this cause when he was in opposition. I ask him to request this pardon.

The issues in question relate to charges against unregistered agents of a foreign government and the offences arising from them. This a bilateral consular issue between the US and the Cuban authorities. The Irish Government has no formal standing on this matter, but it is of concern to us and the officials in the Department are engaged on it. I spoke to the Ambassador of Cuba last month. He did not raise the issue but I will certainly raise it with him at our next meeting.