Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Overseas Visits

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

1. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the protest in Paris following the killings at the Charlie Hebdo offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2169/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his visit to Paris on 11 January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2173/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his meeting with the President of France, Mr. François Hollande, on 11 January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2174/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he had any bilateral meetings with other European Union leaders in Paris on 11 January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2175/15]

Joe Higgins

Question:

5. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, on 11 January 2015. [2207/15]

Joe Higgins

Question:

6. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any meetings he had with Heads of Government of the European Union, in France in January 2015. [2208/15]

Joe Higgins

Question:

7. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach if he will report on any meetings he had with the President of France, Mr. François Hollande, in France in January 2015. [2209/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Paris following the horrific attacks in January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4311/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the President of France, Mr. François Hollande, in Paris in France in January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4312/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the Prime Minister of Denmark, Ms Helle Thorning-Schmidt, since the two fatal shootings in Copenhagen in Denmark on 15 February 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7710/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance in Paris at the protest following the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12799/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

12. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he spoke to the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, during his visit to Paris, France in January 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12800/15]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, together.

On 11 January last, I travelled to Paris following the horrific attacks there to join over 40 other Heads of State and Government in leading a march of silent solidarity together with President François Hollande and the families and colleagues of the victims. As I said at the time, the killings were an assault on the fundamental right to free speech, which is a cornerstone of our democratic societies. They also were a brutal attack on the Parisian Jewish community. Leaders marched together that day to defend tolerance and humanity against the hatred and extremism that seek to dismantle and destroy them. Members of all the main religions and many strands of French society participated in an enormous march which continued late into the evening. The French authorities estimated that some 3.7 million people participated in events across France. There was also a global outpouring of support for the French people, including vigils across Ireland. The determination of the French people to stand firm against hate and terror was moving and inspiring.

While I did not have any formal bilateral meetings when I was in Paris, I engaged informally with many other Heads of State and Government from across Europe and beyond. Prime Minister Netanyahu was among the leaders I spoke with. I also spoke with and expressed my sympathies to several French politicians, including Prime Minister Valls, Secretary of State Matthias Fekl, former President Sarkozy and former Prime Ministers Fillon and Rocard. President Hollande greeted me on arrival at the Élysée Palace and I conveyed to him my personal condolences and the sympathies and deepest condolences of the Irish people to the families and friends of the victims of the attacks and to the French nation at a time of great loss and mourning. I had already written to President Hollande to express my condolences and to assure him of Ireland's full support and solidarity in fighting together against terrorism and extremism while preserving tolerance and inclusivity. Deputies will recall that the terrorist attack in Paris was condemned in the strongest terms during statements in this House on 14 January.

Following the further tragic shootings in Copenhagen in the middle of February, I was deeply saddened to send a similar letter of condolence and support to the Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt. When I met Prime Minister Valls during his visit to Dublin in April, I again expressed Ireland's deep solidarity with the French people and the need to defend our values. We spoke about France's deep appreciation for the support demonstrated throughout Ireland and the world in January. We also reflected that dealing with the threat of terrorism will continue to be a global challenge in the coming years. Together with all our EU partners, we continue to work towards preventing radicalisation and promoting counter-terrorism. Progress since the special European Council meeting on 12 February last will be reviewed at the forthcoming European Council meeting on 25 and 26 June.

The world was of course utterly appalled by the killing of 12 innocent people, ten of whom were journalists, at Charlie Hebdo earlier this year. I have to ask the Taoiseach about the attendance of the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the demonstration he joined in the aftermath of those killings. Before I ask the Taoiseach about two aspects of this matter, I would like to mention something that might come as news to him. My main question is about Benjamin Netanyahu. The co-president of the French-Jewish Union for Peace, Pierre Stambul, was arrested at 1 a.m. last night in France. He was dragged out of his home, handcuffed and taken into police custody. I believe there is a connection between the arrest under France's anti-terror laws of a man who is part of a French-Jewish peace organisation and the fact that he was due to speak in Toulouse later today at a meeting promoting boycott, sanctions and divestment against Israel. I suggest that this man of Jewish origin was arrested under France's anti-terror laws because he was supporting the boycott of Israel in support of the Palestinian people. That follows a consistent pattern in France that pre-dates the Charlie Hebdo killings. For example, the French Government banned a number of pro-Palestinian or Palestinian solidarity demonstrations in France in July of last year, at a time when 2,300 Palestinians were being killed by Israel. Will the Taoiseach condemn such actions by the French Government against people who are legitimately expressing their opposition and outrage regarding the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians and calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people?

I would like to ask the Taoiseach about Benjamin Netanyahu. The Taoiseach has rightly said he was appalled and shocked by the Charlie Hebdo killings. He went so far as to join a mass street demonstration, which I do not think is something he has ever done before in my experience. He had certainly not done so previously during the term of office of this Government. He mentioned that he met Prime Minister Netanyahu on that occasion. Is the Taoiseach aware of the public statements made by Benjamin Netanyahu and several leading Ministers in his Government, in which they have stated in the most brutal and cold-blooded terms their belief that it is legitimate to kill Palestinians, including innocent women and children? I will give a quick flavour of some of the statements that have been made. The Israeli Minister of Defence, Moshe Ya'alon, said a couple of weeks ago that Israel is "going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family". He continued by saying that Israel "went through a very long deep discussion ... we did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future." The military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, who headed up the last two military assaults on Gaza, has said that "the next round of violence will be worse and see this suffering increase". According to the Minister of Education in the Netanyahu Government, "there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians... I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state". He has also said that "if you catch terrorists, you have to simply kill them ... I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that". This is the Minister of Justice:

[Palestinians] are all enemy combatants... this also includes the mothers of the martyrs... they should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.

That was the Israeli Minister of Justice in the last few months. The Israeli deputy Minister of Defence has said that Palestinians "are beasts, they are not human".

The Deputy should ask a question.

This is the last one. According to the Israeli Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tzipi Hotovely:

My position is that between the sea and the Jordan River, there needs to be one state only – the state of Israel... There is no place for an agreement of any kind that discusses the concession of Israeli sovereignty over lands conquered [in 1967].

These are the official statements of several Ministers of the current Government of Israel. In one case, the genocide of all Palestinians, including children, has actually been advocated and they have been referred to as "snakes". Does the Taoiseach agree that if we are defining terrorism, that is the language and thinking of terrorists? It is absolutely unacceptable in civilised politics and international relations for the Head of Government of a state with which we carry on normal relations to advocate those sorts of views, which we know have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent Palestinian men, women and children. Given that the Taoiseach met Mr. Netanyahu in Paris earlier this year, what does he have to say about the expression of such views by the Israeli Government?

The Deputy has read comments made by a number of Ministers in the Israeli Government. On the one hand, I suppose one might say they are all on-message. I find that message regrettable and most unhelpful. I do not agree with those statements. When I met Prime Minister Netanyahu briefly in Paris, I said to him that when I had an opportunity to go to Gaza a number of years ago with a delegation from here, I found the situation completely intolerable. I told him that I am a strong supporter of the two-state solution and that peace is always possible. I reminded him of the example offered by a small country like Ireland, where people were able to sit down and work out their differences after 30 years of violence, with the result that lives have been saved and a fragile but stable peace situation, which has to be worked on constantly, has been put in place.

I do not agree in any way with the statements Deputy Boyd Barrett has read out. They are not part of the philosophy of a democratic government working to bring about peace. That is what I think of those statements and that is what I said to the Prime Minister when I met him.

I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach visited France on that occasion, with other leaders, to show our solidarity in the face of the appalling murder of French journalists and cartoonists at the Charlie Hebdo offices. The world was truly appalled, not just by the senseless loss of life but also at the very fundamentalist interpretation of the world being imposed on them. The killing of the cartoonists and journalists also struck at the heart of freedom of speech, which is the most sacred freedom in a democracy. It is something we should cherish, nurture and preserve at all costs. That is why many people in developed Western democracies were truly appalled at the nature of the attack. Not only did it involve the murder of individuals who had families and a needless loss of life, but it struck at the heart of the concept and ideal of freedom of speech, the right of people to say things even if one does not like their saying it. That is why it was extremely important that the Taoiseach and others were there to show solidarity and to send a clear message to those who seek to wipe away centuries of progress, tolerance and respect for all religions and freedom of speech.

It is also very important in considering the role of ISIS and the Islamic fundamentalists, who use extraordinarily brutal means to advance their twisted ideology, that we send out a positive message to the Muslim population around the globe. There are approximately 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, many in democracies that work despite having very large populations. It is extremely important that proper signals go out to the Muslim population, the vast majority of whom have no truck with ISIS, Islamic fundamentalism or its methods. ISIS’s reign of terror in Syria and Iraq and other countries represents a fundamental threat to stability in a region that is inherently unstable and has massive problems. It reveals frightening levels of daily brutality and repression that must be stopped and dealt with.

The right of a journalist to print satirical articles and to depict characters in cartoons on contentious issues, including religion and religious beliefs, is sacred to all of us, particularly to the French, with their ideal of the Republic, liberty and all of that. We have a longstanding relationship with France and imported several of those ideals of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” in 1798 and in our republican tradition - ideals that sprang from the French Revolution. It is important that we were there to support that.

I accept Deputy Boyd Barrett's comment that the presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu, on behalf of the Israeli Government, does not send the right signal or message to the Muslim world, because many of the Muslims watching it, particularly those in Arab countries, would not understand it. While I acknowledge that all of our judgments and opinions are subjective, appalling atrocities have been perpetrated against Palestinians in several conflicts in recent years which, without question, amount to war crimes as reported by various UN panels. I recall, during my time as Minister for Foreign Affairs, following the attack on Gaza, the extraordinary pressure that was brought to bear on an independent international panel for daring to come to conclusions which indicted the Israeli Government for the murder of children, women and non-combatants. This speaks to a need for Governments, including ours and others in the European Union, to take a far different line with the Israeli Government from that which has been taken before now. I know this Government was close to Netanyahu’s government in its first phase. A new government has been formed. Europe has been very tolerant of flagrant abuses that have gone on for a long time, in the hope that it could influence a peaceful resolution of the problem by moving towards a two-state solution. We hear now that there is no commitment. There has been a denial of the whole idea of a two-state solution and a retreat from it in the election and the formation of the government, which is extremely hardline and seems hell-bent on beating Palestinians into submission on all fronts and creating a configuration that would make the creation of a Palestinian state almost unfeasible and unsustainable. That was an awful pity at the time.

I support the Taoiseach’s presence at that gathering because it represented a coming together of leaders from across Europe and beyond to show solidarity with the murdered journalists and their families and with the ideal and concept of freedom of speech. Can the Taoiseach tell us whether he had any substantive discussion with President Hollande on that occasion and if, in the bilateral meetings he mentioned and the subsequent meetings, there has been any re-evaluation of the security threat to all EU member states from Islamic fundamentalists?

I think it was the right thing to do. We could have sent our very fine ambassador in Paris to represent us, but after speaking to her directly I concluded that, while President Hollande did not expect so many leaders to turn up, the issue was such that people wanted to express solidarity with the ideas the Deputy mentioned. It was much larger than people had imagined, in terms of both the number of Heads of State and Government who turned up and the number of the people of that great city, who turned out in their hundreds of thousands. It was quite a moment to have all the leaders linked across the big streets, walking in silent solidarity with the French people, and to see their reception of the symbolism of that march. This was an occasion of cold-blooded murder that sent out a chilling message about the lengths to which some elements and sectors will go.

I assume Mr. Netanyahu indicated his intention to travel to France. I told Deputy Boyd Barrett of my brief conversation with him. I think he later travelled to America after being invited by the Speaker of the House, which created tension between the Democrats and the Republicans, and while the US ambassador represented the United States, the Secretary of State did call very deliberately afterwards to express the abhorrence of the United States at what had happened.

Deputy Martin's comments on the Islamic world and Muslim community were accurate. Islam is a religion of peace. I met representatives of the Islamic community last week as part of the church-State dialogue and we discussed this issue and other issues that arise in this country.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to democracy. In France and a number of other countries, there has been a violent reaction to the expression of this freedom in particular forms. The occasion of my visit was an event that resulted from cold-blooded murder and sent out a message of solidarity with the French people.

It is too early to state what the Government of Israel will do in future. Very strong opinions were expressed before the Israeli general election and different opinions were expressed afterwards. It remains to be seen how serious the Israeli Government is about the Middle East peace process, which went off the rails and has been adrift since March 2014. The bedrock of the peace process has been the two-state solution, out of which, if the will is there, peace could come. Ireland has called for a fundamental review of EU policy on the Middle East to push forward and rescue the peace process while it is still possible to do so. As the Deputy is aware, the position is very fraught.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, reported to me on his trip to Gaza. Ireland contributed substantial funds for restoration and reconstruction efforts in Gaza, where the position is appalling. We pledged €2.5 million in assistance for Gaza, some of which was in the form of immediate aid while some was for longer-term assistance. Half of this total has been delivered, which is in line with the schedule we set out with the aid agencies in Palestine. The Minister's report, based on visual evidence, spelled out the horror of war and the destruction visited on people in Gaza.

There has been a significant increase this month in cement deliveries to Gaza from Israel as part of the process of reconstruction. I hope this will be sustained and a credible response will be allowed. We do not want a recurrence of the conflict. However, if the will is lacking to put the Middle East peace process back on track in order that discussions about a two-state solution can take place, the position will continue to be fraught with difficulty. I believe I have addressed most of the points raised by the Deputy.

Around this time last year, four people were killed in an attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels, and other attacks have since taken place in Denmark and Australia. As other Teachtaí and the Taoiseach noted, it was the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January last which caused the greatest outrage. Five people died in a subsequent attack on a Jewish food shop and a police officer was also shot and killed. Much of this played out on our television screens. The Dáil united and extended sympathy and solidarity to all the victims in Paris and the people of France, while the Taoiseach quite properly represented us at a demonstration in Paris.

Since then, other attacks have occurred and some have been foiled, while the situation in the Middle East has significantly worsened. Almost half of Syria is now controlled by Islamic State and millions of refugees are living in horrendous conditions of poverty in neighbouring states. Among the tens of thousands of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe in search of work and asylum, there are many thousands of Syrians fleeing a war that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives. The response of the European Union has been far from adequate. The operation to stop people smugglers, especially on the Mediterranean Sea, has concentrated on detaining migrants and placing them in camps. Furthermore, the agreement reached on a quota system for European Union member states was short-lived. After it was rejected outright by the British Government, France and Spain withdrew their support for the agreement in recent weeks and their lead has been followed by other countries. What role can Ireland play and what role should the European Union play in this regard?

I commend the work of the crew of the LE Eithne since it departed Cork only three weeks ago. In recent days, they have rescued almost 400 men, women and children and have taken a total of more than 1,000 migrants from the sea. This great work has been done as part of a good initiative by the Government.

The problem of refugees will not go away. The governments of Europe cannot hide from their responsibilities in this regard, particularly those created by some EU states and the United States through wars and military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Instead of dealing with the problem as a human rights issue and humanitarian crisis, the European Union is reducing its policy to one of military action against people smugglers. This carries with it a significant risk that a boat or boats will be sunk with migrants on board.

It is against this background that attacks such as the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo occur. The latter resulted in millions of people in France and across the world taking part in public demonstrations and making a stand against fundamentalism. However, we must also get to grips with the core issues that have given rise to the growth of Islamic State and the violence it espouses. Whatever the colour of one's skin or whatever one's religion, race or gender, there can be no excuse for the actions that occurred in Paris and elsewhere. Wherever injustice, oppression, racism or attacks take place on religious minorities and wherever anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or sectarianism exist, they must be confronted and challenged. So too, however, must poverty, injustice, inequality, discrimination and racism.

The European Union must do more to help economic migrants and political refugees. Proactive participation and initiatives are required to end the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. This specifically means pushing harder for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is the Government doing about this issue? We can ask such questions of the Taoiseach because he is in a position to take a leadership role on this issue. I have often argued that he should take leadership on this one issue during the Government's term. Given Ireland's history of colonialism, the success of our peace process and the general sense of goodwill towards it, we could play a much greater leadership role than the size of the country would indicate.

As reflected in the contributions of previous speakers, Prime Minister Netanyahu's repudiation of the two-state solution has given rise to great concern. His new deputy foreign minister, Ms Tzipi Hotovely, made clear her position on illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank when she cited the Bible to justify Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. She stated:

We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognise Israel's right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.... This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.

The Government needs to have a strategy but I do not see one. Clearly, the Government has a position in support of the right of the Palestinian people to their own state. As such, why does it not move to formally and officially recognise the Palestinian state? It is that ongoing, deep-rooted and illegitimate occupation of Palestinian land that is at the centre and heart of what is happening elsewhere within the region. We could also consider the holding of a referendum as proposed by the Constitutional Convention on the removal of the blasphemy clause from the Constitution. Finally, will the Taoiseach bring proposals to the EU meeting shortly to tackle the migrant issue?

There are three points here. The first is our own policy as an Oireachtas and the Government's position on a two-state solution, which the Taoiseach has repeated here today. The second is a referendum as proposed by the Constitutional Convention on removing the blasphemy clause from the Constitution and the last one is whatever proposals the Taoiseach might want to share with the House and bring to the EU meeting on the issue of migrants.

What is going on in terms of ISIS and the Assad regime is absolutely appalling. I have seen some of the effects and read the reports and it is beyond words. The slaughter of Christians and the wanton and indiscriminate murder of people in various locations in order to set up the caliphate of which people speak is an unspeakable brutality and an ideology of absolute hatred. From that point of view, the conflict in Syria has had appalling consequences for the civilian population, 1 million of whom have gone to South Lebanon and 1 million to Jordan while others have fled across the Mediterranean. I share the view of Deputy Adams on the work of Naval Service personnel on the LE Eithne. It was an emotional moment for service personnel when they left Cork to head out on a humanitarian mission to work with the Italian Government and Navy. As we have discussed before, it is part of Ireland's history. There were similar drownings off Grosse-Île off the west coast of the Americas where people had inferior boats and no one to rescue them. At least, Ireland is contributing and playing its part here. The Minister for Defence answered questions on this subject on Question Time today. This matter will also be the subject of discussion at the European Council meeting on 26 June 2015. We will have the opportunity to reflect somewhat on that beforehand in pre-European Council statements. We will be looking at a number of options Ireland might put forward for consideration.

When I met with representatives of the Islamic community here last week, they raised the question of the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention on blasphemy. I indicated to the community that the Government accepted the recommendation of the Constitutional Convention that there should be a referendum on the blasphemy question but that it would not take place during the remainder of the lifetime of this Government. I indicated that it will be a matter considered in the course of the next Government.

This morning, the Government approved the taking in of a further 300 migrants, bringing the total to more than 522. Naval Service personnel have rescued more than 1,000 people in the last few days. The question of what the EU will do in this context has been the subject of a great deal of attention from High Representative Mogherini who, I suspect, will be presenting a report to leaders on 26 June. Between now and then, there will be quite a number of engagements and meetings to see if some positive approach can be taken. When one speaks to leaders of small countries like Malta and Cyprus and larger countries like Italy, one sees the extent of the consequences of conflict not just in this area of Middle East but also in terms of migrants from African coming through Libya and being put on inferior craft. In many cases, those craft have no capacity to reach the far shore, which is why we are making the best effort we can. We support very strongly the programme put forward by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who visited here and met with me and other Ministers to discuss it. He has the full support of the UN special envoy Staffan di Mistura on finding ways to bring closure to this conflict. We have urged all regional and international agencies to support the UN's ongoing efforts to avoid a further deterioration in Syria and across the region. Whether it will be in any way successful is very hard to say. When one reads some of the reports on what is happening in different regions, it is obviously not an encouraging situation. We support a referral by the UN Security Council of the situation that applies in Syria to the International Criminal Court and recognise the need for accountability for the multiple war crimes that have been committed during the conflict. I hope that can be adopted.

At the end of March, the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, attended at the humanitarian conference in Kuwait dealing with pledges for Syria. He announced that Ireland would provide a further €12 million in 2015 in funding and emergency supplies to help meet the stark and urgent needs of those affected by the Syrian conflict. That brings the total value of the Government's response to more than €41 million. We have responded to the plight of the victims of the Syrian conflict with a significant measure of humanitarian assistance for a country of our size, but then that is part of our nature and our history. It shows our ongoing commitment to responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries for millions of the most vulnerable Syrians, including refugees and internally displaced persons. We have taken 128 Syrian refugees under the UNHCR's resettlement programme and agreed to take a further 220 in 2015 and 2016. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, proposed and received Government approval for the resettlement of an additional 300 refugees in 2015 and 2016 also. We have put in place a humanitarian initiative, the Syrian humanitarian admission programme, which offers temporary Irish residence to vulnerable persons in Syria or who have fled Syria to surrounding countries since the outbreak of the civil war and who have family members who reside in the State. That is of some small benefit.

As Deputy Adams said, the LE Eithne is deployed on the high seas in international waters between Sicily and Libya, which is where most of the migrant activity and search and rescue incidents have occurred. We are working in co-ordination with British, Italian and German naval forces.

To date, the LE Eithne has rescued more than 1,100 migrants. As part of our contribution, the Minister for Justice and Equality has announced that Ireland will resettle an additional 300 vulnerable people who have been displaced by the crisis in Syria. In a further effort to assist, the Government allocated a further €2 million in humanitarian funding and support for NGO relief efforts in Syria and the wider region, which brings our total contribution in money terms to €41 million.

In reply to some of the issues raised by the Deputy, a referendum on blasphemy will be held but not in the lifetime of this Government. EU reforms and EU migrant issues are the subject of much discussion now and we can have a further reflection on that in the pre-European Council statements before 23 June.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett for a brief supplementary question. I would like to move on to the next group of questions.

We all agree that the Charlie Hebdo killings were appalling and are to be condemned outright. However, my question was trying to ascertain that unless we address the issue of double standards in foreign policy, the fuel that is driving the Middle Eastern and north African region towards extremes and towards intractable and perennial conflict will continue. At the very heart of that, and every survey and study shows that the people who have been radicalised and who have joined or given support to outfits like ISIS - this is not to justify it in any way because it should be condemned outright - is the fact that one of the key radicalising factors is the plight of the Palestinian people and the double standards of the Western world when it comes to continuing to ignore and allow Israel to persecute, kill and slaughter Palestinians with impunity and to deny and suppress in the most brutal fashion basic Palestinian human rights. One can add to that list what the Egyptian Government is doing to all of its opponents.

There is no consistency from the Western world in addressing these issues. To state the obvious, there is considerable double standards in that it would be inconceivable that a leading figure in Islamic State would have been invited to the demonstration in Paris. This State would not trade with Islamic State but, as I tried to demonstrate to the Taoiseach, Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are guilty of the premeditated killing of Palestinians on the same scale and with the same vile ideology running behind it as we see from Islamic State. Yet, we still treat them as if they were a normal government; we trade and do business with them. The Taoiseach meets with them in Paris. That sends a message. The Taoiseach used very strong language, and rightly so, when he talked about ISIS and what it is doing in Syria. However, the same strength of language is not employed when it comes to the vile, sick language being used by the Israeli Government. There is no other word for the sort of language and thinking that the Israeli Government is employing. It is sick and twisted. That has to be said and action has to follow. At what point do we say it has gone over the line and that it cannot be treated like a normal state? At a certain point the world said it would no longer deal with South Africa because apartheid was not acceptable any more. Have we not reached that point with Israel when its government uses such language and carries out the sort of actions and pursues the sort of policies that it is pursuing? When do we say, "This has gone too far now, these are not normal people"?

It has gone too far when politicians say that there will never be a peace brokered between these two regions. It has gone too far when it is said that the only thing to do is to kill them. That is not the talk or the debate of democrats who are prepared to take on challenges and sit down and work things through. The Prime Minister is well aware that in our country, with 30 years of troubles and terrorist activities and 3,000 people killed, maimed, blown up and disappeared, it was eventually possible with a lot of help for people to be able to sit down and work out a situation so that people could get on with their lives. It is much more complex in many ways between Gaza and between Palestine and Israel, but one cannot have a situation where that kind of violent language and that kind of threatening language is used behind a screen of pandering to the opportunity that presents itself of actually having peace.

These two things are not compatible. If we go back to the late 1940s and accept a two-state solution as the way forward, if that is the foundation on which to build, then one does not say the only thing to do is to kill people. Clearly, there are responsibilities on both sides in terms of the preservation of human life but at the same time there must be a focus on what one wants to do and work towards it. It is not easy and it will not be accomplished in any short term. I do not know how many more governments will come and go. However, if one believes in peace, then one must demonstrate a willingness to work for it. What I saw for myself in Gaza a number of years ago is certainly not very encouraging. In so far as we can help through the European Union and the work of the high representative and the governments, we must focus on this particular problem which is off-track since March last year and exacerbated now by the many other problems in the region where extreme violence has become evident in recent times. It is altogether a very sad affair.

Constitutional Convention Recommendations

Micheál Martin

Question:

13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his views regarding the status of the Constitutional Convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3269/15]

Joe Higgins

Question:

14. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach his views on the continuation of the Constitutional Convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5465/15]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

15. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his views on the recommendation from the Constitutional Convention to adopt constitutional guarantees on economic and social rights. [5785/15]

Barry Cowen

Question:

16. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Taoiseach his plans to hold a referendum on whether to insert general economic, social, and cultural rights, and especially a right to housing, in the Constitution, as recommended by the Constitutional Convention in 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9017/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

17. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the outstanding recommendations from the Constitutional Convention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12773/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

18. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the recommendations of the Constitutional Convention, which his Department has the responsibility of co-ordinating, and which would require a referendum if they were accepted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12775/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

19. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach his views on the Constitutional Convention; its status and outstanding reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12803/15]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 19, inclusive, together.

On Friday, 22 May, the Government held two referendums on foot of recommendations from the Convention on the Constitution, on the age threshold for candidates in presidential elections and on marriage equality. As the House is aware, the referendum on marriage equality was passed by a decisive majority. This is the first time that a proposal for constitutional change put forward by a constitutional convention will have resulted in actual constitutional change. It will also be the first time that marriage equality was carried by popular vote and so marks an historic first for Ireland among the nations of the world.

As regards the convention's other reports, Ministers from the relevant Departments have already given the Government's response in the Dáil to five reports of the Convention on the Constitution: on 18 July 2013 to the first report on reducing the voting age and the presidential term; on 10 October 2013 to the second report on the role of women and women in politics; on 17 December 2013 to the third report on same-sex marriage; on 18 December 2014 to the fourth report on electoral reform; and on 2 October 2014 to the sixth report on blasphemy. In the process of responding to these reports of the convention, the Government has committed to establishing an electoral commission, as recommended in the convention's fourth report. The Government also accepted the convention's recommendations for referendums on four items: removing the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution; reducing the voting age to 16; reducing the age threshold for candidacy in presidential elections; and marriage equality. As I mentioned earlier, referendums on two of these, on reducing the age threshold for candidacy in presidential elections and on marriage equality, were held on Friday, 22 May 2015.

The fifth report, about giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in presidential elections was scheduled to be debated in the House two weeks ago but other business intervened. I expect the debate will be rescheduled shortly. However, Deputies will be aware that the Government made the point in its recent diaspora strategy that it is necessary to analyse the full range of practical and policy issues that would arise from any significant extension of the franchise before any decision could be made on the holding of a referendum. The analysis is being undertaken by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in co-operation with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora.

Work is underway on the seventh, eighth and ninth reports, respectively, on Dáil reform, economic, social and cultural rights, including housing, and the convention's conclusions and recommendations. I expect that the Government's responses on these will be given in the Dáil shortly.

The future of the convention was one of the issues considered in the ninth report. While there was unanimous support for a second convention in the report, it was acknowledged that this is an exercise that can only be achieved once in the lifetime of any Dáil. The possibility of another convention on the Constitution will be for the next Administration to determine. I am sure, however, that all sides of the House will join with me in congratulating and thanking the convention chairman, members, secretariat, expert panel and, indeed, all associated with the convention on their work on the unique project that it represented.

I should add that the Government has now held eight referendums in the four years since coming into office, namely, investigative powers for Oireachtas committees; judges' remuneration; the Fiscal Stability Treaty; children; abolition of the Seanad; the establishment of a Court of Appeal; marriage equality; and on the age threshold for candidates in presidential elections. This is a much more intense programme of constitutional reform than has been carried out by any Government since 1937. The last Government, for example, held just two referendums. The Government does not propose to hold any further referendums during the remainder of its term, but I think the House will agree that the changes in our Constitution since 2011 have both improved and strengthened the fundamental law of our State.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I pay tribute to Tom Arnold, the chairman of the Constitutional Convention, and all those who participated for their enthusiasm and commitment. However, I must say that the follow-through from the Government has been extremely disappointing. The Taoiseach might outline for me the cost of the entire exercise of establishing and hosting the Constitutional Convention.

Marriage equality aside, the issues the Government went for are surprising. Furthermore, the Taoiseach is being a bit disingenuous on marriage equality. Although it was considered by the Constitutional Convention, many political parties had committed to a referendum before the convention was established. Fianna Fáil formally adopted a position of support for a referendum prior to the convention's establishment, as did the Labour Party and Sinn Féin . The only party that did not was Fine Gael, which had not at that stage outlined a view. Although marriage equality was covered by the Constitutional Convention, it arguably did not have to go to the convention at all.

I have welcomed the overwhelming majority in support of the marriage equality referendum. I was glad to have the opportunity to debate the issue one-on-one with John Waters on TV3. I did not get the opportunity to debate on RTE, unfortunately. RTE could not facilitate me as it was reserved for Fine Gael and Labour Party Ministers. We got it in writing that we could not be facilitated.

How worrying.

"Morning Ireland" facilitated me at the eleventh hour, and Mr. Bruce Arnold also took part in the programme. Despite what the Taoiseach said earlier, I was glad to participate. Perhaps he was distracted by other issues when he made a comment he should not have made. I would have been glad to have participated in more debates if I had been given the opportunity. However, it was a very emphatic win.

Most people, however, could not understand why the reduction in the age of eligibility to become President was prioritised over other issues. We have just discussed the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. What about blasphemy being taken out of the Constitution? What about reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 or 17?

I have gone through the convention's report. The Government promised a lot - for example, that it would respond to every decision within four months. There is a long list, including the reduction of the presidential term of office to five years, which the Government has committed to referring to the relevant Oireachtas committee for further consideration. Apparently, the Government committed to holding a referendum on reducing the voting age to 17, which did not take place. We could have had it instead of the presidential age referendum. Most people on the doorsteps thought the one that was put to them was nonsensical. Although I supported it, the bottom line is that people thought there was more serious stuff.

The convention's report recommended an amendment to the clause on the role of women, and apparently a task force was established and was meant to have reported by 31 October 2014. The task force on increasing the participation of women in politics was also to report by 31 October. The Government's response to the proposed review of the Dáil electoral system was expected in spring 2014, as was its response to the recommendation on giving the right to vote in presidential elections to citizens outside the State. As regards the removal of the offence of blasphemy from the Constitution, the Government's response was also expected in spring 2014. It was expected to respond to the recommendations on Dáil reform in 2014. Its response to the proposals on economic, social and cultural rights was expected in summer 2014.

We have not had any substantive responses from the Government on a host of issues considered by the convention, including the Office of the Ceann Comhairle, Dáil committees, various articles of the Constitution and political reform. It seems that, although the Government set up the convention, it ran out of enthusiasm fairly quickly afterwards and has not given the necessary substantive responses to the issues raised. The Government's prioritisation of issues was strange, particularly on the age questions and on blasphemy, which could have been put to the people.

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I also commend Tom Arnold, Art O'Leary, their teams and the respective experts who came forward. The convention, journalists, secretariat and, especially, the citizens who participated did an excellent job and produced a series of first class reports and recommendations. I attended every session of the convention except for one. It was a very uplifting experience and process, even though the convention as set up by the Government did not go as far as Sinn Féin had proposed.

As we have heard, the convention proposed serious constitutional changes, including extending voting rights to citizens in the North and in the diaspora for Presidential elections, as well as to those aged 16 and up. As I understand it, four still outstanding reports have yet to be debated in the Dáil. I have been told at different times, most recently two weeks ago as well as in March and a few months before that, that these matters would be dealt with. If I understand the Taoiseach's remarks today, he is giving the commitment again that they will be dealt with before the summer recess.

The decision to progress with the marriage equality referendum was the right one. The decision to hold a referendum on lowering the age at which candidates could stand for the Presidency was wrong, as it was not the most important issue.

All of the folks who came home to vote committed an illegality by voting, yet were lauded by the Government and by me as well, of course. It is obvious that there are many citizens who are forced to live outside the State, yet who want to play their part in democratic processes here. The representation of the diaspora and of our citizens in the North is long overdue. It is in the programme for Government that Fine Gael and the Labour Party drew up and is a recommendation of the Constitutional Convention and yet the Government ignored it. I do not understand why it would do so. When we talk about this issue I am always reminded of the occasion when Tyrone was playing Armagh in an All-Ireland match in Croke Park, when Mary McAleese was the President. Neither the President nor any of the players had the right to vote, simply because they came from the northern part of the island.

I note the Taoiseach has said he will not deal with this before the general election and we do not know whether he will have a chance to deal with it after the general election. It was a wonderful opportunity. There are other elements of this. I want to refer particularly to the final report which the convention proposed in March of last year. It recommended that the Government and the Oireachtas should empower another convention to continue the work of constitutional review and reform. I note the Taoiseach said this would not happen at this point. However, as we approach the centenary of 1916, a genuine dialogue, nationally and internationally with our own diaspora, on constitutional renewal as another step on the road to unity, peace and reconciliation would be a fitting tribute to the vision of the founders and signatories of the Proclamation. I am disappointed the Taoiseach has ruled this out and I ask him to review and reconsider that proposition.

I have given the House commitments before. The problem for me was that, when the convention reports came back, they were considered by Departments and sometimes by a number of Departments because of the issues that were being discussed. There were certainly some delays and I accept responsibility for not having been able to live up to the timeline we set for debates in the House. I would like to think we can have the remainder discussed here before the House rises for the summer recess.

In respect of the reduction in the age for presidential eligibility, the issue was not that people would be required to elect a person at 21 years of age but that a 21 year old would not be disallowed from competing for the highest office in the land. The question is would we elect somebody at 30, 34 or 29 years of age.

Did the Taoiseach really think that was a good idea - a 21 year old President?

It was not a case of requiring that a 21 year old be elected but that nobody beyond the age of 21 should be debarred from competing for the office.

Did the Taoiseach know the Minister, Deputy Howlin was voting "No"? He voted "No".

If the Deputy was 21 again and was going to become the Taoiseach, there is no limitation upon him doing so and there is no limitation on him appointing Ministers, in that there is no age bar, whether at 35, 21 or 18 years. The convention voted against the five-year term and against aligning it with the term of MEPs.

The Government accepted the convention's recommendation to reduce the voting age to 16. We said we did not want to give dates for referendums, while accepting the principle to set out a date if possible. We have had eight referendums altogether.

On the role of women, the convention voted to modify the clause in Article 40.1.2° on the role of women in the home. It wanted to see more Government action to encourage greater participation by women and it voted very narrowly against this being provided for in the Constitution. The recommendation on same-sex marriage was carried.

On the review of the Dáil electoral system, the convention recommended retaining the PR-STV electoral system but recommended that constituency sizes be increased. The convention also recommended a number of election-related changes, including establishment of the electoral commission, and we accepted that. The Government rejected the recommendation to increase constituency sizes as it was of the view that the current constituency arrangement has served the State well since 1948.

The convention recommended that people outside the State would have the right to vote in presidential elections. The fifth report was scheduled and debated here two weeks ago and will come in, having been rescheduled. On blasphemy, we said that, yes, there will be a referendum under the next Administration, and we informed the Islamic community of that last week.

On Dáil reform, the convention made recommendations on the role, powers and election of the Ceann Comhairle, committee membership and powers, and the whip system, as well as the introduction of a Dáil reform committee in its own right. The Government is preparing that response. The position is similar in respect of economic, social and cultural rights.

Members have rightly expressed our thanks to Tom Arnold, Art O'Leary and all of the team, particularly the members of the public who were chosen in a very particular way to serve on the convention. They said to me, from the point of view of being civilians in our State, that it was a brilliant period in their lives, where they were able to discuss and make recommendations, one of which is now enshrined in our Constitution forever. I thank the Members for their contributions.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.