Other Questions

Middle East Issues

Seán Crowe

Question:

6. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is aware that a Palestinian Member of Parliament (details supplied) who is a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council was sentenced to 15 months in jail by an Israeli military court; that the charges are viewed as political in nature; that the individual was placed under administrative detention for six months without trial or charges; and if he will raise concerns regarding her incarceration with the Israeli Government. [45390/15]

This question is about Ms Khalida Jarrar, a Palestinian Member of Parliament and a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian Legislative Council. She was sentenced to jail for 15 months by an Israeli court on 6 December. She was seized in April during a late-night raid on her home in al-Bireh, a town near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah. She was held without charge or trial under a six-month administrative detention order. According to her lawyer, she agreed to a plea deal because she had no faith in the military courts. Is the Minister concerned about her imprisonment? If so, will he raise his concerns with the Israeli authorities?

Multiple conflicts across the Middle East region have necessarily occupied much international attention in recent times. These include the conflict in Syria and the rise of Daesh and their impact on Europe. However, I continue to stress at EU and international levels the importance of retaining a focus on the continuing Israel–Palestine dispute.

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy, on which NGOs supported by Ireland have been actively engaged. I am not in a position to take a definitive view on the substance of the case. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, to which the defendant belongs, has clearly an involvement in violent actions, and some of the evidence was given in secret. However, there are grounds for serious concern about the basis for this conviction. The person involved is a member of the Palestinian Parliament, and it does not appear that any suggestion has been advanced or proved of her involvement in violent activities. The offences she was charged with seem to relate to political protest against the occupation and occupation policies.

Ireland has drawn attention for some time to its concern that, increasingly, criminal prosecutions are being taken by Israeli authorities against non-violent political protesters, and that there is an increase in the use of live ammunition against Palestinian demonstrations. I have asked our missions in the area to monitor and report on this case. We will continue to make the case that if legitimate protest is treated in the same way as violence, it will only play into the hands of those who advocate violence. We will continue to make known our concerns about the treatment of protest and protestors, in this case and more widely.

Last week, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade met Mr. Bernard Sabella, the chairman of the Palestinian delegation at the Council of Europe. He asked us specifically to raise the case in the Parliament because of the fact that he was a Member of Parliament. The point he made at the meeting was that all the charges are deemed political. The Israeli court has rejected an appeal against the imprisonment of Ms Khalida Jarrar, not recognising her parliamentary immunity. As I stated, she refused to recognise the Israeli court's legitimacy.

The 12 charges all relate to her political activity, including giving speeches, attending public forums and calling for the freedom of Palestinian prisoners. These are all issues that Irish and Palestinian Members of Parliament would raise. Has the Minister monitored this? Could he raise it with the Israeli authorities when he next gets the opportunity? Could he speak again to his European colleagues seeking the release of the Palestinian Member of Parliament?

I assure the Deputy that my officials and I will keep a very close eye on this case and monitor events and developments in respect of it. I condemn attacks on innocent people and any use of force that results in avoidable injuries or death. Once again, I call for an end to attacks and for calm and responsible leadership. Any necessary security measures should be proportionate and restrained. I have stressed the need for a response beyond security measures and for leadership to tackle the underlying issues that might have led people to take actions that are themselves inexcusable. There have been a number of outbreaks of violence, and there will be more unless the underlying issues are tackled.

Many observers have noted that the timing of Ms Khalida Jarrar's arrest came shortly after the Palestinian Authority joined the International Criminal Court. This was an important focus of Ms Khalida Jarrar's parliamentary work. Many see this arrest as Israel seeking and taking revenge for the Palestinians joining the International Criminal Court. Does the Minister share that belief? Has he any views on it? The view I have expressed has been echoed by the Israeli media organisation Harretz, which also demanded Ms Jarrar's release.

We need to focus on the current causes of violent activity and to play our part, along with our EU colleagues, in ensuring the Middle East peace process gets back on track. The direct talks broke down at the start of 2014 and there is no immediate prospect of a resumption. There is a considerable lack of trust in the intentions of each party, in addition to reluctance on the Israeli side to accept that the occupation must end. As with the peace process in Northern Ireland, any peace process involves a large measure of compromise. I had the opportunity last Monday to attend a meeting of EU foreign affairs Ministers. The European Union continues to support a resumption of talks because it is only through talks that conflict can be resolved and progress made.

Foreign Conflicts

Brendan Smith

Question:

7. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals he put forward at recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council in relation to the very urgent need to address the ongoing conflict in Syria and the horrendous loss of life and displacement of persons; the decisions reached at those meetings on additional measures to be taken by the European Union and the international community to progress a political solution; if additional humanitarian aid was pledged for Syria and that region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45310/15]

The loss of life and the displacement of people as a result of the ongoing conflict in Syria are horrendous. More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the four and a half year conflict, 6.6 million people are displaced within Syria and more than 4 million people have fled the country. Nearly 14 million people in Syria, half the country’s population, are in dire need of humanitarian assistance with the utmost urgency. Will the Minister outline any new initiative that may be taken at EU level to assist these people who are living in desperate circumstances?

Ending the catastrophe which has befallen Syria and imposed enormous burdens on the states neighbouring Syria is critical to the stability of the Middle East region and the security and safety of the Syrian people and their neighbours. This has been a key priority for Ireland and its EU partners in recent years. I welcome the announcements of 30 October and 14 November by international stakeholders, including the European Union and a number of EU member states, in Vienna on the launching of negotiations, the holding of elections, working for a nationwide ceasefire and supporting unimpeded humanitarian access across Syria. I call on all parties to support the United Nations’ efforts and commit themselves to work sincerely and with urgency for a nationwide ceasefire, a negotiated peace agreement. Ireland strongly endorses the efforts of the United Nations to renew peace negotiations based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué principles, in particular, the ending of violence, the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers and a constitutional reform process which would protect Syria’s multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian character.

There must also be legal accountability for victims of the Syrian conflict. In 2014 we co-sponsored a resolution which called for referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. While recognising the need for a political transition and an end to the Assad regime, ultimately, it is the Syrian people’s right to decide on Syria’s future national leadership. Ireland has pledged that its support for the Syrian people will reach over €42 million by the end of 2015.

I thank the Minister for his reply and sincerely hope, given the views expressed by the EU High Representative after the Vienna talks, that a political solution to be achieved with the utmost urgency is the way forward. We fully realise the difficulties in achieving it. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks by Daesh the House had the opportunity to condemn the attacks. The organisation’s ideology is extreme and constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to peace and security. I condemn the gross, systematic and widespread abuses of human rights and the violations of humanitarian law by Daesh. The European Union has been a good contributor to assist people in the most difficult of circumstances in Syria. We must recognise the pressures on the countries adjoining Syria, namely, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq, that have been generous in their response to the Syrian people. Humanitarian aid and assistance must be given to these neighbouring countries, as well as to those in Syria who are living in the worst of circumstances.

I agree with the Deputy, particularly on the horrific acts of terrorism perpetrated by Daesh in Syria and across the region. It is imperative that appropriate action be taken. On the situation in the wider region, the Deputy will agree that ending the Syrian conflict is essential to the stabilisation of the Middle East region, ending the threat of terrorism and the humanitarian and security crisis which are devastating the people of Syria and the region. The flow of refugees is posing social, political and economic challenges, as I witnessed in Lebanon earlier this year and as my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, witnessed in Jordan last month. Ireland continues to play its part in the provision of assistance in the region and to the refugee population in neighbouring countries. The Deputy will agree that the regional crisis cannot be adequately addressed without a viable peace process in Syria.

As I stated previously, we need a fair, equitable and proportionate EU resettlement programme in response to the migrant challenge. Ireland must play a part in providing a safe haven for those escaping conflict. We must also put in place robust safeguards to ensure those who seek refuge in Europe, including Ireland, are genuine migrants. This is important as we deal with the issue.

On 1 December the European Union adopted the regional trust fund, a €350 million aid package, the single biggest response to the crisis in Syria. It breaks down into substantial funding for education, local development, health, water and sanitation programmes. Is Ireland contributing to the fund and is the Minister satisfied, based on the data available, that this very welcome and progressive aid programme will meet the needs of the people in most need of assistance?

By the end of the year Ireland will have pledged support for the Syrian people in excess of €42 million. This is Irish Aid’s largest response to a single crisis in recent years. Ireland’s funding is channelled via the United Nations, the Red Cross and our NGOs in the region. The money is expended on meeting priority needs in the area, including for food, water, sanitation, shelter, education and protection, including child protection and the prevention of gender based violence. The funding underlines Ireland’s continued commitment to respond to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries where there are millions of vulnerable refugees and internally displaced persons. Ireland’s support through Irish Aid and NGOs on the ground includes support for the protection of Syrian refugees in Iraq and other areas across the region.

Humanitarian Aid Provision

Seán Crowe

Question:

8. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is aware that the El Niño weather pattern is expected to wreak havoc this year; that the United Nations has warned that 11 million children are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water in eastern and southern Africa alone; that in west Africa conditions are aligning in a similar way to the massive 1972 drought that devastated the Sahel with famine; what his Department is doing to prepare for these events and to mitigate the effects of the humanitarian crisis before it hits. [45393/15]

El Niño is a periodic, worldwide weather phenomenon caused by the Pacific Ocean warming. This year’s pattern is more extreme than it has been for decades and expected to wreak havoc. The European Union has warned that 11 million people are at risk from hunger, disease and lack of water in eastern and southern Africa alone. In west Africa conditions are emerging similar to the severe 1972 drought which devastated the Sahel with famine. During the event drying winds from El Niño tipped the region into full blown drought. I have tabled the question to find out what plans Irish Aid has in place to deal with these expected humanitarian crises and mitigate them before they strike fully.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The current El Niño weather event is one of the strongest ever measured. More unpredictable weather conditions are already having a detrimental effect on people’s lives and livelihoods across Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region. In the next six months humanitarian needs will increase, with severe droughts and flooding. Below normal rainfall and drought conditions have already affected parts of Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea, reducing agricultural production. Excessive rainfall is affecting parts of Ethiopia, Somalia and other countries, causing severe and sustained flooding, loss of livelihoods and disease outbreaks.

Irish Aid, the Government’s overseas development assistance programme, is stepping up its preparedness to respond.

Our long-term development programme in countries such as Ethiopia includes funding for a large social protection programme for the most vulnerable households. We are also scaling up humanitarian responses to reduce the impact on households and save lives in the worst affected places. In Ethiopia alone in 2015, Ireland has increased its bilateral programme to nearly €28 million in response to the humanitarian crisis. We are providing an additional €1.8 million in humanitarian assistance through non-governmental organisation, NGO, partners.

In total, Ireland has provided over €80 million in humanitarian assistance in 2015 and this budget will be increased to over €100 million for 2016. We are allocating additional resources across affected countries to support programmes which save lives, improve food security, protect livelihoods and build the resilience of people to withstand the effects of such a weather event across Africa. We will continue to monitor the position closely and scale up action as El Niño strengthens and conditions on the ground worsen.

It is welcome that there will be additional funding. The concern is that the world does not seem to pay attention to the advance warning of these humanitarian crises and does not act until it sees horrific images on television or computer screens. Oxfam has stated the world must move faster than in the past to help drought stricken regions of Africa. In 2011 warnings were issued months in advance and food shortages are not the only problem. Droughts and flooding can have other health effects such as outbreaks of cholera, typhoid and diarrhoeal diseases in many areas. An estimated 10.2 million people, more than one tenth of the population of Ethiopia, need humanitarian aid because of the lack of basic food after the latest failed harvests. Will the Minister of State assure us that there will be food stocks in that region? What other support can we give to the people of the region? The Minister of State has mentioned extra funding, but the hurricane coming down the track will have a negative impact on millions of people in the region.

Ireland’s bilateral relationship with Ethiopia is very strong. Official Ethiopian Government figures for January 2016 indicate that 10.2 million people will require food assistance, in addition to the 7.9 million receiving food and cash transfers as part of the productive safety nets programme. Ireland is one of the core funders of the programme through Irish Aid and the embassy. We have been doing this since 2005. There are financial resources required to deal with this issue. This is the third largest humanitarian emergency globally, behind those in Syria and Yemen. It is estimated that approximately US$1.8 billion is required to cover the cost of emergency interventions. We will continue to work with multilateral partners such as the UN agencies and on a bilateral basis. We have increased the commitment to Ethiopia because this involves protecting small stakeholder farmers and their families. There are knock-on consequences in terms of in utero development which is having a major effect on malnutrition and under-nutrition. We will continue to monitor the position.

One could argue that the crises in Syria and Yemen are man-made, but it could be argued also that this weather phenomenon is caused by climate change. At the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked whether this issue would be raised at the December meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council. Did the Irish contingent at that meeting raise the issue? What is the response going to be?

There is due to be a meeting of Development Ministers in January. I am not entirely sure if it was raised in December, but I will check for the Deputy.

It is fair to say that in our response to the crisis in Ethiopia we are punching above our weight. Through the bilateral aid programme we have provided €3.8 million to help meet the immediate humanitarian need. I met the President of the Tigray region two weeks ago when he was in Ireland and I have visited the country on several occasions. We see this as a major humanitarian crisis and the Irish response to it is measuring up. We are working hand in hand with Trócaire, Goal and Concern, our NGO partners on the ground. We have provided them with €1.8 million in humanitarian assistance. We continue to monitor and respond as needs arise.

Human Rights Issues

Paul Murphy

Question:

9. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to report on the actions taken by him to secure the release of an Irish citizen (details supplied) who is detained in Egypt and facing serious charges that could result in the death penalty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45311/15]

A tenth trial date, a third birthday and Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, is still languishing in jail in a dictatorship, potentially facing a death sentence, after his 20th birthday. I listened to the Minister’s response to Deputy Seán Crowe and accept that he wants to see Ibrahim Halawa released and that embassy staff are working hard in that respect. However, is it not time to acknowledge that the current strategy has not worked, as evidenced by the fact that he is still sitting in jail and the Irish Government needs to try a different tack?

The Department's approach to this case is focused on achieving a positive outcome at the earliest time possible for this citizen. That strategy is based on two key objectives: first, to see this citizen released by the Egyptian authorities in order that he can return to his family and studies in Ireland and, second, to provide consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention. In furtherance of these objectives, I have intensively engaged with the Egyptian authorities, including the Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Egypt’s ambassador to Ireland, and with EU and international partners, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini. The Taoiseach also raised the case in person on two occasions with Egyptian President el-Sisi. Our embassy in Cairo has also held meetings with senior members of the Egyptian Government, including the Assistant Foreign Minister for European Affairs. The information we receive from all of these contacts is carefully considered and used in reviewing our approach to the case on a constant basis. As I have continually highlighted, the charges facing this citizen are serious. Given that the trial is ongoing, the Government has to be extremely careful to ensure its actions, both public and private, are well judged and do not detract from our key goal of securing positive progress for this citizen at the earliest possible time.

The view of the Government remains that firm, measured and sustained diplomatic engagement continues to be in this citizen’s best interest and that it represents the best hope to achieve his return to Ireland at the earliest possible date.

I accept the bona fides of the Government and the Minister that they want to see a positive outcome to this case. I also accept that Ibrahim Halawa is facing a trial in a judicial system in another country. It is also a fact that it is not possible for him to receive a fair trial, to reasonably prepare for his defence, in a situation where he faces a mass trial with almost 500 people and where, despite some misinformation from the embassy, he potentially faces the death penalty. Is it not necessary for the Government to extremely loudly add its voice to demand the immediate, unconditional release of Ibrahim Halawa and, as a mechanism for doing so, to either make a formal request for a presidential decree under Egyptian law 140 or formally support the family’s application, as was done in the case of Peter Greste?

As regards the presidential decree, law 140, I wish to assure the Deputy and the House that the Government has formally supported an application made by the citizen's Egyptian legal team for his return to Ireland under presidential decree. This was done by way of a formal diplomatic note sent by Ireland's embassy in Cairo to the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs as far back as last February.

This specific issue has also been the subject matter of discussions both by the Taoiseach and myself with our Egyptian counterparts. However, it is clear from all of the contacts made with the Egyptian authorities that it is their position that the current trial process must be permitted to take its course before consideration could be given to the application of the law in respect of the presidential decree.

Any decision to release this citizen will ultimately be taken by the Egyptian authorities. I would remind the Deputy that the trial is ongoing and the return date is next Saturday. Every effort is being made by my officials and myself to ensure that while this citizen remains in detention in Egypt, his welfare is given priority. We hope that Saturday next will see progress on the matter of this long outstanding trial.

One would hope that Saturday will see progress, but we also hoped for progress on earlier dates. It is therefore not unreasonable for people not to have too many illusions about the Egyptian courts system. The Egyptian authorities argue that before law 140 can be applied, the case must first be finished and a conviction or otherwise occur. That does not seem to be accurate, however. It was not accurate in the case of Peter Greste. It is a facility whereby someone facing trial, who is from a different jurisdiction, can be transferred to that jurisdiction to face trial there.

It is correct that the Irish Government cannot wave a magic wand and get Ibrahim Halawa out of prison. However, the Government could be louder and clearer in its outrage over what is happening, as well as trying to add international pressure. In that respect, I welcome the resolution that will hopefully be passed at the European Parliament today. It clearly expresses deep concern at the unacceptable breach of basic human rights arising from the arbitrary detention of Irish citizen, Ibrahim Halawa, and calls on the Egyptian authorities to release him, immediately and unconditionally, to the Irish authorities.

I acknowledge what Deputy Paul Murphy has said - that this is ultimately an issue which will not be decided here in Dublin by the Irish authorities, but in Cairo by the Egyptian authorities. However, I wish to assure the House that many of the suggestions that have been put forward are well meant and are taken having regard to the need to ensure the welfare and health of the citizen. As regards our contacts in this case, given our experience and expertise in dealing with difficult consular cases over many years, all the evidence indicates that the Government's approach is most likely to achieve a positive and practical measure of progress for our citizen, and that this matter can be resolved at the earliest possible date.

EU Membership

Brendan Smith

Question:

10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has had with his European counterparts in relation to Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45308/15]

Fianna Fáil values the key role that Britain plays as an ally and friend of Ireland in the European Union. We will be vocal in supporting the UK remaining as a full member state of the EU. We believe it would be a political and economic disaster, both for Ireland and Britain, if Britain exited the EU. It would also have a serious impact on British-Irish trade. We must also factor in the Northern Ireland dimension to this debate.

While we do not agree that the four freedoms of the EU should be compromised to ensure that Britain remains in the EU, the Union must show some flexibility in other areas when engaging with Britain to prevent an exit where possible.

Although the date is not yet known, Prime Minister Cameron has confirmed that before the end of 2017 a referendum will be held in the United Kingdom regarding their continued membership of the EU. The final decision on the matter, therefore, lies with the UK electorate.

As independent studies have shown, a UK exit from the EU has the potential to be most damaging for Ireland. The reasons for this are well documented. A UK withdrawal would likely have a significantly adverse impact on our economy and could also be unhelpful both for the peace process in Northern Ireland and British-Irish relations more generally. Furthermore, Ireland does not believe that a UK departure from the European Union is in the best interests of the EU itself.

Ireland is not, however, the only EU member state that highly values the UK’s place in the EU. It is widely recognised across the Union that the EU is better and stronger on account of the UK’s EU membership, whether because of its strong economy or the influence it wields on the international stage. This is why none of our EU partners wishes to see a so-called “Brexit”.

For these reasons, through the ongoing negotiations process in Brussels, the Government is committed to doing all it can to help ensure the UK remains in the European Union. It is therefore no surprise that the EU-UK relationship features significantly in discussions I have had with my European counterparts, especially in the margins of meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. This is the same for the Taoiseach, the Minister of State with responsibility for European Affairs, Deputy Dara Murphy, and many other Ministers in the contacts they have with their respective counterparts. The subject is also consistently raised at high-level official meetings, while I would add that Ireland’s embassies across the EU, and further afield, also remain actively engaged on this issue.

Given our close ties with the UK and its government, EU member states often wish to know our views and where we stand on Prime Minister Cameron’s EU agenda. Our response has always been to confirm that we believe it is in all our mutual best interests that the UK remains in the European Union, and that we will continue to be constructive and flexible in the negotiations process, while respecting the fundamental principles of the Union.

Equally, we use every opportunity to explain to our European partners why UK membership is particularly important to Ireland, especially at it relates to our economy and to Northern Ireland.

We are over time but I will allow one supplementary comment.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle. I also thank the Minister for his reply. We must have a better national debate on this issue throughout all of our island because it is of critical importance. We do not want to see the nightmare again of passport controls and customs posts on the Border between North and South in this country. Peace funding provided by the EU has been critical in building a better society in Northern Ireland, as well as improving North-South and east-west relations.

Both governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, so there are many issues in which we have a common interest. We need to work together in the EU in this regard. Our party is fully supportive of engaging in dialogue on the need for Britain to remain in the EU. We have a selfish, strategic interest in this. Of course, it is up to the British people to make their own democratic decision, but over the centuries successive British regimes and governments did not mind involving themselves in Irish affairs either.

The positive impact the EU has had in Northern Ireland is often overlooked and forgotten. That is why I have been very clear - most recently in a speech at Queen's University in Belfast - in explaining why I think a UK withdrawal from the EU would be bad for Northern Ireland. For a start, the EU has helped to foster peace and reconciliation, and has provided a framework for co-operation between North and South, as well as between Unionists and Nationalists. In essence, it has provided an uncontested setting in which both traditions in Northern Ireland have found expression in a wider union of which we are all members. We should not underestimate for one moment the security and stability that this brings, and how much the EU has underpinned the peace process.

Northern Ireland is already on the edge of Europe. Despite that, it has done a good job in managing to attract foreign direct investment. However, a vote to leave the EU could hamper its access to the Single Market and potentially reduce its attractiveness.

I agree with Deputy Smith that it is vitally important for us to engage actively at every level to ensure that those participating in this referendum, who will ultimately make a decision in the polling booths, are fully informed as to the consequences. That is why Ireland will avail of every opportunity to highlight the importance of the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.