Ceisteanna - Questions (Resumed)

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Gerry Adams

Question:

1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the conversations he has held with European Union leaders following the attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Paris in France on 13 November 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42226/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

2. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the ambassador of France to Ireland, His Excellency, Mr. Jean-Pierre Thébault; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42227/15]

Micheál Martin

Question:

3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the President of France, Mr. François Hollande, since the horrendous attacks in Paris, France on 13 November 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42290/15]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on discussions he has held with the President of France, Mr. François Hollande, since the tragic events in Paris, France; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42435/15]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach to report on discussions he held with European Union leaders since the atrocities in Paris in France on 13 November 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44825/15]

Joe Higgins

Question:

6. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Taoiseach to report on his communication with the President of France, Mr. Francois Hollande, or with the ambassador of France to Ireland, His Excellency, Mr. Jean-Pierre Thébault following the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, in France on 13 November 2015. [2804/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

The attacks in Paris on 13 November were a horrific and violent intrusion on our way of life, which brutally ended 129 lives and devastated thousands more. In the immediate aftermath of those atrocities, I reiterated in the strongest terms Ireland’s continued support for, and solidarity with, France and the French people, with whom Ireland has a dynamic and historic relationship. I wrote in those terms to President Hollande, and I signed the book of condolences at the French embassy, where I met the ambassador. In this House, on 17 November, we observed a minute’s silence for the victims and I delivered a statement setting out our sympathy and our resolve to stand with France, confirming that we are united in our determination to counter the threat posed by global terrorism. The Irish public also demonstrated their sympathy and solidarity through vigils, through walks of solidarity and through letters and cards sent by individuals and by entire schools to the French embassy in Ireland and other French institutions. The ambassador attended the Dáil on 17 November and met with a number of senior officials, including the second Secretary General of my Department to discuss follow-up actions.

European Union justice and foreign Ministers and leaders also discussed the attack and its consequences at their subsequent meetings. At the European Council in December, I and other heads of state and government took stock of progress since February, when a detailed programme of criminal justice, law enforcement and border control actions was set out. The central point of our discussions was that the EU has to deliver on the measures and priorities already agreed. Building on the work of justice Ministers, the European Council looked at enhancing information sharing and early implementation of the passenger name record, PNR, directive. Further emphasis was placed on systematic and co-ordinated checks at external borders, which primarily concerned the Schengen area members, and a commitment to examining Commission proposals on new directives for combating terrorism and the illegal firearms trade. Proposals were also made for increasing the effectiveness of the fight against terrorist financing. Work on these issues is continuing as a matter of urgency.

Ireland has consistently called for a co-ordinated international response and a comprehensive approach to combating terrorism. In this regard, it was welcome that the European Council discussions and conclusions proposed the stepping up of engagement with partners in north Africa, the Middle East, Turkey and the western Balkans.

I also want to begin by condemning in the strongest possible terms the murderous attacks perpetrated in Paris in November. As the Taoiseach will be aware, our party president, Deputy Gerry Adams, vice president, Deputy Mary Lou McDonald, and justice spokesperson, Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, at the time visited the French embassy and extended our personal sympathies and solidarity to the French ambassador, the victims, their families and the people of Paris and France. The people of this island, like those all over the world, watched in deep shock and horror the events as they unfolded in Paris last November. All of us must stand against fundamentalism, bigotry, sectarianism and racism.

Tragically, the violence that was witnessed in Paris has been mirrored in countless other barbaric acts. The catalogue of deadly actions makes for very grim reading. Only last Sunday, three bombs killed 45 people in Damascus. Three weeks ago, ten German tourists were killed and another 17 people wounded in a bombing in the historic centre of Istanbul. In the years of war in Syria, more than 300,000 men, women and children, mostly civilians, have been killed. Last October, twin blasts in Ankara claimed the lives of more than 100 civilians. In addition, a bomb was responsible for destroying the Metrojet that crashed in the Sinai Peninsula, killing the 224 people on board.

The United Nations recently confirmed that more than 50 million people have been displaced worldwide as a result of conflict and it faces the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. More than 3,500 people have died at sea since last January in making the desperate crossing to Europe. These victims were ordinary, innocent civilians and, like the citizens in Paris who played no part in any of this, the people of the Middle East are entitled to live in peace and to pursue happiness and prosperity.

This is not a conflict between east and west or between Islam and Christianity, but between fundamentalism and freedom. It is important that we assert that neither religion, gender, colour nor nationalism can be any excuse for violence. Injustice, racism and sectarianism must be challenged. ISIS and other fundamentalist groups thrive on the chaos and destruction that has been wrought in Iraq, Syria, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East as a direct result of Western military and political interference. This reality cannot be ignored.

A question, please. This is Question Time.

Does the Taoiseach agree that Western duplicity and cynicism towards the Middle East must end if there is to be a peaceful democratic future for our citizens in that region? Does he also agree that the running sore which is the treatment of the Palestinian people must be confronted once and for all if there is to be peace in that part of the world? Does he agree that the horrific attacks in Paris cannot become an excuse for attacks on Islam or the rights of Muslim people and Muslim society, nor that it should be used as an excuse to turn away from our responsibility towards the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving in Europe? Does he agree that, in defiance of the mindless loss of life, threats and intimidation, it is our responsibility to stand united with all those suffering as a result of war and poverty?

What steps has the Government agreed with other EU neighbours in regard to meeting the challenge presented by ISIS, given the Taoiseach touched on some of the issues in regard to co-operation with North Africa? Following on from last week, what further measures have been agreed in respect of the refugee crisis? The European Council has agreed that member states and the EU institutions must seek to resolve the deficiencies urgently. Will the Taoiseach indicate the progress which has been made on that? When does he expect the additional 120 refugees to arrive in this State?

The Deputy has raised a number of questions. Clearly, this has been the focus of the European Council meetings for more than a year. The root cause of much of this is the war in Syria. I am glad to see that, at long last, tentative steps towards peace talks are beginning, although it might be some time before they begin to focus on what needs to be done. The Deputy is aware of the United Nations Secretary General's comments. The problem with the unprecedented scale of people leaving Syria is not going to end until this problem is dealt with. Can the Deputy imagine, for instance, if all of Munster and all of Connacht were to walk to Northern Ireland and take rickety boats to Britain or somewhere else? The scale of evacuation and movement is unprecedented.

The Deputy asked what steps are being taken. The European Union, in particular the Schengen countries, agreed on a process of what they called hotspots for registration and recognition of people. Great difficulties have been experienced in Italy and even more so in Greece, given the numbers coming across from Turkey. Deputy O'Brien is aware of the numbers - just more than 1 million in south Lebanon, with 25% of its population now Syrian, 1.2 million in Jordan and more than 2 million in Turkey, with others coming in from other countries through Turkey who want to get to Europe as well. In respect of the scale of the camps in Turkey, the European Union agreed to put up €3 billion in consultation with the Turkish Government and, in an effort to maintain people in Turkey, the majority of whom would like to go back to Syria if peace were to happen, agreed to open some of the pre-accession chapters for consideration to become an eventual member of the European Union.

Islam is a religion of peace and should not be confused in the sense of being the cause of this. The Islamic religion is one of peace.

Ireland stands united with the European Union, as I stated in my response in respect of France. When we consider that the Assad regime is being maintained by Russia and Iran and that the United States and Europe have supported the removal of that regime, I am not sure what is going to happen in the short term. While the situation continues, Daesh or ISIS has continued to carry out these abominable and horrific beheadings and assaults on men, women and children. These rapes and beheadings and assaults are appalling crimes against humanity. In that respect, when we see reports of videos making claims of further terrorist activities in different countries, these cause enormous complications.

As Deputy O'Brien will be aware, the state of emergency continues in Paris, France and is being extended to other areas. This is causing enormous difficulties for the economy, with reduced visitor numbers and hospitality potential. Further difficulties will be experienced in regard to the European championships and the huge numbers of fans who will travel from different countries. Questions will arise as to whether the state of emergency should be maintained following the declaration of war by the French President. These serious issues must be fully considered.

In so far as we are concerned, shortly after the French atrocity, a meeting of the appropriate emergency committee was held here and it was briefed on security and other developments. These matters and information are monitored carefully by the Garda Commissioner and intelligence units here. In that regard, Palestine has always been a case in point. The attitude adopted now is that the two-state solution should apply but clearly there are strong differences of opinion about the substantial Israeli settlements on the West Bank, involving thousands of people. These issues are all part of the discussions that take place on the occasion of every Council meeting and between them. High Representative Federica Mogherini provides reports to the Council.

Clearly, we also consider the entire Middle East, the situation now with Saudi Arabia and neighbouring countries, the numbers of people on the Libyan shore wanting to cross the Mediterranean, the war in Syria, the war on terrorism and the capacity of Daesh or ISIL to radicalise young people without having to visit a country. There is also information from many countries and their security forces that particular locations have been visited with a view to the potential to carry out terrorist atrocities. This is a serious matter. Any incident carries with it enormous cost, even for example, an incident like that when the Minister for Transport here was contacted last week about the Turkish flight with a suspected bomb on board having to land at Shannon. There were the difficulties and costs involved in ensuring the aircraft could land safely and be checked out so that the passengers were not in danger on their onward journey. This was just one incident, so we can only imagine the situation in France, with serious frustration being expressed by air traffic controllers, taxi drivers on strike, direct threats from Daesh and the migrant crisis in Calais where serious numbers of children are without parents. This is one of the most serious issues affecting the European Union in a long time and has even threatened the Schengen arrangement.

Ireland has opted into the protocol and agreed to take significant numbers of Syrian families. That process is under way but the registration and identification of families to come here has been hampered by the inability to locate these hotspots properly, because the requirement to register people in huge numbers means they must be catered for in the location they are being registered. This means more camps but many of these people who have landed in Europe just want to move on to Austria, Germany or Sweden. Ireland does not rank among the desired countries. We can understand, therefore, the pressure in a country like Germany, where over 1 million refugees have made their way to in the past months. While it is still winter or early spring, as the warmer weather approaches the numbers of refugees wishing to cross from Turkey to Greece and into Europe will inevitably increase.

I believe the next meeting of the European Council must focus again on this issue. It is not easy to solve. When the tentative peace talks - which I hope work - get under way, I do not believe it will be easy to bring a conclusion to them and bring about an arrangement. However, it has been shown from speaking to Syrian refugees that the majority of them would like to return to Syria if the current regime in Damascus was removed. Therein lies the problem.

This is an important topic and my question, No. 3, relates to it. However, as this is the last occasion we will have questions to the Taoiseach in this session, we should note that this Question Time demonstrates again how the Taoiseach has ensured over the past five years that it is months before our questions are answered. It is two and a half months since these questions were tabled. At the outset of this term of office the Taoiseach halved the number of question sessions and got rid of one day for raising questions. He also refuses to reschedule sessions he misses. He answers fewer questions than any Taoiseach before him and has answered fewer than any previous Taoiseach in this session.

Much more comprehensively, however.

That is a fitting testament to the Government's approach to the Dáil. There is a lot more talk, but a lot less consultation and accountability. I hope the failure to deliver on the promised democratic revolution will be a major issue in the weeks ahead.

In November, all parties joined together to express support for the French people and opposition to the groups involved in these atrocities. I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that these attacks were not just targeted at France but at all societies that oppose the extremist fundamentalism of ISIS. There can be no equivocation on this. There is no "on the one hand" and "on the other hand". This is pure evil and we must be united in confronting it. In his presentation today and in others, Deputy O'Brien gave the sense that American or western interference is somehow a factor to blame for Daesh's attacks, but that is unacceptable.

It is not true. There are more fundamental reasons Daesh and ISIL have come to the fore. It is not because of western interference. Nothing justifies the nihilism or fundamental callousness involved in these attacks on ordinary citizens in democracies across the world. Even in states that are not democracies, innocent civilians are being targeted and murdered and armchair generals are organising young people, infiltrating groups and bringing them over and influencing them to commit jihad and appalling suicidal acts against innocent civilians. I do not buy the "on the one hand or the other hand" argument. A vacuum was created in Iraq and in Syria and through that vacuum, ISIS has emerged. However, that does not justify what ISIS is doing.

I would be strongly supportive of and sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and do not agree with Israel's approach, but I draw a line at trying to say that conflict is somehow related to how ISIS behaves. There is no connection or relationship between them. ISIS is a fundamentalism that needs to be taken on. There is no logic or rationale to it other than to kill and maim people left, right and centre across the globe. A dangerous equivocation arises here, however.

That happens if, somewhat simplistically, the West is blamed for actions such as this. I understand there have been mistakes in foreign policy but, equally, there have been great successes. President Obama's initiative in his breakthrough with Iran, for example, is a very fundamental shift and it deserves to be lauded as a potential game changer. It has its critics but it was done with the European Union and other interested parties. Those talks on the nuclear issue and Iran went on for years and this has the potential to change the world order for the better. When ISIS or similar groups go to France or elsewhere, we rely on other democracies that share common values to pool intelligence and information to enable us to combat this. This is an evil and fundamentalism of a kind that must be attacked. We give groups succour when we talk "on the one hand but on the other hand". We need a comprehensive approach and we must be very clear in this House about that.

The Taoiseach referred to peace negotiations but the big issue in such talks remains the attempt to exclude the moderate opposition and Kurdish groups from the discussion. Will the Taoiseach assure us that in the European Union discussion this month, Ireland will speak up for the right of the moderate opposition in Syria and Kurdish groups to participate in these negotiations? The degree to which other countries have been attempting to undermine legitimate Kurdish aspirations is unacceptable, even as it goes to the extent of blunting the attack on ISIS in order to allow narrow interests come to the fore.

The most urgent issue of all remains helping refugees from this conflict. Current reports are that the humanitarian crisis is getting worse, with international aid clearly insufficient for the scale of the crisis. Essentially, this is the greatest humanitarian crisis of the 21st century and, at a minimum, we should be demanding at EU level that all refugees should have access to basic humanitarian conditions. I have raised the point with the Taoiseach before. The existing camps in Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere are a factor in the migratory pull to Europe because they are not providing the very basics in terms of education, quality of life, work pathways and some sense of security or a context in which families can be raised with some degree of quality, involving education, access to health facilities and so on. When these are lacking, families will want to migrate and leave those camps. A major humanitarian effort is required by the European Union to support those camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and elsewhere and provide those required resources to enable people to sustain themselves with some degree of dignity and quality in those camps. That would do much to stem the tide of migration that is occurring and which will occur again if something fundamental does not happen with respect to the scale and nature of the humanitarian aid currently being made available globally.

The most fundamental point is of course that the conflict should be brought to some sort of conclusion, even a cessation of hostilities to enable life to be rebuilt in Syria and controlled by legitimate governments put in place to prevent the continuing exploitation by ISIS of the vacuum created in the current conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

I thank the Deputy. I made the point before and I know we argue about this structure for questions. I have said on many occasions that I would take a priority question every week-----

The Taoiseach never came up with a paper. He said he would bring a paper to me and Deputy Adams.

I said on many occasions that the leaders may have a priority question.

The Taoiseach never proposed anything.

They could choose whatever topic they wanted. When we come back-----

The Taoiseach talked his way through it for five years.

Maybe we can discuss that some other time.

If we come back, I will extend the same facility to the Deputies.

The Taoiseach is very confident.

One must have confidence but I take the Deputy's point. It is the will of the people.

I fully agree with the Deputy's point that there should be no equivocation with this kind of activity by these terrorist groups, which is utterly appalling. The Deputy made the point about the West being denigrated and run down and I share his view. When things get out of hand, people look to the West to be a saviour but there was a very difficult proposition in Iraq over many years and Afghanistan before that. I am glad that in respect of the discussions that took place with Iran, for example, on its acquiring nuclear capacity, sanctions have now been lifted. The Ceann Comhairle is in the Chair and he visited the Iranian people and their parliament. He brought over the speaker. One can see the consequences of sanctions being lifted in the airline business, for example, and so many others are now moving in-----

The Taoiseach closed the Irish Embassy in Iran. That was a bad mistake.

I was just coming to that. I have spoken to Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about this now that sanctions have been lifted and the Ceann Comhairle has formally written to me about it.

It had nothing to do with sanctions.

This is an embassy that should be reopened. There is an opportunity to do that now.

I refused the option to close it when it was presented to me.

There are the areas of engineering, airlines, air leasing and food etc. that present real opportunities. I hope they can be followed through.

I will be happy to make the point at the European Council meeting for the inclusion of the moderate opposition and the Kurdish groups. We are only a small country but when we had the issue of 30 years of terrorism on this island, it was important to have everybody included in the discussions so as to have their voice heard. The Good Friday Agreement and the following agreements mean we are still in a position to maintain a peace, although it requires vigilance. It is a point I am happy to make.

With regard to the humanitarian position, we cannot have starvation sieges like we have seen in Madaya; it is absolutely barbaric in this day and age that a situation would apply where deliberate starvation has occurred. The Deputy knows it is prohibited by the Geneva Convention and all international law. In 2015 and 2016, to have aid agencies visiting this location and finding people starving is reminiscent of what happened in Poland and other places during World War II. We have supported very strongly a referral by the UN Security Council of the case in Syria to the International Criminal Court. It is appalling and there is a need for accountability for the multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the conflict.

Deputy O'Brien mentioned the attack in Istanbul and it must be condemned out of hand. These attacks represent an attack on everybody's humanity and the liberty and value that a free society presents. The crimes of mass murder, sexual slavery and ethnic cleansing must be confronted and defeated; there can be no equivocation about that. There is no disagreement on that. This country has articulated very strongly our support for international law. Daesh's systematic crimes against the rights and existence of ethnic, religious, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and intersex minorities, as well as women and children across the Middle East, must be prevented by all legal means possible. The barbaric actions of these people are an absolute affront to everybody's common humanity.

The Deputy is aware that air strikes have been conducted against Daesh in Iraq and Syria for some time and it is for the individual states to determine how they can best contribute to the concerted international effort under way to tackle the threat posed by Daesh and other UN-designated terrorist groups, of which there are many.

Clearly, France took its own action against acts of terrorism directed against its citizens.

The Security Council clarified the legal grounds for addressing the threat of terrorism in Syria and Iraq. UN Security Council resolution 2249 grants authority for all states to take necessary action or measures to suppress and eradicate terrorist acts by Daesh and the al-Nusra Front, which is an al-Qaeda affiliate in territory under Daesh control within Syria and Iraq, and to eradicate the safe havens that they appear to have established there. Any action taken under this resolution therefore has to be in compliance with international law and the UN Charter, including human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.

Having welcomed the discussions that are now starting in Geneva, we can issue a call from here that all of these groups would participate fully in the work to provide a basis by which discussions might start towards bringing an end to this conflict. Despite the exceptional polarity of opinion, if everybody was to focus on people being slaughtered, murdered and forced out of their homeland, there may be an element of agreement at the end of it.

At the end of 2015, Ireland's support for the Syrian people reached over €42 million, which is the largest response to any crisis in recent years. It is channelled through the UN, Red Cross and NGOs to be spent on food aid, water, sanitation, shelter, education and protection, including child protection and the prevention of gender-based violence. That underlines the humanitarian commitment that this country has always shown over the years. It includes support for the protection of Syrian refugees in Iraq with a focus on gender-based violence being an issue there.

Ireland's engagement with the global response to counter Daesh is a co-ordinated one from the international community. An effective response requires the root causes and contributory factors to be addressed, promotes a counter argument, prevents radicalisation, deters and disrupts terrorist travel, addresses terrorist financing, and brings perpetrators to justice. Our obligations flow from UN Security Council resolutions, such as UNSCR 2161 on freezing the funds and assets of terrorist groupings, and UNSCR 2178 on measures to suppress recruiting, organising, transporting or equipping individuals who travel to one state in order to perpetrate, plan or participate in terrorist activities.

The global coalition set up in September 2014 is a mechanism for co-ordinating all of that international partnership in what is called "lines of effort". Other neutral countries, like Austria, Finland and Sweden, participate in activities that are co-ordinated by the coalition. There are no obligations arising from our participation in the global coalition which involves sharing information and views.

Ireland is not, and will not be, participating in any international military action to combat Daesh. Our primary focus is on the political and humanitarian process. As everybody is aware, this is an appalling tragedy and it will not be easy to figure out where the conclusion lies.

The Deputy mentioned camps in Turkey and Jordan. From speaking to people there, I know a great deal of money is being spent on facilities for children, education and maternity services. Thousands of expectant mothers have given birth in these camps in Jordan and other locations. Apparently, despite the fact that they are camps, a great deal of expenditure is going there to help alleviate the difficulties that people have.

Deputy Martin mentioned the migratory pull towards Europe, which is true. However, it is also a fact that people who went into the camps in Jordan and Turkey in the first instance have now been there for some time. They have seen others making their way to Germany, Austria and Sweden with a perception that there is a better standard of living and better facilities available to them. That applies pressure on those left behind who now say they want to leave as well. That issue has arisen because of that factor.

As regards participating in these measures at the European Council, I confirm that I will be happy to articulate these views on behalf of our country.

The monstrous atrocities in Paris at the end of 2015 revolted the vast majority of humanity, including people in the Muslem world. It is vital to understand that, given that the perpetrators claim to act in the name of Allah, the god of those who believe in Islam. Does the Taoiseach agree, nevertheless, that one has to put the horror now unfolding in the Middle East, and all the consequences that follow around the world, in the context of the legacy of intervention in the Middle East by major imperial powers, from both east and west, historically over centuries? They jockeyed for power and stole resources from people in the region.

Would the Taoiseach also agree that one must factor in more recent interventions in the past 20 years, particularly by western powers, and now Russia as well? I am speaking in particular about the criminal invasion of Iraq, as a major factor that has unleashed forces that are wreaking havoc, particularly on ordinary, poor, working people in the Middle East, including Iraq, Syria and other areas.

The Fianna Fáil leader has a brass neck to lecture some of us here, as if we were putting forward some kind of justification for the atrocities in Paris, because we seek to explain what creates such politically crazed individuals who can carry out atrocities like that. The leader of Fianna Fáil himself carries responsibility by virtue of his presence in the Government of Mr. Bertie Ahern who, in 2003, supported the invasion of Iraq. On many occasions in this House, he gave credence to the lies that were being put abroad internationally about weapons of mass destruction. He then gave logistical support to that criminal invasion by the US army by virtue of allowing it to use Shannon Airport. He therefore carries some responsibility for this horror.

Would the Taoiseach agree that these disastrous interventions have created the basis for the reactionary forces of ISIS? The unfortunate situation is that a medievalist and barbaric world view can get an echo among a people seriously alienated by the actions of western powers, as well as Russia. When an atrocity like that in Paris occurs, it is world news.

It is massively denounced but is the Taoiseach aware that, on a weekly basis, innocent men, women and children are being killed by drones sent in by the US and other powers and are unmourned and unreported and that this creates a basis of support for some of the forces at play?

Closer to home, is it not a real condemnation of the EU that the mass unemployment of 25 million or 26 million people that has been endemic for many years and the marginalisation and alienation this creates in communities in major cities such as Brussels, Paris and elsewhere throws up people who can carry out such horrific attacks as were perpetrated during the Paris massacre? Those to whom I refer are so embittered and alienated that they look to reactionary forces such as ISIS as some way to lash back not just at intervention in the Middle East but also at what their own governments are imposing on society, particularly in recent years, in the context of mass austerity.

Does the Taoiseach agree that the lesson is that interference in the Middle East should cease forthwith? Does he agree that Russia, the US, Great Britain and the rest should get out and allow the people of the Middle East to deal with kleptocrats within their societies who have seized power and who routinely steal from their people by means of their corrupt regimes? This would be done on the basis of the people being empowered to take ownership of their wealth, rather than it going to multinational oil companies, and to use their countries' fabulous resources to create prosperity for themselves. Is this not really the basis on which peace can be created, namely, by developing a society in which there is no poverty, hunger or oppression and, very importantly, where there is political and religious freedom? That is the basis on which this horror can be resolved. Unfortunately, Western powers have nothing to contribute. In fact, they have contributed to the existing horror and will continue to do so if they proceed to intervene and interfere in the way they have done to date.

Deputy Higgins has delivered a history lecture. Obviously, the process of colonisation over many hundreds of years has led to bloody warfare and inter-country and inter-tribal wars on so many occasions. History speaks for itself. The Deputy will recall the discussions that took place in 1938 about the protection of the Jewish people and that all the countries in Europe represented at Évian said that this should happen and spoke about what they were prepared to do. When Hitler invaded the Sudetenland in 1939, 160,000 to 200,000 people were displaced. During the Holocaust commemorative ceremony at the Mansion House last week, which was attended by the Ceann Comhairle, one of the graphic pictures depicted the MS St. Louis, a transport ship that left for the US with 900 passengers who were eventually refused entry to that country and had to return to Europe. Another ship went to Turkey with 700 people, most of whom drowned. History repeats itself in so many ways.

We cannot go back. We must deal with the situation as it obtains and it is exceptionally difficult, be it from an historical, a tribal or a religious point of view. I recall the comments of Hans Blix who said that if he had another three or four months and was allowed to finish his report, he could prove that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That did not happen. The Deputy rightly points out what he calls politically crazed individuals. How does this happen? If young people, in particular, are left to fester in ghettoes or enclaves, they will not emerge from them as model citizens after 20 years. It does not work that way with human nature and pressure, resentment, frustration and anger can lead to all kinds of difficulties, including violence or terrorist activities such as those we have witnessed on the Continent in recent times. This issue is difficult to resolve in terms of integration and the opportunities or capacity to integrate people properly that should exist. Clearly, it is a lesson that has been learned to a great extent in terms of a missed opportunity to at least attempt to bring new citizenship with the mainstream and not have this situation arise.

We will not see the pullout of the different countries and powers to which the Deputy referred. International politics, diplomacy and interests will not shift just like that. People are being bombed, murdered, mutilated and beheaded and others are migrating in huge numbers to the European mainland in order to get away from what is happening in Syria. They are coming up to Libya from the Horn of Africa, Eritrea, Mali and other places in huge numbers and seeking the opportunity to come to Europe.

The Deputy is a good historian. The lessons of history are never learned easily and it requires strong leadership and the capacity to bring very polarised people together with a common interest. Unfortunately, it will not happen that easily. We can point to our own troubled history as a model of what must apply in order to bring people together. When George Mitchell was sent here by former US President Bill Clinton, who would have thought that an agreement would be reached that would still be in place almost 30 years later? There is no point in saying that it cannot be done, cannot be faced into or that an outcome cannot be arrived at. Of course, all of this can happen. What does anybody want to do at the end of day except have the opportunity to live in peace? Those men, women and children we see on television screens every day and night of the week have the same aspirations and as a result of the situation that obtain in their home countries, they give up everything and move to places that are safer for them and their children. If international diplomacy and politics and the UN are to mean anything, then the latter must use all its resources and facilities to bring about a better situation for the millions of people involved. Unfortunately, crises move from place to place, from year to year and from period to period. Each one requires enormous resolve from so many international countries. We no longer hear about the Crimea, eastern Ukraine and other areas where there is serious pressure. However, when successive human catastrophes occur, matters come into sharp focus in the context of the global situation. This is the case with regard to the difficulties in Syria and surrounding countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Those difficulties have consequences for international politics. Obviously, the money spent on all the conflicts in question would in most cases be sufficient to repair the infrastructures of the countries involved. However, that does not reflect the reality. We must focus on what is possible. If the lessons of history can teach us what went wrong, they can also teach us how to go about getting it right.

School Enrolments

Micheál Martin

Question:

7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if the end to baptism barriers for school entry was discussed when he last met church leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43468/15]

Gerry Adams

Question:

8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with church leaders and others regarding the practice of parents having to get their children baptised in order to gain entry to the school of their choice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3918/16]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together.

Like public representatives generally, I often meet religious and non-religious leaders informally in the course of attending official and public events. In addition, I meet representatives of religious and other philosophical bodies through a formal structured dialogue process which provides a channel for consultation and communication between the State and such bodies on matters of mutual concern. These meetings may be sought by either side on the basis of a proposed agenda, agreed in advance of the meeting. The arrangements for such meetings are made by my Department. The process does not of course displace arrangements for the conduct of policy and administration by Departments and agencies in their functional responsibilities.

I have reported to the House on all the meetings I have held under the structured dialogue process in replies to parliamentary questions on 16 April and 10 December 2013, 1 July 2014 and 20 January and 30 June 2015.

Education was an agenda item when I met representatives of the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland in January and April 2013, respectively, but the issue of baptism and admission policies was not discussed. When I met representatives of the Jewish community in June 2015, access to education was discussed and, in particular, problems being experienced by members of the Jewish community in accessing education for their children, particularly at primary school level. While not categorised as meetings with church leaders, access to education was also discussed when I met representatives of the Humanist Association of Ireland in January 2015 and of Atheist Ireland in February 2015 under the structured dialogue process.

The Minister for Education and Skills accompanied me to the meetings with representatives from the Jewish community, the Humanist Association of Ireland and Atheist Ireland and led the discussions about education with them.

While this is primarily a matter for the Minister to address, I can confirm that on each occasion she referred to existing equality legislation which permits the protection of the "religious ethos" of a school, if it is oversubscribed. This allows schools, where the objective is to provide education in an environment that promotes certain religious values, to require the production of a baptismal certificate to secure enrolment. She also referred to the introduction of the education (admissions to schools) Bill, which aims to provide an over-arching framework for admissions policy in a manner which is fairer and more structured and transparent.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. He is very fond of talking about some anniversaries. As he is aware, it will soon be five years since the first Minister for Education and Skills in this Government announced that 50% of schools would change patronage in 2012. That is another example of a government that has rushed out with announcements irrespective of what was prepared or agreed. The Government decided to take a confrontational approach to this issue and, as a result, progress has been set back by years. We went from a position where the largest diocese in the country was prepared to transfer half of its schools to other patrons to one where only a handful have been transferred. A great deal of time and effort have been wasted on a pointless conflict. I have no doubt that we can agree a means of respect for diversity in our schools and that we can get all patrons to sign up to this but we need a formal end to the policy of pandering to some imagined gallery with empty tough talk about existing patrons. The initiative of the former Minister, Deputy Quinn, initiative got nowhere.

I am surprised that the Taoiseach did not discuss the baptism issue with the churches, in particular the Catholic Church, because outside Dublin most schools are aghast at the idea that baptism would be used as a barrier to enrolment. It should be a commonly agreed principle that baptism would not be used as a basis for denying someone admission to the local school. I have been in many Catholic and Church of Ireland schools where people of many faiths and none attend. It is not beyond the Minister or the Government to ensure that principle is applied, that baptism is not a barrier to enrolment because that would offend anyone’s sense of basic decency and common sense or the sense of inclusivity in a parish or community. All those living adjacent to or near a school should have access to that school.

I note that the Taoiseach referred to the education (admissions to schools) Bill. That will not be brought forward before the Dáil dissolves. I am not sure if it is the intention of the parties that make up the current Government to continue to champion that Bill, which was not the correct response to the issue.

I concur with everything Deputy Martin has said about this. We cannot have a situation where somebody who lives adjacent to a school cannot get into that school because he or she is not of a particular religious ethos. It is not acceptable in this day and age. The Government is forcing parents to either move to a school 6 km or 7 km away in some cases, or to get their child baptised. No modern society should treat education in that way. The Minister has talked about this. All the Opposition parties have produced legislation to abolish the section in the Act. The Government said it would deal with it under the education (admissions to schools) Bill, which was not even published. This must be addressed today.

An dtuigeann an Taoiseach go bhfuil fadhb mhór annso agus an dtuigeann sé go bhfuil an-mhíshástacht i measc an-chuid daoine maidir leis an smacht atá fós ag na heaglaisí i gcúrsaí oideachais agus ins na scoileanna? An dtuigeann sé go bhfuil an-chuid gnáthdhaoine nach féidir leo leanaí a chur chuig scoil gan a bheith páirteach i gcúrsaí reiligiúin ins an scoil agus go bhfuil sé sin ag cur as d'an-chuid daoine? Dá bhrí sin, cad é polasaí an Taoisigh dáiríre maidir leis an bhfadhb seo?

An bhfuil sé i bhfábhar chóras oideachais nach bhfuil faoi smacht aon reiligiúin agus scoileanna nach bhfuil faoi smacht aon reiligiúin ach atá oscailte, atá á rith go daonlathach, gur féidir le gach leanbh dul ann, is cuma má tá creideamh acu nó nach bhfuil, le oideachas a fháil? Ansan, má theastaíonn ó na tuismitheoirí gur féidir reiligiúin a mhúineadh do na leanaí, d'fhéadfaí é sin a dhéanamh sa scoil fhéinig ar leataobh ach gan go mbeadh sé riachtanach do na leanaí teacht isteach ins an scoil ar an gcéad lá.

Tá a fhios ag an Teachta go bhfuil níos mó ná 3,000 scoil ar fud na tíre agus gur leis an Eaglais Chaitliceach an chuid is mó dóibh siúd. Is é an tArdeaspag Ó Máirtín féin a dúirt liom go raibh an iomarca scoileanna ag an Eaglais agus gur mhiste leis go mbeadh cuid acu siúd curtha amach i dtreo is go mbeadh daoine in ann oibriú leo gan creideamh faoi leith a bheith á múineadh sa scoil sin, ach ag an am céanna go mbeadh sé láncheart go mbeadh scoileanna faoi leith ag an Eaglais Chaitliceach ina mbeadh an chreideamh sin á mhúineadh do na daltaí.

In response to the question on baptismal certificates, it is the responsibility of the managerial authority of all schools to ensure that their premises are run in accordance with the Education Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000. Parents can choose which school to send their children to and where the school has available places, the pupils should be admitted. Where there are more applicants than places available, a selection process may be necessary. That selection process, and the enrolment policy on which it is based, have to be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants. This may result in some pupils not achieving a place.

I agree with the Deputies that a baptismal certificate should not be the criterion, but Catholic schools accommodate all applications, regardless of religion or none, when there is room available to do so.

This is about common sense. The phenomenon of pupils being unable to secure a place of their choice occurs only where there is an oversubscription to a particular school. Baptismal certificates may be used by Catholic and Protestant patrons in these circumstances to demonstrate denomination so that oversubscribed schools with a particular religious ethos can offer places to pupils within the denomination.

Everybody is aware of the Educate Together movement which obviously provides an opportunity for many of the parents, who have an issue here, to send their children to school. From an historical point of view, if there are three or four Catholic schools in a location, it is difficult to get parents or boards of management to agree that a particular school should be divested to any other patronage. That is an issue that always requires some sensitive discussions. The vast majority of schools that are Catholic do not discriminate in the sense of the religious ethos of any pupils who might go there except where there is overcrowding and they have to make a choice.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.