The next Member present, for Question No. 7, is Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan.
7. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the timeframe for making progress on unresolved issues regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; if he will request his British counterparts to release all outstanding documents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11897/16]
I welcome Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan back to the House. I had been looking over towards her more familiar spot opposite me but I welcome her to the upper reaches of the benches.
Dealing with the legacy issues of the past relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland and the Dublin-Monaghan bombings is a major priority for me as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and for the Government. Moreover, this commitment also is reflected in the new programme for Government. Members will be aware that yesterday, this House debated and adopted an all-party motion, supported by the Government, on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. This motion recalls the two previous all-party motions of 2008 and 2011, which call on the British Government to allow access by an independent international judicial figure to all original documents in their possession relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. Yesterday’s debate and all-party motion are important in reaffirming the shared will and determination of the Thirty-second Dáil to secure progress on the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. The motion renews the mandate to the Government to actively pursue with the British Government the implementation of the 2008 and 2011 all-party motions. The Government is committed to actively engaging in this regard.
As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I have previously discussed the implementation of the all-party motions with the British Government on a number of occasions, including most recently on 9 May with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I have made clear to the Secretary of State that there is a pressing need to provide answers to the families of the victims. The Taoiseach has raised this issue with Prime Minister Cameron while emphasising the Government’s continued support for the Dáil motions. Despite our urging, the British Government is still considering how to respond to the previous Dáil motions. I will, however, continue to raise this issue with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in our forthcoming meetings when I will also bring to her attention the latest all-party motion passed yesterday in the Dáil.
I thank the Minister and wish both Ministers well in their new roles in this Dáil. The Minister, Deputy Flanagan, and I had a similar exchange on this matter in February 2015 and he said then, as he has just said now, that he has raised the issue with the Secretary of State. The Minister's reply then was "she would consider afresh how the British Government can respond to the Dáil motions". Members are now into their third motion, with the first passed in 2008, the second in 2011 and the third in 2016. My question is: how long does it take to consider something? Theresa Villiers has now taken more than a year on this matter. Members are aware that the Taoiseach has raised repeatedly this question with David Cameron and I will cite a recent article in which he stated this must be "adequately addressed if we are to achieve a genuinely reconciled society". It is the height of disrespect on the part of the British Prime Minister to treat the Irish Prime Minister in such a way, that is, in spite of the Taoiseach repeatedly raising this matter, no progress is being made. Members are aware of this and are aware that through the Justice for the Forgotten group, the families have been waiting for more than 40 years for these answers.
I assure the Deputy this issue will continue to be a priority in my deliberations with the Secretary of State and the British Government. I also am aware of the Taoiseach's positive and constructive engagement in this regard. Last week on 17 May, the forty-second anniversary of the bombings, I represented the Government at the commemoration ceremony and stood in solidarity with the families of victims and survivors of the atrocity in the constituency represented by Deputy O'Sullivan. Decades-old cases, such as the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, must be adequately addressed if we are to achieve a genuinely reconciled society.
Successive Irish Governments, in our ongoing bilateral relations with the UK and through the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, have consistently raised with the British Government the obligation to ensure effective investigations of such cases, including in instances of alleged collusion.
Many families continue to deal not only with the awful pain of losing a loved one, but also with the struggle for answers decades after these traumatic events.
Following the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland and the formation of the Executive yesterday, I wish to assure the Deputy and the House that I will continue to renew a positive and vociferous round of engagements on this issue.
We have had two recent examples. First, the way in which the people of the Bogside in Derry coped with the apology from David Cameron. Second, a couple of weeks ago, we saw the joy, albeit mixed with sadness, of the families of victims of the Hillsborough tragedy because they were able to get to the truth of what had happened.
The Justice for the Forgotten group and the families of those killed and injured in the Dublin-Monaghan bombings are still waiting. The onus is on the Government to push this further. I do not know what the British Government is afraid of, but obviously they are afraid of the truth. This country has been reaching out. We have had the Queen's visit and the current visit of other members of the British royal family. It beholds the British Government to treat us with the same respect that we are showing to those members of the royal family.
The Minister is doing more to support the families concerned by highlighting this issue than has been done by previous Governments since 2008. If there is no specific timeframe from the British authorities as to when all the documents will be released, the Government should be prepared to take the matter further.
I remind the House that addressing the needs of victims and survivors is at the core of the Government's approach to dealing with the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. Indeed, this is reflected in the recently agreed programme for Government, as published. We will continue to work to build on the progress made in the all-party talks last autumn, to see the establishment of a new institutional framework on the past, as agreed under the Stormont House agreement.
Following the formation of the Northern Ireland Executive, I hope that new and positive ways can be found to establish the legacy bodies in the near future. I will continue to prioritise these issues and actively engage with the new Northern Ireland Executive and the Secretary of State.
I wish to assure the Deputy that at the earliest opportunity - at my next meeting in the coming few weeks - I will again stress the importance of movement on this issue as being a priority for our Government. In the context of yesterday's all-party motion, I believe that will strengthen my hand and that of the Government in dealing with this issue. I undertake to report back to the Deputy and the House at the earliest opportunity.
Irish Prisoners Abroad
8. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures he is taking to secure the release of a person (details supplied) from detention in Egypt; the reason for the delay in the person's release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11902/16]
13. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his efforts to secure the release of a person (details supplied) detained in Egypt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11915/16]
24. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made by the Government to secure the release of an Irish citizen (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11903/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 13 and 24 together.
This case remains a high priority for the Government and my Department. We are continuing to pursue every constructive avenue to secure the release of this citizen and we will continue to bring all of our influence to bear on his behalf through all appropriate channels.
All of the sustained and focused actions that have been taken by the Taoiseach, myself and other Ministers, as well as by my Department and our embassy in Cairo, are in pursuit of the Government’s clear strategy in this case, which is focused on two key objectives: first, to see this citizen freed by the Egyptian authorities so that he can return to his family and his studies in Ireland as soon as possible; and second, to provide every possible consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention.
The Egyptian Government is fully aware of the priority the Irish Government attaches to the welfare and interests of our citizen. There has been sustained engagement at all levels with the authorities in Egypt. I have been in regular contact with my Egyptian counterpart, Minister Shoukry, and the Taoiseach has twice met President el-Sisi, making clear the Irish Government’s concerns and objectives in this case.
In addition to this dialogue with the Egyptian authorities, the Government has also been engaging on an ongoing basis with European and international partners who have had citizens detained in Egypt in similar circumstances, and with the European Union.
Irish Government representatives have worked with this citizen’s legal team in Egypt and supported petitions to the court when asked to do so, including providing formal Government support for an application under Decree 140 and an application for his release on bail. Representatives of the embassy have attended each of the court hearings to date and will be present at the next scheduled hearing on 29 June. Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin also remain in regular contact with his family and Irish-based lawyers.
Significant resources continue to be deployed by my Department, both in Cairo and in Dublin, in the provision of comprehensive consular assistance to the detained citizen and his family. The Department has arranged frequent consular visits to this individual in prison since his arrest, the most recent of which was on 17 April. Another visit will be arranged in the coming weeks. These visits also allow regular contact with the prison authorities who are aware of the Irish Government’s strong and sustained interest in the welfare of this citizen.
Given that the trial is ongoing, the Government must at all times remain measured and responsible in its public comment. This is entirely consistent with our approach in other consular cases, with our clear objectives in this case, and with what we firmly believe will offer the best prospect for a positive outcome for this young man.
As the Minister knows, Mr. Halawa has been in prison for the last 1,000 days, which is over three years, without trial. His continuing mistreatment is completely unacceptable and is causing his family untold stress. While there are probably moves going on in the background by the Government to try to get Mr. Halawa released, at this stage the Taoiseach needs to intervene and talk to his counterparts in Egypt. It is not acceptable that after 1,000 days Mr. Halawa is still locked up without trial. Basically, he has been interned. We should do all we can to get this innocent man freed. It is like the Irish people who were locked up in Britain - they committed no crime. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hopefully, Mr. Halawa can be out very soon.
The Minister has given a detailed answer to this question. I met Mr. Halawa's sister, Somaia, yesterday. I know that the Minister is aware of the family's deep concerns for Ibrahim Halawa. The forthcoming court case on 29 June is effectively a sentencing hearing, not a trial. The one faint hope is that, more than likely, there will not be any further postponements. Does the Minister have any update on that through the embassy? Is he hoping that this will be the final date? We have had 13 postponements up to now, which has prolonged Mr. Halawa's incarceration without trial. Perhaps the Minister can comment on that aspect of it.
I wish to assure both Deputies that we will continue to use all our influence in this matter in order to secure the objective, which is the release of the individual in question. I am pleased to note that is the considered view of everybody in this House. It is important that we all work together on this issue.
I acknowledge that there have been many different views and suggestions for action on this case. We will keep all possibilities for action under constant legal review. In this regard, Deputy Darragh O'Brien mentioned 29 June as the date of the next hearing. I wish to assure the House that embassy officials will be in attendance, as they have been at each and every hearing.
At the last hearing in March there was a clear indication by the court clerk that the next hearing, on 29 June, would be the final one and that the court would give its verdict on that date. Given the specific nature of the Egyptian system, I would caution against any undue expectations in this regard. However, I wish to assure the House that once these proceedings have been concluded, the Government stands ready to take all appropriate action, at the political and diplomatic levels, in order to secure a resolution to this case.
Deputy Paul Murphy was not in the House and asked that Deputy Mick Barry take Question No. 6 on his behalf. Is that agreed?
Which question is that?
Question No. 6. Is that agreed?
Are we going back to Question No. 6?
Question No. 6. It relates to human rights defenders. Is that agreed? Agreed.
6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will recognise a person (details supplied) as a human rights defender and the measures he will take to ensure the person's safety and ability in going about lawful activities. [11948/16]
There is no procedure by which the Government confers recognition on persons as human rights defenders but protection of human rights defenders is a critical element of the protection of human rights anywhere. Rights and protections do not effectively exist if they cannot be invoked and defended on the ground.
The person in question is a leading advocate of the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, against Israel, which is intended to pressure Israel into ending the occupation. While the Government does not itself support such a policy, it is a legitimate political viewpoint, albeit one regarded in Israel as deeply hostile.
I do not agree with attempts to demonise those who advocate this policy or to equate them with violent terrorists. I am not aware of any credible allegation that the individual in question has had any involvement in violence.
In this case, the outcome of this review of the subject's residency is not yet known, nor is it known whether it would withstand subsequent legal challenge. The non-renewal of the travel document seems to be pending the outcome of this review. The person has not asked for assistance from our embassy. Nonetheless, the EU delegation in Israel has asked for clarification of his position and we will follow all developments in the case.
More broadly, the issue of revocation of residence is one we have raised before with the Israeli authorities. I am deeply concerned about wider attempts to pressure NGOs and human rights defenders through legislation and other means to hinder their important work. We have raised this both at EU level and directly with the Israeli authorities.
It is, unfortunately, impossible to monitor and act on every case and Ireland's limited resources in the area are principally devoted to generic issues rather than individual cases. However, we seek also to promote action on individual cases through the EU delegation and the group of EU missions, avoiding duplication of effort, and by our support of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs active on justice and human rights issues.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I would point out that in the case of Omar Barghouti, it is not merely a case of his travel documents not being renewed. His residency status is under review by the attorney general. There is a climate or an atmosphere that is very concerning in respect of the health and safety of this man and others who share his views. On 28 March 2016, an anti-BDS conference was held in Jerusalem at which a number of Israeli Government Ministers spoke, including Yisrael Katz, Minister of Transportation and Road Safety and Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, who called on Israel to engage in targeted civil eliminations of BDS leaders. This is a phrase well known in Israel as code for targeted assassinations. Is the Minister prepared to go so far as to say that the Government recognises and accepts that Omar Barghouti is a human rights defender?
I ask the Deputy and other Members to recognise that there is a difficulty regarding this matter in so far as there is no definition of the term "human rights defender". I note that this individual's case is one that has been raised by Front Line Defenders, which is a highly respected NGO with which my Department works closely and whose bona fides I fully accept. As I outlined in my reply, my Department will monitor the ongoing developments in this case in conjunction with the EU delegation and as part of our broader engagement in support of the role of human rights defenders and the protection of civil society space.
I listened carefully and I hear what the Minister is saying. I will frame the question in the following way. Omar Barghouti is recognised as a human rights defender by Amnesty International. Is the Minister prepared to say that this is something that the Government notes and gives serious and due consideration and weight to?
The Government has noted the Deputy's comments and the comments of international organisations in that regard but I remind the Deputy and the House that this case has only just emerged with the non-renewal of the travel documents of the person. This is the beginning of the review status and not the end. He will have legal opportunities to challenge any change in status.
More importantly, it is a key principle that intervention in the case of human rights defenders should be undertaken with their agreement or that of their representatives as outside intervention at an early stage is often counterproductive. Where the person continues to be at liberty and is able to communicate, we normally act at their request but we want to avoid duplication of effort in that regard. In this case, I advise the Deputy that the EU mission has inquired as to the facts of the case. That is the appropriate starting point and I would be happy to communicate with the Deputy at any stage to ensure the full process of information is fully and adequately considered in the circumstances.
Undocumented Irish in the USA
10. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he plans discussions with the authorities in the United States of America given the ongoing concerns at the difficulties the undocumented Irish face and the concerns of their families at home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11904/16]
Achieving relief for undocumented Irish migrants in the US and agreement on a facility for future legal migration between Ireland and the US remains a priority for the new Government. Our embassy in Washington and consulates elsewhere in the US are active in advocating immigration reform and the issue is also regularly addressed in high-level political contacts between Ireland and the US Government.
While in Washington for St. Patrick's Day, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Ryan, Senator Charles Schumer and other key Congressional contacts from both sides of the aisle. During these meetings, they emphasised the plight of the undocumented Irish in the US and encouraged both Houses of Congress to work on a bipartisan basis towards a comprehensive package of immigration reform measures.
In his speech at the House Speaker's lunch at Capitol Hill, the Taoiseach addressed the issues of immigration reform and urged Republicans and Democrats to work together to address the concerns of the undocumented Irish in the US. The Taoiseach also spoke of the need for improved legal migration channels for those Irish people who wish to live, work and develop their skills in the US for a time and emphasised the exceptional contribution made by Irish people to American society over the course of centuries of shared history.
Our embassy in Washington continues to closely monitor the progress of the judicial case on President Obama's executive actions on immigration reform. This case, which was brought by a coalition of US states seeking an injunction against the executive action, has now reached the US Supreme Court and it is expected that the court will declare its decision next month. If the appeal succeeds and the measure is implemented, the executive action could benefit a significant number of our citizens by lifting the threat of deportation and allowing those undocumented immigrants who have been in the US for more than five years and who have children who are US citizens or legal permanent residents to work and travel more freely within the United States.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House.
The new Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our embassy in Washington will continue to actively pursue all opportunities to advance immigration reform that would be of benefit to our citizens with the US Administration, both sides of the aisle in Congress and the US Embassy in Ireland.
Keeping the issue of the undocumented Irish at the top of the agenda is a priority for me and my party. Vice President Biden will be visiting this country shortly and every opportunity should be taken to raise the plight of the undocumented Irish, which is put at 50,000, although I think the number is significantly higher. We are all aware of what living undocumented means for a person and their family in terms of the restriction of travel and the unlawful presence bars introduced by US. A person who is regarded as having overstayed and who has left the US can be barred from returning for a period of between three and ten years. These elements need to be worked on. I ask the Government to outline a programme with regarding to a schedule of meetings. The St. Patrick's Day meetings and St. Patrick's week are important but from feedback I have received in the past, such engagement needs to be a constant.
I ask the Minister to bear that in mind and to use the visit of Vice President Biden to raise this matter again.
I agree entirely that it is not good enough on the big days. There are lots of opportunities outside that. On Friday, I met Kevin Cullen from The Boston Globe. We have to look at a way of keeping up that engagement and keeping it consistent. There are many things outside our control such as the presidential election that is coming up. There is a loud debate on emigration, particularly on the Republican side, of which we are all aware. In the meantime, we can use our natural network with the United States and with people outside the Irish gene pool, such as Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced a Bill. We have advocates in people who are working in a very sensible way. While initially there was a wholehearted welcome of President Obama's executive action, there were weaknesses in it for many people. I am thinking of one man from my county who has no children so some people were left out.
This is something I will return to on a regular basis. It appears that the Obama plan is dead. Even if the federal courts rule on it shortly, it will still require legislation in Congress. There will be a presidential election in November and there will be a change of president at that stage. I ask the Department to look seriously at improving reciprocal arrangements for US citizens coming to Ireland. We may have to be selfish about this and not pool our Irish citizens in with other undocumented citizens from other nationalities. We should look at improving visa arrangements for US citizens coming and working in Ireland because there are difficulties there from time to time. We should look at a reciprocal arrangement and what we can give. We are a big trading partner of the US, but it works both ways. We are its tenth biggest trading partner in terms of Irish investment in the US so it is not us coming cap in hand. I ask the Minister to keep it on the agenda and look at improved reciprocal arrangements and a bilateral deal where possible.
It works between America and Australia with the E3 visa so it is a sensible suggestion. There are cases where American citizens are having challenges getting visas in this country. We have to be constructive and sensible about it. There are things we can do on this side of the pond; it is not just a one way street. I look forward to working with the Deputy on it. There are many people from different parties that have a very strong interest in this issue. It affects us all. There are people in other constituencies who have children in America who cannot come home and are worried about attending potential funerals or a wedding and they know they cannot be part of it. We all know the difficulty.
11. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for detailed information on the trade in goods and services between Ireland and Israel, including restrictions on such trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11901/16]
Trade in goods with Israel in 2015 amounted to €987 million, which consisted of exports of €871 million to Israel and imports of €117 million from Israel. I am rounding off these figures for the purpose of the reply. Trade in services, for which the most recent figures I have are for 2014, amounted to €649 million, of which Irish exports were €559 million and imports were €90 million. More detailed figures are available from the Central Statistics Office.
Restrictions on trade are decided at European Union level. There are no current restrictions on trade with Israel and no Irish Government has been in favour of such restrictions. Goods from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory are excluded from the normal favourable tariffs which apply to Israeli goods.
By any stretch of the imagination, Israel is not a normal state. Its very existence was born out of brutality and racism. As such, we should treat it as an abnormal state. People might be surprised by how much trade we do with Israel, particularly in the arms industry. Since 2005, Ireland has spent €15 million on military imports from Israel and has sold €6.5 million of military dual use hardware to the state of Israel since 2011. People might be surprised by that but what will shock them to their very being is that in 2014 in the war in Gaza, Israel murdered 1,700 civilians. Of those 1,700 civilians, 551 were children. How are we trading with a country like that?
The purchase of military equipment for the Defence Forces is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Defence. The normal criteria for such purposes include the effectiveness of the equipment for the protection of Irish troops and value for money. Of its nature, suitable military equipment is often only available from a small number of countries.
That concludes questions.
My question is next. Deputy Durkan broke two rules and let someone else in. He went back on Question No. 6 and let a different person take it, which we have not seen happen in the past five years. I am being denied my question.
I am told that Deputy Durkan sought the agreement of the House.
No one agreed.
We are moving on to Adjournment debates.
I should be allowed to reply.
Questions concluded at 4.45 p.m. I am governed by the rules of the House.
The rules of the House were broken to deny me speaking time. Will the Minister take my question?
Question Time is over; it concluded at 4.45 p.m. There is nothing I can do for the Deputy on this occasion.
So it is okay to break one rule and not break another one.
Deputy Durkan sought the agreement of the House and there were no objections.
He did not get it because nobody agreed. Nobody said they agreed.
Thank you, Deputy. We are moving on to Adjournment matters.
That is ridiculous.