Other Questions

Human Rights

Maureen O'Sullivan


26. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline his engagement with the authorities in Northern Ireland and Britain on the outstanding issues faced by prisoners in Maghaberry Prison, especially in view of the lack of progress on the agreements reached between the prisoners and the authorities. [30282/16]

Éamon Ó Cuív


44. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has had in the past six months with his British counterpart and the relevant Ministers in Northern Ireland on the treatment of segregated prisoners in Maghaberry Prison; the reason for the delay, in particular, in the process involving the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent in setting up a prison forum to deal with issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31633/16]

Clare Daly


50. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Minister for Justice on the failure of management in Maghaberry Prison to implement the stocktake agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30276/16]

Will the Minister outline the engagement he has had with the authorities in Northern Ireland and Britain on the outstanding issues faced by prisoners in Maghaberry Prison in view of the lack of progress on the agreements reached between the prisoners and the authorities?

My question is similar but posed more directly. Will the Minister deal with the failure of prison management to implement the stocktake agreement? Based on our visits to Maghaberry Prison, it is our collective understanding that is where the logjam is in dealing with the problems.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26, 44 and 50 together.

Maghaberry Prison was identified by the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland, Brendan McGuigan, in a November 2015 report as needing work to make the prison safer and to improve conditions for both prisoners and staff. Since publication of that report, Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland has continued with a programme of announced and low-impact visits to the prison which find the situation has stabilised and that some progress has been achieved. More work, of course, remains to be done.

Prison conditions in Northern Ireland, including for those in the separated regime in Maghaberry, were part of my regular dialogue with the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers, and with the former Minister for Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive, David Ford. I have made my strong concerns known to them. I will continue to raise these issues when I meet with the Minister for Justice, Claire Sugden, and with Secretary of State, James Brokenshire.

In addition, my officials engage on a regular and ongoing basis with a range of interlocutors across the devolved and non-devolved authorities, members of the Stocktake group, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, ICRC, and others to discuss, explore and encourage progress.

The difficulties in establishing the prison forum, which is disappointing, have featured in these discussions. I continue to encourage all those with good offices to move on the forum. At this stage, however, it must be acknowledged that momentum has been lost. That the forum is not up and running has contributed to tension in the prison, which in the circumstances is unhelpful.

Also heightening tension is the sense of threat under which prison officers and their families live. The murders of prison officers Adrian Ismay last March and David Black in 2012 were appalling crimes and clearly damaged confidence between prisoners in Roe House and prison officers.

Notwithstanding the challenges to goodwill posed by Mr. Ismay's murder, I was heartened that the Northern Ireland Executive this summer accepted the recommendation of the Fresh Start paramilitary panel that a review be established on the separated regime. I look forward to the appointment of a review panel and to seeing its work completed. This review was proposed following an extensive consultation process undertaken by Monica McWilliams, John McBurney and Lord Alderdice. It opens a new opportunity to address genuine concerns regarding separation. I am conscious also that moving forward in the prison requires the co-operation of both the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the prisoners themselves. I encourage all to work together in the right spirit to move matters forward.

As the Minister knows, a group of us have been visiting Maghaberry Prison regularly. The most recent visit was at the end of September. We know the reasons why the prisoners engaged with the authorities and, most recently, with the ICRC, as well as the various agreements, such as Stocktake. It was disappointing when we were there at the end of September to learn the issues are still outstanding, particularly those around controlled movement, full body searching and prisoners handcuffed to warders on hospital visits but subjected to a full body search when leaving and returning. There are also issues regarding education, the Irish language and the small attempt on the part of the prisoners to celebrate the centenary of the Easter Rising. It looks as if there are always inroads into the dignity of prisoners.

The prisoners assured us they were prepared to accept, move forward and stand by the recommendations of the process. The Fresh Start agreement is also causing considerable anxiety and distress to them, while the other agreements they had come to are still not being realised. Their comment is that it is all process but no progress. Meanwhile, we have another process under Fresh Start. As the Minister said the momentum has been lost. We need to get it going again with the new Secretary of State and Minister for Justice.

We believe this is an incredibly serious situation. I note the Minister's comments that overall progress has been made with conditions at Maghaberry Prison, adjudicated as one of the worst prisons in Europe. In actual fact, that progress is quite slow. It is our experience that developments in the segregated wings have actually gone backwards. We do not say that in any way lightly or flippantly. This is based on the experience of five years of visits, the input from those who did the Stocktake agreement, the ICRC, which tried to facilitate a process, the Prisoner Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and even the Minister's own Northern Ireland office. All of these parties have tried to intervene but there are two essential problems.

The reason why the prison forum failed is because arbitrary and non-serious issues were thrown into the mix when the real issues in the room were always controlled movement and strip searching. Without addressing those, there cannot be any movement onwards.

We note the Minister repeated his comment that the staff feel threatened. Again, we have to go back to the response the prisoners would make. They claim they signed up to the agreements in August 2010 and demonstrated good faith. There have been no physical incidents against any prison officer in that area, as distinct from the general body of the prison population. What we have is a sham process, which is actually contributing to a difficult situation on the ground, and will not be solved until these issues are addressed.

As Deputies will be aware, the strip searching regime has been the subject of a complaint by prisoners. It is an issue which both I and my officials have raised in discussions with the appropriate authorities in the North. The Stocktake report recommended the current policy for searching prisoners when exiting and entering the prison be reviewed, particularly in cases where prisoners were going for a medical or health examination. This has been accepted by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, saying discretion can be applied. Prisoners are no longer routinely subject to full body search when leaving the prison on home leave or discharge from custody.

I am aware the Deputies have been briefed by the ICRC on some of these issues raised here. I too am disappointed that the forum recommendations did not proceed. The first chair proposed in December 2014 was Mr. Tom Miller. That proposal was not acceptable to the prisoners. This led to some delay, after which the ICRC agreed, over the summer of 2015, to its person in Belfast taking on the role.

That person engaged with both prison management and prisoners to see if an agreed agenda could be found. In the event, it did not prove possible. Since then, there have been several meetings among stakeholders to see how matters might be moved forward. Since then, we have seen a number of changes in key personnel and people, including the Minister for Justice in the Northern Ireland Executive, the ICRC in Belfast, and management in Maghaberry jail. Shortly, there will be a change in the matter of the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

At this stage, it would be premature to speculate as to what new people will bring to the discussion. Both I and my officials will continue to raise these issues with the importance of moving forward on the Stocktake report.

It is extremely disappointing there has not been progress. Even after the Stocktake report, the prisoners took part in another process and it now looks like another one. They are not seeing anything from the good will they are showing. They assure us that their only interest is in a conflict-free environment but yet these issues persist. There are alternatives to full body searching. There could be a move on the education and language classes. It comes down to a lack of will on the part of the authorities to move these in a way which would be positive for everybody.

I agree no one should feel threatened in their place of work. It is obvious there is tension in the prison but there have been no physical assaults on prison officers in rows Nos. 3 and 4. However, the separation unit continues, along with full body searching and the lack of education. Prisoners have had their licences revoked and are going through a whole process which is extremely unfair. Again, this is about not letting this matter lose momentum any further.

It is true to say that if one does not go forward, one goes backwards. That has been our experience in this case. In many ways, the character of the prisoners has been tested beyond belief. We do not understand how they have remained as patient as they have. We are glad the Minister agrees with us that full body searches are completely unacceptable. Like the Minister, we have been told it is not going on in the same way as it was before. Our information, however, is that it is. It is not good enough for the authorities to say that after five years, they are looking at alternative technology. That does not add up when similar prisoners in Portlaoise are not subjected to full body searches. There are other alternatives such as swabbing, dogs, the BOSS, body orifice security scanner, chair and so on. There is no need for this cruel, unacceptable and degrading treatment.

All the evidence shows that the processes are being used to drag out the situation, to fail to implement any meaningful changes and deal with the issues at the heart of the prisoners' complaints. If that continues, it can only destabilise the situation further.

That is not just our view but that of all of the neutral or independent bodies who have tried to assist in this process. All of their efforts have been stymied which, in fairness to them, they put at the door of prison management in Northern Ireland, which is incredibly dangerous. The Minister has an important role to play in terms of keeping these issues on their plates.

We should wait to see how best we might take forward the recommendation of the Stocktake report. There are security issues involved, which have been evidenced time and again. The security, safety and health and welfare of those working in the prison under very difficult circumstances must at all stages be taken into account. I have raised the humanitarian issues on the part of prisoners, as raised with me by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and others and I will continue to do so. I attach a particular importance - this was referred to by Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan - to the action plan on the part of the Executive on paramilitarism and in particular the intention to establish a review of the separated regime in Maghaberry Prison. We are agreed that this is a welcome initiative. I hope that it will provide the context to move forward to a more positive atmosphere within the prison, which ultimately will have positive consequences for everybody involved.

Question No. 27 replied to with Written Answers.

Foreign Conflicts

Maureen O'Sullivan


28. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had any engagements with his Turkish counterpart or the Turkish ambassador regarding the repression of teachers and third level educators following the attempted coup in July 2016; and his views on whether the current administration is potentially in breach of human rights standards. [30280/16]

I am interested in hearing from the Minister about the extent of his engagement with the Turkish Foreign Minister and the Turkish ambassador regarding the repression of teachers and educators following the attempted coup in July this year and his views on whether the current administration is potentially or actually in breach of human rights standards.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I condemned the attempted coup in Turkey on 15 July as a criminal act and an attack on democracy. Since then, the situation in Turkey has been discussed at meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. Ministers also had an open exchange of views with Turkish Minister of European Affairs, Mr. Omer Celik at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Bratislava on 3 September, at which I stated Ireland’s concerns about the human rights situation in the post-coup environment in Turkey. Furthermore, I attended a specially convened meeting of the Council of Europe on the situation in Turkey with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuþoðlu on 7 September, at which I again set out Ireland’s position. I reiterated that the attempted coup was an attack on democracy and that, in responding to the attempted coup, Turkey must uphold democratic norms and values.

Democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and rule of law are core European values. I expressed my concerns that some of the actions taken since the coup are contrary to democratic norms and Council of Europe standards. In particular, I expressed concern about the scale of the post-coup purge which has seen large numbers of people detained or suspended from their jobs, including teachers and academics; the arrest of journalists and the closure of media outlets. I also condemned the spate of terrorist attacks in Turkey, including those carried out by so-called Islamic State or Daesh, the PKK or their affiliates in Turkey.

Ireland supports a stable and democratic Turkey. We understand the depth of feeling that this attack on the core of democracy in Turkey has provoked. However, it is critical that legal due process is a cornerstone of the Turkish authorities’ response and in that context the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial is essential.

I note that the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Miužnieks, has acknowledged that the Turkish authorities needed to act quickly to dispel the threat posed by the attempted coup. The Commissioner, who visited Turkey at the end of September, also stresses the urgency of reverting to normal safeguards and procedures. I fully agree that the response to the aftermath of the coup must be proportionate and measured.

Regardless of the motivations of the coup, it was an attack on democracy in Turkey. The aftermath was anything but democratic. The words "purge" and "cull" have been used. It was a purge and a cull of civil society and the public sector, particularly educators, judges, journalists and academics, all under the umbrella of national security, which is reminiscent of what we are being told here in relation to other issues. Last week, the Minister outlined to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and Defence the various meetings he had attended. He also said that what is happening is exacerbating citizens' democratic freedoms and human rights. The EU has pledged support for Turkey's democratic rights but where is Turkey's respect for the democratic rights of its citizens? Thousands of teachers have been suspended or dismissed. In September, 11,500 teachers were suspended or dismissed because they were suspected of links with the Kurdish Workers' Party. The implication of this for students comes to mind. I do not think the EU is being strong enough in terms of respect for democracy. I wonder if it is because we are so reliant on Turkey in terms of refugees that we do not want to rock that boat too much.

I attended the specially convened meeting of the Council of Europe in September, at which I acknowledged receipt of the Commissioner for Human Rights report of 7 October outlining the results of a recent visit to Ankara. I am pleased to note that the Commissioner reported on the matter of the regime in Turkey. I reiterate what I said at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, namely, that the core principles of democracy, including human rights, must be at all times practised and protected in Turkey. I recognise that the extreme measures in Turkey are in response to a shocking attack on democracy. However, it must be recognised that there are no circumstances under which this can be used as an excuse for measures that might be described as either harsh or disproportionate. The best antidote to terrorism is human rights and the rule of law. The Turkish authorities should adopt a more targeted and transparent approach in this regard.

A number of Turkish intellectuals have also been imprisoned, in particular Ahmet and Mehmet Altan. There was no substantial evidence to back-up the charges of their involvement in the coup. They were accused of participating in the plot by giving subliminal or subconscious messages in a TV talk show before the coup. One of them has been released under judicial supervision, probably because of a major high profile campaign by people from academia, intellectuals and so on. There are other Turkish intellectuals and journalists in prison who do not have the backing of that kind of campaign. There is a need for a strong statement from Ireland condemning the purge of educators and journalists. Perhaps the Minister would say if he has had any conversation with the Turkish ambassador to Ireland on this matter.

It is important that this debate be placed in the context of there being a state of emergency in Turkey following the unacceptable coup. This state of emergency first imposed on 20 July has been extended to 20 January next. Ireland has strongly stated its view that the principles of democracy, including human rights, must at all times be honoured, maintained and protected. I have urged the Turkish authorities to revert to what might be described as ordinary procedures or rule of law and safeguards as soon as possible, such that we will see in Turkey a return to a sense of normal politics. In terms of public utterances I have encouraged the Turkish authorities to avail of the offer on the part of the Council of Europe to make the widest use possible of the experience, guidance and expertise of the Council of Europe in the process of a return to normality.

Consular Services Representations

Eamon Ryan


29. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the action his Department is taking to secure the release of a person (details supplied). [31811/16]

Gino Kenny


31. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the presidential decree of law 140 was submitted again for a person (details supplied) in August 2016 and that there is limited time this decree can remain effective; if he will put adequate pressure on the Egyptian Government to ensure the person can be released as many inmates have recently received a presidential pardon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30281/16]

Bríd Smith


47. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of recent efforts to secure the release of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31817/16]

Catherine Murphy


64. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his Department's plans in view of the most recent and fifteenth postponement of a person's trial in Egypt (details supplied); his views on whether previous attempts to resolve the case need to be amended and a new strategy adopted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30284/16]

The Ceann Comhairle will be aware of the motions that were brought before the Dáil and Seanad calling for the release of Ibrahim Halawa. I am particularly interested in hearing an update from the Minister on what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing to help secure his release, given Mr. Halawa is approaching his 21st birthday, having been imprisoned without trial for more than three and a half years since his arrest at age 17 and that under Egyptian law, as a minor he would be not be detained after two years in any event. I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say about the latest developments.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 31, 47 and 64 together.

I assure the House that the consular case of this citizen remains a top priority. The Government continues to apply maximum pressure to the Egyptian Government as a means of working to achieve this citizen's return home to Ireland at the earliest possible time and to provide all consular care possible to him while he remains in prison. Our immediate and ongoing efforts are focused on pressing the case with the Egyptian authorities for a positive response to the application made in August under presidential decree No. 140. In this regard, I acknowledge the position of the House, in particular the initiative of the Ceann Comhairle, Deputy Eamon Ryan and others to ensure that this case continues to be pressed. I have been in regular contact with my Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Shoukry, on this case. On 24 September, I met with Minister Shoukry in New York where I again stressed my concerns at the repeated delays in court proceedings and reinforced the Government's support for the decree No. 140 application. This was the latest in a series of contacts which included also my visit to Cairo in June.

The Taoiseach has also been in direct contact with President el-Sisi to underline his personal support and that of the Government for the pending presidential decree No. 140 application. As has been previously reported to the Oireachtas, the Taoiseach has met face to face, spoken by phone and exchanged written correspondence on this case with President el-Sisi on a number of occasions. In all our respective contacts, the Taoiseach and I have consistently underlined the Government’s concerns about the continuing detention of this young man who has been in prison for over three years now without having been convicted of any crime and who is part of a group trial that has been adjourned on a number of occasions. The Taoiseach and I will remain engaged with the Egyptian Government. We will sustain our determined efforts to see him released by the Egyptian authorities at the earliest possible opportunity. In the meantime, of course, my Department will continue to provide consular support for his health and welfare while he remains in detention.

I appreciate the update. Is it possible for the Minister to give any further indication as to the discussions with his counterpart, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, in New York in September? I realise that a decree No. 140 applications is one of the few ways in which the political system might be able to have an influence in this area. Did the Minister have any sense from talking to the Egyptian Foreign Minister or did the Taoiseach get any sense from discussions with President el-Sisi whether that is a viable path? There is hope that it might lead to the release of the individual in this case. If that is not the case or if it is not successful, what other mechanisms or diplomatic pressures is the Minister willing to apply to secure the release of the Irish citizen in this case?

As I advised the House on previous occasions, our approach is under continuous review. It is informed and shaped by, inter alia, co-ordination and dialogue with the legal representatives of the citizen and his family members and my discussions with Members of the House. We also rely on the experience and expertise of our departmental officials and our consultations with other states which had citizens in similar situations as well as the advice of legal and human rights experts on the international stage. The circumstances have somewhat changed now because presidential decree No. 140 has been invoked. I expressed my serious disappointment that a recent hearing date did not give rise to either a court hearing much less a satisfactory conclusion or any conclusion. I understand the due date is now 12 November and I will be in contact with the authorities prior to that date. We are making every effort politically and diplomatically to provide for the health and welfare of the young man while in custody as well as to ensure that the court regime is such that the judge and judicial process are in a position to advance matters on 12 November.

I thank the Minister. I understand that it may be possible for a visit from the Oireachtas to take place in Egypt to consider a wide range of relations between Egypt and Ireland as well as to visit Ibrahim. I would be keen to hear whether the Minister thinks that might be a useful part of the diplomatic process in which he is engaged. In general, how is this case affecting diplomatic relations, trade discussions and other relations with the Egyptian Government? At what point does it start to interfere in those relations? Is that something the Minister takes into account in this process or is it being treated as a completely separate case and do our relations with the Egyptian state continue regardless of the outcome or effect of discussions on this issue?

Any visit by Members of the House is entirely a matter for the House. I have an expectation that an appropriate judgment will be made in that regard. I repeat my disappointment that the hearing date of 2 October was not fulfilled. It has now been confirmed to me that the hearing has been rescheduled for 12 November. On Sunday, 2 October, the date of the council hearing, I spoke directly with Egypt's ambassador to Ireland, H.E. Soha Gendi. I expressed my concern about the further delay in the case and once again underlined the strong desire on the part of the Government and everybody in the House, having regard to the resolutions adopted by it, to see this citizen returned to Ireland at the earliest opportunity.

Syrian Conflict

Thomas P. Broughan


30. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met his Syrian and Russian counterparts to discuss the atrocities in Aleppo; if he has also met American, British and other EU Foreign Ministers on moves to end the Syrian carnage; his plans to meet with them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31702/16]

I listened to the Minister's earlier replies to colleagues in the Chamber on the carnage in Syria which has taken perhaps 500,000 lives at this stage and which has displaced millions of Syrian people. The Minister said he had been in contact with ambassadors and others. He said Ireland was ready to play a positive role, and I think he meant a very strongly positive role, in the resolution of the conflict and the bringing about of an immediate and final ceasefire. Has the Minister been involved with the International Syria Support Group and has he organised any meetings with the Syrian Foreign Minister, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and with the representatives of the other non-Syrian forces which are combatants in that country?

I reiterate my total condemnation of the bombardment of Aleppo. The attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, including Russia, against eastern Aleppo are clearly disproportionate and unacceptable. The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure and the widespread civilian casualties may, indeed, amount to war crimes. Our concerns have been conveyed in the clearest possible terms to the Russian authorities. Ireland does not recognise the legitimacy of the 2014 Syrian presidential elections and has ceased all diplomatic or political contacts with the Assad regime.

My EU colleagues and I spoke on Monday, 17 October with the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and underlined our continued and strong support for his efforts to stem the destruction of Syria and its people. I met with US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during my recent visit to the United Nations in New York. I discussed the crisis in Syria with them and with other international partners in a range of bilateral meetings. I continue to press for accountability, both to provide the victims with the hope of redress and in the hope that it will deter those involved from even worse atrocities in the area. This has been central to our interventions at the UN in New York and Geneva and of my own interventions and statements at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg last week. Together with our EU partners, Ireland remains engaged through the European Union in the International Syria Support Group. We will continue to support efforts to find a political resolution to the unacceptable level of conflict and hostilities in Aleppo and Syria generally.

The Minister said the attacks may, indeed, amount to war crimes.

Why would the Minister preface his remarks with words like "maybe"? These are war crimes. The involvement of Russia, presumably in pursuit of its strategic interests, has enabled the Assad regime to continue making war on its own people. Assad said there would be no more humanitarian causes. What is the attitude of the Minister to that?

I think the Minister was in the Chamber with me when we heard the news about Srebrenica. The situation in Aleppo has also been compared to Guernica. Some 250,000 people are suffering in east Aleppo. It is a total outrage and a war crime.

What is the Minister going to do about it? For example, has he met the representatives of the Saudi Arabian Government? If one tracks the role of Al-Nusra, fascist groups like ISIS and other groups in Syria and Iraq, ultimately the trail always leads back to Saudi Arabia. The Minister mentioned that he had met an Egyptian counterpart with people in the Arab League. We seem to be almost like helpless, bewildered bystanders. We need to take action. Along with his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, I ask the Minister to tell us where the refugees this country promised to bring to security and safety are. People are fleeing the country.

I have raised this issue, along with the people to whom I made a specific reference earlier, with the incoming secretary general of the Arab League. I also raised the issue directly in the context of my conversations with Foreign Minister Shoukry of Egypt, an influential interlocutor in the region.

Ireland, together with our European partners, made it clear in a statement on 4 June 2014 that we do not accept the legitimacy of the presidential election in Syria. It was held under a flawed electoral law which imposed identification requirements, which deprived most Syrians living in areas under opposition control of their ability to cast votes. The facts call into to question the legitimacy of the Assad regime and its authority to invite military support from other states. I made that position clear in a recent meeting I held with the representative of Russia in Ireland, the Russian ambassador. I will continue to amplify the points that have been raised in the House on numerous occasions.

Surely every time the Minister speaks he should be calling for a cessation of the savage attacks on the people of Aleppo and other parts of Syria. Has the Minister spoken to the representatives from the United States, the ambassador and the Secretary of State, and the UK? They are countries that supply Saudi Arabia with large amounts of modern weaponry which then end up on the outskirts of the streets of Aleppo. Part of the problem is that countries such as the US, the UK, Iran, Turkey and Russia and other foreign jurisdictions are interfering in the conflict.

The Minister correctly said that the solution has to be led from Syria by Syrian people. The situation requires a more urgent response and whatever leadership we can give from this small country to try to bring about a resolution would be welcome. Will the Minister meet representatives of the Syrian Christian and Islamic churches who, I understand, are coming to this country next month?

I agree that every effort must be made by the international community to confront the brutality and terrorism of Daesh. As the Deputy is aware, the situation in Syria is very complex. I am of the view that the only solution must be political rather than military. I discussed the matter with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently in New York and I hope to have a further opportunity over the next few days to engage further with him.

Refugees have been the subject of debate with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. We agreed to accept 4,000 asylum seekers from the region. We have now resettled 500 under the Irish refugee protection programme. Our target is 520 by the end of this year. All of these people have come from Lebanon.

On relocation, I acknowledge that progress has been slow, but that has been the case for all of our EU colleagues. To date, a total of 69 Syrians have come to Ireland from Greece and a further 41 are due to arrive next week. It is important that we all work together across the European Union to play our part. Over the past few days, officials and representatives from the Irish Government have travelled to Greece in order to ensure that we play our part in dealing with the tragic situation of unaccompanied minors.

I wish to assure the Deputy that I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to raise this issue. He is correct; in these matters Ireland exercises a level of influence. I will relay issues that were raised last week during the course of a debate and resolutions of the House in order that we play our part as a small, but nevertheless influential, independent neutral country.

We have made an error on Question No. 29. We should have announced that Deputies Bríd Smith, Gino Kenny and Catherine Murphy on the Egyptian issue were to be grouped.

We did not announce that. If the two Deputies wants to make a statement or ask a question, I invite them to do so.

I want to ask a question. My question to the Minister concerns the status of his recent efforts to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa. However, I heard his answer to Deputy Eamon Ryan. I want to quiz him a bit further on that answer because there is no point in him telling me again that he met Mr. Soukry on 24 September and again in New York on 2 October.

If I told you that I did not meet him-----

I am saying there is no point in saying that again.

Minister, contain yourself.

I want to ask the Minister specifically-----

If I told you that I did not meet him-----

I did not imply that. I am sorry. The Minister misunderstands me. I am saying there is no point in him repeating the same information because I heard it already.

When the House met on 7 July, we passed an all-party motion on the question of Ibrahim Halawa and what the House might be able to do. During the debate, the Minister said more or less the same, namely, that he and his Government proactively used all tools available to them to apply the maximum pressure on the Egyptian Government at the highest levels, along with a series of engagements by phone, letter, face-to-face meetings etc., over the past two years.

The Minister mentioned that the trial has been postponed again. This is the 15th time that has happened, not the second, third, fourth or fifth. This is a very serious situation. I would like the Minister to tell me the status of the joint party resolution that we passed on 7 July, which included a request for the Minister's committee to ask the ambassador of the Republic of Egypt, her excellency, to appear before the committee, address the repeated delays in Ibrahim's trial, request her to convey to the relevant Egyptian authorities this House's concern that he should be released and finally, and not unimportantly, a proposal that a parliamentary delegation be established to visit the Egyptian Parliament and seek to arrange a visit.

The Minister told Deputy Ryan that is a matter for the House. Could he explain to me who takes responsibility in the House for such a motion and its implementation if the House does not and if the Minister is not the person who takes that responsibility?

I am slightly confused. Am I asking the question?

I take it you are asking Question No. 31. The Minister announces the groupings, not me. I take it that it is Question No. 31.

Am I asking that question now?

Yes, if you want to.

They are being grouped.

It is a supplementary question.

Will I ask the question?

You can ask what you like. It is up to yourself. It is a supplementary, really.

Okay. I think the Minister has already answered most of my question. I will cut to the chase. The Egyptian authorities are playing mind games. They have gotten into the heads of the Minister, the Taoiseach and, most importantly, Ibrahim. An e-mail from his sister outlining his well-being is quite shocking. He is depressed, which of course he would be. He has refused any visits from embassy staff. What is going on is terrible and the Egyptian authorities are dragging the case out for their own purposes.

I want to mention two names to the Minister and I hope he can comment on them.

One name is Peter Greste. He is an Australian citizen who was released under the decree of law 140. The other is a man called Mohamed Soltan, an American citizen, who was also released under the decree of law 140. Why has Ibrahim not been released? That is my simple question.

I am very familiar with both of those cases and the details of them. As I said before, it is important to note that each and every case is somewhat different. We have considered these cases in detail and have extensively engaged in consultations on them. My focus is on our citizen and how best we can proceed to advance matters. My officials are in regular contact with the citizen in question and with the prison authorities on the matter of his health and welfare, both of which are important issues for me also. On the matter of the follow-up to the House motions, I assure the House that both myself and my officials will provide every appropriate support of the Oireachtas, including the parliamentary delegation. This was the subject matter of a conversation I had with the Egyptian ambassador.

However, it is with regret that I note that there was a form of negative reaction to the passing of the motions here in this House in some quarters in Egypt. The speaker of the Egyptian parliament, the Ceann Comhairle's counterpart, made some public remarks that were critical of the intervention on the part of the Oireachtas. This sensitivity is one of the reasons why I at all times wish to be measured and careful in my comments and utterances. My concern and priority is the health and welfare of this citizen and to ensure that the trial does take place in a way that can lead to a conclusion at the earliest opportunity. The next return date is 12 November. I wish to assure the House that my officials and I will be in contact with the authorities prior to that date in the hope that matters can be satisfactorily resolved on that occasion.

We will proceed to Question No. 32-----

Can I not respond?

We cannot. Question No. 32-----

Do I not get the same time as other people who ask questions? The Minister has said a few things there that I would like to respond to.

No, we cannot-----

I will not take all day. I want to take this motion seriously. It was passed in July. We are now hurtling towards November and the sixteenth time that this young man will be before a trial. I bet 50 bucks the trial will be postponed. The Minister said he is worried about the sensitivities of the Egyptian Parliament. I do not see how he is surprised by their sensitivities. They have locked up 60,000 and killed 3,000 in a counter-revolution. I believe we need to stop treating them with kid gloves. This is the impression I and everybody else get. Certainly, the family has that impression. God knows what the poor young fella thinks, languishing in a prison with 30 other people in a squashed-up cell and suffering from mental illness. I believe we have to address it. I want to bring it before the business committee next week. As far as I can see, this House passed that motion and nothing has been done. The Minister tells me that the reason is because some sensitive Ceann Comhairle in Cairo got offended. That is not good enough.

It is neither the time nor the place for me to intervene on this, but I will say that there has been a series of very positive and constructive meetings with the Egyptian ambassador. There have been attempts made on an ongoing basis, including a meeting with the Irish ambassador in Cairo, where the matter was discussed at length. We will debate it at the business committee meeting.

We should implement our own motions.

I wish to add to that. I am bound by the House, as far as the House motions are concerned. The Parliament here is sovereign. Let me assure the Deputy and the House that the Egyptian Government remains in absolutely no doubt about the Irish Government's position and its determination to see the citizen released and have the trial disposed of as soon as possible.

It is not the doubting that is the problem, it is the doing something about it.

Diplomatic Representation

Gino Kenny


32. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the reports of statesanctioned death squads and vigilantism in the Philippines under President Duterte; the assistance being offered to a person (details supplied) and his or her family in an appeal in the Philippines against a 12-year prison sentence for a trivial offence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30277/16]

I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the reports of state-sanctioned death squads and vigilantism in the Philippines under President Duterte; the assistance being offered to a person - details supplied, which I will name now in a second - and his or her family in an appeal in the Philippines against a 12-year prison sentence for a trivial offence; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Please do not name anybody.

I will have to.

The Deputy should not name anybody outside the House.

Ibrahim Halawa is outside the House.

I expressed my concerns in this House on 16 September in regards to the severe counter-drugs actions being pursued in the Philippines. Ireland opposes the use of capital punishment and has consistently called for its abolition in the United Nations and other fora. Ireland supports the recommendations which were set out following a UN General Assembly special session on countering the world drug problem held in April 2016. States should promote proportionate policies for drug-related offences and pursue public health and criminal justice approaches that ensure legal guarantees and due process safeguards and that are in full compliance with international law and international human rights standards.

I am very much aware of this consular case as raised by Deputy Kenny and the very difficult circumstances in which this individual and his family find themselves. I have personally raised my concerns with senior Philippines Government contacts, including most recently on 22 September in New York, when I met with my counterpart, the secretary of foreign affairs of the Philippines Government.

I and my Department officials are continuing to give the matter priority attention. My Department officials at headquarters in Dublin, at our embassy in Singapore, which is accredited to the Philippines, and at our honorary consul in Manila have all been engaged in the case, provided consular assistance and raised the individual’s concerns with appropriate authorities in Manila.

The citizen and his family are in regular contact with my consular officials in Singapore and Dublin. The consul from our embassy in Singapore and our honorary consul in Manila met with the individual in Manila on 12 October 2016. Officials from my Department have met with the wife of the individual concerned. Our ambassador in Singapore has raised the case on a number of occasions with the Philippines Government when visiting Manila, most recently with the foreign ministry on 19 October 2016.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The case has also been raised formally with the Ambassador of the Philippines to Ireland.

I understand that there is to be an appeal in this case to the Supreme Court. For any Irish citizen subject to criminal proceedings abroad, my Department officials will offer non-judgemental advice and any appropriate practical help that they can, irrespective of the alleged offence and regardless of whether the individual is ultimately deemed to be innocent or guilty, is on remand or has already been sentenced by a court of law.

I can assure the Deputy that the Philippines authorities are fully aware that I and my Department are following this case closely, and that we are concerned about the individual’s health and wellbeing.

My Department officials, especially our Embassy in Singapore and our Honorary Consulate in Manila, will continue to maintain contact with this citizen and his family and will provide whatever further appropriate consular assistance we can.

I will have to stop the Minister there because we are running out of time.

I appreciate that things have been done in the background. Mr. O'Cochlain was found in 2013 with a tiny amount of cannabis and he is stating that it was put on him for reasons of bribery. The worrying thing is that this Philippino president sounds like a maniac. The stats are quite incredible. Since 1 July, 3,600 people have been killed in the Philippines. There are extra-judicial killings, death squads and incitements to kill from the president in raging a drugs war. Amongst all this, Mr. O'Cochlain is in fear of his life. I believe he is living under pretty horrible circumstances. He has been there for the last three years. Terribly, three of his relatives have died in those three years. He has not been able to come back to Ireland. I am hoping that the Minister and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can do everything in their power to get this man's passport back.

I wish to say briefly to Deputy Kenny that I am aware of the concerns and of the issues regarding the health and welfare of the individual concerned. I wish to assure the Deputy of my own personal action on this issue and those of my officials both here and in the district.

That concludes questions to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. My apologies to all of those Members who were waiting for further questions to be taken.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.