Other Questions

Overseas Development Aid Oversight

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

26. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the details of the EU trust fund for Africa and Ireland's involvement, especially in regard to Irish Aid's partner countries; and his views on whether EU funding for refugees should be allocated to countries with appalling records on human rights, for example, Eritrea. [36126/16]

My question relates to EU funding, including the EU trust fund, and where and how it is being allocated. I have concerns about some of the areas where the funds are being allocated.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil leis an Teachta fá choinne an cheist seo a ardú. The EU emergency trust fund for Africa was launched in November 2015 at the EU-Africa summit on migration in Valletta as a response to the development challenges in migrants' home countries. These challenges are mainly in the Lake Chad - Sahel region, the Horn of Africa and North Africa. The fund is an important element of a wider EU approach to tackling the root causes of instability, forced displacement and irregular migration in these regions of Africa. This also includes a new partnership framework between the EU and Africa which, to date, is focusing on finalising migration compacts with a number of countries and a new ambitious external investment plan. The trust fund is implemented through establishing economic programmes that create employment opportunities, support resilience in terms of food security, livelihoods and basic services for local populations, improve migration management, including by combatting human trafficking and smuggling and support improvements in overall governance.

Ireland’s commitment of €3 million to the trust fund over the period 2016-20 is earmarked for the Horn of Africa region, which includes Irish Aid partner countries Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. It also includes Eritrea. To date no proposals specific to Eritrea have been approved under the trust fund. There are serious concerns about human rights violations in Eritrea, to which the Deputy referred, and which are highlighted in the latest report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea. Ireland has consistently condemned these violations at the UN Human Rights Council and in EU discussions. A policy of non-engagement, however, can often inhibit progress and lead to more suffering for the vulnerable groups that could benefit most from development assistance. In line with this, any EU development funding to Eritrea is based on key principles of engagement, notably on improvements in human rights.

I thank the Minister of State. I am 100% behind our overseas development aid programme and would like to see it moving back towards the 0.7%, but there are concerns from NGOs and civil society organisations that instead of the funding going towards looking at and tackling the root causes of migration, the funding is actually going towards migration management and border security. There are concerns around some of the quite heavy-handed, persuasive methods being used on some African countries to get them to buy into this, such as sanctions being imposed on them if they do not, or the suggestions of sanctions. We know that when the European partnership agreements were being negotiated there was sanctioning of countries that would not collaborate. Where is the active engagement with African parliamentarians, with civil society and with NGOs on designing the trust fund in the first place and then on where the funds would be allocated? There are concerns that these funds are diverting funding from aid programmes.

I share Deputy O'Sullivan's concerns about where the debate is at. Yesterday I met with a number of NGO chief executives, including Peter Maurer from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and everyone is having the debate on the best way forward. Critical to that debate are the people on the ground, especially the NGOs, but they also feed in to a multi-lateral platform which includes the engagement of the EU and the compact countries. I will illustrate one statistic specific to Eritrea. Some 5,000 people per month leave Eritrea, with the majority going to Sudan and Somalia under refugee status. It is a massive challenge. For example, 25% of all migrants into Italy are from Eritrea. The way to go to the core of that challenge is economic stability and looking at the root causes and reasons behind the displacement. The overarching focus when finance is being delivered is that human rights must be to the forefront.

Consider the example of funding going to the EU-Horn of Africa migration route with, I believe, €100 million going to Sudan. In Sudan there are gross violations of human rights. The Sudanese Government is involved in repression, it has used cluster bombs and has attacked hospitals and schools. Sudan itself is also generating huge numbers of refugees and displaced people. The Sudanese Government is not honouring the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and it is forcibly returning Eritrean people to Eritrea. How can we see Sudan as a reliable partner? Equally, the Sudanese President is wanted by the International Criminal Court for human rights abuses and yet we are funding Sudan with some €100 million through the EU. Where is the EU voice on this matter? Can we see that country as a reliable partner in looking after migration and refugees?

In some instances, there are concerns around how one distributes the money. In these particular countries, we are talking about going to the NGOs or collaborating with the UN and NGOs, such as the Red Cross. We also must ensure that money does not go through government, so transparency must also be to the fore. We have to build the capacity at local level. The NGOs are at the forefront there with their ideas and I am very conscious that one cannot separate humanitarian work from development work as they are interlinked. It is about keeping a focus on the development also.

I will cite as an example one NGO in Eritrea called Vita, which works in partnership with the Irish State agency Teagasc, and I have met the Eritrean Minister for Agriculture. It is working on irrigation schemes and on dairy and potato issues. This is an example of capacity building at local level where we can work directly with communities under the directorship of NGOs on the ground. It is important that we still focus on the important elements, including capacity building at a local level, irrespective of the major challenges inherent at a human rights level. If development funding is going into an area, then we must stay focused on human rights which, has to be an overall objective.

Human Rights Cases

Mick Barry

Question:

27. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the mistreatment of certain Basque prisoners in the Spanish state, in particular the practice of transferring them to prisons long distances from their families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36343/16]

Policy on the placement and treatment of a country’s nationals in prison in the European Union is a matter for the democratically-elected government and the relevant competent authorities in each member state in accordance with domestic, European and international law. Issues relating to Basque prisoners held in Spain are, therefore, exclusively a matter for the Spanish Government and judiciary and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on them in any way.

The dispersal policy is a special discriminatory one applied by successive Spanish and French Governments for nearly three decades to Basque political prisoners. The dispersal policy was designed with the aim of uprooting the prisoners from their social, emotional and family environments, in addition to denying their right to take part in the political life of their country.

There are 354 Basque political prisoners imprisoned in 76 prisons in the Spanish and French states. An example of the distances of travel required by visiting families includes 51 prisoners incarcerated more than 1,000 km from their families and 105 prisoners incarcerated between 800 km and 990 km from their families. The Minister has said he cannot comment on this practice but the same argument could have been made about political prisoners in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s, that another state could not make a comment because it was an internal matter for the UK. There are human rights abuses going on in this situation and we need a real statement.

I will not depart from what has been long-standing tradition in the House and in the country of commenting in a way the Deputy invites. On a more general issue, the Government continues to support and encourage all efforts aimed at securing peace and stability in the Basque region. As Deputy Barry is aware, we welcomed the declaration by ETA in October 2011 that the organisation had decided on what it described as a definitive cessation of its armed activity. I welcome this and will continue to encourage all those involved to build on this step, engage and work for a long-term political solution and lasting peace and reconciliation in the Basque area.

I point out that 11 prisoners have serious illnesses and their families are calling for their release so they can access appropriate medical treatment. The most recent case is that of Joseba Borde who was diagnosed with colon cancer. I state my support for the right of self-determination for the Basque people, which is a cause linked with a political and economic struggle against the right-wing Basque and Spanish Governments. I support such a struggle being waged and common cause been made by ordinary Basques and the other peoples who live in the Spanish state for a voluntary socialist federation of the peoples of the peninsula.

I invite the Minister to make a comment on this. Clearly the idea of a peace process is not in tandem with the brutal treatment being meted out to these people.

I welcome commitments towards the cessation of hostilities and the ending of conflict. We on our island have particular experience of a peace process over a long number of years. I hope all parties involved can see their way towards entering discussions for a lasting peace and stability in the region. It would, however, be inappropriate for me to comment on the individual issues raised by the Deputy.

Humanitarian Aid

Seán Crowe

Question:

28. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to comments by UN officials that 75,000 children in Nigeria’s north east could starve to death within months; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that 14 million persons are in need of humanitarian aid in this region due to the Boko Haram insurgency, which has killed 20,000 persons and has left 2.6 million persons displaced; and if his Department is providing any assistance to ensure a famine does not take hold and to assist those in the middle of this humanitarian crisis. [36313/16]

Like most people I was alarmed to hear UNICEF state that 75,000 children in Nigeria's north east could starve to death within months unless there is urgent action. I have tabled the question to try to find out whether the Minister is aware of this and whether the Department can do anything about it.

I am seriously concerned about the growing humanitarian crisis in north-eastern Nigeria, following seven years of Boko Haram violence. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 14 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, as the Deputy correctly pointed out. More than 4.4 million people are in urgent need of food assistance and up to 400,000 children could suffer from severe acute malnutrition over the next 12 months if adequate assistance is not received.

Earlier this month, our ambassador to Nigeria, Sean Hoy, visited Borno State to assess the security and humanitarian situation. He met representatives from various UN agencies and NGOs in Maiduguri. The ambassador visited a number of camps for displaced people. Following the visit, on behalf of the EU, the ambassador briefed the United Nations special representative for west Africa and the Sahel. Our embassy in Abuja continues to consult with the Nigerian Government, at senior political and official levels, on the humanitarian emergency.

Ireland and our EU partners are providing significant humanitarian assistance. In 2016, Ireland has provided €3 million in direct response to the crisis in the region. This includes €325,000 for Irish Aid's NGO partners, €1 million for the work of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN and €1 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Under Ireland’s rapid response initiative, six rapid responders were deployed this year to work with our UN partners. We also airlifted 110 tonnes of emergency relief supplies into north-eastern Nigeria and to Niger to help displaced Nigerian families. We are continuing to monitor the situation closely and to assess what further humanitarian assistance Ireland might provide.

A total of 2.6 million people are displaced in the region. It is about the scale of the problem. I welcome the fact the Irish Government and the Department are involved in our response to it. Reports are coming in from Doctors without Borders on mortality rates in the camps being five times what is considered an emergency. There are reports of mothers failing to lactate and their children starving. Institutional failures have exacerbated the situation. It is a manmade famine and is down to Boko Haram, but the government there has not exactly covered itself in glory in its response. It is about whatever the international community can do. Progress is too slow in recognising the enormity of the situation. Will the Minister of State accept we need to act urgently? I recognise what he said with regard to monitoring the situation, but we need to take further action on this matter.

I agree and I am glad the Deputy has raised the issue because there are many forgotten crises. In recent days along the Lake Chad border there has been an eruption of violence. When we consider that 9 million of the global displaced population of 65 million in Chad are displaced it gives an indication of the scale of the issue. Efforts at EU level and whatever collaborative approaches need to be carried out in this region need to be continued. I will have an opportunity next week, along with our colleague, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, to go to Kenya. We will be very focused on looking at root cause, mediation and conflict resolution. We must have a renewed focus across all levels, at European level and UN level, looking at how we address the underlying causes of a lot of these difficulties that are emerging, be they in eastern Africa, sub-Saharan Africa or the Horn of Africa, where there are enormous challenges.

I am conscious Nigeria is a wealthy country but it needs support. It is not just hunger. There has been a recent outbreak of polio in Borno State, which is the first time in Africa in two years. We also need additional aid for issues such as this. Will the Department also support efforts to provide urgent medical care in the area?

Looking at the global figure, the EU has pledged €50 million in support of the multinational joint task force which supports 8,700 troops. The European Commission has also provided $52.4 million in funding towards humanitarian situations. We have the money and it is about how best we use it, given the nuances around culture, what is needed and what is best for specific regions. We must work very much in tandem with local leaders in these countries. This goes back to the issue of trying to address root cause and getting to the bottom of the conflict situation the first place. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue.

Northern Ireland

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

29. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the recent meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on the outstanding issues relating to prisoners in Maghaberry Prison as outlined by the guest speakers; and if he will be proactive in engaging with the relevant authorities, the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland for an immediate and just resolution. [36122/16]

This question comes from a recent meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, of which I am a member. We had a discussion of the outstanding issues for prisoners in Maghaberry Prison. The question asks, once again, the extent of the engagement with the authorities in the North, the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice and the Secretary of State for an immediate and just resolution of these issues, which we have been talking about for a number of years.

I am aware of the recent meeting held by the Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on the situation in Maghaberry Prison, at which the Deputy was present. In addition to hearing from a prominent solicitor, the committee was briefed by two members of the independent assessment team set up to monitor implementation of the 2010 agreement between separated prisoners in Maghaberry and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. It was very useful that they were able to share insights based on their involvement with the prison over a number of years. As the Deputy will recall, a stock-take report of the 2010 agreement was published in November 2014. It made a number of recommendations to be implemented within a period of six months. At the time, my strong view was that the full implementation of the stock-take report offered an opportunity to create a conflict-free environment in the prison. I conveyed this view in my regular meetings with the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP, and with the then Minister of Justice in the Executive, David Ford MLA, and with their successors.

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

As the Oireachtas committee heard during its recent deliberations, the 2010 agreement has not been fully implemented and this contributes to the ongoing tensions at the prison. In this context, I highlight the failure to establish the prison forum, which is disappointing. This is something which I have raised in my discussions with the NIO and the Minister for Justice. I continue to encourage all those with good offices to move on the forum but at this stage it is clear that momentum has been lost.

Also heightening tension has been the sense of threat which prison officers and their families perceive. The murders of two prison officers, Adrian Ismay last March and David Black in 2012, have set back relations between prison officers and prisoners, in addition to being a tragedy for the families and friends of the murdered officers.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Northern Ireland Executive this summer agreed to implement the recommendation of the Fresh Start paramilitary panel that a review of the separated regime in Maghaberry be established. I look forward to the review panel being appointed and to seeing their work completed. I believe that the review opens up an opportunity to address genuine concerns regarding separation, including such issues as association on the landings and access to education. My Department engaged fully in the paramilitary panel's consultation process.

As the Oireachtas committee also heard, Maghaberry Prison was identified by the criminal justice inspector, Brendan McGuigan, in a report last year as needing work to make the prison safer and to improve conditions for staff. Since publication of that report, the criminal justice inspectorate has continued with a programme of announced, low-impact visits to the prison which found that the situation has stabilised and that some progress has been achieved. More work remains to be done. In this regard, I acknowledge the additional report on Maghaberry published by the inspectorate today.

In making the desired progress in Maghaberry, the co-operation of both the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the prisoners themselves is required. I would encourage all with influence to move forward in the right spirit.

There was an agreement in 2010 and a stock-take in 2014. Since then the International Red Cross has been in the prison but the issues persist. The issues are full-body searching, controlled movement and access to education. Everybody agrees that the 2010 agreement is the only way forward for a conflict-free environment and I have to draw a contrast with Portlaoise Prison, which also houses so-called dissidents in a particular wing and none of these issues exist in that prison, where there is a much better relationship between the staff and prisoners. Generally, there is a fair and respectful relationship between staff and prisoners which is missing in Maghaberry.

Everybody should be able to carry out their work without fear or threat but we cannot leave the status quo as it is at the moment. There is a need to encourage a renewal of the dialogue between prisoners and authorities, to which both had signed up.

I share the Deputy's disappointment that the forum has not progressed in the manner in which we would all have wished. I am very familiar with the situation in Portlaoise Prison, the high security prison being in my constituency. The Deputy will be aware that the reasons for the forum not progressing are complex. We need to see how best we can move matters forward and I continue to encourage all the stakeholders to implement the report of the independent assessment team. I attach importance to the implementation of the recommendation of the paramilitary panel that a review of the separated regime be established, and this recommendation has been accepted by the Northern Ireland Executive in its action plan on tackling paramilitary activity. It is important we continue to engage. Progress in implementing the action plan will be monitored by the independent reporting commission being established by both the British and Irish Governments.

I will refer to three issues. There has been a recent revocation of the licence of Tony Taylor, based on the signature of the Secretary of State. He was arrested in appalling circumstances with his son, who has mental health issues. Second, a case is going through the courts at the moment in which video recordings of strip searching have been allowed and these can be retained for six years. Finally, there is a denial of access to education in Maghaberry and there is more access in areas outside of Roe House, where the republican prisoners are, than inside it.

Some of these issues undermine the dignity of prisoners. The prisoners assure us that they want a conflict-free environment but they believe it is all process and no progress in what they signed up to.

The Deputy refers to a number of issues on which I would like to see progress. My officials continue to remind the Northern Ireland Office of our continuing interest in the humanitarian welfare of prisoners, particularly in the care and supervision unit of Maghaberry Prison. I hope to meet the Stormont Minister of Justice, Claire Sugden, later this afternoon and I would be happy to raise the subject with her and tell her that the issue was the subject of a parliamentary question this afternoon. Before nightfall, I intend to speak to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, James Brokenshire, and I would also be happy to relate to him the Deputy's and my concern on the matter, as well as the need to move matters forward at a pace which we have not experienced in recent times.

Foreign Policy

Seán Crowe

Question:

30. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his recent trip to Saudi Arabia; if he will clarify the comments he made during the trip regarding Iran fuelling conflicts in the region, as reported by a media organisation (details supplied); that he said that Saudi Arabia might become the best strategic partner for Ireland in the region; and if he, at any stage, criticised the Saudi Arabian regime for its poor human rights record and its well documented support for jihadist and salafist militant groups involved in wars and attacks on civilians throughout the region. [36312/16]

I read in an English edition of a media organisation that, in his recent visit to Saudi Arabia, the Minister condemned Iran and stated that Saudi Arabia might become the best strategic partner for Ireland in the region. Did the Minister at any stage criticise the Saudi Arabian regime for its poor human rights record and its well documented support for jihadist and salafist militant groups involved in wars and attacks on civilians throughout the region?

I led an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 13 November. The programme of the trade mission also included a visit to the United Arab Emirates on 14 and 15 November. Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are priority markets under the Government's trade, tourism and investment strategy. I was accompanied by a diverse range of Irish companies, some of which are seeking to enter the Gulf markets for the first time and some of which are seeking to strengthen their position in those markets. I undertook a large number of engagements in support of these companies. In addition to the trade-specific events, I also held meetings at political level addressing a broader range of issues. In Saudi Arabia, I held meetings with the Minister for Commerce and Investment, Majid Al Qassabi, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nizar Madani, and the Deputy Minister for Education, Dr. Nasser Fawzan.

In the course of my visit, I gave an interview to a number of local media outlets in Riyadh. Among the issues raised in those interviews was the role of Iran across the region. It is clear to all observers that the increased tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are an important factor in the complex challenges facing the region at the moment. Both countries have leadership roles within the region and with that leadership comes responsibility. I urge both Governments to use their influence to move towards diplomatic and political solutions in both Syria and in Yemen. This is the message that I gave in the interview referred to by the Deputy. Saudi Arabia is already an important regional partner for some Irish companies in areas such as food and ICT, and that was the context of the comments on partnership referred to in the article.

The detail of my meetings with the Ministers is confidential. However, I can confirm that I did raise human rights issues, including the use of the death penalty, the position of women in society and issues related to terrorism in the broader region.

It is visits like these which make people a bit nervous about some of our trade partners. The comments of the Minister may have been taken out of context but there is something rotten at the heart of the Saudi Government and in its policies in regard to the conflicts in the region. There is no doubt that it is funding, training and supporting many salafist and jihadist groups and Saudi coalition air strikes are responsible for the majority of the roughly 4,000 deaths in Yemen.

Hospital, schools, marketplaces, weddings and factories have been targeted and remain viable coalition airstrike targets. The coalition carried out an airstrike, on what was possibly the single biggest target in a conflict, on a funeral ceremony in Sana'a which killed more than 140 people and injured 500. I did not read any criticism of that during the Minister's visit. Perhaps it was not the right time to do so. Now the Minister is back in Ireland I would like to think he will clearly separate this visit, from an international view, in terms of what this country is doing in that region. I do not view the coalition to be an important regional partner for Ireland in that region.

I want to make it clear that Ireland has close economic ties with Saudi Arabia. The country is a designated priority market for Ireland under our trade, tourism and investment strategy. Saudi Arabia represents a significant market for Ireland. Total bilateral trade in 2014 was worth over €1.4 billion, with €1.3 billion of this in Ireland's favour. The economic relationship therefore has considerable benefits for the Irish economy in terms of Irish jobs. Last week, I saw at first hand the interests which Irish companies have in the Saudi market but the economic partnership we have with Saudi Arabia does not prevent us from raising issues of human rights concern in the appropriate channels. We will continue to maintain relations with Saudi Arabia, economic relations for the benefit of our economy and trade and diplomatic relations to facilitate our continued engagement with the kingdom on human rights and also on other matters as they may arise from time to time.

Did the Minister raise the Saudi Arabian support for a repressive and sectarian regime in Bahrain? Last month Saudi Arabia was re-elected to the UN Human Rights Council for the fourth time after another non-competitive election at the UN General Assembly. While serving its third term on the UN Human Rights Council Saudi Arabia blocked international inquiries into human rights abuses, punished Saudi citizens who worked in collaboration with the UN Human Rights Council and threatened to cut critical UN funding after being called out for violating children's rights. Did the Irish Government support Saudi Arabia's bid for re-election to the UN Human Rights Council?

The Deputy will be aware that we do not disclose our voting intentions or the actual votes in those elections. However, I would like to say for the record that Saudi Arabia ran for an election on a clean state. It was unopposed but I had the opportunity to raise a number of the issues mentioned by the Deputy, in particular the role of Saudi Arabia in Yemen. This is a matter of great concern. This conflict was raised by me at a number of meetings both in the Emirates and in Saudi Arabia. I wish to unreservedly condemn all the deliberate targeting of civilians, as I did in Saudi Arabia and in the Emirates. I urged all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

As far as humanitarian issues are concerned, I am pleased that the Government has provided €2 million to the United Nations humanitarian pooled fund for Yemen and €100,000 for emergency items for vulnerable and conflict affected households. The total Irish humanitarian response since 2015 is almost €4 million.

We will move on to Question No. 31. I understand that the Minister proposes to take Questions Nos. 31, 45, 51 and 53 together.

If that is in order?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Human Rights

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

31. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures, including diplomatic, political and economic sanctions, being considered by him and his EU Foreign Minister colleagues against the current Government of Turkey following its crackdown on free speech and the media, Turkish members of parliament, the legal system, Turkish civil and public servants and the Kurdish and other minority populations in Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36088/16]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

45. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will engage with the Turkish authorities and the Turkish ambassador to Ireland on the recent destruction of Kurdish cities in Turkey, the shooting of children, the arrest and imprisonment of democratically elected Kurdish members of parliament and local authorities, the revocation of the passport of a member of parliament (details supplied) and call on Turkey to resume the peace talks with the Kurdish representatives. [36125/16]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

51. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he and the Government have protested to the Government and ambassador of Turkey against the escalating severe repression of the Kurdish population of Turkey and their political representatives in the HDP party; the steps he is taking with EU colleagues to end this repression and restore the peace process in eastern Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36087/16]

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

53. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the EU-Turkey migration deal in view of the recent developments in Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36316/16]

I have raised with the Minister the issue of the savage oppression of the Kurdish nation and people on seven or eight occasions since he took office. In July this oppression intensified with the mass arrests of journalists, soldiers, police officers, 120,000 civil servants of all kinds, judges, 28 democratically elected mayors, the destruction of cities and the oppression of the language and the culture of the Kurdish people in Turkey. I would like to know what the Minister, in conjunction with his EU colleagues, will do about this.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 31, 45, 51 and 53 together.

I wish to assure the Deputies that I have repeatedly stated my serious concerns about the deteriorating situation in Turkey since the attempted coup on 15 July. My most recent statement of 4 November expressed my deep concern at the arrest of the two co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party, HDP, and several of its elected members of parliament, as well as at the intensified media crackdown. I have clearly stated Ireland’s position at the Foreign Affairs Council and the Council of Europe where I engaged directly with the Turkish Foreign Minister, and my officials have drawn my statement to the attention of the Turkish Embassy in Dublin.

I have highlighted the need for a proportionate and measured response by the Turkish authorities, and the importance of upholding the core European values of democracy, respect for rule of law and freedom of expression, including media freedom, the rights of minorities and other fundamental freedoms. Ireland fully agrees with the statements by the European Union that there is no place within the EU for a country which reintroduces the death penalty.

In a strong statement issued on 8 November, the European Union was critical of Turkey’s recent actions and the direction of recent developments and called once again for a resumption of political dialogue with the Kurds. I have also repeatedly called for a return to dialogue to allow the political process to resolve the Kurdish issue to resume, as did my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy during the extensive debate which took place on Turkey at the most recent meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 14 November.

My officials met last week with members of the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP, as did a number of Deputies across the House. The HDP representatives presented a very stark case, in particular on the circumstances surrounding the detention of democratically elected representatives from Kurdish areas, the restrictions on the Kurdish media, as stated by Deputy Broughan, and the very negative impact on the daily lives of large numbers of the Kurdish population.

The European Commission published its annual report on Turkey on 9 November. The report is critical of Turkey on the core issues of rule of law and fundamental rights and outlines backsliding in these areas. The report will be discussed at the December meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.

The EU and its member states, including Ireland, are keeping the situation in Turkey under close review in light of the recent very negative trends. The EU is considering how best to influence Turkey and to encourage a commitment to the return of democratic norms and respect in Turkey for basic freedoms. At the same time, Ireland believes that it is important to keep the lines of communication open with Turkey and that we must try to hold open the long-term European perspective for all the people of Turkey.

I am scheduled to meet with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, later this week and will discuss with him his views on the path to take in terms of the commitments of Turkey as a members of the Council of Europe.

The EU-Turkey deal agreed between EU Heads of State and Government and Turkey in March 2016 is not affected by recent events. Turkey continues to play a key role in addressing the migration crisis. The core intention of the agreement between Turkey and EU Heads of State and Government was to break the business model of the people smugglers who are profiting from the suffering of vulnerable migrants. It is particularly aimed at discouraging the victims of people smugglers from risking their lives crossing the Aegean Sea. The very significant decline in the number of people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands since this agreement entered into force, suggests that in many respects it is achieving its aims.

We were to meet Deputy Faysal Sariyildiz, who could not travel from Brussels, but I am grateful that the Department has met the Kurdish solidarity group. I hope the conflict resolution unit, which the Minister told me about previously, is interested in this and that those contacts will continue.

I understand the European Parliament is voting today on the suspension of all talks with Turkey on chapters of accession. Does the Minister agree with that? Will he say that we should suspend talks with the Turkish Government? As I outlined briefly, the savage oppression of the people of the Kurdish area of Turkey continues. The Minister mentioned the return of the death penalty and the absolute refusal of the AKP party to allow the expression of the rights of the HDP, which represents the Kurdish people.

What steps can the Minister take to ensure the peace process which was well under way in 2013 and which Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish people, was anxious to progress will be restored?

The Deputy has raised a number of issues. I will continue to call on all parties to engage in constructive dialogue. Ireland shares concerns about the situation in Turkey. I note the Deputy's comment on Members of the European Parliament and the resolution which calls on the European Union to suspend accession talks with Turkey in response to the ongoing crackdown on fundamental freedoms. The prospect of a European perspective will ultimately benefit the people of Turkey, offering them a democratic future and a rule of law of a type everyone in House agrees is important and of advantage to the people of Turkey. However, I also believe it is important to keep all channels of communication open at what is a most sensitive time. The cessation of relations is not in the best interests of the Turkish people. It is important, therefore, that we continue to engage and retain open channels of communication at this very difficult and challenging time.

Like others, I met the Turkish delegation and had hoped to meet the Kurdish Members of Parliament; however it was not to be. It is very disconcerting that what we are seeing is the imprisonment of democratically elected Members of Parliament. We have also seen the removal of democratically elected mayors in Kurdish areas, as was pointed out to us by the group. They also showed us pictures of a number of Kurdish villages which had been destroyed by the Turkish military and it was actually like looking at scenes from Aleppo. This is an issue which is not receiving the media coverage and attention it should. The Minister mentioned something about engagement with the embassy in Dublin. I wonder if he has had a response from the Turkish ambassador. While we can say the European Union is of critical importance, it does not translate into action. I agree with the Minister about keeping lines of communication open but question whether we are being strong enough about the attack on democracy in Turkey.

My officials remain in ongoing and continuous contact with representatives of the Turkish Government here. I have repeatedly called for a resumption of dialogue to allow the political process on the Kurdish issue to resume. The escalation of violence as referred to by the Deputy since the breakdown of the ceasefire between the Turkish Government and the PKK in the summer of last year continues to be a cause of serious concern. The breakdown was all the more regrettable, given the positive signs that progress had been made in the course of the talks.

Ireland continues to be a strong advocate of peace talks between the Turkish Government and the PKK. I note the work of the conflict resolution unit of my Department and the financial assistance provided for an international NGO which has facilitated study visits to Ireland by Turkish and Kurdish MPs. There was a dialogue only last week, as Deputies have said. We will continue to advocate and work for a lasting peace in the region.

During Priority Questions I mentioned the situation in Turkey that my colleagues have outlined. It is time for Ireland to extricate itself from the EU-Turkey arrangement. The Turkish Government has used the coup as an opportunity to shore up and consolidate its power. The attacks on the Kurds, the free press and opposition Members of Parliament are things we should not countenance as a free and open society. Our part in the EU-Turkey migration deal is something I have raised regularly with the Minister. We do not have oversight of how the €20.9 million is being spent. The reason the European Union will not suspend the accession talks with Turkey is it needs Turkey to deal with the migration crisis. We need to speak with a louder voice on this issue. I understand, as Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan mentioned, the need to keep channels of communication open but Ireland is an independent state and can state its position and that of the Dáil. We do not have to take the EU lead on everything.

Ireland continues to support the eventual accession of Turkey to the European Union. We have been clear that all of the benchmarks, conditions and criteria in the process must be met fully and that there must be no shortfalls as far as accession is concerned. The rule of law, fundamental rights, in particular freedom of expression and the media, minority rights and democracy are core elements of the process of accession. On 9 November the European Commission published its report on the state of play regarding all candidate and potential candidate countries. The report on Turkey is clear and critical and highlights the deterioration of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also acknowledges Turkey's positive contribution in dealing with the migration crisis. Ireland's view, as I said, is that it is important, if we are to make progress, that channels of communication remain open at all levels within the established framework. That includes the accession process which provides the hope of a long-term European perspective for the people of Turkey which, in the circumstances, is very important.

It is utterly outrageous that the European Union is remotely considering admitting a country engaged in such horrendous oppression. Almost 200 children have been killed, while cities and towns have been razed to the ground. It beggars belief. It is also a problem for us that Germany has a conflict of interest, having made the refugee deal and paid large sums of money to Turkey while at the same time, above all, refusing time and again to allow Turkey to proceed to join the European Union. There is total hypocrisy at the heart of this issue. I again call on the Minister to say clearly that what is happening is anathema to us. The peace process must resume and the rights of the Kurdish nation must be upheld. I hope all of Kurdistan will have a parliament like this some day.

Progress was made in 2013 in building peace, but it says something about a regime that one of its targets is teachers. The regime has arrested thousands of teachers and so denied Turkish and Kurdish children the right to an education. Oxfam has stated the European Union needs to reconsider very carefully exactly how much it is willing to sacrifice on the altar of migration. While we are trusting Turkey to deal with refugees in a respectful and humane way, the Turkish military is bombing Kurdish villages, causing so much death and destruction.

Does the Minister not see a paradox or contradiction in the European Union and, by extension, Irish support for the EU migration deal, while at the same time calling for Turkey to abide by human rights law and ensure refugee rights are upheld? On the one hand, we are saying to Turkey that there are critical reports within the European Union on human rights abuses, attacks on minorities and the closing down of the free press, while, on the other , we are saying it is okay to send refugees and migrants to what is supposedly a safe haven. It does not stack up. There is an absolute contradiction in that approach.

The European Union and Turkey have been working for many months on the matter of the appalling migrant crisis. As Deputy Darragh O'Brien will be aware, Turkey is hosting in excess of 2.7 million migrants, an enormous number for any country. Ireland, like our EU colleagues, is committed to finding a solution to this most serious problem.

From listening to some Deputies, one might be excused for forming the view that an imminent accession conclusion to the current issue is likely. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no question of Turkey gaining admission to the European Union until such time as all of the strict criteria, conditions and obligations are met.

It is essential, in the context of what has happened in Turkey over the summer months, that the core principles of democracy, including human rights, must be protected in Turkey. I once again urge the Turkish authorities to revert to ordinary procedures and safeguards as early as possible. I will have an opportunity to engage with the European Commission on this issue before the end of this week.

Missing Children

Mick Barry

Question:

32. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his department will contact the Spanish authorities regarding the case of the disappearance of a person (details supplied). [34841/16]

If Deputy Barry wants to reply, I suggest he allows the Minister to reply and I will allow him to ask a short supplementary question. We are out of time.

I will allow the Minister to reply. I will need two minutes.

No, it will be a short supplementary question.

A minute and a half.

Officials at the embassy of Ireland in Madrid and the consular assistance team of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have provided extensive consular assistance to the family in this case since the time of the Irish citizen's disappearance eight years ago. The Garda liaison officer based in our embassy in Madrid remains in ongoing contact with the Spanish police authorities regarding the case.

My Department cannot and should not play any direct role in the investigation process as is it is a matter for the police in Spain who are still actively investigating the case. Any information pertaining to the investigation should be referred directly to An Garda Síochána, which can liaise with the Spanish authorities through the appropriate police channels. The Garda Síochána has designated family liaison officers in this case and they stand ready to provide the family with any updates or information on developments in the case.

This case concerns Amy Fitzpatrick, who disappeared in January 2008 while living in the town of Calahonda in Spain. She lived with her mother Audrey, stepfather David Mahon and her brother Dean. She was 15 years of age at the time.

The Spanish authorities put in a credible effort to locate her, sadly to no avail. Subsequent to that, tragedy struck again when Amy's brother Dean, then aged 23, was stabbed to death by his stepfather, David Mahon, in Northern Cross in Dublin in May 2013. David Mahon was tried and this year found guilty of the killing and is serving a seven-year sentence. All of this has been an unimaginable ordeal for Amy and Dean's biological father, Christopher Fitzpatrick.

Christopher and his sister Christine have never given up on trying to establish what became of Amy. In light of events, Christopher and Christine reasonably feel that there is an obvious fresh line of inquiry that the Guardia Civil in Spain could pursue and that the help of the Government is needed to respectfully prompt the Spanish authorities to pursue this. I am obviously constrained in what more I can say, but the Minister will understand.

Christopher and Christine, who have supporters in the Gallery, submitted a letter to the Minister for Justice and Equality requesting that this be done. My office was asked to submit a question to the Minister alluding to the letter and to seek a positive response. My question was forwarded to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I ask him if he will take the necessary steps to talk to the Spanish authorities and, as necessary, liaise with the Department of Justice and Equality and-or gardaí to ensure they share whatever information they think may be of use to the Guardia Civil in this matter. It would be beneficial if the Department of Foreign and Trade and-or representatives of the Department of Justice and Equality could meet Christopher and Christine.

I wish to assure the Deputy that we have already provided extensive consular assistance to the family. I wish to make it quite clear, however, that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will not and cannot play any role in the investigation process as that is a matter for the Spanish police. We would be pleased to offer whatever consular assistance we can in the circumstances.

Will the Minister or representatives of his Department meet Christopher and Christine?

I am sure we can arrange for representatives of the Department to meet representatives of the family. In this regard, we should have one family contact point.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.