Other Questions

Catalan Referendum

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has received reports from the embassy and the consulate in Barcelona regarding the upcoming referendum on Catalan independence; if he has raised this issue with the Spanish authorities or at a European Union level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39779/17]

Will the Government condemn what can only be described as Francoist repression on the part of the Spanish state against the people of Catalonia where there has been an effective occupation by the Spanish state police with the arrest of upwards of 20 government officials, the seizure of ballot boxes, ballot papers and more than 100,000 election posters, the opening of post and the effective suspension of Catalan regional autonomy the other day?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Ireland enjoys a close relationship with Spain. These relations are deeper and more textured than simply involving periodic government-to-government relations or developing trade ties or occasional encounters at multilateral events. Our close friendship has at its heart an empathy which is nurtured by generations of contacts between our peoples and what happens in Spain is of great interest to our Spanish friends in the society we represent.

I am very much aware of the recent developments in Spain regarding Catalonia. Constitutional and political arrangements in any country of the European Union are matters to be determined by their own citizens through their own democratic institutions in adherence with the rule of law. It would not be appropriate to comment further on matters that are internal to Spain.

It is precisely democratic institutions that are under threat from the Spanish Government. It is the democratically elected regional government of Catalonia that has called the referendum which is a democratic act. In Catalonia the vast majority of people from all backgrounds - measured at over 80% in a recent opinion poll - support the calling of the referendum. That is unlike the example in the North, where the legacy of the Troubles remains and sectarian divisions between the two communities are predominant. This is essentially a question of democracy and the right of the people to decide. The Spanish state is made up of many nationalities and the question is whether the Irish Government stands with the European Union in supporting the horrific anti-democratic repression that is taking place; it is occupation and a denial of the democratic right of the people in Catalonia. Does the Irish Government side with those who seek to exercise that democratic right?

I thank the Deputy for his response, but we can look at the most recent referendum in Scotland when we did not include ourselves in the debate. We allowed the Scottish people and the referendum system decide. As I stated earlier in the House in reply to a parliamentary question, the Government's position is that the constitutional and political arrangements in any country of the European Union are matters to be determined by citizens through their own democratic institutions and in adherence with the rule of law. I have stated that what happens in Spain is very much of interest to us, but the issues in hand are domestic; therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on matters internal to Spain.

I am not asking the Minister to take a position on the referendum or the Irish Government to call for a "Yes" or "No" vote. I am calling on it to recognise that the people have the right to decide and that the referendum should go ahead without horrific repression by the Spanish state that is seeking to shut it down. There are coercive elements in the Spanish state constitution such as Article 155, which denies the national and democratic rights of the people. We stand with our brothers and sisters in our sister organisations in the Spanish state and Catalonia for the unity of working people in Catalonia and people across the Spanish state in defence of democratic and national rights. We stand against the right-wing and repressive Rajoy Government. This is about ordinary people on the ground and those who are struggling. They are building a major school student strike on 28 September and dockers have rightly refused to assist police boats in Barcelona Port. Others are pushing for a one-day general strike in Catalonia and the Spanish state to defend the democratic rights under threat.

I will repeat myself on the question of Catalonia, that it is very much a matter for the member state and one to be determined by its own constitution and institutions. Again, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the matter. The Spanish people have recourse to their own democratic institutions in keeping with the rule of law and they can agree to the constitutional and political arrangements most appropriate to them.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Brendan Smith

Question:

8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the need for the British Government to release the papers and files pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974 as requested in Dáil Éireann motions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39853/17]

Brendan Smith

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to raise with the British Foreign Secretary the need for the British Government to release the papers and files pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of May 1974 as requested in Dáil Éireann motions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39854/17]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

43. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the ongoing outstanding requests with the British Government regarding inquiries into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39771/17]

After Dáil debates to which I contributed, with many other Members, in 2008, 2011 and 2016, we unanimously approved motions calling on the British Government to release all files and papers pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. There were many tragic days during that era on our island known as the Troubles, but on that day the carnage in Dublin and Monaghan resulted in the deaths of 34 people and injuries to 300 others, for which nobody has been brought to justice. The British Government has on three occasions ignored the unanimous requests of Members of a sovereign parliament. I appeal to the Minister of State and her colleagues in government to pursue again as strongly as possible with the British Government, particularly the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the British Foreign Secretary, the argument that the least they could do to try to see justice achieved for so many victims is ensure an independent, international judicial figure would have access to all files and papers on those awful atrocities.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8, 9, and 43 together.

I acknowledge those across the House who work on a cross-party basis with the Government on this issue and the tireless efforts of Justice for the Forgotten. Dealing with long-outstanding issues related to the legacies of the conflict in Northern Ireland is of the utmost importance to the Government. A Programme for a Partnership Government highlights this priority, with specific reference to implementation of the all-party Dáil motions on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. This year 17 May marked the 43rd anniversary of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings which saw the biggest loss of life in a single day during the Troubles. Deputy Charles Flanagan, who was then Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, participated on behalf of the Government in the commemoration ceremony that day and in addressing the commemoration ceremony he reaffirmed the Government’s determination to continue and complete our efforts to seek the truth of those awful events of 17 May 1974.

The all-party motion on the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings that was adopted by the Dáil on 25 May 2016 has, like those adopted in 2008 and 2011, been conveyed to the British Government. The motions call on the British Government to allow access, as correctly noted by the Deputy, by an independent, international judicial figure to all original documents on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, as well as the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the bombing of Kay’s Tavern in Dundalk and the murder of Seamus Ludlow. The Government is committed to actively pursuing the implementation of the all-party Dáil motions and has consistently raised the matter with the British Government. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has spoken directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. James Brokenshire, about the matter and is actively engaged with the British Government on an ongoing basis on it, as are officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. As part of this engagement, the Government underlines that the Dáil motions represent the consensus political view in Ireland that an independent, international judicial review of all the relevant documents is required to establish the full facts of the Dublin and Monaghan atrocities. The Minister has also advised the British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government and this House and emphasised the urgent need for a response from the British Government. The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the request relating to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and will pursue all possible avenues that could achieve progress on this issue, consistent with the request made by the Deputy and the Dáil.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. She referred to the former Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, with whom I had much engagement and his officials on this issue which I have already mentioned to the new Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. I hope we can maintain that contact and dialogue which are representative of views in this House.

The Minister of State has correctly indicated that the motions were approved unanimously in the House in 2008, 2011 and 2016. They referred to the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973, the bombing of Kay's Tavern in Dundalk and the murder of Seamus Ludlow in County Louth. As we know, nobody has been brought to justice for committing these desperate atrocities. The Ulster Volunteer Force, UVF, a loyalist group, claimed responsibility for the bombings, but there are credible allegations that elements of the British security forces colluded with it in the bombings. Anne Cadwallader in her book, Lethal Allies: British Collusion in Ireland, refers to 120 murders committed by loyalist paramilitaries and indicates that clear evidence is available that some of them were armed from Ulster Defence Regiment depots.

It is utterly reprehensible and unacceptable that the British Government will not heed the unanimous motions passed in this House and sovereign Parliament. We are asking it to release the files and papers to an independent and international judicial figure who could carry out some work and conduct some research. It is deplorable, as the Minister of State and all of the rest of us in the House know, that the families who have suffered so much for so long are seeing no justice in the case. I ask the Minister of State to bring the message to her Government colleagues that we want this matter to be prioritised in negotiations with the British Government. I know many of the victims, people who were injured. The way they have been treated by the British Government and its agencies during the years has been reprehensible.

I fully agree with Deputy Smith that it is not right that families have not found out the truth of what happened and are still wondering if they will ever receive the truth. There have been several appalling cases from the Troubles where truth and justice were secured only after decade-long campaigns by the victims, their families, civil society and government. That should not be the case and families should not be put through that, in particular for decades.

I wish to restate the Government's absolute commitment to doing this and ensuring that there is justice for the Dublin-Monaghan bombing campaign. That is reflected in the programme for Government and in the Government's consistent action and engagement on the matter. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has said that he will continue to press the matter with party leaders and cross-party groups. Senior officials from the Irish and British Governments have been mandated to explore options to find a way forward on the issue. That work is continuing. They are working diligently to try to ensure that an end is reached. On behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Government, I reiterate our full commitment to getting a resolution to the issue.

I accept the Minister of State's assurances and those of her Government colleagues but I ask her to convey in her dialogue, discussions and meetings with British Government Ministers that this subject is always a priority issue.

I again give a commitment that that will be the case and I will pass on that message. I assure the victims' families that the Government is doing everything it can.

Humanitarian Access

Clare Daly

Question:

10. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken and contact he has had with the Israeli ambassador regarding the organised and pre-prepared deportation of four persons (details supplied) from Israel on 9 September 2017. [39694/17]

After midnight on 9 September, 37 people, most of whom were Irish citizens, landed in Tel Aviv for a week-long trip to the West Bank. It was a trip that some of them had been making for over a decade. By 5.30 a.m. that morning, four of those people - Elaine Daly, Stephen McCloskey, Joan Nolan and Fidelma Bonass - had been deported on spurious grounds of preventing illegal immigration and a danger to public safety. That is an outrage and I ask what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing in this regard.

I am aware of the deportation of the four persons Deputy Daly named. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was notified immediately by one of the individuals and we have since received letters from each of them about the incident. The leader of the group has led study groups to the West Bank for over ten years, involving a total of 17 tour groups and over 400 people. These groups met a range of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and other interlocutors and studied issues on the ground relating to the occupation of the West Bank. As usual, she had advised the Department of the dates and itinerary of the tour in advance so that our missions would be aware of a large group of citizens touring the area.

No detailed reason for refusing admission to Israel was given to them other than a generic explanation that it was for immigration reasons and, in the case of the leader, Ms Daly, also because of unspecified public security, public safety or public order considerations. Thirty-three of the group entered Israel but unfortunately these four people were deported.

No report or allegation has ever been made to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of any legitimate concerns about the activities of these study groups. The group leader has also stated that she has never taken part in any demonstration in Palestine, nor have any of the groups' programmes included attendance at a demonstration.

Without a more specific explanation, it is difficult not to conclude that the exclusion of these persons is part of the ongoing effort to suppress scrutiny and criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank.

The ambassador in Tel Aviv has called to the Israeli Foreign Minister and requested an explanation for this action. We are awaiting a response and I will ensure that the Deputy and the persons concerned are notified when we hear more. It is currently a Jewish high holiday so there is a delay in that process but as soon as a response is received Deputy Daly and the individuals concerned will be informed.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. I strongly echo her comments that the only conclusion that can be drawn from the order was that it was an attempt by the Israeli state to avoid scrutiny of its activities in the West Bank. I reiterate that the group leader, my sister, is non-political and has never been involved in any political party, although that would not be a reason to exclude her, and has never attended any protest. She is the only Irish person to have been honoured with an honorary citizenship of Bethlehem for her work, which involves inviting people to go to the West Bank to see what goes on there and to meet Israelis and Palestinians.

Of the others who were deported, Stephen McCloskey is a director of an NGO in Belfast on educational and global studies who has published many articles and has been to Gaza many times. Joan Nolan has been to Palestine eight times. She is a community activist who does voluntary work and is non-political. Fidelma Bonass has brought Palestinian cultural groups to Ireland. It is an outrage that they were treated like this. It is a trip they make every year. Plans were made to take time off work and give up their valuable holidays in order to bring support, money to the local economy and products, clothes and assistance to women's and children's groups in Palestine. I hope the Department follows up on this issue.

As Deputy Daly is aware, the reasons given on the deportation order do not tell us anything and that is why the Department has asked for an explanation. It may be that the refusal was on foot of legislation enacted earlier this year which provided for admission to be refused to any person who has advocated or is a member of a group which has advocated a policy of boycott in respect of Israel or Israeli settlements in Palestine, known as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS, movement. All four of the individuals were asked about alleged previous attendance at a demonstration in Palestine. However, I am not sure that either explanation was justified. I am happy to restate that the Government is not aware of any concerns about the actions of the individuals or their group such as could form a legitimate basis for concern or exclusion. We must first allow the Israeli authorities to respond to our inquiry before commenting definitively but it does not currently appear that there was any legitimate reason for those persons' expulsion.

I appreciate that the Minister of State and the Department have responded promptly. I am very glad to hear that. I hope that is followed through because I am satisfied there will not be any contradictory evidence that would legitimately prohibit these people from visiting the West Bank. If one considers that this is how Irish citizens with valid Irish passports are treated for supposed immigration offences, it gives one an idea of the daily struggle that Palestinian citizens suffer in that region at the hand of the Israeli state. To scream and shout at a man and three mature women - I hope they are not insulted by that categorisation - who have never been involved in any difficulty before is outrageous.

The work those people have done is very important. As the Minister of State said, over 400 Irish people have taken part in those visits with no agenda other than for people to see the situation in Palestine with their own eyes. I hope that when a response comes from the Israeli authorities it can be followed up because it is interesting that hundreds of Israelis get visas to come and work in this State every year and they are not treated in that manner. It was disgraceful.

Deputy O'Loughlin may ask a brief supplementary question.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I offer my support and that of Fianna Fáil for what has been outlined by Deputy Daly. When I was contacted by two of those affected, who are constituents of mine, I contacted Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs, who in turn contacted the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the ambassador.

Human rights and their infringement have to be hugely important for all Members. It is unacceptable that these four people who have given so much time to support Palestinians and make the world aware of the problems there were deported. I have been to Palestine and Israel. It is very important that the message of what is happening in Palestine gets out to the world. The four people that were deported have been doing a huge service for us all.

Approximately 25 years ago I organised for a group of young people from Kildare to go to Northern Ireland to see the unionist and nationalist traditions and areas. I was reminded of that when Ms Elaine Daly contacted me in regard to her deportation. I could have been stopped from going into Northern Ireland because I had organised that fact-finding mission. I would have found that appalling and a huge breach of my rights.

I stand with Deputy Daly in regard to everything she has said.

Deportation officials in Ireland have the same rights as any other deportation officials to make a call. As a Government, however, we need to closely observe what has happened here and the fact they are possibly pursuing a more aggressive policy on deportations. This impacts on the four individuals now. They may apply to return to Israel in the future but we expect that they would be excluded again.

Looking at the bigger picture, this Government has on several occasions commented on its concern about increasing moves to hinder the work of Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations, NGOs, the presence of international NGO workers and even international parliamentary and ministerial visits to parts of the West Bank and Gaza. A state which can stand over its actions needs do none of these things. When we get a response outlining the reason for this we will respond to these individuals.

Human Rights

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

11. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when the report on human rights and business will be launched; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39824/17]

With the Ceann Comhairle's indulgence, I would like to speak on the previous question because I met that group and was with it for a few days. Other members of the group, some of them young students, who were interrogated by the immigration authorities in Tel Aviv airport, were traumatised by the way the immigration authorities spoke to them.

My question is to establish when the report on human rights in business will be launched.

The national plan on business and human rights was approved by Government in July and will be launched by the Minister, Deputy Coveney, within the next few weeks. Ireland will be the 16th country in the world, and the 12th EU member state, to adopt a national plan on business and human rights. The publication of the national plan meets a commitment made by the previous Government in June 2014 to give effect to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights which were adopted by the Human Rights Council in 2011. The guiding principles are a globally recognised framework which outline the roles of states and businesses in protecting human rights as well as providing for access to remedy when they are breached.

The national plan being launched is the result of a collaborative effort, led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and involving extensive consultations with business, civil society organisations and other Departments and agencies. Its goal is to promote responsible business practices at home and overseas by all Irish business enterprises. It brings together two of our national priorities: our commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and to being one of the best countries in the world in which to do business. The implementation of the actions identified in the national plan will be a collective endeavour. In this regard, several actions will be assigned to a business and human rights implementation group to be established comprising representatives from Government, the business community and civil society.

This has been a long time coming. It was announced in October 2013 and I have tabled several questions on it in the meantime. The answer is always that the process is under way. The working outline was produced in 2015 and last year it was said it would appear in the first quarter of 2017. I hope it happens as the Minister of State says it will.

We know it is important because it will implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights. We have seen many examples of violations of human rights in order to facilitate multinational companies, violations on the part of some governments with the displacement of people and land grabs. The Rana Plaza disaster was caused by the desire for greater profits, faster turnaround times and cutting corners. It is vital to have this report. Many submissions were made by organisations in Ireland with a lot of recommendations but that was a few years ago. The political landscape has changed, legislation has been introduced, and there is the problem of Brexit. Maybe there is a way in which those recommendations could be updated, not that anybody wants another consultation process but because it has been so long in coming there is a need to facilitate the voices of those who made submissions which may need to be reconsidered to ensure they are relevant today.

Touching on the delay, the Deputy has outlined some of its stages. It began at the Department's annual NGO forum on human rights in November 2014 and continued as further consultations took place throughout 2015. This included workshops with business and civil society representatives. In February 2015 following the public consultation it received over 30 submissions which had to be addressed. Based on these inputs a working outline of Ireland's national plan was published in December 2015. Written submissions on the working outline were received and further consultations took place last year and early into this year. The presentation on the final draft of the plan was made to a meeting of the interdepartmental committee on human rights in May 2017 and all relevant Departments and agencies were given the opportunity to submit comments and observations prior to the submission by Government. There has been a lengthy process and individuals have had the opportunity to have their say. It is important now that it is published. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has committed to publishing it in the coming weeks. We hope to stick to that deadline.

The European Commission and the UN Human Rights Council have called on states to develop national action plans to implement the guiding principles. Some of the plans produced by other countries have been weak, some have been aspirational and some have been voluntary rather than binding. I ask that ours will not be weak, aspirational or voluntary. It was recognised in the working outline how important it was to have legal remedies for those who suffer human rights violations in business. That would include Irish companies doing work overseas. There is also a need for a gender focus but we have to be strong in conveying to Irish companies which are working abroad that we will not tolerate violations in other countries that would be illegal in this country.

There will be a deadline for the implementation of this plan. The business and human rights implementation group, which will comprise representatives of Government, the business community and civil society, will take forward the implementation of the actions in this plan and it is proposed that the implementation group will meet twice yearly over the first three years to review the implementation. The initial priorities for the implementation group are set out in the plan and are structured according to the three pillars of the UN guiding principles: the state's duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to protect human rights and the access to remedy. A forum on business and human rights will be convened within two years of the adoption of the plan to review progress in achieving delivery on its commitments.

Human Rights

Paul Murphy

Question:

12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on representations that he has made to secure the release of a person (details supplied) who is awaiting a verdict in their trial in Egypt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39778/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

15. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been in contact with President al-Sisi with regard to the continued detainment of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39874/17]

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

33. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made by the Government to secure the release of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39703/17]

Justice delayed is justice denied which is the case for Ibrahim Halawa. It is, however, fair to say that many people in this country and around the world were delighted that his campaign was vindicated, he was found not guilty earlier this week. Unfortunately, of the 500 or so involved with him in the mass trial, up to 300 were jailed for varying lengths of time. My question is to know what the Government's plans are to get Ibrahim home as soon as possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 15 and 33 together.

I am sure all Members of the House joined with this young man's family and friends on Monday last, 18 September, in welcoming the news from Cairo that he and his three sisters had been acquitted at the conclusion of the trial in which they were defendants along with more than 400 others. This young man's name, Ibrahim Halawa, has been cleared and his innocence confirmed.

This Irish citizen has been deprived of his liberty for four years, and he has endured great hardship and distress. He has missed out on family celebrations, weddings of his siblings and births of nephews and nieces. When he should have been studying and planning his future in Dublin, he was a teenager locked in a prison cell in Cairo.

I want to pay tribute today to this extraordinary young man for his maturity, his strength of character and his resilience.

I would like also to pay tribute to his family for their relentless support of their son and brother throughout the past four years. Their dignity and tenacity have been an inspiration.

The Government's priority now is to support this young citizen and his family in every way that we can in order to ensure that he is able to return home to his family and friends in Dublin as soon as possible.

There are some practical procedures and formalities to be gone through in Egypt before he is able to fly back to Dublin, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our embassy team will be assisting and supporting him and his family to work through these processes and to make the necessary arrangements so that he gets home as soon as possible.

It is also appropriate today that I acknowledge the very significant efforts made on this young man's behalf by Members on all sides of this House, and also by fellow public representatives in the Seanad, the European Parliament and councils around the country over the past four years, and not least the Ceann Comhairle and the all-party and all-group delegation that went to Cairo in January to advocate for his release.

I also want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts made on his behalf over the past four years by the staff at our embassy in Cairo and in the consular unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

We are all absolutely delighted at Ibrahim Halawa's release. He has had four years of his life stolen from him without any evidence against him, something which became apparent when the trial began. This raises the question of what he was doing on trial in the first place and how he could have been incarcerated for four years. The greatest credit goes to his sisters and family for their tireless, relentless, heroic campaigning on his behalf and also to Ibrahim himself for enduring the hardship and suffering. I also commend the diplomatic staff who assisted him. There is no doubt about the hard work they did and it is to the credit of this House that there was unanimity in seeking Ibrahim's release.

There are many issues which need to be addressed beyond this but throughout this case, there has been minority-led but a vocal and quite filthy racist campaign against Ibrahim Halawa, recycling many of the lies and justifications that the Egyptian regime itself might have used for his imprisonment. It is important for us to condemn those in strident terms. He is an Irish citizen. He is innocent. He is not a terrorist. He was just someone involved in a peaceful protest but whether he was Irish or not, regardless of his religious faith, colour or anything, no one should have been subjected to what he was subjected to by the Egyptian regime.

I join my colleagues and, I am sure, the Ceann Comhairle in saying how pleased we all are that Ibrahim has been acquitted. Under the Ceann Comhairle's guidance, a number of us, including Deputy Paul Murphy, travelled to Cairo to meet with Ibrahim in January this year. That initiative was taken by the Ceann Comhairle and his regular contact with the Egyptian Embassy in Dublin kept up the pressure in the case.

I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett that four years is a long time. There were always questions about what evidence was there. I am delighted that Ibrahim Halawa has been acquitted. The Taoiseach has said that every assistance will be given to return Ibrahim home as soon as possible. Has the Minister of State an update regarding when he might be released and returned home?

It is important at times like this to acknowledge how hard our diplomatic team in Cairo under our former ambassador to Egypt, Mr. Damien Cole, and our new ambassador, Mr. Seán O'Regan, and Shane Gleeson worked. They worked assiduously in the background, although there were points when many of us questioned how good the diplomatic effort was and what was going on there. I know they spent a considerable amount of time on this case which they were so committed to. They deserve all our credit. We must pay particular credit to his sisters, Somia and Fatima, who are the two sisters I know, and his family. We need to get him home as quickly as possible.

To reinforce Deputy Boyd Barrett's remarks, there are still people out there, and I have received phone calls from some of them, who question what this case is about and ask if we are sure about this campaign. Ibrahim is an Irish citizen. His background should not matter. He has been acquitted. He is not a terrorist, and we always knew that. People who do not accept that should really ask questions of themselves.

The Deputies are correct in saying that every effort was made to ensure that Ibrahim was brought home. There were ten engagements with the Taoiseach at presidential level, 20 direct engagements at foreign ministry level and we had up to 40 members of staff from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade working on this case at any given time and around 20,000 person-hours were spent on this case. A significant amount of effort and work was put into this case.

Ibrahim Halawa's name has been cleared, his innocence confirmed and the most important thing now is that he returns home. Unfortunately, we cannot say when precisely he will return to Dublin. The Egyptian courts require a number of procedures, formalities and administration which all the defendants, of which there are 453, must go through. Our priority is that he will be in a position to return home to Dublin with minimum delay and we have done everything at this stage that we can. Our embassy has prepared and issued a new passport for him and we are trying to address the practicalities relating to his departure from Egypt, including those relating to his immigration status. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and the Taoiseach are personally being briefed and updated on developments and stand ready to intervene directly if there is any sense of unreasonable delay regarding his release or his clearance to leave Egypt.

The conditions in which we saw Ibrahim in prison were harrowing for anyone to face, let alone a young man who was not involved in anything. He only participated in a protest. For him to withstand that is impressive and a testament to him. It should serve to raise interest in Irish society on repression and the oppression that exists in Egypt under el-Sisi and to raise a wider interest in that.

I want to add my congratulations to those who drove the campaign. I agree with the remarks about everyone in the diplomatic service who we met there and congratulate them, the various public representatives and the different campaigning organisations. Above all the family and the sisters drove this and refused to give up. Many people have campaigned on small issues and given up after a month, two months or six months, but to fight on such an issue, to face an Egyptian state which seemed unmovable, to continue to fight and to raise the matter in every way possible, deserves full credit as does Ibrahim.

I pay tribute to this extraordinary young man, Ibrahim Halawa, for his maturity, strength of character and his resilience and to his family, friends and all those who supported him through this time.

On this special occasion, I endorse everything everyone has said. My observation is that he is an inspirational young man. I salute his fearless sisters. Like other Members, I note that Mr. Damien Cole and the ambassadorial team in Cairo were exceptional in their dedication to their task. During my time in the chair, the Egyptian Ambassador in Dublin, H.E. Soha Gendi has been continuously and constantly available and assisted me in every way she could.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

13. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made to address the situation of the undocumented Irish in the United States of America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39705/17]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora and international development are acutely aware of the very understandable concerns that exist among members of the Irish community in the US in light of recent developments.

The changed political landscape in the US has resulted in a renewed focus on the plight of the many millions of undocumented people living in the US, including thousands of Irish citizens. The Government remains absolutely committed to achieving relief for the undocumented Irish, as well as to facilitating greater pathways for legal migration to the United States.

With this in mind, Ireland’s diplomatic representatives in the US will continue to take every opportunity to raise the immigration issue in their contacts with the US authorities. We also work closely with Irish community organisations on this issue. Our embassy in Washington DC and our six consulates in the US are in regular contact with Irish immigration centres on a range of issues, including providing support to undocumented Irish citizens.

In this regard, the Government provides substantial funding each year through the emigrant support programme, ESP, to Irish community organisations and emigrant welfare projects in the US, and in particular to the Irish immigration centres.

Last year these projects received €1.4 million in emigrant support programme funding.

Legal advice on the implications of policy developments for undocumented Irish citizens in the US, funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, has been disseminated by immigration centres in the United States and is available online. We should not, however, underestimate the size of the challenge. This policy area has been a deeply divisive issue within the US political system for decades, with pronounced disagreement, even within the same political parties, on the best way to deal with a problem which directly affects over 11 million people.

The Government has always tried to work with both parties in a bipartisan way to address our longstanding concerns and this continues to be our approach. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade is in New York this week, where he will meet representatives of the four Irish immigration centres in the region and a representative of the US-wide Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers. The Minister will also meet a senior State Department official, and will use that opportunity to once again impress on the US administration the importance the Irish Government attaches to a resolution of the plight of the undocumented Irish.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Minister will also travel to Washington DC next month for high-level meetings with members of Congress. The plight of the undocumented Irish will be on the agenda for these meetings. In addition, the Taoiseach raised the issue when he spoke with President Trump by phone shortly after taking office.

The recent appointment by the Taoiseach of Deputy John Deasy as the Government’s Special Envoy to the United States Congress to work for the undocumented Irish was an important statement of our intent and seriousness on this issue. Deputy Deasy has made two substantive visits since his appointment - one at the end of July and the other at the beginning of September. In Washington DC, he met senior political contacts from both sides of the aisle and has engaged with Irish community and political representatives in New York and Boston. He remains in continuing contact with the embassy in Washington and with officials of the Departments of the Taoiseach and of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In light of all this activity, I can, therefore, assure the Deputy of the Government’s continued commitment to pursuing these matters on behalf of our affected citizens in the US.

I am very aware this is not an easy nut to crack and that successive Governments and Ministers have tried to do so. In light of the most recent deportations from the United States, and the attack on sanctuary cities by President Trump and others in his Cabinet, the Irish community there, particularly those who are undocumented, are very fearful. I have welcomed the appointment of Deputy Deasy. He is a person with experience in the United States.

We must look at a fresh approach to this. We must put options and proposals to the US administration and look at it on a bilateral basis. These are measures we proposed previously when we were in Washington. We should not give up just because there is a new President who is on record as being very firmly against emigration. We need to redouble our efforts. I congratulate the new ambassador, H.E. Dan Mulhall, on his appointment to Washington DC, and I hope he will keep this at the top of his agenda. There must be a pathway to legal migration and we can find it. We are consistently told about the high standing Ireland has in the United States and we need to see some action in this regard. I hope the Department looks at a fresh approach and will give options to the US and proposals to its administration on how we might move towards resolving the matter.

The Deputy is right this needs to be a priority and remain a priority for the Irish Government. When the Taoiseach spoke to President Trump this was an issue he raised. As the Deputy mentioned, the appointment of Deputy Deasy is significant. He has already made two substantive visits since his appointment. One of them was at the end of July and one was at the beginning of September. He has met senior political contacts from both sides of the aisle. He has engaged with the Irish community and political representatives in New York and Boston, and he remains in continued contact with the embassy in Washington and officials at the Department of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs and Trade. The ongoing presence of Irish Ministers and officials and their engagement means this very much firmly remains on the agenda.

What the Department is doing at present for the undocumented is also important, and given what has happened in the past year with the election of a new President there was renewed fear among those living there. One of the embassy's immediate priorities is to ensure undocumented citizens and their families have access to clear and accurate information on possible changes that may happen or that they might expect to impact them. To this end, additional funding has been made available to the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers to produce a fact sheet to ensure citizens are accurately informed of the recent changes in US immigration law and how they might be affected. Obviously, they are staying in touch with their local consulate and immigration centre to ensure that where necessary they can consult with an immigration lawyer on their particular circumstances.

The Minister of State mentioned ministerial visits and Deputy Deasy has been there twice. I hope he is being given the resources to back up his efforts. One glaring issue we need to deal with is consistent engagement between the Oireachtas and the House of Representatives and the Senate in the United States. This was a criticism levelled at us a number of years ago. The last time the foreign affairs committee went to Washington DC was six years ago. There is a peer-to-peer gap with regard to building up the Irish caucus in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This is not something that can be done purely by diplomats or our embassy. It is always done better between peers, namely, the elected members of two sovereign parliaments. Not enough of this is happening. It cannot just be left to Ministers. It needs a concerted effort by the Dáil and the Seanad to look at how we can keep this at the top of the US legislators' agenda also.

Deputy Deasy will work under the overall direction of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Ciaran Cannon. He will work closely with, and will be supported by, the recently appointed Irish ambassador to the United States, H.E. Dan Mulhall, as well as the embassy of Ireland in Washington DC and our consulates throughout the United States. The Deputy is right to state this will not happen just through meetings and the more contacts and communications we can build up the more we can press this issue. We do not know the exact number of Irish people there, but we know this is something that impacts thousands of Irish people and it is a priority for the Irish Government.

Question No. 14 replied to with Written Answers.
Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 12.

Human Rights

Joan Collins

Question:

16. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will condemn the violence and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar; the action he plans to take to hold the Government of Myanmar to account and stop this humanitarian crisis; and his views on a call for the freedom of Dublin city to be stripped from Aung San Suu Kyi. [39696/17]

Thomas Byrne

Question:

17. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recent human rights violations of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar; and if Ireland will condemn these actions. [39832/17]

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

18. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made at international and EU level to end the violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar; the efforts made to protect the Rohingya people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39702/17]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

21. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has been in contact with his counterparts in Europe to condemn the treatment of the Rohingya people in Myanmar; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39875/17]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

22. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has contacted Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and the Government of Myanmar to protest the treatment of the Rohingya people of Myanmar; if he will request an immediate cessation of the attacks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39699/17]

Seán Crowe

Question:

25. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the violence that is being inflicted on the Rohingya minority in Myanmar; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the UN and NGOs have documented massive human rights abuses and that the violence is likely to constitute ethnic cleansing; if he will speak out against this ethnic cleansing; and if Ireland is providing assistance to Rohingya refugees who have fled over the border to Bangladesh. [39766/17]

Clare Daly

Question:

32. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will condemn the human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya people of Myanmar and call on the political authorities there to take immediate steps to end the violence against the Rohingya people and provide humanitarian aid to prevent further harm. [39695/17]

Bernard Durkan

Question:

41. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he directly or together with the EU or the UN has sought to influence positively the situation in Myanmar, with particular reference to the immediate cessation of violence and ethnic cleansing; if the UN has been requested to intervene; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39851/17]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

42. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the plight of the Rohingya people in Myanmar; and his further views on the way Ireland can assist in addressing the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya. [39821/17]

Will the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade condemn the violence and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar? What action does he plan to take to hold the Government of Myanmar to account and stop this humanitarian crisis? What are his views on a call for the freedom of Dublin city to be stripped from Aung San Suu Kyi?

The Minister of State will respond, after which we will go to other Members if we have time.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, 21, 22, 25, 32, 41 and 42 together.

The Government condemns the violence that has taken place in Rakhine State. This includes the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, and the excessive actions which the Myanmar security forces have undertaken in response. It is imperative that an end is brought to this violence. I reiterate that it is essential that any further security operations carried out by the security forces in Myanmar are in line with international human rights obligations.

The reports of human rights violations by the security forces in Rakhine State are deeply troubling. Along with other EU member states, Ireland has supported the establishment and extension of the mandate of a UN fact finding mission in order to establish the facts of the situation on the ground. During an interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council on 19 September, we continued to urge the Government of Myanmar to enable access to the team and to co-operate fully with it. The Government is raising its concerns through our bilateral contacts with the Government of Myanmar and in the context of our EU membership. Ireland's embassy in Bangkok, which is accredited to Myanmar-Burma, is monitoring the situation closely. Ireland fully aligns with recent statements by High Representative Vice-President Mogherini, in which she called for an end to the violence and for humanitarian access to be brought to those in need. The concerns of the EU have also been expressed directly to the Government of Myanmar. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is liaising closely with other EU partners at official level in Brussels, Yangon and UN fora to contribute to the EU response to this issue.

In addition, Ireland continues to monitor this protracted humanitarian situation closely and may allocate additional humanitarian assistance in the coming months, in line with humanitarian needs.

Only three minutes remain. I will take three very quick supplementary questions.

I have a number of questions I wish to put to the Minister of State. This issue is not something that started only three or four weeks ago. We know it has been going on for centuries. The Rohingya are not recognised and are treated in a disgraceful way. Since 2012, when the violence started, 500,000 Rohingya people were already in Bangladesh. This is on top of the 400,000 who moved over the border in the past two weeks. Why do we supply Myanmar with humanitarian assistance to aid the people of Rakhine, including the Rohingya community, when they are being treated like this? Why is the Government supplying guns to the Myanmar generals and army? We should call for this to be stopped. Does the Minister of State, the Minister and their party support the call for the freedom of Dublin city to be stripped from Aung San Suu Kyi?

Before the current crisis, the Rohingya were recognised as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. I had a question on this for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade some years ago when the persecution first came to light. Since it was not dealt with adequately then, space was made for it to be exacerbated. We are seeing that now. What is alarming is the way the Government is not accepting the reports of the UN. It is accusing the UN of false representation. I acknowledge the Rohingya community in Carlow, whose family members have been affected.

To be honest, I am surprised by how tame the criticisms are and by the use of the word "excessive". Even according to the French President, Mr. Macron, this is genocidal violence. It is textbook ethnic cleansing, as the UN representative implied. Some 400,000 people have been driven out. The treatment of these people is reminiscent of scenes from "Apocalypse Now" or "The Deer Hunter". It is absolutely appalling. What is most shameful of all is that the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, is apologising for this stuff. That is what she is doing. She accused the Rohingya of being Bengalis and, incredibly, of burning their own homes, thus giving licence to the military, which has been doing this for years, to genocidally attack and ethnically cleanse the Rohingya in vicious Islamophobic violence, at an enormous human cost. We should be absolutely forthright in demanding the stripping from Aung San Suu Kyi of the freedom of this city and of her Nobel Peace Prize. There should be absolutely forthright criticism and an end to any kind of co-operation with the Burmese regime, the Myanmar regime, while it continues with this activity.

This, in itself, deserves a specific debate. I ask the Minister of State to convey this to the Minister. What specific efforts is the Government making at UN and EU levels? This is genocide. Deputy Boyd Barrett and others have covered it. We know and we can see what is happening. I know importance is attached to the freedom of the city, which I understand, but we want to know what the Government is willing to do at a practical level. Would the Government support immediate sanctions against Myanmar? Would it propose this at EU level? These are real, fundamental steps. I heard members of the Rohingya community on the radio last week. There is quite a significant community here. They are seeking something tangible. We just cannot stand by. Even though our voice is small - I get that we are not going to save the world in the morning - we could propose immediate sanctions against Myanmar. People would listen to us. We have a very good track record on human rights internationally and we should actually follow that. I ask the Minister of State to outline the practical measures the Government can take.

Regarding the freedom of the city, it is a matter for Dublin City Council. It was a decision made by the council in the first place, so any decision on this has to be taken by it.

Fine Gael has members on the council.

The Government absolutely condemns the violence that is taking place, including the attacks by the Salvation Army or the "excessive actions" of the security forces. We absolutely condemn this violence. I was asked about the Irish position. As a member of the European Union, Ireland is seeking to find solutions both in a bilateral context, with Myanmar, and via participation at international level through the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. They are meeting this month in New York and Geneva. The EU has led a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar. The Human Rights Council addresses such matters annually. Most recently, in March of this year, the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar was renewed by the council for another year. These concerns are being raised directly with the Government of Myanmar. The EU delegation, which was led by the EEAS, raised this matter when it met the Myanmar authorities in early September. The EU delegation continues to do so regularly. As a member of the European Union, Ireland is very much part of that process.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.