Other Questions (Resumed)

We will move on to Question No. 50 in the name of Deputy Gino Kenny.

Human Rights

Gino Kenny

Question:

50. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the Israeli ill-treatment of Palestinian children in military detention, highlighted by UNICEF as being widespread, systematic and institutionalised; if he will raise the case of a person (details supplied) with his Israeli counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14133/18]

What is the Tánaiste's view on the detention of Palestinian children in apartheid Israeli jails?

I also welcome the delegation. I had the pleasure of having lunch with the Deputy Prime Minister and his delegation yesterday. The relationship between Ireland and Singapore is growing stronger every year, and I thank him for being here.

I am glad the Deputy raised this question. The treatment of Palestinian minors under the Israeli occupation and military justice system has long been an issue of concern for us, which we have discussed here and which the Government has raised with the Israeli authorities and at EU and international level, including statements by Ireland at the UN Human Rights Council. I have expressed these concerns directly to Israeli leaders during my recent visit to the region in January. Despite occasional improvements on specific details, worsening aspects have been accurately tracked in reports such as those by UNICEF recently and Israeli non-governmental organisations, NGOs, with whom we have contacts.

For me, the bottom line is that Palestinian children are clearly subject to widespread treatment which Israel would - correctly - consider to be unacceptable for its own children. The case to which the Deputy refers is one which exhibits many issues that concern us. First, there is the way in which protest against the occupation can be criminalised and suppressed. Second, there is the exertion of political pressure in Israel to press the military authorities to take heavy handed and highly publicised action against a Palestinian family who posed no genuine security threat. Third, there is the treatment of Palestinian minors and their families to pressure them to accept plea bargains which then supposedly justify the whole process.

I believe that the Israeli authorities should re-examine these approaches in this case and in others. Until they do so, the image of Israel and the legal system imposed on Palestinians in occupied territory will be gravely impaired.

Since 2002, some 1,200 children have been imprisoned in Israeli jails and currently 350 children are in Israeli jails. Most of these children were prosecuted for simply throwing stones at the occupiers in their towns and villages. These children are subjected to torture, ill treatment and abuse.

The conclusion from the UNICEF report Children in Israeli Military Detention is damning of the Israeli prison system. It states:

... the ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized throughout the process, from the moment of arrest until the child's prosecution and eventual conviction and sentencing.

It is understood that in no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts ...

This blatantly goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and international law. Israel is the only country in the world that prosecutes children in military courts.

Did the Tánaiste raise the issue with the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, when he visited Israel in January? Did he raise the case of Ahed Tamimi?

On the Tamimi case, Irish and other EU diplomats attended the hearings in the military court as the case developed. An officer from Ireland's representative office in Ramallah was present in the court last Thursday when sentencing took place. During my visit to the Middle East in January, I raised directly with Israeli authorities my concerns about the detention of minors, as well as the issues of night-time arrests and blindfolding. I recalled that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child entails obligations to use detention only as a means of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period in the case of minors.

I have raised this particular case and also the general issue of how minors are treated within the occupied territories. It is damaging to Israel's reputation internationally and that is why it is in everybody's interest to change the approach. My approach to the issue, as the Deputy knows, is to be blunt and discuss with all sides the issues of occupation and settlements. I will continue to have that conversation with the Israeli authorities and also with the Palestinians.

While that all sounds well and good, most Irish people will ask why we treat Israel like a normal state - like any other state in the EU or across the world. Israel is an abnormal state. It is an apartheid state that detains not only children but also hundreds of thousands of ordinary Palestinians fighting against occupation. There are similarities between apartheid South Africa and apartheid Israel. We should not engage in any trade whatsoever with the state of Israel. Most people in the House probably do not know that we have imported €14.5 million worth of Israeli military goods. That military equipment is being used by the Irish military and it is being used by the Israeli military against Palestinians.

While what the Tánaiste said sounds good, he should take action to support his words and ban all Israeli military goods from coming into Ireland in order to show his solidarity with the Palestinian people.

I thank the Deputy for his co-operation.

Goods that have been imported into Ireland that are linked with military equipment are not being used against Palestinians. They are being used by Irish peacekeepers to protect people in the Middle East, whether it is-----

Does the Tánaiste really believe that?

-----in southern Lebanon or the Golan Heights.

Of course, the Tánaiste knows the truth.

The Tánaiste, without interruption.

He should not insult my intelligence.

Deputy Gino Kenny actually got more than his two minutes and 30 seconds. He is abusing his privilege. I ask him to allow the Tánaiste to answer his question.

I share the Deputy's concerns on the treatment of Palestinian children and we need to raise those questions directly, without fear or favour. However, I do not accept the Deputy's approach, which is to simply try to shut out Israel. There is a context here that is different from many other parts of the world. Israel's history is very complex. There are genuine security issues and concerns for the Israeli Government.

However, that does not excuse inappropriate behaviour and the totally inappropriate treatment of Palestinian children in the occupied territories for which Israel has responsibility. Our approach is different here.

My approach is through dialogue and politics; the Deputy's approach seems to be through-----

Sorry, we are way over time.

-----protest and little else.

What about expelling Israelis?

If everybody co-operates, we will be able to deal with two more questions.

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Robert Troy

Question:

51. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress being made regarding the status of undocumented Irish in the United States of America. [11045/18]

Brendan Smith

Question:

55. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of recent discussions with the United States Administration on the difficulties facing the undocumented Irish in the United States of America; when he expects immigration reform legislation to be progressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14153/18]

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

91. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will elaborate on the comments made by the Taoiseach during his recent trip to Washington on the undocumented Irish and the possibility of a reciprocal arrangement for American citizens; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14211/18]

The plight of the undocumented Irish in the US is well known. What progress is the Government making in tackling the issue?

The Government has consistently conveyed to the US Administration and congressional leaders the priority which Ireland attaches to immigration reform in the United States, while at all times respecting that US immigration policy is a matter solely for the US authorities to formulate and implement.

In encouraging our friends in the US towards immigration reform, we have two key objectives: increased pathways for legal migration by Irish citizens to the US and relief for the plight of undocumented Irish citizens living in the US.

In that regard, the Taoiseach discussed the issue with President Trump in the Oval Office on 15 March and also in his meetings on Capitol Hill during the St. Patrick’s Day visit. This long-standing tradition of meetings at the highest level in Washington around St. Patrick’s Day affords Ireland a unique opportunity to engage with the US Administration and congressional leaders at the highest level on issues of particular interest to Ireland, including immigration reform.

I had previously raised the issue with the then Secretary of State, Mr. Tillerson, when I visited Washington last month.

The Government’s special envoy to the United States Congress on the undocumented, Deputy Deasy, has also been very active, while our Embassy in Washington DC is engaged with the Administration and with contacts on Capitol Hill on an ongoing basis.

Through these many high-level contacts and discussions, the Government has been exploring a number of different options, including the possibility of a reciprocal agreement covering the undocumented Irish in the US, on the one hand, and US citizens looking to move to Ireland, on the other.

However, this remains a very challenging issue and I do not want to raise expectations unduly. Immigration reform has been a 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 an issue which directly affects approximately 11 million people.

In that context, finding a solution for the thousands of undocumented Irish in the US is still a difficult task, but we are trying to make progress on it.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. As I said at the outset, the plight of the undocumented is well known, with between 10,000 and 50,000 people affected. I ask the Tánaiste to take this opportunity to clarify his understanding of the numbers affected. When we hear figures, sometimes we do not think of the individuals behind them. I recently met a widow at a clinic in Granard. She can only visit her son when she can go to America. Thankfully, her grandchildren can come back because they are US citizens. She said to me, with a tear in her eye, that she is getting much older and she does not know for how much longer she will be able for the journey to the United States.

The Tánaiste said that the Taoiseach raised the issue again most recently at the St. Patrick's Day celebrations, which is welcome. How realistic does he think it is that we will be able to enter a bilateral reciprocal visa arrangement with the US, similar to that which, I understand, the US has with Australia?

I had no indication that these questions were being grouped, but I will allow Deputy Brendan Smith to ask a supplementary question.

We got notification from the Questions Office that Questions Nos. 51, 55 and 91 were being grouped.

I am happy to accept that.

The Tánaiste is happy to accept that. I ask the Deputy to make his contribution.

I endorse what Deputy Troy said on the need to keep the immigration reform issue at the top of the agenda. The embassy and the consulates do excellent work on this in the United States, but it is extremely important that immigration reform is also kept at the top of the political agenda.

I ask the Minister to ensure that this proposal regarding a reciprocal arrangement similar to the Australian E-3 visa be given urgent consideration as well. Like Deputy Troy, I attended a funeral of a family friend within the past number of weeks. Her daughter, who had been in the US for 14 years, was unable to return home for her mother's funeral. She had not seen her since she emigrated. Understandably, this was a major upset for a family. Mr. Ciaran Staunton's lobby group has put forward a proposal relating to the need to formally request the US Embassy to lift the three and ten-year ban on returning Irish immigrants. As the Minister knows, there are some undocumented Irish who are in a position to regularise their status through investment visas or sponsorship visas. At present, however, a person who would take that route must come home to finalise that application. They will then not get back to the US. I understand that there is an arrangement for some countries whereby this can be done in the US. The lobby groups are anxious that the Minister pursue this immediately with the United States Embassy to allow people to finalise such visa applications in the US because if they return to Ireland, they will not be allowed back into the US.

I will follow up on the issue raised at the end of the Deputy's contribution. It is very important that I do not raise expectations that we can solve this issue easily. I have been in this House for nearly 20 years, as have many others. I and others have been to Washington many times trying to deal with the issue of the undocumented Irish. There have been false dawns over and over again. We have been quietly working to try to find a way forward that could create a reciprocal arrangement whereby we would facilitate US citizens who may want to retire or come to Ireland and on the other side, we would get access to visas for Irish people in the US and Irish people who may want to go to the US. That is something the Taoiseach discussed directly with President Trump. It is something I discussed with Rex Tillerson, although he has now moved on. A process and a discussion are under way. A legislative vehicle is needed to do that, which means getting support on Capitol Hill for that and having a sponsor and appropriate legislation and so on. There are many components to a potential solution and there are potential blockages with each one of them even though I think there is goodwill towards what we are trying to do on the part of many key players, including the President. We will continue to work on that in a way I hope does not raise too much expectation but tries to get an outcome. Deputy Deasy has done a really good piece of work in this area with quiet, firm diplomacy, if one wants to call it that, over many months to try to find a way forward that may work. Time will tell in the coming weeks whether we can get something significant across the line.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

52. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on discussions he has had since becoming Minister with his UK counterparts regarding legacy issues, particularly regarding the Dublin and Monaghan documents and the failure of the UK Government to release files, and his plans to address the matter at future meetings in 2018. [14049/18]

Niamh Smyth

Question:

102. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of the ongoing outstanding requests with the British Government regarding inquiries into the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11046/18]

Will the Minister report on discussions he has had since becoming Minister with his UK counterparts regarding legacy issues, particularly those relating to the Dublin and Monaghan documents and the failure of the UK Government to release files and how this can be addressed at future meetings in 2018?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 102 together.

Dealing with long outstanding issues relating to the legacy of the conflict in Northern Ireland is of the utmost importance to the Government. The programme for Government highlights this priority with specific reference to implementation of the all-party Dáil motions relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings.

I acknowledge also 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. I will be meeting with Justice for the Forgotten in the coming weeks to hear its views and update it on the Government's continuing engagement on legacy issues, including with the British Government on the Dáil motions.

The all-party motion on the 1974 Dublin-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. These motions call on the British Government to allow access by an independent, international judicial figure to all original documents relating to 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 these all-party motions and has consistently raised the issue with the British Government.

I am actively engaged with the British Government on an ongoing basis on this issue, as are officials from my Department. I discussed the matter on a number of occasions with the former Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, and I will continue to pursue the issue directly with his successor, Karen Bradley.

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-Monaghan atrocities. I have also advised that the absence of a response from the British Government is of deep concern to the Government and indeed this House and I have emphasised the urgent need for such a response. The Government will continue to engage with the British Government on the request relating to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings and pursue all possible avenues that could achieve progress on this issue consistent with the request made by this House.

On the broader legacy issues, we are putting together legislation that can allow for hearings to be heard for inquests in Northern Ireland relating to some of the other legacy cases and hearings that will be taking place in order that we can essentially have a cross-jurisdictional hearing system in the High Court in Dublin to ensure that Ireland does everything it can to make sure that any information linked to legacy cases can be accessed and fully heard and understood in the context of hearings.

I cannot but be struck by the irony there. We expel a Russian diplomat. Leaving aside the threat to our neutrality, I will go back to the Minister's words. He said that Ireland had a choice to either show active solidarity with our closest neighbour or sit on our hands and do nothing. That is what British Governments have been doing for almost 44 years. They have sat on their hands and done absolutely nothing on this issue. There is no indication that the British Government will reciprocate the solidarity the Minister is anxious to show regarding that other situation. The language of the Minister's reply is the same language I have been getting from other Ministers. It is all very nice. The Government is going to actively pursue the matter, it is a major priority, there is a commitment in the programme for Government, the urgent need, deep concern, etc. but nothing has happened. It is almost as if it is a case of wearing down the relatives and Justice for the Forgotten so they will give up and go away but they are not going to give up and go away. The British Government has shown absolute contempt for the three motions that have been passed here.

I concur with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan regarding speaking out of both sides of our mouths regarding how we treated the recent Russian episode and how the people of Ireland have been treated by the British authorities. It is 44 years since the atrocity when 33 people were killed, including an unborn child. These families continue to suffer. They are stopped at every avenue when it comes to getting to the truth. These families need truth, honesty and, most of all, transparency if they are to begin, and only begin, the healing process regarding the atrocity and tragedies they suffered. I must concur with the Deputy and ask that the Minister does everything in his power to get these families the answers they deserve. Margaret Irwin is one of the people who is very much to the fore in Justice for the Forgotten. It feels as though these people are being led a merry dance, are being led round and round in circles and are still not getting the answers they deserve.

In respect of the issues raised by the two Deputies, I take umbrage at times when reference is made to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings despite their importance. I was glad to hear the Minister reference the Kay's Tavern bombing and the case of Seamus Ludlow because the Dundalk bombing had an impact as well.

Quite a number of the people we are meeting in respect of legacy issues through the Good Friday Agreement just want closure as opposed to individuals coming to trial. How far advanced are we in achieving a similar arrangement to that relating to the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims' Remains in respect of facilitating people who were not prosecuted to give evidence in order to allow closure for families that are really distressed? All they want is the truth of the situation. They are not necessarily looking for redress at this stage.

The Tánaiste quite rightly referred to the three motions passed unanimously by Dáil Éireann calling on the British Government to give an international eminent legal person access to the papers and files pertaining to the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The Tánaiste also referenced the work of the cross-party group. His predecessor as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, had an arrangement to regularly update Deputies Crowe and Maureen O'Sullivan and me, as representatives of the cross-party group, on the ongoing talks with the British Government and the Secretary of State. Perhaps it would be possible to reconstitute that arrangement.

I share the frustrations that have just been outlined. I am happy to reconstitute the cross-party group. I spent some time with victims of atrocities and their quest for the truth is powerful. Hopefully, we will soon see an opening of a public consultation process in respect of the introduction of new legislation consistent with the Stormont House Agreement in terms of legacy structures, inquests and the funding required to see that through. It is in that context that we will continue to pursue the reasonable requests of the families concerned and those advocating on their behalf. It is suggested that some may think the families will give up and go away. I do not believe they will. I assure the Deputies that the requests coming from the Irish Government in respect of this issue are not going to go away either.