Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Armenian Genocide

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

44. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a motion or resolution will be brought to Dáil Éireann to recognise the 1915 genocide of Armenians living in the Ottoman empire (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46129/19]

On 29 October 2019, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution to recognise the 1915-17 Armenian genocide. It has also been recognised by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, 16 EU member states and 32 countries worldwide. Is it not time for the Tánaiste and the Government to bring forward a motion or resolution to recognise the awful genocide in Armenia more than 100 years ago?

The Government expressed its deepest sympathy for the enormous suffering of the Armenian people during the terrible events of 1915, which resulted in the appalling deaths of large numbers of the Armenian population in the Ottoman empire.

No Government has taken a position on the recognition of the events of 1915 as genocide, believing that it is not in a position to adjudicate on this contentious matter involving the consideration of a number of legal issues and an assessment of the actions and intentions of many parties during that time. There is no international consensus on whether the events of 1915 can be considered a genocide. Ireland follows the practice of recognising genocide only where this has been established by a judgment of an international court, or where there is international consensus on the matter. Consequently, I do not propose to bring forward a motion or resolution on the matter at this time.

These terrible events continue to overshadow relations between Armenia and Turkey and the two sides maintain sharply different historical interpretations of these events. As the Irish experience demonstrates, the process of reconciliation and coming to terms with the past is never easy. Ireland urges Armenia and Turkey to take advantage of any opportunity to progress reconciliation on this matter for the good of their peoples and the wider region. I believe it is important that we do not permit current international developments in the region to influence our judgment on events that took place as far back as 1915.

I know that is not the response the Deputy was looking for. However, it is important that Ireland be consistent in its approach on such issues and I have outlined that consistency.

Should we not have a particular interest in this, given what happened to our people between 1845 and 1852, which was effectively a genocide as well? According to the 1948 UN genocide convention, the crime is defined as acts "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group". Between 1915 and 1917, after Turkey entered the First World War on the side of the central powers, the Armenians, a Christian people who played a valuable role in business and economics throughout the Ottoman empire, were targeted and identified as the enemy within. The leadership was rounded up in Constantinople in 1915 and this was followed by the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Armenians and the confiscation of their property, before they were driven into the deserts of northern Syria, which we are familiar with from recent events. There was mass shooting, burning and poisoning, and, at the end of it all, up to 1.5 million people were dead. The European Parliament has asked all member states to formally recognise this horrendous event as genocide.

Some of what the Deputy says is true but there is no international consensus on whether the events of 1915 can be considered a genocide. There has been no ruling in regard to this matter by an international court and neither the EU - that is, the European Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy - nor the UN has recognised these events as genocide. The European Parliament, it is true, adopted a resolution on 15 April 2015 on the centenary of the Armenian genocide, calling on Turkey to recognise the events of 1915 as genocide and calling on both Turkey and Armenia to work towards reconciliation and normalisation of their relations. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recognised the events as genocide in a 2001 resolution. The parliaments of 15 member states have passed resolutions recognising the events of 1915 as genocide. However, Governments of ten member states have said they do not recognise the events of 1915 as genocide or have refused to take a position on the matter. Remaining member states have avoided being drawn into the issue.

The point I am making is that there is not a settled international position on this; far from it. I have outlined the basis by which Ireland would introduce a resolution on this matter and we do not have it.

All we can rely on for the past are historians.

The courts, not historians.

Historians have delved into the documentation on what happened.

For example, in July 1915 the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau Snr., said "a campaign of race extermination is in progress under a pretext of reprisal against rebellion." He was referring to the horrible crimes being committed against the Armenian people. Also, in the year 2000, almost 20 years ago, 126 scholars worldwide, including renowned people such as Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, historian Yehuda Bauer and sociologist Irving Horowitz, published a statement in The New York Times affirming that, from their studies, the "Armenian genocide is an incontestable historical fact". As I said, surely we should be the most conscious of this, given the behaviour of Lord John Russell and his Government and the treatment of the ancestors of those of us in this House in those seven years during which more than 1 million people were starved to death and well over 1 million had to emigrate. We are so conscious of what happened in the former Yugoslavia, the awful events and attacks on the Jewish people, what happened in the Holocaust and what happened in Rwanda. Surely we, perhaps more than most nations, should be most acutely aware of this. The Minister should bring forward such a motion. If I, or colleagues and I, brought it forward, would the Minister support it?

I am not disputing the awfulness of what happened, the number of people who were killed or the suffering involved. What I am saying is that whether it is legally categorised as a genocide is in dispute. That is the only dispute here. In fact, in 2015 the issue was debated at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, when Senator Mark Daly put forward the proposal that the joint committee recognise the suffering and loss of the Armenian people in the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. The motion was defeated by eight to five. It is not as if we have not debated this issue. Of course I am aware of an ongoing lobby on this issue, but I think I have stated repeatedly the basis on which we will make a decision on this, that is, the legal understanding and court rulings concerning the matter.

Female Genital Mutilation

Denis Naughten

Question:

45. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress being made to ban female genital mutilation at both EU and UN level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46479/19]

Female genital mutilation, FGM, is a barbaric practice perpetrated on young girls. While the practice is concentrated in 30 countries in Africa and the Middle East, it is a universal problem which continues to persist among immigrant populations living here in Europe. I would like the Minister to update us on the progress on outlawing and prohibiting this practice.

I thank the Deputy for raising this question. Female genital mutilation is a fundamental violation of the human rights of women and girls. It is nearly always carried out on girls under the age of 18. Approximately 3.6 million girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM each year. According to the World Health Organization, there are 200 million girls and women in 30 countries affected by FGM. While there has been an overall decline in the prevalence of FGM in the past three decades, not all countries have made progress and the pace of decline is very uneven.

In 2018 Ireland co-sponsored resolutions in the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly calling for the intensification of efforts to eliminate FGM globally. The Government's new policy for international development, A Better World, launched last February, has gender equality at its core. A Better World commits to strengthening and intensifying Ireland's work to end all forms of gender-based violence, building on our previous work in this area.

Ireland also provides support to a number of UN agencies, including UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund, UNFPA, that are working to address FGM. UNFPA and UNICEF jointly lead the largest global programme to accelerate the elimination of FGM, which currently focuses on 17 African countries with the highest prevalence of FGM. The Government supports the development of legislation outlawing FGM, funds community and media education initiatives on FGM and provides training to improve healthcare and protection services for those affected.

In addition, the European Union and the UN are collaborating on a new global initiative called the Spotlight Initiative. This focuses on the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, addressing the most prevalent forms of such violence in specific regions. In Africa, the Spotlight Initiative is concentrating on sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices including FGM.

Based on UN estimates, two young girls have female genital mutilation performed on them every single minute. In a majority of countries the girls were cut before the age of five. This is happening here in Ireland, in that young girls have been taken out of Ireland to be cut. While FGM is prohibited here and it is also a criminal offence for someone in Ireland to take a girl to another country to undergo this procedure, it is important we raise awareness here; introduce right across Europe far more robust legislation along the lines of the legislation here; and ensure there is awareness among the authorities, the health professionals and the Garda and police authorities and that we enforce that legislation.

FGM is universally recognised as a form of gender-based violence and a fundamental violation of human rights and girls here in Ireland. The practice of FGM is estimated to affect more than 3,780 women and girls in Ireland between the ages of 15 and 45. The Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act 2012 provides for the creation of an offence of FGM and other offences relating to FGM. Under the Act it is a criminal offence for a person living in Ireland to perform FGM or to take a girl to another country to have FGM performed on her, as the Deputy has rightly outlined. In addition to prohibiting the use of FGM in law, it is important that appropriate responsive services at primary care level are in place to provide necessary care and support to women and girls who may have undergone FGM, whether illegally in Ireland or whether they have been taken out of the country for it to happen and then come back again.

The HSE is also working to raise awareness of the health implications of FGM among at-risk communities through information and support. An FGM resource pack for health professionals and relevant staff in maternity and associated settings has also been disseminated. The HSE also provides funding for a national network of immigrant women to facilitate working with target communities around raising awareness of the illegality of FGM and sharing information about the risks of this practice and the supports available for people. We are doing a lot but we need to do more.

I thank the Minister again for his reply. He is right: we are doing a lot here. We have very robust legislation such that offences committed outside of this jurisdiction - sadly, they are being committed outside of this jurisdiction - can be prosecuted here. As the Minister knows, however, that is not the case right across the member states of the European Union. I ask the Minister not only to support the awareness and resources being provided here in Ireland but at European Union level to impress on his colleagues right across Europe that this practice not only needs to be outlawed in all the other 27 European Union member states but also can be prosecuted if a young girl is taken from a member state of the European Union and the practice is performed elsewhere. It is important we have a zero-tolerance approach right across Europe not only to this practice but to anyone resident within the European Union who facilitates its carrying out on any young girl anywhere across the globe.

If nearly 4,000 women and girls in Ireland are impacted by this, the figure for the European Union in total is obviously many multiples of that. We would certainly like to see a consistency of approach in the law and prosecutions in this area. Perhaps I could come back to the Deputy with country-by-country details of the state of legislation in this area.

Perhaps we could do some more work to raise the profile of the issue in countries that have yet to put legislation in place that is similar to ours.

Overseas Development Aid

Seán Haughey

Question:

46. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take to ensure that the target ratio of 0.7% for official development assistance, ODA, to gross national income, GNI, is achieved by 2030; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46435/19]

I ask the Tánaiste to outline the steps that the Government will take to ensure that the target ratio of 0.7% for official development assistance, ODA, to gross national income, GNI, is achieved by 2030. This has been an objective for many years. While there is competition for scarce resources every year when the budget is determined, I think most Irish people would subscribe to the view that we should reach that target sooner rather than later.

The Government is fully committed to delivering on the 0.7% ODA:GNI target by 2030. Achieving this commitment would mean a tripling of current allocations and sustained, substantial increases beyond the lifetime of the current Dáil. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will engage in careful planning and consultation with other Departments and stakeholders as we seek to grow Ireland's development co-operation programme.

It is important to note that budget choices are always made against a backdrop of competing domestic priorities and changing economic conditions. Budget 2020 was prepared in exceptional circumstances and on the basis of Government assessments of the implications of a possible no-deal Brexit. In that context, the allocation of €838 million to ODA is a significant budgetary commitment by the Government to international development. This represents the sixth consecutive year the total allocations to ODA has increased and funding levels are now approaching pre-financial crisis levels. It comes on the back of budget 2019, which saw the highest increase in funding available in over a decade. Funding for ODA was increased by €114 million last year.

These additional resources provide the basis to begin to grow the development co-operation programme and make progress towards delivering on the initiatives and commitments outlined in A Better World, Ireland's policy for international development which was published earlier this year. We will also work to ensure that we have the necessary capacity, systems and structures in place across Government to enable Ireland to grow the ODA budget into the future, while maintaining our reputation for quality development co-operation.

In simple terms, we are now spending over €800 million per year and, by 2030, that figure needs to be close to €2.5 billion per year. That is where we need to get to and that will mean substantial and sustained increases, year after year, and regardless of who is in budget-----

The Tánaiste is out of time. Deputy Haughey should ask his first supplemental question.

I had time left.

I will play by the rules if the Tánaiste will play by the rules. The Tánaiste had completed his answer.

I was finishing in the time I had left.

The Tánaiste had completed his answer. We will stick to the one-minute limit from now on. Everybody observes the rules when they are under time but nobody observes the rules when they are 30 or 40 seconds over time. Let us play by the rules.

Fianna Fáil is conscious that the recent budget was framed in the context of Brexit, as the Tánaiste has said. We welcomed that, for 2020, the Government has allocated almost €838 million for official development assistance, an increase of just under €21 million on the 2019 budget allocation. While an upward trend in ODA in recent years is a move in the right direction, I support calls from organisations such as Trócaire and Dóchas for the Government to develop a strategy in order to ensure that the target is reached in full and on time.

The reality is that Ireland has fallen considerably behind in reaching the ODA:GNI target. Based on current estimates, the current level of allocation of ODA amounts to approximately to 0.31% of GNI. This is considerably behind a high of 0.59% reached in 2008 when Fianna Fáil was in government. While we acknowledge increases in ODA since 2014, it is clear that sustained financial resources will be required if we are to reach the target by 2030.

An agreed, cross-party approach is required to make this happen. We need to add somewhere between €100 million and €150 million a year, on average, between now and 2030 to the ODA budget. Some 65% or 70% of that funding will come through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the rest through other Departments. We are committed to doing that.

This year was an exception. I insisted on an increase this year of just under €21 million to make sure we did not go backwards from the 0.31% contribution. Because of the extraordinary nature of the budget this year, due to no-deal Brexit contingency planning, we are going to have to do even more in the years ahead to make up for that and we know that. I am glad we have the support of the main Opposition party so that we will be able to hold each other to account, whoever is in government in the future, to ensure that we meet the targets to which we are committed.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Norway, Denmark and the United Kingdom have achieved the 0.7% target. It has to be said that our aid programme has helped to address extreme poverty in some of the world's poorest nations and we can be proud of the contribution and difference we have made in that regard. However, it is evident that considerable and significant work remains to be done if we are to address poverty, gender equality, climate change and the promotion of peace and democracy in the developing world.

I ask the Government and all political parties to work with relevant stakeholders to develop a realistic and workable roadmap that will set out steps as to how this objective will be achieved. I am a firm believer in Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality but our neutrality goes beyond that and involves the promotion of peace, justice and basic human rights throughout the world. ODA is one of the major mechanisms through which we can do that as a nation state. We need a roadmap and strategy to achieve that target in the shortest possible timeframe.

We have such a roadmap. That is why we launched the new development strategy earlier this year. It outlines four key priorities: gender equality, reducing humanitarian need, climate action and strengthening governance around the world. Ireland's aid programme is ranked No. 1 for reaching the most marginalised people on the planet so we have a good foundation to build on.

We must build on the programmes that are there and need the funding to follow through on the commitments we made many years ago. It is going to require choices in good and bad years for economic growth to add, on average, somewhere between €100 million and €150 million extra each year in the next decade to get to where we need to be. The Government and my Department are committed to doing that and I hope that consecutive Governments will be able to maintain that momentum.

Presidential Elections

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Ireland recognises the recent election of Mr. Evo Morales as President of Bolivia; if calls for similar recognition at EU level will be supported; if he with his EU colleagues will condemn the US position on the election which infringes Bolivian sovereignty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46257/19]

My question relates to the election of Mr. Evo Morales as President of Bolivia and where Ireland and the EU stand on recognising that election. Events have overtaken me on this particular matter. What is Ireland's position on what has been happening in Bolivia in recent weeks?

As the Deputy will be aware, the elections that took place in Bolivia on 20 October 2019 were followed by reports of violence and excessive force by the authorities and the situation there remains very fluid and uncertain, as the Deputy referenced. Ireland supports the EU statement released on 24 October on the electoral process, which underlined the expectation that the Bolivian Government and electoral authorities would resolve the situation in a manner that respects the people's will, upholds the credibility of the electoral process and preserves social stability.

On 10 November, the Organization of American States released its preliminary report indicating that it had found clear irregularities and could not verify the result of the 20 October elections. That organisation had been asked to look at the process by President Morales. It concluded that it was unlikely that Mr. Morales had won by the required 10% margin and recommended that a new electoral commission be set up before convening fresh elections.

On 10 November, EU High Representative Federica Mogherini issued a further statement, which Ireland supports. The statement said that a new electoral court should be appointed that could offer guarantees of transparent elections. It also called on all parties, particularly the authorities, to assume their democratic responsibilities and take the appropriate decisions to allow quick reconciliation and avoid further violence.

The Deputy will be aware of the latest reports from Bolivia that President Morales has now resigned his post in an effort to help restore stability.

I understand he has accepted Mexico's offer of political asylum. Developments in Bolivia are still unfolding and the situation remains unpredictable. Following the announcement of the President's resignation on 10 November, there were reports of further demonstrations and looting across Bolivia. A number of high-ranking officials, including the Vice President, the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the President of the Senate, have resigned. According to the Bolivian Constitution, the next in line of authority is the Vice President of the Senate. The Bolivian Constitution further provides that in the case of the President and Vice President both resigning, new elections must be held within 90 days. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to monitor developments closely. We will continue to consult our EU partners in responding to events as they develop.

As the Tánaiste has acknowledged, this is a very difficult situation. Mr. Morales was the first indigenous leader of a South American country. The Bolivian courts paved the way for him to run for a fourth term. Initial reports showed that he was leading the election. Mr. Morales called for a new supreme electoral tribunal and for new elections. He was prepared to go along with that. The escalation in the efforts of leaders of the opposition to overthrow him made it obvious that they were not interested in a second round of elections, or even in new elections. Of course they have been aided by the military and the police. This has led to suggestions that a military coup might have happened in Bolivia. The Organization of American States, OAS, which found irregularities, has a chequered history. It is dominated by the US and follows US policies. It is based in Washington. Previously, it facilitated and sanctioned the Cuban embargo. There is no doubt that there is an anti-left wing bias in the organisation. We know that Mr. Morales's departure has been welcomed by President Trump and President Bolsonaro. The situation in Bolivia is very serious. It is a question of where Bolivia goes now. I know that Mr. Morales has left for Mexico. I think there is a need for more clarity from the EU on where it stands.

The ongoing electoral integrity analysis and audit of the official results of last month's presidential election in Bolivia is being carried out by the OAS, to which the Deputy referred. The team consists of 30 international specialists and auditors, including electoral lawyers, statisticians, computer experts, document authentication specialists and experts in chain of custody and electoral organisation. The team will focus on the verification of the vote count, including tally sheets, ballots and votes. The verification process includes matters relating to computing, the statistical projection component and the chain of custody of the ballot boxes. As indicated in the agreement signed with the OAS, the Bolivian Government will provide the auditors with all the necessary information. Representatives of political parties, academia and civil society have been invited to submit any information and complaints they believe should be analysed by the auditors. My understanding is that everybody, including Mr. Morales and his Government, is co-operating with this process. We have got to believe in some process here. We should not write it off before it is complete because of perceived bias. I think that is the process that is under way. Most importantly, we need to try to support a process that maintains stability in Bolivia and allows for a new electoral process within the next 90 days.

There are concerns about the OAS as an organisation. It is based in Washington and is dominated by the US and its policies. There is a long history of US-backed right-wing military coups in Latin America. The list includes Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Bolivia previously in 1964, Chile and Argentina. It is very difficult to take this organisation. I hope that the Tánaiste is right and that everyone is buying into it. There are concerns around it. Over 1,300 delegates attended a conference in Havana in early November. They represented 750 organisations and came from 86 countries in the area. All of them expressed concern about the clear intentions of the US in Latin America, particularly with regard to Latin America's natural resources. I would like to mention some of the achievements of President. Morales. During his time in office, the GDP of Bolivia grew and the number of Bolivians living on less than $3.20 a day decreased. Poorer people were benefiting when he was in power. We know there are elements in society who do not like to see poor people benefiting. We have to wonder about the other agendas that are appearing.

I am not in a position to make a judgment on whether Evo Morales did a good job as President of Bolivia. The question is whether he was re-elected. He has to win an election by a clear margin to be re-elected. We are going through a process at the moment to ascertain whether the election was free and fair. Clearly, the suggestion is that it was not free and fair. That is why there have been multiple resignations. To be fair, people have resigned in an effort to maintain some form of stability. The EU and Ireland need to encourage a new process that is put in place by a new electoral court to ensure Bolivia can elect a President who has majority support. I hope that can happen in the next 90 days.

Safety of Irish Citizens Abroad

Seán Haughey

Question:

48. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason for making public the efforts to assist the return of persons (details supplied) prior to them being safely returned here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46433/19]

The situation with regard to the case of Lisa Smith has continued to evolve since I submitted this question last week. I ask the Tánaiste to explain the rationale for making public the efforts to assist the return of Lisa Smith prior to the individuals in question being safely returned to Ireland. I think the House would welcome an update on this case. Obviously, it is in all the news bulletins at the moment. Anything the Tánaiste might have to say to update the House on this matter would be appreciated.

The Deputy is referring to a very complex and sensitive consular case, which is taking place in a highly unstable and dangerous region. Given the circumstances, it would not be helpful to comment on recent media speculation regarding plans that may or may not be under consideration. Any such comment would be inappropriate and would not be in the best interests of individuals involved. The Taoiseach and I have always been clear that the adult in question, as an Irish citizen, is entitled to consular assistance and has the right to return to Ireland. We have a particular concern for the safety and welfare of her child, who is also an Irish citizen. As the Deputy is aware, we have been working for some time with a range of partners with a view to exploring and assessing options for returning both citizens to Ireland. In light of developments in the region, it was agreed to send a small assistance team for a short period to reinforce the consular capabilities of our embassy in Ankara. The deployment of military personnel in such circumstances as part of a civilian assistance team is not unusual. This has been done before. We will continue to work with partners at home and overseas with a view to making progress with this case, which involves an Irish citizen and, more importantly, a vulnerable child. I will not go into further detail about this ongoing work and I will not comment on media speculation. I do not think it would be appropriate to do so in the circumstances. The Taoiseach and I have been quite careful in our responses to questions on this case. There has been a great deal of ongoing speculation. As the case develops, I hope we will be in a position to provide more details.

Last Sunday week, it was revealed in television news bulletins that the Army Ranger Wing has been deployed to assist in the operation to repatriate Lisa Smith and her child. It was reported in the public domain that this operation is being led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Given that this is a very sensitive case, how did that get into the public domain? We are where we are. Details have been made public. It is important for the House to be updated on the situation. I presume we can confirm that a small team of Irish officials, supported by members of the Army Ranger Wing, have been in Turkey for several weeks. There was some criticism on the public airwaves today. It was suggested that the Government should have introduced new legislation to make it a specific crime to join Islamic State, particularly in a foreign country. I know the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act 2005 is in place.

I acknowledge it is not within the remit of his Department but, as Minister he may wish to comment on what will happen to Lisa Smith when she returns to Ireland. Will she be questioned by the Garda? Is she a person of interest? Will she be under 24-hour surveillance? All these issues have been raised in the media today. Any information the Tánaiste could provide would be welcome. It has been suggested that she will be given travel documents and identity papers. The House would appreciate more information on the case. Although it is sensitive, details have been leaked for one reason or another and, as such, the position should be clarified.

I urge the Deputy not to take everything he reads or hears about the case as fact. Much of the commentary is speculative, although some has a basis in fact. We sent Defence Forces personnel to Turkey to support our embassy team there mainly because of an ongoing conversation between our embassy in Ankara and the Turkish military. It makes sense to have military personnel speaking to military personnel. Although some people suggested we were sending Defence Forces personnel to extract Lisa Smith from north-east Syria, that was not the case. They are providing an important support security and communication role to the ambassador and her team in Ankara. That is not unusual. Defence Forces personnel have previously supplemented our embassy teams in other parts of the world and that is what they are doing in Turkey. Like all sensitive consular cases, the focus must be on the individuals and their family, rather than making it a public story. Of course, there will be a time to answer all questions on the case but, first and foremost, we need to continue to talk to the Turkish authorities to get the job done.

I agree that Ireland should abide by its obligations to its citizens as determined by national and international law. People need to be better informed about our obligations and this case may inform debate. It raises certain questions. Is the Minister aware of any other Irish citizens who travelled to an area controlled by Islamic State and are seeking repatriation? What steps or general efforts has the Government undertaken to prevent or circumvent Irish citizens becoming radicalised? It is beyond doubt that in this case an Irish citizen was radicalised. This is an issue of concern for many people.

Those are fair questions. The Turkish Government has made clear that when it finds and picks up people who have been radicalised or are supportive of ISIS in northeastern Turkey, it intends to deport or repatriate them and it expects their home countries to accept them back. From our perspective, only two people are the subject of our current conversations with the Turkish authorities. One of them is a young and vulnerable child who is my primary concern in this situation. We have obligations in that regard. There are all sorts of questions relating to radicalisation, questioning and the role of An Garda Síochána if or when Lisa Smith comes home. We must deal with those questions comprehensively across multiple Departments, particularly my Department and the Department of Justice and Equality. We are working closely together to make sure we do what is appropriate in this situation. My primary concern is the two-year-old girl. We have an obligation to protect her as an Irish citizen and that is what is driving all of this. As events unfold, we will be able to offer more detailed analysis of the thinking behind the decisions we have made.

Visa Agreements

Denis Naughten

Question:

49. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if progress has been made on establishing an E3 visa agreement between Ireland and the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46480/19]

It is estimated that up to 50,000 Irish people are living in the shadows, in fear of deportation from the US. The E3 visa legislation was reintroduced to the US Congress during the summer. I seek an update on progress in that regard and the good work done to date by Deputy Deasy.

The House will be aware that the Taoiseach and I have prioritised the issue of Irish immigration in the US since taking office. I have continuously raised immigration issues, particularly the E3 visa, in all my interactions with the US Administration and US political leaders. I discussed these matters with the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and her congressional delegation when they visited Ireland in April. The Taoiseach raised the issue of the E3 visa during his high-level engagements with the US, including during the visit of President Trump this summer. The US President commented positively, indicating his support. I recognise the very strong support we have received from the White House and the US President on this issue. The issue was also raised with Vice President Pence during his visit to Ireland in September.

Our embassy in Washington DC continues its extensive outreach in support of the E3 Bill, working with a range of members from both sides of the aisles of the US House of Representatives and Senate. The special envoy to the US Congress on the undocumented, Deputy Deasy, has worked closely on this issue with my Department, engaging key US stakeholders. He has met senior officials of the US Administration and representatives of the US Congress regarding the Bill, most recently during a visit to Washington DC in September. He is supported in his work by the Americas unit of my Department and our embassy in Washington DC. I understand he will travel there again soon to continue his work.

The proposed E3 visa Bill, which would offer new opportunities for Irish citizens to live and work in the US, was introduced into the US Congress in May by Congressman Richard Neal, who many Deputies will know well. It remains before the House of Representatives. It is my hope that a vote of approval will be passed in this term of Congress and that the Bill will go to the Senate for approval and final implementation. Much work needs to be done for the Bill to become a reality and we are under no illusions as to the challenging path ahead. However, as the Deputy will be aware, we were very close to getting it passed previously. In fact, we were one vote short in the Senate of doing so. I hope this time we will be one step ahead of where we were then. We have many friends on Capitol Hill who have been very helpful in these efforts.

As the Minister will be aware, many Irish citizens have made the US their home. They have family, children and good jobs there and, as good citizens, are contributing to the US. As he will also be aware, during the summer raids were carried out throughout the US which have terrified Irish communities across the Atlantic ocean. A legal pathway should be put in place and the E3 visa is a mechanism to so do. I thank him for his positive comments on the progress of the legislation through Congress. I urge him to redouble efforts to ensure it passes through the House of Representatives and has an easier ride through the Senate than was the case on the previous occasion.

It is important to state what the E3 visa is and would do. Essentially, Ireland is seeking to avail of unused visas that would have been allocated to Australian citizens. The US and Australia have a unique arrangement whereby a certain number of visas are provided each year.

We are proposing that the unused visas in the allocation for a year be used by Irish people in the following year. We have given an absolute assurance to the Australian Government and its embassy in Washington that we are not looking to take Australian visas. We are simply looking to use unused visas in the following year. That is essentially the approach taken in the E3 Bill which potentially would provide for the allocation of 2,000 to 3,000 visas each year to allow Irish people to travel and work in the United States. The E3 Bill approach is very limited in what it can do for the undocumented Irish in the United Stated who are very concerned. We are trying to find a pathway for them, but that will take a little longer.

We need a clear legal pathway to regularise the status of Irish citizens living in the United States without documentation who are contributing to its economy. Is there an opportunity to have some bilateral arrangement whereby we could reciprocate in regularising the position of undocumented persons living here, particularly US citizens? As the Minister knows, there are many people from outside the European Union who are resident in Ireland who are contributing to the economy, whose children are sitting beside our own in school, learning Irish, playing hurling and football and yet remain undocumented. Can we look at a reciprocal arrangement between the United States and Ireland?

The E3 Bill would require reciprocal arrangements on our side. In return for receiving visas for Irish citizens to enable them to travel, work and live fully documented in the United States we are proposing a package of measures for US citizens who are either resident here or who would like to come here to retire or work. It is proposed to have a reciprocal arrangement. The E3 process would benefit predominantly young people who want to work in the United States, but it might also benefit some who are not so young. In return we would make Ireland an easier place for US citizens to come and work or potentially retire. That is completely different from the issue the Deputy raised at the end of how to deal with undocumented persons resident in Ireland. That is a matter for debate on another day.

International Agreements

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

50. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the need for binding legislation here to secure due diligence for business and human rights to ensure mandatory guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46258/19]

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

69. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when Ireland will sign an international treaty on business and human rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46382/19]

My question relates to the need for binding legislation to secure due diligence for business and human rights to ensure mandatory guidelines.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 69 together.

We partly answered this question earlier, but what I am about to read contains a slightly different answer. As the Deputy is aware, the question of a legally binding treaty to regulate the activities of transnational corporations and other business enterprises has been under consideration in Geneva by an open-ended intergovernmental working group for five years. For further information on the general state of play on the prospects for such an instrument, I refer the Deputy to the response I gave to Deputy Shortall a few minutes ago. As the proposed treaty covers matters for which the European Union is competent, it will be for the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the Union and its member states. I understand the matter will be on the agenda for the incoming Commission.

I am aware that some civil society actors in Ireland have been very active in calling for Ireland to support the legally binding treaty and, in this context, have made specific recommendations for the adoption by both Ireland and the European Union of legislation on mandatory due diligence. The need for due diligence mechanisms was considered in the development of Ireland's national plan on business and human rights which was launched at the end of 2017. It identified existing provision in this area, for example, EU directives on environmental liability and non-financial reporting, and set out a number of action points to be taken forward by the business and human rights implementation group.

Further research on the matter was undertaken in the context of the baseline assessment of the current legislative and regulatory framework for business and human rights in Ireland which was commissioned by my Department on foot of a key commitment given in the plan. Both the national plan and the baseline assessment are available on my Department's website. Among the recommendations made in the baseline study, to be considered by the business and human rights implementation group, is the suggestion that consideration be given to the adoption of mandatory human rights due diligence, in line with similar legislation already made in other countries. I will await the outcome of the implementation group's deliberations on this issue before moving forward with specific policy proposals.

It took some time for Ireland to establish a national plan and an implementation group. On Thursday the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade will discuss the matter. There were positives: the Minister's answer to me the last time he attended the committee; the increased engagement by Ireland in the UN treaty process; and the fact that the staff of our permanent mission to the United Nations attended the full week of sessions on transnational corporations. However, it was Spain and France that made positive interventions, during which Ireland stayed silent. There are interesting statistics for the attendance of the various groups and who participated. The European Union approved the conclusions and recommendations. We know the realities of human rights abuses by corporations, multinationals and transnationals, whether it be in working conditions, land grabs, intimidation or violence, particularly against women, in some areas by corporations. It has even led to deaths. We are very well respected when it comes to the protection of human rights. The question is whether Ireland will take the extra step. Will there be increased engagement on the UN treaty in Brussels? Will we push for EU engagement in the process and an EU-negotiated mandate?

We are pushing for increased EU involvement. In response to Deputy Shortall earlier I stated we had pushed the European Union to increase its engagement. It made a statement both at the start and at the end of the process in Geneva. We need to continue to do this. We also need to ensure our national plan is credible and that the implementation group will continue to meet. It has met three times this year and will meet again in January. The chairperson is an extremely credible individual with considerable business experience. While we are trying to move the agenda forward, it needs to happen at a global level through the United Nations. I believe 16 EU countries have national plans, of about only 22 globally. The European Union is engaged in this area, but it is really important that it be brought forward in the context of UN structures. Otherwise the European Union will be doing things internally based on how it operates the Single Market and the regulatory environment. Potentially the companies we are trying to target will leave the European Union and locate elsewhere because of the lack of regulation there. This needs to happen in a way that will be benchmarked across the globe, as opposed to focusing on the European Union, but that does not mean that we cannot lead by example.

The implementation group has been rather quiet and I am not sure if some of the subgroups have even met. At a conference in Trinity College Dublin last Friday a report on benchmarking compliance with the UN guiding principles was presented. It indicated that progress had been very slow in meeting the guiding principles on business and human rights. Berta Cáceres was murdered for her work with indigenous people. Seven men and one woman were convicted of her murder last year, but the court found that they had been hired by a construction company's executives in the territory where she had been working and lawsuits are being taken against some multinationals. The report showed a lack of awareness among many Irish companies of the guiding principles. There is no embedding of respect for them and human rights due diligence in their policies. If we are serious about our national plan, much more work needs to be done to ensure mandatory human rights due diligence mechanisms. Some of the NGOs have suggested there be a national consultation process on the UN treaty. I take heart from what the Minister has said about Ireland's position and that we will be positive, but we need to maintain that push.

My Department has undertaken to convene a forum on business and human rights within two years of adoption of the plan. In addition, the interdepartmental committee on human rights, chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon, will also monitor implementation of the plan. There is oversight to ensure that this agenda moves forward but in terms of making an impact on global policy, the EU and the incoming Commission need to give leadership. Ireland will certainly support them in doing that.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.