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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Oct 2020

Vol. 998 No. 5

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Refugee Resettlement Programme

John Brady


92. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the nature and the full extent of the response by Ireland to the fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28469/20]

Will the Minister outline in detail the nature and full extent of Ireland's response to the fire at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos that happened in early September?

Welcome to the night shift. I hope everyone will stay with us until the early hours. I thank Deputy Brady for asking this question. It is an important issue.

Like many other people, I was deeply saddened by the fire at the Moria camp on Lesbos and the impact this has had on refugees and migrants who were based there. The sudden displacement of thousands of people has caused great suffering to those who were in the camp as well as posing a huge logistical challenge for the Greek authorities in the midst of a pandemic which is already putting much pressure on people.

My colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Byrne, spoke with his Greek counterpart immediately after the fire to offer Ireland's full solidarity and support. The Greek authorities requested assistance from EU partners in dealing with the immediate humanitarian needs arising from the fire. My Department, through our embassy in Athens, is in contact with the Greek Ministry of Migration Policy and has confirmed Ireland’s readiness to provide assistance from emergency stocks which we have in place at the United Nations Logistics Base, UNLB, in Italy. The Greek authorities have thanked us for this offer of assistance and we stand ready to work with them regarding the deployment of the emergency supplies.

We in Ireland are endeavouring to do our part having already received 1,022 asylum seekers, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish refugee protection programme, IRPP.

In the context of the difficult situation now arising from the destruction of the Moria refugee camp the Government has decided that Ireland will welcome refugee families from Greece under the Irish refugee protection programme. Up to 50 people in family groups will be resettled following displacement due to the fire. This is in addition to the four unaccompanied minors to be taken as part of our pre-existing commitment to take 36 unaccompanied minors from Greece.

Officials from the Department of Justice and Equality are liaising with the European Commission on the detail of this commitment and, along with An Garda Síochána, will travel to Greece in the coming weeks to make the arrangements.

Like many others, I was moved by the images of young children and babies sitting on the side of the street with few or no possessions. We are responding, as I hope other countries in the EU will as well, to show some solidarity and assistance for the people concerned and also for Greece.

I thank the Minister for his response and share his sentiments with regard to being saddened by what we have seen in Lesbos. I am saddened also by the Irish Government's response, which has been wholly inadequate. We have had ministerial commitments to what can only be described as a piecemeal response in committing to accept four minors.

Back in September 2019, the head of the Children's Rights Alliance said there was a moral duty on this Government to live up to its obligations to accept 36 minors which had been committed to in phase 1 of the refugee resettlement programme. Since that date only six minors have actually been accepted into the State, as alluded to by the Minister. We are 30 short of our own commitments, so agreeing to accept four is less than satisfactory and deeply disappointing. Perhaps the Minister might touch on that point first and foremost.

Ireland has always responded positively to humanitarian crises and we will not be found wanting on this occasion either. As I said in my response, up to 50 people in family groups will be resettled to Ireland from Greece under the Irish refugee protection programme. It would be good if Deputy Brady recognised that, quite frankly. They will be given every support to rebuild their lives here in peace and safety. This is in addition to the commitment we have already made with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, to resettle 2,900 refugees to Ireland over the next four years and they will be welcome and safe here too.

We have already received 1,022 asylum seekers, including six unaccompanied minors, from Greece under the first phase of the Irish refugee protection programme. We have also committed to accept 36 unaccompanied minors in need of international protection from Greece and I was pleased that the first group of eight such minors arrived in Ireland last June. As I mentioned, the Government has decided to accept another group of four unaccompanied minors as part of this overall commitment. It is, however, an ongoing commitment and we will respond in as generous a way as we can.

I acknowledge the commitment that we will take in 50 people made up of a number of families. I acknowledge also the commitments that we signed up to between 2015 and 2019 that we would take in 36 minors, something we have failed to live up to. We need to learn from this fire. There is deep concern that we will see the rebuilding of the refugee camp in Lesbos. That cannot be allowed to happen, and that will only happen due to the failure of the EU to put in place a humane migration plan. We need to ensure that an investigation is launched into the policies and practices of the EU and its member states which have led to the deplorable conditions in the EU-sponsored hotspots such as those in the Greek islands.

Will the Minister will commit, first and foremost, to living up to our obligations, not by taking in four minors but to take in what we already agreed to going back to 2015? Second, will he repeat the call for an investigation to ensure something like what happened at the Moria camp does not happen again and that we put in place a humane refugee pact?

First, taking in unaccompanied minors is not a straightforward process. It normally involves civil servants from the Department and members of An Garda Síochána interviewing people to ensure they can be brought safely to Ireland and that they are suitable to resettle here and want to come here. Therefore, we are absolutely committed to fulfilling the commitments we have made and I suspect we will probably go beyond. Every time I am contacted by the European Commission to assist in accommodating refugees or asylums seekers, normally people who are trying to cross the Mediterranean, we almost always respond positively and we quietly accommodate different numbers at different times. This country is welcoming, wants to be generous and wants to commit to a sense of solidarity within the European Union where all countries should share the burden and show a willingness to support countries that border the Mediterranean, in particular, which are put under significant pressure.

It is my understanding that an investigation is already under way into how this happened and to learn lessons from it.

Brexit Issues

John Brady


93. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he is taking to assist hauliers here to deal with the anticipated delays at ports in the UK particularly at Dover. [28470/20]

Brexit is not good for Ireland, deal or no deal. A big issue coming at us, however, is that of hauliers who rely on the landbridge through Britain. What measures are the Government taking to assist Irish hauliers to deal with the anticipated delays at ports in Britain such as at Dover?

The Government has made a range of financial and advisory supports available to all sectors, including the haulage and logistics sector. Details can be found in our Brexit Readiness Action Plan which we published a couple of weeks ago. I urge any business moving goods to or through Great Britain to take steps to understand and prepare for the changes that are coming on 1 January, trade deal or no trade deal.

It is also important to be aware of the new systems being put in place by UK authorities as set out in the UK's Border Operating Model. An update to the model is expected in the near future and people should certainly keep an eye out for the detail of that.

However, even with these preparations, delays at ports are likely immediately after the end of the transition period at the end of this year. We have highlighted this for some time including in our 2019 and 2020 readiness plans, with Dover-Calais identified as a particular likely bottleneck. This is outside of our control.

Ministers and officials are engaging regularly with their key stakeholders. I understand that engagement with the shipping, haulage and logistics representatives takes place on a fortnightly basis.

Goods moving directly between Ireland and elsewhere in the EU will not be subject to any new procedures. The Government has been engaging extensively with the shipping sector to assess the capacity available on direct routes to continental ports and I am working closely with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan. We met on this issue and talked about it in some detail last week.

A number of new direct services have been launched in the past year. The shipping sector has indicated that sufficient capacity is available on direct routes to continental ports. I understand that direct routes are operating at about 40% capacity. After the Deputy asks further questions, I can go through the routes we are talking about. This is also the view of the Department of Transport and the assessment of capacity by the Irish Maritime Development Office.

I encourage engagement between traders, hauliers and ferry companies to align capacity with needs and demand. Where it is feasible to do so, businesses should also consider moving to direct services now. I suggest that they use the month of November as a test period to look at new supply chains as they may need them as a contingency for the period around 1 January.

A report in recent days showed that our tax returns have declined substantially, which is no surprise, but our exports have held up and are keeping us afloat. Some 150,000 Irish lorries use the land bridge through Britain on an annual basis. About 40% of Irish exports and 13% of imports cross the trade thoroughfare ever year. The value of trade crossing the land bridge was €18 billion in exports and €3 billion in imports in 2016, according to a report on the route by the Irish Maritime Development Office. It is no surprise. There are serious concerns that some products may double in price along with long delays and chronic shortages of goods due to the choke points such as at Dover. The nature of our goods is such that they cannot afford to be caught up in such serious backlogs. Irish hauliers have suggested a dedicated daily route between Ireland and continental Europe to address some of these major concerns. I know the Minister said the ferry services are under capacity. I ask him to elaborate on that and touch on the call by the Irish hauliers.

This is an important issue and we need to continue to talk to the sector about all elements of the supply chain. The Department of Transport is in close contact with the shipping sector. Operators have indicated that sufficient shipping capacity is available on direct routes to continental ports. The Department of Transport and the Irish Maritime Development Office concur with that. A number of new direct services have been launched in the past year with extra sailings planned on existing routes. New direct routes launched in 2020 include those from Cork to Zeebrugge, Dublin to Santander, Waterford to Rotterdam, Rosslare to Bilbao and Rosslare to Roscoff. Extra sailings planned for next year include those from Rosslare to Cherbourg and Cork to Roscoff. Ferry operators have indicated that they are capable of responding to a further increase in demand beyond what is already catered for. At present, spare capacity is available on routes from Ireland to continental Europe, and there is spare freight-carrying capacity in the European shipping industry generally.

However, some hauliers are asking for daily roll-on roll-off services from Rosslare. I read in the media today that the chief executive of Rosslare Europort is talking to a shipping operator about providing such a service. This is an ongoing discussion. Subsidising a route would not necessarily be helpful because it could potentially put some of the existing routes out of business and cause market disruption which might cause more problems than it solves. We will keep talking to the sector to ensure we get this right before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister for the response. It is critical that everyone keeps talking to each other. The year is closing very quickly and there are genuine concerns. A number of reports have alluded to the serious delays and a backlog of up to 7,000 trucks parked up along the M20 in Britain. Unfortunately, many Irish hauliers may be caught up in that situation due to no fault of their own but to unpreparedness at the British end. We know the serious challenges the British are facing in putting IT systems in place. They will not even meet their own deadlines.

I accept what the Minister has said about the capacity on some of the existing routes. However, the impact of that bottleneck needs to be taken into consideration bearing in mind the number of hauliers that may consider using roll-on roll-off. Our current capacity is not where it needs to be. We need to continue to have that conversation. A subsidised service needs to be considered. Commitment needs to be given to that in the event that we need to depend on it.

I wish to reassure the House that we have looked at a subsidised service. Having spoken to the shipping operators, for now anyway we have decided that would not be helpful. There is significant spare capacity and also the potential for shipping companies to shift capacity from the Irish Sea routes and on to direct continental routes out of Ireland if they choose to do that, but they will follow the demand. There are issues with scheduling and the timelines involved. Getting product to and from mainland Europe takes longer on direct ferry routes. There are issues with the logistics of this, particularly for fresh and perishable goods that need to get to the market quickly. That needs to be measured against the potential disruption, which we know is likely, on 1 January particularly on the Dover to Calais connection. We will continue to talk to hauliers, exporters and shipping companies to try to get this right. Money is not the issue in supporting routes. It is about ensuring that the capacity shipping companies can provide is matched with the demand.

Human Rights

Cian O'Callaghan


94. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the violation of human rights in Xinjiang; the steps he and his EU colleagues will take in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28489/20]

On 17 September the Chinese Government released a white paper confirming that more than 1 million Uighurs have been detained in so-called re-education camps in the region of Xinjiang. These camps are designed to stop Uighurs and strip them of their culture, language and religion. What action is the Minister taking to raise these human rights abuses with the Chinese Government?

I thank the Deputy for this question. Ireland, along with our EU partners, remains deeply concerned about the credible reports regarding the treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, including restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance, forced labour, and forced sterilisations and birth control.

Ireland has been vocal about raising this issue, along with other partners in the international community. In our national statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September, we reiterated our deep concern regarding the treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other minorities in Xinjiang, and urged China to allow unrestricted access to the region for the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

At EU level, the deterioration of the human rights situation, including the treatment of minorities in Xinjiang, was raised by EU leaders with China on 14 September, and it was agreed to discuss these issues further at an EU-China human rights dialogue later this year.

Prior to this, Ireland was also one of 27 states to join a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council on 30 June 2020, which also called on the High Commissioner to provide regular information about the situation in the region, in order to safeguard the rights and freedoms that are guaranteed under international law.

Today, Ireland is supporting a joint statement at the UN Third Committee, which reiterates our grave concern regarding the situation in Xinjiang and recalls the exceptional letter of concern issued by 50 UN special procedures mandate holders which called on China to respect human rights and to allow immediate, meaningful and unfettered access to Xinjiang for independent observers.

Ireland previously joined a joint statement at the UN Third Committee last year and a joint letter at the UN Human Rights Council in July 2019, which called for the Chinese Government to urgently implement eight recommendations made by the Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination related to Xinjiang, and to uphold its international obligations and respect human rights in Xinjiang.

The protection and promotion of human rights is a core pillar of Ireland's foreign policy, and Ireland will continue to monitor and assess the situation and, along with our EU partners, to engage with Chinese authorities bilaterally and in multilateral fora as appropriate.

I thank the Minister for his response. Uighurs have had to shave their beards and uncover their hair as part of the restrictions that have been put on them. They have been made to pledge allegiance to the Chinese Communist Party. Children have been taken from their parents and put in orphanages and there has been family separation. As such, will the Government support the introduction of a European Magnitsky Act in the European Council that would impose visa bans and asset freezes on individuals worldwide who are guilty of crimes such as torture and genocide? Will Ireland, as an EU member state, vote to adopt sanctions against those responsible for the repressive policies in the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, which are being imposed on the Uighur ethnic minority?

From my experience, the most effective way to achieve things with China is through dialogue and through building relationships. We will of course be part of the debate and assessment on how the EU should respond to this issue. There is no proposal at the moment for sanctions. There are separate sanctions like arms embargoes and so on that Ireland certainly applies. We are in the middle of this discussion and debate at EU and UN levels. The statement made in the UN today was made by Germany on behalf of quite a number of countries, Ireland included, which signed up to it. We have a very good relationship with China on many levels. It is a huge country and an incredibly complex one. It is important we speak out when we have real concerns, as we have on this particular issue, but it is about the relationship and being able to speak very directly and truthfully about our concerns in order to build pressure to get change. That is how we should approach this. However, the EU collectively needs to make decisions to build further pressure in order to get a more satisfactory response on this issue.

There are Irish citizens of Uighur ethnicity who are directly impacted by the Chinese Government's policies in Xinjiang. I am aware of one case where an Irish Uighur citizen lost contact with their Xinjiang-based mother since early 2017. The Irish citizen is worried about their mother's well-being and whether she is being arbitrarily detained in one of the camps in Xinjiang. Will the Department support this Irish Uighur citizen by inquiring about the current situation and well-being of their mother? This has happened in other jurisdictions and has proven very helpful so I ask that the Minister look at that.

I would be more than happy to do that. If the Deputy can give me the details, I will ensure we pursue it.

I thank the Minister.

International Relations

John Brady


95. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the response of Ireland to escalating tensions between Turkey and a number of EU member states in the eastern Mediterranean over access to gas fields for exploration purposes. [28471/20]

Will the Minster outline the Government's response to the escalating tensions between Turkey and a number of EU members states in the eastern Mediterranean which have come to pass since the discovery of a major gas field which is currently being explored by Turkey?

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue because it is a developing situation which needs more attention than it is getting, quite frankly, in many capitals across Europe. In relation to the escalating tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, Ireland has consistently called on Turkey to show restraint and respect for the sovereign rights of Cyprus and Greece, and to refrain from actions in the eastern Mediterranean that infringe on international law and risk the stability and security of the region. We continue to stand in full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus on these issues. The only way in which disputes concerning maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea and the wider eastern Mediterranean will be resolved is through political dialogue. I commend the German Government, in particular, on its efforts to mediate in this dispute. France has been very involved as well. I discussed this issue last week with my German counterpart. I have also been in contact directly with my Turkish counterpart and with a number of EU partners, in particular, my Cypriot counterpart who is a good friend of mine.

The return of the Turkish research vessel to port from Greek waters and the announcement that exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey will resume are a welcome first step, although we regret that Turkish research vessel remains in Cypriot waters. That is a continued source of concern. I would welcome Turkey taking further steps to de-escalate the situation with Cyprus as a way of demonstrating its commitment to stability and peace in the region. Last week the European Council discussed the EU’s relationship with Turkey and the situation in the eastern Mediterranean. The announcement of exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey has opened up the possibility of resolving the current crisis through dialogue and, as such, it was decided to revisit the issue in December in order to allow breathing space for these negotiations. We would like to see a more stable and constructive relationship developed with Turkey, particularly given the importance of the relationship to issues such as migration and economic activity. This would benefit both the EU and Turkey. It is our hope that when this issue is revisited in December we can take steps to build a more constructive relationship than we have seen in recent months and years. However, this will only be possible if the provocations and pressures stop. If not, then we stand ready to use instruments and options that are available to the EU.

I thank the Minister. As he is aware there have been a number of incidents between Greek and Turkish naval vessels and aircraft in the coastal area surrounding the island of Cyprus. The cause of this tension lies in the discovery of a major gas field in the region, estimated to be 3.5 trillion cu. m. That is enough to keep the whole of the United States supplied for up to a decade. Of course the EU's interest in the area lies with the potential of the gas find to ease European energy dependency on Russia. As the Minister said, it is important to stand in solidarity with Greece and Cyprus but it is more important to put substantive actions in place to stand with them. What we are seeing is Turkey, which has illegally occupied the north part of Cyprus since 1974, appearing to want to try to assert itself as a major regional player. As such, we now need substantive actions from the Irish Government and the EU so will the Minister outline some of the actions he alluded to at the end of his initial reply?

As I said in my response, the way this issue will be resolved is through dialogue. The EU of course has tools available to it which it can use to build pressure, including targeted sanctions, economic sanctions and so on. For now it is the view of the EU that introducing sanctions would make it more difficult to make progress with the recent commitment to dialogue between Turkey and Greece. We want to give that process some time and space to produce results that are in the interest of Greece and Turkey and that of the EU as a whole.

With regard to Cyprus, we would like to see Turkey de-escalating the tension that is undoubtedly there now. The relationship between Turkey and Cyprus is complicated and difficult and so it is not the same as a dialogue between Greece and Turkey. The European Union is looking for ways to try to resolve this issue but certainly if Turkey were to remove its ships from Cypriot waters it would assist significantly in de-escalating and creating space for dialogue.

I ask the Deputies to co-operate a little bit with the time limits.

From Syria to Libya, Armenia, Azerbaijan and now Greece and Cyprus, Turkey is a major protagonist in that region, it has to be said. The one thing that Erdogan has over the EU is the fact that Turkey has 5 million refugees. The EU fears Erdogan and the Turks instead of facing them down. It really is an admission of the failure of the EU to put in place a humane refugee policy. Until this is done Turkey will get away with what it wants in the region. The EU needs to stand up and take on the Turks and the geopolitics they are playing throughout the entire region, which are causing massive destabilisation. The key to this is addressing the refugee issue and putting in place a policy to deal with it so Turkey does not hold that trump card over the EU.

With respect, I think that is a misreading of the situation. The refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey is something that of course is part of the relationship between them but Turkey's involvement in Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean, tensions with Greece and Cyprus and the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan are issues that go well beyond the refugee issue. Standing up and taking on Turkey, as the Deputy describes it, is not necessarily the way to do this. These issues need to be de-escalated through political dialogue, and if that does not work of course the EU has tools available to it to increase pressure. First and foremost, we want to try to de-escalate the relationship that is there at present and achieve things through political dialogue.

Human Rights

Bernard Durkan


96. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he, through the EU and UN, continues to engage with NGOs and others involved in seeking an improvement in how refugees are treated internationally; the efforts being made to ensure a reasonable standard of emergency accommodation is available and that renewed efforts are made to address the causes of such mass migration, whether they be war or economic factors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28443/20]

This question, like Deputy Brady's question earlier, seeks to focus attention on the deplorable conditions under which refugees and asylum seekers are held in the European Union and on the edges and borders of the European Union to try to get the international community focused in a meaningful way on doing something about it.

I thank the Deputy. Ireland is a long-standing advocate for refugees. For example, in 2016, Ireland co-facilitated the UN summit on refugees and migrants. This summit agreed the New York Declaration, which led to the global compact for refugees and the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration.

The Irish Aid programme, Ireland's official development assistance programme, disburses more than €180 million each year in humanitarian assistance. In 2020, Ireland is providing more than €18.5 million in funding to the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, the highest level in more than a decade. Our contribution includes core funding of €9 million, €3 million to the UNHCR's Covid-19 appeal, and crisis-specific responses, including Jordan, Venezuela and the Rohingya crisis. My Department engages on an ongoing basis with the UNHCR.

Yesterday, I addressed the UNHCR executive committee, underlining that Ireland remains a strong supporter of the UNHCR and the life-saving work it does for displaced persons throughout the world. I acknowledged that several UNHCR staff members lost their lives to Covid-19 in the course of their work, showing extraordinary courage in protecting some of the world's most vulnerable people.

The conflict in Syria has resulted in a major migration crisis, with many grave and widespread consequences. The Government's response to the Syrian crisis, through Irish Aid, is the largest Irish response ever to a humanitarian crisis. This year, Ireland will disburse another €25 million in assistance, which includes support to refugees in neighbouring countries, particularly Jordan. Ireland is also party to the EU response to the Syria migration crisis and the related loss of lives, including the facility for refugees in Turkey, contributing more than €38 million.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, is also one of Ireland’s major humanitarian partners and Ireland has provided the ICRC with €14.5 million in funding this year, including €10 million in core funding, to assist in its protection work. Irish Aid provides predictable and co-ordinated funding to six key NGO partners through our humanitarian programme plan, which is designed for humanitarian interventions in situations of protracted and recurring crises.

I thank the Minister for the reply and I agree that Ireland makes a solid contribution to alleviating the harsh conditions of refugees through bilateral and multilateral aid. The issue to which the Minister referred is that the European Union on the one side and the UN on the other side seem to be ineffective in dealing with the magnitude of the problem that arises from Syria. I readily agree but nonetheless it is a problem. Also within the eastern countries in Europe itself, an antipathy has built up towards refugees and that is sad coming from people many of whom themselves were refugees in the last century, something which everybody should remember. History has an unfortunate habit of repeating itself. Can anything further be done to focus attention on the UN and EU in bringing about a convergence of views on it?

When we achieved what I considered to be a huge achievement in getting a global compact for refugees, which effectively was to try to get a global agreement on how countries should respond to refugees, there was a lot of disagreement on it in the UN. Unfortunately, some very vocal EU member states did not support it. Of course, within the European Union itself, where we should be giving leadership by example to the rest of the world, we have had huge difficulty in agreeing a collective approach towards virtually anything to do with migration, quite frankly. In recent weeks, the European Commission has introduced a new proposed pact on migration and asylum, for which it hopes to be able to gain support throughout the European Union. Certainly Ireland will play a very constructive role in helping it to do this so we can ensure there is genuine burden sharing throughout the EU in terms of countries making a contribution, as I believe we should, to the migration challenges. There are numerous ways in which we can do this. No country should be able to opt out.

I thank the Minister for the content of his reply. I readily acknowledge and commend the Minister on his contribution to dealing with this particular issue in the UN and the EU. I hope that perhaps as time goes on reason will prevail. I am not 100% certain about this because man's inhumanity to man has recurred many times in the past and will continue in the future. Some of the scenes we have witnessed on television over the past five to ten years have been appalling and a sad reflection on the civilised society in which we claim to live at present. I commend the Minister on the work he has done so far and I hope he will continue that work vigorously to bring about the type of focus we are speaking about.

I thank the Deputy. I think I am right in saying that approximately 17 million people now live in refugee camps throughout the world. It is a higher figure than ever before. When we think about the scale of this and the commonality in terms of causes of conflict, tension and people being driven from their homes we begin to realise that most of the problems that drive mass migration are man made or linked to the actions of men or states.

There is a significant amount of work for the UN to do. I am really looking forward to Ireland actually taking responsibility on the UN Security Council from 1 January next year. We will certainly be focusing our efforts on peacekeeping but also on conflict prevention, as well as holding countries and state actors to account for the kind of actions that often lead to driving large numbers of people out of their homes and often out of their countries.

UN Security Council

Dara Calleary


97. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will outline the immediate priorities of Ireland’s membership of the UN Security Council; and the resources that are being invested to maximise membership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28481/20]

This question refers to our forthcoming membership of the UN Security Council. I commend the Minister on the massive effort he and his team in the Department all over the world and here put in to this. It is a significant achievement for a small country. Now that we have it, what are we going to do with it? Will we make a difference and leave a legacy behind after our two years?

It has been a while since I have been questioned by the Deputy. Normally, I have been used to looking at him over on the other side on Thursday morning. It is nice to be on the same side for a change.

Ireland will take up its seat on the UN Security Council for the 2021-2022 term on 1 January. We will engage constructively across the Council agenda, which has nearly tripled since Ireland last held a seat 20 years ago. The last time Ireland was on the Security Council, it was dealing with nine files concerning conflicts around the world. Today, it is dealing with 31.

Three principles will underpin our approach, namely building peace, strengthening prevention, and ensuring accountability. The Taoiseach elaborated on these principles in his address to the General Assembly on 26 September. Work is now ongoing to identify specific priorities, taking into consideration where we can have most impact. We will look at how peacekeeping mandates might be improved, as well as how we can strengthen the link between peacekeeping and peacebuilding, while ensuring the involvement of women, young people and civil society.

We will seek to address factors underlying conflict, such as human rights violations and climate change, while strengthening the protection of civilians, including from conflict-related hunger. We will also seek to uphold mechanisms for accountability, supporting the International Criminal Court and ensuring the Security Council can do more in holding states and state actors to account. We will also engage across the range of country specific issues that make up the majority of the Council agenda.

In the period ahead, I will undertake a series of consultations with permanent and elected members of the Council. I will also consult with a range of other states, including those that host UN missions and countries that contribute troops to peacekeeping operations. We are keen to ensure an open dialogue with domestic partners while making use of the extensive expertise available in Irish civil society organisations and academia, including through a stakeholder forum established in partnership with the IIEA, the Institute of International and European Affairs.

The Minister mentioned the incredibly complex agenda. That is why, in the context of the two years we have, we do not have a significant opportunity to make an impact. I suggest the issue of climate justice should be at the heart of everything we do. The Minister will see that is at the root of the growing complexity of many of the issues he just mentioned such as peace. I listened to the exchange between the Minister and Deputy Brady around natural resources, Cyprus and Turkey. There is also the impact of the worsening climate situation on crops and food, as well as the protection of civilians. We have an opportunity if we place that at the heart of our mission and skill up our teams in our approaches. Then we might be able to say at the end of the two years that we have made a difference. We have the enormous influence of Mary Robinson, former UN Commissioner, who has done so much work in this area. The Minister referred to the UNHCR earlier. We have an opportunity, as well as waking ourselves up domestically, to put this at the heart of the agenda internationally and domestically.

Climate and its contribution to instability and insecurity will be a big part of what we are doing. We need to be clear, however, that there are powerful states on the Security Council which do not accept that climate change has anything to do with international security and has no place on the UN Security Council agenda. The first thing we have to do is work with other member states to actually ensure that climate change and climate justice is part of the security agenda globally. My understanding is that ten of the 15 members currently on the Security Council accept that. However, others do not and will veto attempts to even bring climate change into the space of Security Council debate.

It is not as simple as saying this is important to us and we are going to bring it to the Security Council. We have to be smart enough to be able to build alliances around issues that we care about and on which we have credibility. This will allow us to be able to bring about policy change and a change of approach on the Security Council with the permanent five who ultimately have a veto to prevent actions and with the other ten members. Climate will be a big part of what we are trying to do and we have already committed to that.

Young people internationally would put climate justice on the agenda, even in those five permanent member countries.

In terms of the complexity of the issues involved, what resources is the Minister intending to apply to the membership in terms of extra staff and investment? Will there be an allocation in next week's budget specifically towards serving our membership and maximising our voice at Security Council level?

The Deputy is correct on young people. We need to try to involve young people and women on much of the post-conflict management, conflict prevention and the accountability agenda which is important from an Irish perspective. We need to be a country that holds in some cases big powerful friends of ours to account through international mechanisms and the Rome Statute.

There was an agreement between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that if we were successful in getting on to the Security Council that resources would be made available to ensure Ireland had an impactful presence. We have already committed resources in terms of a significant increase in staff numbers in New York. We will be opening a number of embassies this year that are quite strategic in terms of Security Council membership. We will be beefing up our presence in capitals we believe are necessary to make sure that Ireland is both listened to and is relevant. Resources will not be an issue.

UN Security Council

Eoghan Murphy


98. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of work undertaken by his Department in the advancement of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda as Ireland approaches the beginning of its UN Security Council term. [28225/20]

Following on from Deputy Calleary, we will be sitting on the Security Council for the next two years. It is likely to be dominated by the events of the day, as it always is. It is important that we do not lose sight of our traditional responsibility that we have always held in the United Nations to lead on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. I would like to hear from the Minister on that particular point.

The advancement of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation goals is a signature foreign policy for Ireland. It will continue to be important throughout our membership on the UN Security Council. My Department will engage constructively on efforts to combat nuclear proliferation with a strong focus on situations on the Security Council agenda, namely Iran and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK.

Ireland, like our EU partners, takes the view that the joint comprehensive plan of action, JCPoA, endorsed by Security Council Resolution 2231, is a major achievement of multilateral diplomacy and an important contribution to nuclear non-proliferation. Ireland remains strongly committed to the JCPoA and supports all efforts to safeguard it, as it offers the best mechanism for dialogue with Iran, and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It has significant provisions in terms of inspections and transparency.

The continuation of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile activities breaches numerous Security Council resolutions, represents a serious threat to international peace and security and undermines the global non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Ireland continues to call on the DPRK to make progress on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation. Ireland is fully aligned with the EU policy of critical engagement with the DPRK, supporting efforts at dialogue, while fully implementing sanctions until progress on complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation is made.

As a Security Council Member, Ireland will also contribute to the work of the Committee on Security Council Resolution 1540, which addresses proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as their means of delivery, to non-state actors.

Ireland’s term on the Council will coincide with the re-scheduled tenth review conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. In furtherance of our nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation priorities, Ireland ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons on 6 August 2020, marking the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.

Often these issues around disarmament and non-proliferation come to the fore when individual state actors are concerned but it is the bedrock of the treaties that underlie all our efforts in this area which are more important because they establish that consensus in international law by which we can approach any country or any entity that might be acting against that very strong norm that has been built in the international system for so many years now.

After I tabled this question, Deputy Duncan Smith from the Labour Party suggested that we have speaking time in the Dáil about disarmament and non-proliferation, given our strong history in that area and the fact that we will go onto the Security Council next year. He will submit a request so we can have a fuller conversation about it.

It is 50 years since the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT, came into force. It came into force as a result of the resolution that came from the Irish Government in the early 1960s about the non-dissemination of nuclear weapons and leading to the NPT, which we were the first country to sign in 1968. We have good bona fides in this area. It is important that during the next two years, we return to those treaties, including the NPT, which we ratified, as the Minister said, on the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, but let us not forget the old treaties as well, which have not entered into force, including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, CTBT, for example, on nuclear weapon testing.

The Deputy is dead right on this issue. Many Irish people have no idea of the contribution this little country has made in the UN in this area. We have real credibility in this space. I have seen that in New York when Ireland has been a country that is in many ways like a magnet for others in terms of consulting with on non-proliferation and disarmament issues. I would welcome an opportunity in this House to remind people of the role we have played since the 1960s in this space and the continuing relevance and opportunity for Ireland to give leadership in this area.

The problem is it is quite a technical area when one starts talking about the detail of non-proliferation treaties or about work, which Ireland is very much involved in now, around international law on the use of explosives in built-up areas. These are really interesting and important areas where Ireland is making a contribution and it would be good to have a fuller debate on it in this House.

I thank the Minister for welcoming that. As he knows, I used to work in this area before I came into politics and it is full of acronyms and technical terms that can sometimes confuse people as to what the intent is behind what a country is trying to do with a treaty but this work is very important, as are the non-governmental organisations, NGOs, which work in this area. This country has a good history of supporting NGOs and other international state bodies and of doing research, doing work with civil society and bringing countries’ populations along when sometimes their governments have not stepped up to the plate yet in issues such as smaller arms and light weapons or cluster munitions or land mines.

There is work that we can do in that area and there is also a great opportunity to educate Irish people on our history here, particularly young people. As we move further and further away from events like Hiroshima, people and generations forget and the risk that these weapons might be used again increases.

I agree with that and let us see if we can facilitate that debate because it would be an interesting discussion for many people. One of the reasons that I referred to both Iran and North Korea in my response is that they are very much active and divisive files. North Korea is less divisive on the Security Council but Iran is divisive because the European Union and the US have taken very different lines on it. That Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA, issue is likely to be something that Ireland will be involved in during our membership of the Security Council in terms of potential for allocation of responsibility in certain areas where countries are asked to give leadership on certain files. I hope we will be able to build consensus around some contentious issues and areas and use our ability to do that to good effect.

Foreign Policy

Pa Daly


99. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of emergency repatriations carried out since March 2020 by his Department. [28297/20]

I pay tribute to the consular staff and the staff in the embassies who have helped in emergency repatriations carried out this year. While thousands have come home in this manner, many other Irish citizens have made their own way home without consular assistance. We met recently with the Crosscare Migrant Project, which does tremendous work with returning migrants. However, it is what awaits them when they come home that is often the problem.

I advise the Deputy that my Department advised or assisted more than 8,000 people to return safely to Ireland as part of our consular response to the Covid-19 crisis. The priority was to help those normally resident in Ireland to return home safely on commercial flights where possible and, where not possible, on flights chartered by the EU and other partners. The challenges to these efforts, including the closure of borders, airports and airspace, and the suspension of many services were significant and the scale of these repatriation efforts were unprecedented in recent times.

In three exceptional cases where there were significant groups of Irish citizens with no alternative options to get out and in circumstances that made them particularly vulnerable, we chartered planes ourselves. In this way, we repatriated 93 citizens from Peru on 29 March, 68 citizens from India on 4 April and 95 from Nigeria on 11 May. These flights were arranged in close co-operation with partners also facilitating the repatriation of citizens from other EU and European Economic Area, EEA, member states as well as British citizens and were supported through the EU Union Civil Protection Mechanism. This is the first time that Ireland has arranged flights using this mechanism.

I pay tribute to my Department and the consular team, which I do not often get a chance to do, which did heroic work during this period. We ended up setting up our own call centre. At times we were almost like a call centre for airlines. We had people telephoning us night and day from all over the world, trying to get assistance and advice and co-ordinating with airlines to try to do that. A huge number of people were assisted and got home much sooner than they otherwise might have been able to.

Does the Minister have a breakdown as to how many people were given financial assistance or flights as opposed to those were given solely advice?

I have dealt with Safe Home Ireland, which works with older Irish emigrants in London and all over Britain. Many migrants who have returned home to Ireland find that once they are here, they experience problems accessing social welfare, dealing with the HSE and dealing with local authorities. There is inconsistency between many county councils and sometimes in the attitude in the local Department of Social Protection. I appreciate this is not the Minister’s area but in speaking with Crosscare, I was told the resuming residence clause and the length of purpose of absence are a problem and that there is an unfair burden of proof in obtaining a whole load of documentation. Given these inconsistencies migrants face when they come home, prior to which the Minister's staff will have done an excellent job in helping them return home, will the Minister consider establishing an Oireachtas subcommittee to deal with this so that we can have an equality between citizens returning to the country?

I think we are mixing two issues here. The repatriation efforts were primarily for people who reside in Ireland and were away. They might have been students, people working away temporarily or people on holidays.

There were a number of people who had been away for quite some time and felt the need to come home for health reasons. I can give the Deputy all the figures and data about where those people came from and what we spent and so on. We generally did not pay for flights, apart obviously from the ones we chartered. Most of the time, people were happy to pay for their own flights to get home, as long as they could get a seat, and we often negotiated with airlines to make sure that the cost for those people to get home was reasonable. There were, of course, some circumstances where people needed financial support from embassies abroad and we gave the flexibility to ambassadors to be able to use their good sense to do that.

On the issue of migrants who had been away for a long time coming home, that is something I would happily talk to the Deputy about when we have a bit more time. We have done a lot of work on some of the issues the Deputy has raised, particularly for people coming home from the US.

Will the Deputy try to stick to the time so that everyone gets in?

I will be brief. Perhaps my question should have been a little more specific but I was not only talking about those who were repatriated due to the situation around Covid-19. Perhaps the Minister and I could have a conversation about these matters. I am aware of some cases of people who have been repatriated very quickly. There are older Irish emigrants, or people who have grown up in Irish families in England, who feel they are discriminated against when they come home, even though they are full Irish citizens, because they do not satisfy the habitual residence condition. They are sometimes waiting five or six months before they are able to access services. Their money is completely depleted and they are not on housing lists. I know of one person whose resources are exhausted and who has had to rely on a GP who gave his time for free and the local Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Perhaps the Minister and I can talk about what can be done to help those emigrants who are returning home.

That is a more general issue, not just linked to Covid-19, although it may obviously have been a particular issue during the Covid crisis when people felt they wanted to come home for family reasons and so on. Deputy Cannon, the previous Minister of State with responsibility for the diaspora, did some good work relating to people coming home from the US to live in Ireland, including the challenges they had around setting up bank accounts, identity issues, driver's licence issues and other practical things that are needed to reintegrate quickly into society. He looked at solutions to each of those barriers and challenges. We could probably apply quite a few of those principles that focused on people coming back to Ireland from the US to people coming from other parts of the world. I will follow up with the Deputy on that, if he likes.

US Presidential Election

Richard Boyd Barrett


101. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there have been discussions with the American Ambassador to Ireland with regard to the very worrying comments from the current President of the United States, stating they will not accept the results of the upcoming Presidential election if they do not win; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28552/20]

Richard Boyd Barrett


117. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has discussed with his colleagues in Europe or if he has concerns regarding the statements made by President Donald Trump that he would not accept the outcome of the forthcoming US elections if he does not win; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28544/20]

Barely a week goes by that President Donald Trump does not do something else that horrifies me and threatens either his own society or the wider world in some way. One of the more disturbing suggestions of recent times is that he would not accept the outcome of an election if he lost it. That is a serious business when one considers the extremely tense situation that exists in the US. Has the Minister any reaction to those sorts of suggestions from President Trump?

To respond more generally, as this House knows, Ireland and the United States share strong ties of kinship and enjoy close diplomatic and political relations, as well as enduring economic, cultural and social connections. These deep connections span right across the political spectrum in the US. With each successive Administration in the White House and with successive Irish Governments, the relationship has been valued and strengthened to the benefit of our people and that continues today.

I was in Washington last week, as the Deputy knows, and got an incredibly warm and supportive response when I outlined Ireland's vulnerabilities in the context of ongoing Brexit negotiations. While I was in the US, I made a real point of not getting involved in, or commenting on, the presidential election. We are in the middle of a campaign at the moment with less than a month to go and while everybody has their views about the candidates and the issues that are being debated, it is probably appropriate not to get into a commentary on the election.

In response to the question the Deputy asked, I am confident that the democratic institutions in the United States are robust and strong enough. It will be a more complex election than we have seen in many years because of the changes in the way in which people will be voting because of Covid-19, the increased use of postal ballots and so on. There may not be a result on election night in the same way that there normally would. Those things notwithstanding, I am still confident, having spoken to a number of people in the United States about it, that the relevant institutions will ensure that there is a result. If that means a transition of power to a new President, that will happen. If it means a continuation of the existing Administration, that will happen.

The problem is that we are dealing with President Trump. I have definite views and want the President to lose the election. I do not have much faith in Joe Biden but we have to get rid of President Trump. I do not expect the Minister to say that. The President was essentially threatening civil war. That is not an idle threat when one considers what has happened in the United States over the past few months. There has been war on the streets and cities have exploded. The President is leaning on terrifying and, in some cases, openly fascist forces, such as the Ku Klux Klan, which he refuses to condemn. He is essentially threatening a race war and civil war if he does not win the election. Sometimes one has to name the problem. This is not the normal run of politics, this is far more serious. This is a man who does not care about the truth, telling lies or the consequences of his actions and is threatening civil war. That sort of threat to democracy has to be called out in a serious way.

That is why the election is getting the kind of profile and media attention it is, even through extraordinary times in the United States. If people are not telling the truth, I expect that to be exposed in a democratic contest such as this. As I said, we need to be careful not to interfere in this election. Having spoken to many people in Washington, regardless of what candidates say, the system of democracy in the United States is robust and strong, and will ensure that, after people have voted in the presidential election in a few weeks' time, the result will be followed through on in a way that upholds democratic standards.

Something that people rarely remark upon is that the country that produced the Nazis was the most developed and advanced society in Europe, almost bar none, at the time. It descended into horror beyond belief. That was a political force that never gained more than 33% support in an open election and which engineered its rise to power through a lie about the burning of the Reichstag. Those events start to have terrifying echoes. I am not saying that Donald Trump is Adolf Hitler but he is playing around with political forces that are heading very dangerously in that direction and threatening this kind of behaviour. Sometimes one just has to say that this stuff is too lethal and dangerous. One can see that President Trump is whipping up and encouraging political forces even in this country and across Europe. We cannot treat that in the normal way. It has to be called out as something that must be politically defeated, challenged and driven out of the political arena.

Divisive language in politics that pits people against each other is never something that should be supported. Supporting or encouraging racist forces is something that should never be supported and I hope will always be stamped out in this country and in other democracies.

I am not somebody who is afraid of mincing my words on some of these issues. As I said, we are a few weeks away from an election in the United States. We need to allow that process to take its course. I have never visited the United States at a time when I have seen it as divided as it is now. The most powerful country in the world is divided in the midst of a pandemic that is affecting it in an incredibly impactful and tragic way. I hope this election will be able to facilitate a new beginning, in some ways, to allow more healing in the United States. It is a terribly divided place right now.

Human Rights

Cian O'Callaghan


102. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will write to his Polish counterpart to call for an end to the discrimination against Polish LGBT+ people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28426/20]

As the Minister will be aware, one third of Poland has declared so-called LGBT-free zones. The existence of these so-called LGBT-free zones in the European Union is an affront to European Union values and is in no way acceptable. We cannot tolerate this. Will the Minister write to his counterpart in Poland about this? At a European Union level, what action is he taking to address this?

I am very concerned at developments relating to LGBTI+ people in Poland. The principles of equality and non-discrimination are enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It is important that these principles are protected and promoted throughout the Union.

The Government has expressed its concerns regarding this issue publicly. My colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, has written to his counterpart in the Polish Government in the past month, emphasising the deep commitment of the Irish people to the fundamental values enshrined in EU treaties, including respect for human rights.

Advancing human rights is central to Irish foreign policy. We are committed to promoting the rights of LGBTI+ people, who continue to suffer disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination around the world. Ireland continues to support initiatives in the EU and other international forums which promote and protect the rights of LGBTI+ people and condemn violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Irish Embassy in Poland undertakes a number of initiatives, including with local non-governmental organisations, to raise awareness of and facilitate discussion on the rights of LGBTI people. Our ambassador also signs an annual letter in support of the Warsaw equality parade and other such parades around the country. This year's letter was published on 27 September and was signed by 50 ambassadors and heads of international representations. The letter expresses support in particular for efforts to raise public awareness of issues affecting LGBTI people.

The ambassador is currently engaged in a series of meetings with NGOs to hear their perspectives on recent developments in Poland and to see how the embassy can best work to support them. These meetings will help the embassy to plan further supports. We will also continue to work bilaterally and at an EU level to promote and protect the rights of LGBTI people across the EU and beyond.

I thank the Minister for his response. Will he write to his counterpart in Poland? He might address that question.

There is agreement in the EU in respect of a €750 billion recovery fund. Once that is dispersed to countries like Poland, if the rule of law, democracy and minority and LGBTI rights are not addressed and dealt with it will be very difficult to deal with them afterwards. We are talking about Irish money going from taxpayers here to countries like Poland. I do not think we would accept that if these issues are not addressed and the current policies that exclude and discriminate against LGBTI people in the EU are not stopped. Will the Minister commit to supporting changes to the rule of law to remove the veto and ensure this sort of action is taken by the EU with respect to democracy and human rights?

I will commit to writing to my counterpart. There is a new Polish foreign minister who I have not gotten to know yet, but I have spoken to him briefly. It is worth noting that the Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, quite pointedly referred to this issue when she gave her state of the Union address a number of weeks ago. That was an indication that the European Commission takes it seriously.

The Commission has responsibility to uphold the treaties and, by doing that, the value system of the European Union. I expect that this will continue to be an ongoing discussion and a focus will continue to be on Poland's response to its responsibilities as an EU member state in a way that is consistent with the values that, it is to be hoped, continue to underpin policy across the Union.

I thank the Minister for his commitment to write to his counterpart in Poland about this issue. That is welcome. I want to strongly acknowledge the work being done by our embassy in Warsaw and its continued support for the LGBTI+ community in Poland. That is very valuable.

I also want to mention a letter raising these issues written to the Minister by members of the LGBTI+ community who are Polish and live in Ireland . We must have action at a European Union level on this. The Minister is correct that the EU Commission is being very strong in this. It is essential that the Government does everything it can do at a European Council level to support the initiatives the European Commission is taking on this to try to ensure the veto is removed and there can be effective action on this, especially before the funds are disbursed.

I thank the Deputy. I wish to acknowledge the work done by the Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, Deputy O'Gorman, who continues to work in this area. He has spoken to me about it and has expressed real concern.

It is important that we try to advocate for and deliver change. We have to figure out the best way of doing that. Sometimes within the European Union that is not necessarily done by penalties and punishment. Sometimes it is more effective to try to do it through political persuasion and dialogue. Ultimately, this is about protecting a community which is being discriminated against in a way that is not acceptable and consistent with the values of the EU. We need to find ways to change that approach by the Polish Government. We need to begin to speak with the Commission about how best to do that effectively.

Middle East

Pa Daly


105. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the diplomatic representations that were made to Israel regarding its annexation plan; and if his attention has been drawn to the town of Beit Sahour (details supplied) affected by the annexation in the occupied West Bank. [28298/20]

The Minister may or may not be aware that my home town, Tralee, twinned with the town of Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank in May of last year. I wish to ask the Minister what diplomatic representations have been made to Israel regarding its annexation plan and if his attention has been drawn to what is happening in Beit Sahour. We have an email from the mayor dated 26 September 2020.

I thank the Deputy. It is unusual that it has taken this long to get to the Middle East peace process in foreign affairs questions. I am glad we have gotten there at nearly 12.30 a.m.

Israel's announcement on 13 August that it will suspend plans to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territory is, of course, welcome, although that proposal should never have been on the table in the first place as far as I am concerned. The EU High Representative, Vice President Josep Borrell, also welcomed the announcement on behalf of the EU in a declaration on 15 August. I have noted with concern, however, subsequent Israeli statements that annexation plans remain on the table and I have called for any such plans to be permanently withdrawn.

The unilateral annexation by Israel of any part of the occupied Palestinian territory would be a very clear violation of international law. It would have no legitimacy and would not be recognised or accepted by Ireland or by the international community, more generally, and would be deeply damaging to the potential for a two-state solution in the future. The programme for Government clearly states that the Government would regard any such moves as a breach of international law and would consider an appropriate response to them at both national and international level. I have been forthright in my public statements on the issue of annexation and have raised this matter directly and clearly with Israeli leaders, including during my visit to the region last December and in a telephone conversation with my Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, in recent months. I participated in a discussion with Foreign Minister Ashkenazi along with my EU colleagues during an informal session of the Foreign Affairs Council on 27 August. The EU’s firm commitment to a two-state solution was restated together with our readiness to support all sides in efforts to resume meaningful negotiations. I have also outlined my concerns about annexation in discussions with the US interlocutors.

The Deputy raises the case of Beit Sahour. Annexation of this town would be a clear violation of international law, as would unilateral annexation of any part of the occupied Palestinian territory. Irish officials in Ramallah and in Tel Aviv have visited the Bethlehem region in recent months and will continue to monitor developments closely.

In the email that I referred to from the mayor in recent weeks, he instructed us that Palestinian-owned land in and around Beit Sahour is to be confiscated, that homes will be demolished, and that displacement will take place as a result of this. In addition to what is already happening, they are being deprived of their basic civil rights. Beit Sahour in this proposed annexation will lose access 7,500 dunams of agricultural land. Currently he said that building and zoning in the entire West Bank requires the permission of the Minister of defence and the Prime Minister in Israel but that that will change and will be dealt with on a local level if this annexation takes place. Their citizens and the freedom of movement of members of the community living in Beit Sahour is restricted. This will lead to more unemployment and poverty and the world needs to hear the truth of his struggle and that of the Palestinian people.

There is a difference between annexation, applying Israeli sovereignty to Palestinian land and expansion of settlements, which is also in my view illegal internationally and should not be happening. The proposals around annexation were about permanently extending Israeli sovereignty to elements of the West Bank. Having said that, the expansion of settlements that we have seen in recent years is almost like creeping annexation and has caused great tensions, understandably so, with Palestinian communities who simply feel that their land is being stolen from under them and are being forcibly removed, with houses being demolished and so on. I am on the record many times as being very critical of both settlements and settlement expansion and plans for annexation and I continue to be.

The email, which the Mission of the State of Palestine in Leeson Street sent us today calls:

...on the international community to hold the occupying power accountable, and to encourage real actions towards banning produce from the illegal settlements. The failure to do so to date has fostered a culture of impunity which has greatly emboldened the occupying powers and allows the prolongation of this illegal, colonial, foreign occupation for decades without upholding even the most basic tenets of international law.

Will the Government consider reviewing its position on the boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, issue?

My position is well understood on that and the legal position is crystal clear on this issue. Deputies can keep calling on me to do something that they know I cannot do but they want to do this for political reasons. It does not advance the arguments very much.

I thank the Deputies for their co-operation. We have a few minutes left. The next question is in the name of Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Middle East

Richard Boyd Barrett


107. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, as the 20th anniversary of the second Palestinian Intifada is passed, his attention has been drawn to the escalating policy of silent transfer of Palestinians from occupied east Jerusalem; the measures the EU is discussing to address the behaviour by Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28547/20]

The problem is that despite the statements of sympathy with the plight Palestinians are faced with, the silent transfer and annexation prosecuted by Israel against Palestinians to remove them from places like east Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank just goes on and on. Nothing is done to stop it. The Minister is stating that he is appalled by it but nothing can be done, which is his essential line.

It is actually not. We have done a great amount to try to advance the cause of the two-state solution and to focus the world’s attention on illegal settlements and their expansion. We have contributed to international pressure that has prevented Israel from moving ahead with plans to annex large parts of the West Bank in the summer. We have been active at UN level and have been involved in multiple resolutions. We have been very active at EU level and we continue to be. Only last week I spoke to my German counterpart on what has been described as the Amman Statement where France and Germany met with Jordan and made a statement following that meeting reinforcing EU support for a two-state solution and a rejection of annexation and breaches of international law. We remain in the middle of this debate and continue to try to shape an EU response towards equality of treatment of both Israelis and Palestinians in a way that can lead to a negotiated solution both sides can live with in security and statehood. That is what we will continue to do. We are far from toothless in this area and I can assure the Deputy that we are doing much more than simply expressing criticism. What we cannot do is breach international law ourselves or try to do something that is outside the remit of the Irish Government in trade sanctions or limiting trade. I have explained that to this House on many occasions and this position comes directly from the Attorney General.

Since January there has been a 55% rise of structures targeted with demolitions or confiscated in the occupied territories and a fourfold increase in the number of displaced people. While all these statements are being made, the situation continues to get worse. In east Jerusalem, 24 structures were demolished last month. It just goes on and no action is taken. There are no consequences. Is it any wonder that Israel believes it can do what it likes? The Minister and Europe keeps talking to Israel, expressing concern but there are no consequences. In reality, it believes it has the green light to do what it likes because there will be no consequences. The only reason apartheid South Africa was eventually brought down was because there were consequences for running an abhorrent regime but there are no consequences for Israel.

As I have said, if we had this debate last June people would have predicted that in July Prime Minister Netanyahu would have moved ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank, and possibly even the Jordan Valley. That did not happen because of international pressure. The perception was that Israel had been given the green light to do that and it did not. It was talked out of doing so by powerful allies of Israel but also by very direct messaging from the European Union, in which Ireland was very much involved in the debates on the Middle East peace process at that stage within the Foreign Affairs Council.

I agree with the Deputy that in many instances Israel acts with impunity. It continues to impinge on Palestinian lands and Palestinian rights in a way that is illegal. We have to continue to highlight that and maintain pressure but we also have to talk to Israel and maintain a relationship that can result in a negotiated outcome at some point in the future. It will not be resolved by protest alone.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
The Dáil adjourned at 12.30 a.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 October 2020.