I thank the Cathaoirleach for facilitating this conversation and the Minister of State for engaging with the issue. There is no doubt that the Seanad has been to the fore in prioritising LGBT rights this term, from introducing legislation dealing with an apology to and exoneration of men criminalised in the State before 1993 to a Bill dealing with pensions and my upcoming Bill dealing with transgender rights so that young people can have their true gender recognised. That Bill will be debated in the House on 10 May. All these initiatives are part of an important process that aims to make Ireland not only a model republic but a beacon of hope for oppressed people and LGBTQI people everywhere. It is in that spirit that I hope Ireland does what we can and I expect Ireland to do what we can to support LGBTQI people, in particular, gay men, in Chechnya.
I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the reports from human rights groups in Chechnya that more than 100 men suspected by Chechen forces of being gay have been interned in specifically designed internment camps. The reports go further to say that three men have been killed and that, so far, men currently detained are being tortured with electric currents and heavily beaten, sometimes to death. When asked for a reaction to the allegations, a spokesperson for the Chechen President denied the claims and suggested that there are no gay people in the region. He stated:
You cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them since their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.
Chechnya is largely isolated and this situation remains shrouded, with a lack of confirmation on the exact situation regarding the internment camps. I do not think I could point to a more worrying situation than the Administration itself has done. It is clear that the Chechen President feels that Chechnya needs to be cleansed of gay citizens and his delusional denial of the existence of gay men does not invoke any degree of confidence in his rejections of claims that these internment camps exist.
I have a couple of questions which I hope the Minister of State will be able to answer or take to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade aware of the situation? Has the Department spoken to the Russian ambassador? Will the Department continue to monitor and investigate these reports? Will the Minister urgently contact his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, to ascertain the situation in Chechnya? Will the Minister make contact with his European counterparts also?