Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Questions (105, 106, 107)

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

238 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts made by the Government to assist efforts to secure the release of a person (details supplied) in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25298/04]

View answer

Damien English

Question:

239 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps taken by the Government to assist in the release of a person held hostage in Iraq (details supplied); the advice given by his Department to Irish persons intending to travel to Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25231/04]

View answer

John Gormley

Question:

350 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the precise circumstances in which an Irish passport was granted to a person (details supplied); the steps he had taken to secure the release of this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25122/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 238, 239 and 350 together.

The House will share the deep sense of shock and sadness felt by the Government and by all the people of Ireland following the cruel and barbaric murder of Kenneth Bigley. All Members would join with the Government in expressing their most sincere condolences to his mother and his family, whose courage and fortitude we came to know and admire over recent weeks.

It is against this tragic background that I will outline details of the Government's efforts in the case of Kenneth Bigley. I had hoped to be able to respond to the Deputies' questions in different circumstances and I am very disappointed that all our efforts and pleadings for mercy and humanity to be shown to Mr. Bigley went unanswered.

When the Government learned that Mr. Bigley's mother Elizabeth was born in Dublin, my predecessor, Deputy Cowen, immediately spoke with the British Foreign Secretary and informed him of the Irish interest in the case. The next day, the Taoiseach issued an appeal to the Al Jazeera network in which he appealed for Mr. Bigley's release. The Taoiseach also instructed the Irish Ambassador in London to communicate the sympathy and solidarity of the President, the Government and the Irish people to the Bigley family.

Throughout these weeks, we monitored the case actively. On my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I immediately reviewed the case with my senior officials to see how Irish influence could best be brought to bear. Following on from this, we had contacts with a number of authorities in the region. This included my discussing the Bigley case with the Jordanian Foreign Minister and with the Secretary General of the Arab League. We remained in close touch with these contacts.

On 5 October, following a request from his family, I instructed that an Irish passport be issued to Kenneth Bigley. I was glad to respond positively to this request, in order to help convince his kidnappers of his Irish citizenship and in the hope that it would contribute to the efforts to secure his release. As the son of an Irish-born citizen, Mr. Bigley was automatically an Irish citizen under law and thus entitled to an Irish passport.

Sadly, our efforts and the efforts of the Bigley family, Members of this House, the Jordanian and other Arab authorities, the British Government and the many other governments and leaders throughout the world were ignored by the terrorists who held Kenneth.

The Government has from the outset called on all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international law both in regard to the status of civilians and in regard to prisoners of war. In line with this, the Government and the Council of the European Union have publicly and strongly condemned any incidents of abuse of prisoners in Iraq by occupying forces which have taken place as contrary to international humanitarian law. Equally, we have repeatedly deplored the taking of hostages and their subsequent execution by the hostage takers. The Government will continue to play its part, together with our partners in the European Union, in efforts to ensure the fullest possible respect for human rights in Iraq.

In answer to Deputy English's specific question, my Department advises Irish citizens against all travel to Iraq, given that civil unrest is widespread and the risk of violence remains high. This advice is available on the Department's websitewww.dfa.ie.