Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Questions (58)

Richard Boyd Barrett


58. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the plight of the five fishermen (details supplied) who have been sentenced to one year imprisonment by an Egyptian court for fishing in Egyptian waters in a desperate attempt to feed their families; if he will raise the issue with his Egyptian counterpart and urge for their immediate release; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41182/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to my earlier reply to Question No. 8 (PQ41155/13) on this topic, which was as follows: I have consistently called for the end of all restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza, and will continue to do so. I have also commented on the specific restrictions placed on fishermen. Even though the limit enforced by Israel has been extended from 3 to 6 miles, this is still very restrictive, and the local exhaustion of stocks caused by overfishing in a very restricted area has led to the collapse of Gaza’s fishing industry, which is an important source of food. In recent years Gaza fishing boats have often sailed to Egyptian ports to buy fish, instead of catching it. Egyptian controls on movement into Gaza are partly dictated under the terms of the agreement with Israel by which the Sinai was restored, and partly by security concerns concerning infiltration of militant groups and weapons into Egypt from Gaza. I have encouraged Egypt to allow movement to and from Gaza as much as possible.

In recent months however those security concerns have been very much heightened, leading to tighter controls, and Egyptian measures against the smuggling tunnels. The Egyptian authorities may likewise fear that fishing vessels may be used to smuggle weapons into Egypt. I cannot comment on whether the recent case of vessels from Gaza fishing inside Egyptian waters was accidental or not. Egyptian sovereignty over their own territorial waters is not an element of the blockade of Gaza, and I do not propose to intervene in this case. However, I would certainly encourage a compassionate and lenient response from the Egyptian authorities to these fishermen, given the terrible pressures on their livelihoods in Gaza.

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 31.