Humanitarian Aid

Questions (6)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

6. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals he has to raise at European Union level the need for the international community to provide immediately further humanitarian assistance to Syria and the adjoining countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41220/13]

View answer

Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

The ongoing crisis in Syria is unprecedented in recent history, with the enormous humanitarian impact reverberating across the region. The devastating violence has caused more than 2.1 million refugees to seek protection in neighbouring countries, in addition to the more than 4 million people who have found themselves displaced inside their own country. With almost 7 million people in urgent need of assistance, an immediate and sustained response from the international community is clearly required.

Ireland has been unwavering in its support to the international humanitarian response. To date, we have provided almost €11 million to the relief effort and are one of the world's most generous donors – on a per capita basis - to the response to this crisis. Through trusted NGO partners here in Ireland, as well as the UN and the Red Cross-Red Crescent movement, we are playing a considerable part in the international effort to meet the massive needs, both inside Syria and in the wider region.

As I am sure the Deputy agrees, it is imperative that the European Union is to the fore in rallying the international community to help alleviate the severe and unconscionable suffering of those affected by the Syrian crisis. Notably, the EU has to date mobilised almost €1.8 billion in assistance from both the Commission and member states, making this the largest international contribution since the crisis began.

Ireland has been consistent in its efforts at EU level to ensure the necessary attention is given by the international community to this crisis. Ireland has used every opportunity to call for all parties to the conflict to fully respect and be held accountable for violations of international humanitarian law. Moreover, throughout our EU Presidency in the first half of this year, Ireland repeatedly underlined the gravity of the humanitarian situation, including through discussion at the EU Foreign Affairs Council. Most recently, following discussions on Syria at the recent Gymnich - Informal Meeting of Foreign Affairs Ministers - held in Vilnius on 6 and 7 September, the High Representative, Baroness Catherine Ashton, issued a press statement highlighting the need for the EU to reaffirm our commitment to the people of Syria and to support them in every way possible through humanitarian assistance. Ireland strongly endorses this statement.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Ireland will continue to encourage the various UN agencies to maintain the unprecedented mutual co-operation that has been forged over the last two years in response to this crisis. Furthermore, we will persist in highlighting the vulnerable position of Syria's neighbouring countries which have found themselves severely strained as a result of the large scale influxes of refugees.

In order to assess the current situation on the ground, I will be travelling to the region in the next week. With the UN Secretary General announcing a further humanitarian pledging conference for Syria in January 2014, Ireland will renew its already significant efforts at European level and internationally to galvanise support from the international community for an enhanced humanitarian response in Syria and its neighbouring countries, which should be understood as a vital complement to the ongoing attention being given to finding a political solution to this crisis.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the fact that Ireland has provided almost €11 million in aid. Is the Minister of State satisfied that such humanitarian aid is getting to the most distressed and needy because we are aware earlier this year of the Assad regime placing obstacles in the way of aid being provided to those he termed to be in the opposition groups?

I take the opportunity to compliment the Irish non-governmental organisations and their sister organisations for their outstanding work in extremely difficult circumstances. As I asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, earlier, would the Minister of State outline whether there is an effort at European Union level to co-ordinate a response in regard to assisting refugees? It is my understanding that the challenges are becoming increasingly serious in the neighbouring areas where refugees have gone from Syria, with diseases, security hazards in the camps and scarcity of food and basic services, and there is real pressure on those adjoining countries which are doing their best to assist those 2.5 million refugees who have arrived in their lands already.

I thank the Deputy for the questions. As he can understand, in a war situation, particularly in a civil war situation, it is never easy for humanitarian aid to get to all of the areas affected. We operate largely with the United Nations and with the Red Cross-Red Crescent - these are the bodies that have the greatest access - and also with the refugees on the borders with the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. The Minister has been to Turkey already; I have been to Jordan. Next week, I will be travelling to the Lebanon to see what the situation is in the camps.

The European Union has been to the fore in providing €1.8 billion in assistance - the largest contribution. In many ways, this is only part of what is required because the overall estimate by the United Nations for 2013 alone is €5.2 billion. While 55% or thereabouts of it has been provided in relation to refugees, there was still less than 50% for displaced persons. There is a significant element required in terms of the pledges that have been committed but which we are awaiting to be delivered.

Deputies Wallace and Crowe want to ask a question.

I, too, commend the Government on the amount of aid that it has given to the situation. I am glad to hear that the Minister of State will visit Lebanon. He will probably be aware that Lebanon has a population of 4.8 million and has over 700,000 registered refugees. It is reckoned Lebanon has another 0.5 million unregistered. There are 1.3 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon today - over a quarter of Lebanon's population. Lebanon itself is fairly divided. The last time it had a refugee crisis, as the Minister of State will probably recall, there were 3,500 civilians massacred in Sabra and Shatila because of the tensions that arose because of the refugee numbers.

I would agree also that it must be nearly impossible to ensure that our funding is going to the correct source within the country where whoever is in control in that area is likely to abuse it. In the bordering countries, such as Lebanon, one has a far better chance of ensuring that the funding is properly spent.

I am not aware whether the Minister of State saw the BBC programme during the week which showed the real horror of what was happening in Syria. All that was missing was the smell of what was going on in many of these camps. It was horrifying.

As regards those countries which have given a public commitment of aid, would it be helpful at some stage for the Minister of State or some organisation to publish a list of those which have failed to live up to their responsibilities where they have given public commitments and the aid is not coming through? It would be interesting to see how involved many of these countries are in supplying weaponry and other elements to the conflict in that region.

I have a related question. I wonder would it be possible to ask the Minister, in the context of the present focus on Syria, whether it might be an opportune time, through the aegis of the international community, to influence the authorities there at least to make some kind of accommodation for the civilians who have been under severe pressure and have suffered greatly in terms of their human rights since the war started.

I thank the Deputies for all those questions. This is an incredible disaster. The United Nations has deemed it to be the largest ever humanitarian disaster in which it has been involved. One third of the population is either displaced within Syria or refugees. That indicates the extent of it.

The estimate of €5.2 billion required in 2013 alone is colossal. On naming and shaming those countries which have made pledges, it is a question of exhorting all those which have not as yet delivered to pay up. Ireland always honours its pledge and will continue to do so. This is recognised internationally. We hope progress will be made as a result of the announcement of the initiative on chemical weapons at the Geneva II talks and that an accommodation may be agreed in order that the humanitarian organisations can take control of the situation. I will be visiting Lebanon and the Middle East next week. Ireland has always endeavoured to keep abreast of the situation on the ground and I intend to do so this week.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (7)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

7. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the recent detention of Bahraini opposition leader, Khalil al-Marzooq; if he will raise the case with the Bahraini authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41158/13]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

According to reports received, Khalil al-Marzooq, assistant secretary general of the Bahrain opposition party, al-Wefaq, was arrested on 17 September. Mr. al-Marzooq is a former Deputy Speaker of Parliament who resigned with other opposition MPs in response to the government’s suppression of pro-democracy demonstrations in February 2011. It appears that Mr. al-Marzooq’s arrest was in response to a speech he gave at a political rally on 6 September which was deemed critical of the government. The public prosecution service has ordered Mr. al-Marzooq’s detention for 30 days pending an investigation. If convicted, he could face a jail sentence, with the possibility of his nationality being revoked.

The arrest of Mr. al-Marzooq is a disappointing setback to the national consensus dialogue process between the government and opposition groups and could further exacerbate existing political tensions in Bahrain. The Wefaq party has already announced it is suspending its participation in the national dialogue in protest. It is also a worrying sign of the continued repression of human rights in Bahrain, particularly the right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

The Government has ensured Ireland’s concerns on human rights issues in Bahrain have been conveyed regularly to the Bahraini authorities and will continue to do so. Ireland was one of 47 member states which participated in a joint statement expressing serious concern about the human rights situation in Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council on 9 September. The statement expressed particular concern about the repression of demonstrations and the continued harassment and imprisonment of persons, including human rights defenders, because they were exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression. We called on the Government of Bahrain to address these concerns. Ireland will continue to follow closely the human rights situation in Bahrain and monitor Mr. al-Marzooq’s case in this context.

I welcome the concern expressed by Ireland about events in Bahrain. Mr. al-Marzooq has been arrested on a charge of incitement of terrorism and violence and alleged support for a terrorist cell. He will be remanded for 30 days. He is an internationally renowned individual who is committed to a peaceful transition from the regime. I think the Government accepts that the regime is sectarian in that people are discriminated against on grounds of religion and are treated as second-class citizens in their own land. I refer to the history of our own country and what happened in the North of Ireland where people were discriminated against on the same grounds. This man's political party is committed to a peaceful transition. The moderate voices in Bahraini society are being silenced. I urge the Minister of State to keep the issue on the agenda as terrible things are happening in that region. Saudi Arabia is Bahrain's big neighbour and has a negative attitude. I ask the Minister of State to do as much as possible to highlight the issues involved.

I thank the Deputy for his question and assure him that the Government raised the issue at the UN Human Rights Council in September. It will continue to raise the case of Mr. al-Marzooq through its bilateral contacts with the Bahraini authorities and multilateral contacts with the institutions in the region. It will also raise Ireland's broader concerns about the situation in Bahrain. The Government's view is that the recent international commission of inquiry report must be fully implemented. We are aware of the broad concerns the Deputy has raised, particularly about the role of ambassadors and foreign missions and also the consequences of new anti-terrorism legislation. We are in communication with the United Nations and direct communication with Bahrain in order to raise the case of Mr. al-Marzooq and our broader concerns

It is not often I commend President Obama on his honesty, but I thought he was very honest last week in his address to the United Nations when he said: "The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations but who work with us on our core interests." Bahrain probably falls into that bracket, given that the US navy fifth fleet is based there. Western governments and, in particular, the United States Government have been very reluctant to call a spade a spade with regard to the situation in Bahrain. I would like the Government to be a little stronger. There is no doubt that the situation in Bahrain leaves a lot to be desired and we should be more forceful in making our condemnation heard. The Minister of State will note that Amnesty International has issued a strong statement on the position of Mr. al-Marzooq, describing him as a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned only for his vehement criticism of the Bahraini Government.

I thank the Deputy for making that point. The Government's core interest in this area is to support freedom of conscience and freedom of expression. This has been articulated clearly both at the United Nations and in direct contact with Bahrain. I refer to the sentences handed down to 13 political activists about which the Government has expressed concern. It has called on the King of Bahrain to issue a pardon. We are pressing this important case at every level and it is one of our core interests in the area.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (8)

Martin Ferris

Question:

8. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the arrest and jailing of five Palestinian fishermen in Egypt in September for accidently crossing into Egyptian territorial waters; the worsening situation for Gaza’s fishermen who, due to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, are being forced to fish closer to the Egyptian border; and if he will raise the issue with the Egyptian and Israeli Governments and encourage them both to lift the illegal blockade and siege of Gaza. [41155/13]

View answer

Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I have consistently called for an end to 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 three miles to six, 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 the 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, these 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 an accidental occurrence. Egyptian sovereignty over its territorial waters is not an element of the blockade of Gaza.

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.

Before the Dáil broke for the summer I put down a question relating to some Irish fishermen in Gaza and their experience of the Israeli defence forces and navy. The Oslo agreement set the fishing zone at 20 nautical miles but that has been reduced by the Israeli Government. Does the Tánaiste accept it is important in terms of food and nutrition that the people of Gaza have access to the sea? The latest difficulty has Egyptian authorities blocking ships that drift into the area, which is also not helping. There have been attacks in the past and subsequent arrests, so does this signal a new era for Egyptian authorities? I heard the comments regarding the closure of many of the tunnels. Will the Irish Government condemn the Egyptian decision to close the Rafah crossing? Is this indicating a new direction for Egyptian authorities, which will worsen the stranglehold on the Gazan people?

Ireland is very much to the fore in keeping an international focus on Gaza, despite the evidence of other issues in the region. There has been some easing of the blockade in recent years but it has amounted to far too little to allow the Gaza Strip to resume normal life. Economic activity is moribund and the population is dependent on humanitarian assistance and smuggling, which in some cases is controlled by militant groups. People's quality of life has deteriorated and we continue to stress the need to lift the blockade.

The matter has been compounded by developments in Egypt, which is bound by agreements with Israel under which Sinai was returned. It has security concerns of its own. The opening of the Rafah border has been an important safety valve for Gaza and I encourage Egypt to allow as much movement through it as possible. It can never be the real solution to Gaza, as Rafah is a single checkpoint in a remote location.

Does the Tánaiste agree that the brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rise of the new authority in Egypt has been unfortunate for Palestinians? The West has tolerated this brutal suppression and little was said about the 1,300 protesters that were killed. We had to listen to John Kerry tell us that this was the restoration of democracy, which was unfortunate. Does the Tánaiste agree that we must look out for Palestinians even more with another enemy on the other side?

What has happened in Egypt has had an impact not just on Israel and Palestine but also on the wider region. We must consider the progress that has been made, and talks are now under way between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, which follows from the initiative that the US Secretary of State, Mr. Kerry, took following his appointment. I discussed that initiative with him on a number of occasions, along with other European foreign Ministers.

Last week I discussed the issues with both the Secretary of State and the Palestinian Foreign Affairs Minister, Riyad al-Maliki. I am hopeful, but we have been here before, as talks have commenced but not led to a conclusion. I hope this round of talks will lead to a conclusion and settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Diplomatic Representation Issues

Questions (9, 22, 37)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

9. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the refusal of the Egyptian authorities to allow Irish officials from his Department to visit four Irish siblings detained in Cairo in advance of their appearance before a prosecutor in August; the number of visits that have subsequently been allowed to his officials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41206/13]

View answer

Eamonn Maloney

Question:

22. Deputy Eamonn Maloney asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if resolution is close for the four members of the Halawa family who are currently incarcerated in Cairo, Egypt; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41055/13]

View answer

Dessie Ellis

Question:

37. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide more details on the detention of members of the Halawa family in Egypt and details of official visits these Irish citizens received from the Irish Embassy in Cairo; and if he discussed their detention with the Egyptian ambassador to Ireland. [41163/13]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9, 22 and 37 together.

The siblings named in the questions were caught up in the demonstrations at al-Fath mosque in Cairo on Friday, 16 August. After being alerted to their presence in the mosque during the night of 16 August and early morning of 17 August, our ambassador in Cairo contacted the Egyptian authorities and after some considerable effort succeeded in obtaining agreement for safe passage for them to leave the mosque, although for various reasons the offer of safe passage was not taken up by the persons concerned. Since their detention, the embassy has been allowed consular access to the family on a number of occasions. The first consular visit took place on 20 August and the embassy official checked on their general welfare and arranged for medicine to be supplied. At that time all four were being held together at the security forces headquarters in Tora district. They were subsequently moved, three to El Kanater prison and one to al-Salam central security forces camp, where they are still being held. Further consular visits were made to one of the detainees on 24 August, 8 September and 15 September and to the three others on the 25 August, 5 September and 18 September. Officials from the embassy also travelled to al-Salam camp on 29 August with a view to attending the case hearing in the presence of the prosecutor. Despite receiving prior assurances from the prosecutor’s office that access would be granted, embassy officials were denied entry by security forces personnel. Officials from other embassies were similarly prevented from attending hearings for their citizens.

Officials from my Department in Dublin met with family representatives on 17 August and 19 September. My Department, through the embassy in Cairo, continues to liaise with the Egyptian authorities on this case. Most recently our ambassador met with an assistant Minister from the foreign ministry to relay our concerns with regard to their continued detention without charge. Officials from my Department in Dublin have also discussed this case with representatives from the Egyptian Embassy.

The Egyptian authorities are still reviewing their cases and at present it is still unclear whether formal charges will be brought against them. A decision to extend their period of detention for a further 15 days was taken initially on 1 September and again on 14 September to allow more time for investigations to be completed. Over the weekend, their detention was extended for a further 45 days, along with those of many others arrested that day.

My Department will continue to provide consular assistance to the four detainees and their family in Ireland. My Department continues to advise Irish citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Egypt, with the exception of Sharm el-Sheikh, at this time. If, against our advice, Irish citizens decide to travel elsewhere in Egypt, they should exercise extreme caution and avoid all protests and demonstrations.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. This is clearly a very trying and difficult time for the Halawa family and all of us in the House would commiserate with them on the very difficult position of the four siblings. It is totally unacceptable that expected access during the time in which these people faced the prosecutor was denied to the Department's consular officials. Is it difficult for our officials and diplomats to gain access when they want to meet these people, who are currently experiencing trying and distressing circumstances? Are there any indications that charges will be pressed, or is the release of the Halawa family members imminent?

We are in regular contact with their embassies also in Cairo to co-ordinate contacts and access. We will continue to do that. This is a difficult situation and it is receiving the highest priority in the embassy in Cairo. I am being kept directly informed of developments and we are in regular contact with the family in Ireland.

Could the Tánaiste articulate the conditions in which the prisoners are being held? How often are visits allowed? He said the consul has been in touch. Is that on a weekly or monthly basis? Is he concerned by the extension of 15 days to another 15 days and now 45 days? Is there any sense of when this will come to a conclusion? The Tánaiste mentioned that they need medicine. Have they been interrogated? If so, is the interrogation ongoing? Will he give us a sense of the conditions these Irish citizens are having to endure and live in?

They have access to legal advice. I have been informed of the nature of some of the questioning they have undergone and the approaches being taken. I am not sure it would help to put that in the public domain at this stage because my primary concern is the welfare of four Irish citizens and I want their welfare looked after. A detention centre or prison is not a pleasant place for anybody to be. With regard to the conditions in which they are being held, at an initial stage, there were issues about access to medical treatment. My understanding is that has been resolved and that the conditions are as good as can be expected but it is not a pleasant place to be.

We are continuing to liaise with the Egyptian authorities and the family and consular officials are visiting the family members who have been detained as often as possible.

Everyone will agree this is an unbelievably sad story for the Halawa family. Given that the Tánaiste is in regular contact with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, would he consider challenging him on it and putting the question to him? Mr. Kerry seems to be happy with the way democracy has been restored in Egypt. Would the Tánaiste consider raising the issue the next time he meets him?

No, first, because they are not detained in the US and, second, because it would not be helpful to politicise the issue at this point. The way in which we are dealing with this is as a consular situation. These are Irish citizens who have been detained. They are getting the assistance of our consular services, as any Irish citizen would. We are concerned about this. The family has been in contact with us. I have communicated to our ambassador in Cairo that I want to be kept directly informed about this case on an ongoing basis and that is happening. Depending on how it develops, I may have to take it to a different level but, at the moment, our concern is for the welfare of the four young people concerned and we will continue to work with the Egyptian authorities to see to their safety and well-being.

Human Rights Issues

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

Questions (10, 15, 67)

Clare Daly

Question:

10. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the number of citizens being held in prison in Northern Ireland without being tried or charged, in one case for over three years; and the steps he has taken to address this issue. [41052/13]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

15. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the contacts he has had with the British authorities in relation to the number of citizens being held in prison in Northern Ireland without being tried or charged; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41179/13]

View answer

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

67. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent of his engagement with the relevant authorities in Northern Ireland and England on the human rights of prisoners in Maghaberry Prison, particularly in relation to those imprisoned and where due process is not being followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41053/13]

View answer

Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10, 15 and 67 together.

I am unaware of any case in which citizens are being detained in prison in Northern Ireland without either having been charged or convicted. There are cases where persons were convicted and were subsequently released on licence and have been re-incarcerated on the basis that they are in breach of their licence condition.

The devolution arrangements agreed in 2010 provide that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland remains responsible for national security matters. My officials in the British-Irish intergovernmental secretariat in Belfast continue to raise appropriate prisoner cases with their British counterparts. I have on a number of occasions raised the Government’s concerns about a limited number of related licence revocation cases directly with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Policing and justice powers were fully devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2010 following an all-party agreement reached at Hillsborough Castle. This was a positive development for partnership government in Northern Ireland and a boost to the peace process. Completing the devolution of policing and justice powers to the executive had been a very high priority since 1998, as successive Governments, supported by all sides of this House, recognised that building and strengthening confidence across the community in policing and justice was essential to the success, legitimacy and sustainability of the devolved institutions and to embedding peace.

In April 2010, David Ford MLA was appointed Minister of Justice and assumed responsibility for policing and criminal justice policy. Prisons policy forms a central part of the Department of Justice's remit and an executive agency, namely the Northern Ireland Prison Service, implements prison policy in Northern Ireland. A Prisoner Ombudsman is also appointed by the Minister of Justice for Northern Ireland and operates completely independently of the Northern Ireland Prison Service. The Prisoner Ombudsman and his team investigate complaints from prisoners and visitors to prisoners in Northern Ireland as well as deaths in custody.

An early priority for the Department of Justice was the commissioning of a major report into prison reform. In October 2011, Dame Anne Owers made far-reaching recommendations related to prison reform in Northern Ireland. I understand that steady progress has been made to date in implementing the recommended reforms contained within that report. I wholeheartedly agree with Minister Ford's analysis that delivery of a reformed justice system has a major part to play in building and protecting a more positive future for Northern Ireland.

I also agree with recent comments he made praising new recruits to the Northern Ireland Prison Service for their commitment to the new prison service. In looking forward to a better future for the several hundreds of recent recruits, I am sure the House will join me once again in condemning the brutal murder of their colleague, prison officer David Black, last November by dissident terrorists.

With the devolution of policing and justice, the Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the systems in place are robust and consistent with the principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement and the other agreements for which we are co-guarantors. The Government’s position continues to be that the full implementation of all of the recommendations of the Owers report remains the most effective way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard. I have discussed this with Minister Ford in recent times and we are of one mind on this matter.

The use of language is important. Revocation of a licence can sound harmless but in reality what we are talking about is people convicted of crimes who did their time and were released on licence but who were picked up many years later and put in prison without any charges being put to them or without any questions. The reality is people on this island have been de facto interned. Other Deputies will deal in detail with the case of Martin Corey but he is a 63 year old man who has been in prison for three and a half years and who has yet to be questioned. His legal team does not know why he is there and he is not privy to the charges against him. This is an appalling violation of human rights. It is like having our own Guantanamo Bay on our doorstep. All of us roundly condemned the murder of prison officer Black. We signed the book of condolences when we visited Maghaberry Prison but that has nothing to do with the issues being raised.

A number of Deputies attended Newry courthouse this morning for the hearing of Stephen Murney, a young man who has been in prison for almost a year because the state has failed to put charges to him. His legal team are confident he has no case to answer. The evidence against him is flimsy yet he will lose a year of his life in prison. The Tánaiste has to do more and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland, Mr. Ford, has a hell of a lot more to do in this regard.

Some of these cases are before the courts and therefore I do not intend to comment on individual cases. Policing and prisons are now devolved functions in Northern Ireland. It is a matter for the Northern Ireland authorities. Some people who had been convicted of offences were released on licence, but that was not unconditional. Conditions were attached to the releases. They have been re-arrested and processes have been followed. The British-Irish intergovernmental secretariat has discussed these cases but I cannot publicly comment on individual cases that are before the courts.

I take it from the Tánaiste’s response that the Government is happy with the system of administrative internment that is in operation in the Six Counties at the moment where people’s licences have been revoked for no apparent reason. No explanation has been given for their internment at the whim of the security services in the North and the British Government. From the Tánaiste’s response, can I take it that the Government is happy with the situation? Is that a proper reading of his response?

The Tánaiste referred in his response to the Northern Ireland Prison Service. Does the Government consider it acceptable that visitors to the women’s prison should be strip-searched by prison officers without any apparent reason when returning from visits?

When discussing these issues we need to be measured in our use of language. The term “internment” applies to the mass arrest of a large number of people in 1971 who were taken into custody without committing any offence and against whom no charge was brought. They were held for a very long period. This is not comparing like with like. We are dealing in these cases with individuals against whom there were convictions, who were released on licence, and part of the licence was that they could be re-arrested in certain circumstances. Whether the persons should have been re-arrested is ultimately a matter that must be determined through the processes available to them.

With regard to the conditions in prisons, the running of prisons in Northern Ireland is now a matter that is devolved to the Northern Ireland Executive. The Northern Ireland Prison Service is responsible for prison conditions. Reforms recommended by Anne Owers have been introduced. I welcome the comments made by the Northern Ireland Prison Service director general, Sue McAllister, that the recommendations of the Owers report are and will remain the key driver for change across the service. The Government fully supports the position as the most effective way to ensure conditions within all prisons in Northern Ireland are of an acceptable standard.

The Minister indicated he did not wish to comment on particular cases because processes are ongoing. The people to whom we refer have been denied due process. They fit the criteria of people who have been interned. They are in prison but there is no charge against them. They have not been questioned by the PSNI. I do not know how the Minister cannot call that internment, because that is exactly what it is.

Martin Corey has been in prison for more than three and half years. He still has not been questioned by the PSNI or told why he is in prison. His legal team, whom we met, cannot get any answers. That, to me, is internment. He should have been entitled to a parole hearing more than a year ago but he is still waiting. He was in court in Ballymena last Friday. The court hearing was to begin at 10 a.m. but it did not start because he could not be brought from the prison in time. He arrived at 10.40 a.m. – a 63-year-old man in handcuffs accompanied by two prison officers. It was then decided that he was still a security risk so the hearing was delayed until more officers could attend. The hearing eventually took place at 12 noon. The closed hearing continued until 4 p.m. and he is due to return to the court next Friday. That is not due process and it is not legal. It undermines the Good Friday Agreement, the Weston Park Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. That is the basis of our concern.

I did answer a specific written question from Deputy O’Sullivan on that particular case yesterday. Mr. Corey is a convicted prisoner who was released by the British authorities under licence in 1992. The licence was revoked in April 2010 by the Secretary of State. The issue has been before the courts. A Supreme Court decision was taken on it. Court proceedings are ongoing and therefore I do not wish to get into the detail of the case other than to say that we have raised the cases with the British authorities and we will continue to keep a close eye on proceedings.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.