Human Rights Issues

Questions (42)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

42. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the disappearance of Sombath Somphone, a prominent activist for sustainable people-centred and just economic and social development, in Laos; evidence that indicates the Laotian security forces may have had a hand in his disappearance; and if he will raise the issue with the Laotian Government and his European and international counterparts. [41161/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I can assure the Deputy that I am aware of and am very concerned at the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Sombath Somphone. Ireland’s diplomatic relations with Laos are maintained on a secondary accreditation basis from our Embassy in Hanoi. I have instructed the Ambassador to monitor the situation closely and to use every possible opportunity to convey my concerns to the Government of Laos.

The Embassy in Hanoi has maintained very close contact with the United Nations Resident Coordinators Office (UNRCO) and other Embassies in Laos about this case. Most recently, Embassy officials met with the UN Resident Coordinator for Laos in Hanoi on 19 September to discuss Mr. Sombath’s case. The UNRCO has reported that there is no new information on the whereabouts of Mr. Sombath, but that they are continuing to pursue the matter with the Government.

The Embassy is also working closely with the EU delegation in Laos which has been very active in raising this case with the Government on behalf of the member states of the EU and HR/VP Catherine Ashton issued a statement on behalf of the EU in December, 2012 expressing serious concern about the disappearance of Mr. Sombath. The EU also delivered a formal demarche to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on 1 February 2013 and, during the EU-Laos Human Rights dialogue on 4 February 2013, Mr. Sombath’s situation and that of other Persons of Concern was raised with the relevant Laos authorities.

The European Parliament adopted a resolution on Mr Sombath’s case on 7 February this year calling on the Laotian authorities to end the practice of arbitrary arrests and secret detention and to make enforced disappearance a criminal offence. The Parliament also called on the Laotian Government to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The case was again raised with the Laotian authorities during a visit by Members of the European Parliament to Laos last month.

As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland has identified the promotion and protection of Human Rights Defenders as a priority and we will continue to work actively with our partners on these important issues throughout our term at the Council including on this particular case.

White Paper on Defence

Questions (43)

Barry Cowen

Question:

43. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recently published Green Paper on Defence; if he foresees any policy changes relating to the 'triple lock' arrangement covering Irish Army involvement in peacekeeping missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41193/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The White Paper on Defence, which is expected to be published by the Minister for Defence next year, will provide a framework for Ireland’s defence policy for the period 2014-2024. There have been significant changes in both the domestic and the international security and defence environment since the last White Paper was published in 2000.

The publication of the Green Paper on Defence, and the related consultation process, provides an important opportunity for reflection on how Ireland can address emerging challenges and changes in the international security environment in this period in line with our interests and values. It will also allow for informed public debate in this important policy area. As outlined in the Green Paper, issues relating to security and defence are inseparable from the State’s wider foreign policy, tied to such factors as our traditional policy of military neutrality, our commitment to the UN, and our membership of the EU. My Department has had an opportunity to contribute to the development of this Green Paper, in particular to the significant foreign policy elements of the text, and will continue to do so in the lead-up to the publication of the White Paper next year. I am strongly committed to maintaining the ‘triple lock’ mechanism, which forms the essential foundation for the participation of Irish military personnel in overseas operations. The ‘triple lock’, which enjoys overwhelming public support, has served the State well. It ensures that our Defence Forces take part only in missions which have the consent of the international community, expressed through the authorisation of the United Nations. I do not consider that the Ireland’s contribution to international peacekeeping is constrained in any significant way by this requirement. Furthermore, a UN mandate is vital if a peacekeeping mission is to be effective in achieving its goals.

Diplomatic Representation Issues

Questions (44)

Billy Timmins

Question:

44. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met the Syrian Ambassador to Ireland this year and the discussion that took place. [41063/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There is at present no Syrian Ambassador accredited to Ireland, following the departure of the last non-resident Ambassador from London in March 2012. Nor have there been any recent contacts with Syrian diplomatic representatives based at their Embassy in London.

International Terrorism

Questions (45)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

45. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his response to the recent terrorist attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall in Kenya; if he has liaised with Irish Aid workers and Irish charities based in Kenya; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41202/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi which, so far, is known to have left 72 people dead, and over 200 people injured. I would like to express my deepest sympathies to the families of the deceased and injured. As I stated while the attack was still happening, Ireland, along with our EU partners, stands in solidarity with the government and people of Kenya at this most difficult time.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has closely monitored the situation as it has developed, through our Embassy in Dar es Salaam and our Honorary Consulate in Nairobi. Throughout this period our Honorary Consul has been in direct contact with a wide range of contacts in Nairobi, including the local Directors of Irish NGOs including Concern, Trócaire and Goal. He was also in touch with Irish Business contacts, the Kenya-Irish Society and others across Nairobi to establish if any Irish were caught up in this terrible tragedy. My Department also received offers of assistance from Irish business engaged in Kenya to help in responding to the tragedy as it unfolded, which was greatly appreciated. Most fortunately no Irish citizens were the victims of this terrorist attack. However, tragically, the son of the former Kenyan Ambassador to Ireland, Catherine Mwangi, and his fiancée, both lost their lives. On behalf of the Government I have extended our deepest sympathies to the Ambassador and her family.

The Somali Al-Shabab terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack, which underlines the impact the continuing instability in Somalia is having on the wider Horn of Africa region. The EU is implementing a comprehensive Strategy for the Horn of Africa which was adopted in 2011 and which covers the entire region, including Somalia. It addresses all dimensions of the situation including conflict, underdevelopment, and issues related to governance and human rights. Kenya is a key regional leader in the African led efforts to assist Somalia on its long journey to national recovery.

The EU’s support in the area of security includes funding for the African Union peacekeeping mission, and direct engagement through a number of Common Security and Defence Policy Missions including the EU Training Mission, EUTM Somalia, which is building the capacity of the Somali National Security Forces to enable them to take over responsibility for security and law and order. Ireland is providing the Commander for EUTM Somalia, as well as a significant contingent of personnel.

We will continue to work with our partners in the EU and in Africa to tackle the impact of instability in the Horn of Africa region and to help build a peaceful, secure future for its people.

Millennium Development Goals

Questions (46, 73)

Dessie Ellis

Question:

46. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide more details on the UN special event on the millennium development goals that he attended in New York; and the way it will it impact on the post-2015 development discussions. [41162/13]

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Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

73. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade as co-chair of the forthcoming UN summit on the future of the millennium development goals, if he will seek to make decent work one of the main targets of the post-2015 development era; his views on whether decent and safe labour and environmental standards are a fundamental right that must be fought for throughout the rapidly industrialising global south; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41054/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 73 together.

Ireland has been playing a very significant international role in the process to negotiate and agree a new framework for global development after 2015, the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It was a major achievement of our EU Presidency in the first half of this year to secure agreement on an integrated EU position for the Special Event at the United Nations in New York last week.

The Tánaiste addressed the opening session of the MDG Special Event and co-chaired one of the four roundtable discussions on progress under the MDGs and future challenges in the fight to end global poverty and hunger.

Ireland and South Africa were asked to co-facilitate the Special Event and we negotiated overall agreement on a strong outcome document, which was endorsed by all UN member states. It provides a clear commitment to maximising progress over the next two years under the MDGs and a roadmap for the negotiation of a new global development framework post-2015. This marks another important step in the post-2015 process by committing to completing the work of the MDGs, to freeing the world of poverty and hunger, and ensuring a life of dignity for all. We believe that there is now a strong basis for the negotiation of a new development framework which can help eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in a generation, empower women and girls, focus on equitable economic opportunity and integrate international efforts to address poverty and the impact of climate change.

I agree that issues related to employment and decent and safe work, are critical to poverty eradication and sustainable development. Very limited progress has been made on the MDG target to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), unemployment has increased by 28 million since 2007, and an estimated 39 million people have dropped out of the labour market, leaving a 67 million jobs gap as a result of the global economic and financial crisis. There are currently approximately 200 million unemployed people and approximately 868 million ‘global working poor’. Young people have borne the brunt of the crisis.

Ireland has already expressed support for a stand-alone goal on employment and decent work. This position is in line with our new global development policy, 'One World, One Future', which includes a commitment to promote the inclusion of job creation objectives into the national plans, poverty reduction frameworks and budgets of the Key Partner Countries for our aid programme.

Departmental Appointments

Questions (47)

Michael McGrath

Question:

47. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the number of honorary consuls he has appointed; the names and occupations of the honorary consuls appointed; where these honorary consuls have been appointed; the criteria that is required for such an appointment to this position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41208/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I have appointed seventeen Honorary Consuls as follows:

Year of Appointment

Location

Name of Honorary Consul

Occupation

2013

Kenya,- Nairobi

Mr. Jonathan Andrew Sutton

Businessman

2013

Botswana, Gaborone

Mr. Paul Gerard Sullivan

Businessman

2013

Kazakhstan, Almaty

Mr. Kairat Mazhibayev

Businessman

2013

Turkey, Antalya

Mr. Mehmet Seckin Arkan

Lawyer

2013

Canada, Nova Scotia

Mr. Brian Doherty

Businessman

2013

Australia, Perth

Mr. Martin Kavanagh

Lawyer

2013

Nepal Kathmandu

Mr. Manoj Bahadur Shrestha

Company Chairman

2013

USA Florida

Mr. Terence Delahunty

Lawyer

2012

Japan, Sapporo

Mr. Seiji Kasama

Company CEO

2012

Saudi Arabia, Jeddah

Mr. Mohammad Ahmad Naghi

Company Chairman

2012

Turkey, Izmir

Mr. Bulent Akgerman

Businessman

2012

Iran, Tehran

Mr. Alireza Feizollahi

Businessman

2012

USA Las Vegas

Ms. Teresa Murphy

Businessman

2012

USA, Honolulu, Hawaii

Mr. Noel Trainor

Businessman

2011

Bahamas

Mr. Brian Quinn

Businessman

2011

Pakistan

Mr. Osman Asghar Khan

Businessman

2011

India, Chennai

Mr. Rajeev Mecheri

Businessman

Appointments of Honorary Consul are made if a need is identified for consular assistance or services to Irish citizens, or in some locations, with assistance in the promotion of Trade. In general the Irish Ambassador accredited to a country will make a proposal for the appointment of an Honorary Consul if s/he identifies a specific need and has also identified a suitable candidate or suitable candidates. The main criteria considered when appointing an Honorary Consul include familiarity with the local Irish Community, familiarity with the local administration, a good knowledge of the local laws particularly in areas which have a consular dimension and a good knowledge of the local language.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (48, 57)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

48. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals he has to provide additional humanitarian aid to Syria and adjoining countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41219/13]

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Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

57. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the level and type of humanitarian assistance provided by the State to Syrian citizens to date affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria; and the policy of the Government in relation to the Syrian civil war. [41057/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 57 together.

The tragic crisis unfolding in Syria and in neighbouring countries has resulted in enormous humanitarian needs requiring an urgent response from the international community. With the number of fatalities surpassing 100,000, there are now close to 7 million people who are in need of immediate life saving support. In addition to more than 4 million people who are displaced within Syria, some 2.1 million Syrians have fled the violence to take refuge in neighbouring countries, one million of whom are children. The Government has repeatedly condemned the civil war in Syria and the violations of human rights inflicted on the Syrian people.

In line with the UN’s humanitarian response plan for Syria, it is imperative that life-saving emergency assistance is provided and essential basic services are delivered to affected people in Syria and its neighbouring countries, especially food, water, sanitation, health, shelter, education and essential non-food items. Vital public services, particularly medical facilities, affected by the crisis must be restored. The effect of this crisis on children is particularly worrying, with large numbers of children being exposed to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect.

Ireland’s total contribution to this crisis to date stands at €10.8 million, of which €8.15 million has been provided in 2013, making Ireland one of world’s most generous donors – on a per capita basis – to respond to this crisis. The total includes support to the NGOs Goal, Oxfam, Concern and the International Rescue Committee, as well as to members of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and six different UN agencies. These are partners that have a demonstrated track record of effective humanitarian response in Syria, with strong strategies for targeting and delivery of assistance and robust systems for monitoring and accountability

My officials are continuously monitoring the evolving situation in Syria and the surrounding region, and my proposed visit to Lebanon next month will provide an opportunity to review the relief effort and assess humanitarian needs on the ground. In view of the immense needs in Syria and neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees, Ireland will continue to provide assistance, within our means and as the situation evolves, to the humanitarian response.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (49)

John Halligan

Question:

49. Deputy John Halligan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a large sewage treatment plant being constructed in Gaza with funding from the World Bank may not become operational due to a shortage of required electric power, and that an appeal for more electricity made to Israel has been ignored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41184/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The new sewage treatment plant in Gaza is critical infrastructure to protect public health, and especially to prevent the total contamination of Gaza’s groundwater, from which all drinking water is drawn, by sewage leaking from the existing inadequate facilities. The future operation of the plant is a matter of speculation, but it is clearly essential that it become fully operational as soon as possible. The position in relation to electric power is somewhat more complicated than suggested in the question. Mains electricity supply in Gaza is partly supplied directly by Israel, as a normal commercial transaction, and partly generated by the Gaza power plant. The power plant in turn depends either on fuel supplied by the Palestinian Authority via Israeli controlled border crossings, or smuggled in from Egypt. These two sources were already inadequate to meet all of Gaza’s needs, and power cuts have been endemic for some years. In recent years, however, the situation has worsened considerably. The Hamas authorities in Gaza have purchased less power from Israel, either because they wished to be less dependent on Israel or because it was more expensive. At the same time, however, they have refused to pay the Palestinian Authority for the fuel it supplied, with the result that the PA ended supplies. The end result has been an increased reliance on fuel smuggled in from Egypt, which comes through the tunnel system controlled and taxed by Hamas, and so provides them with revenue.

The recent turmoil in Egypt, and particularly strong Egyptian measures to control the border and reduce smuggling, has reduced this source of fuel supply on which Gaza has become over-reliant, and threatened further power cuts. I am not certain that Israel has in fact been asked to supply more power, or if so under what terms.

The power supply in Gaza, and in due course the operation of the new sewage plant when it becomes operational, are of course of critical importance for public health. I urge all relevant authorities, and not just in Israel, to take appropriate steps to meet this need.

United Nations Issues

Questions (50, 74)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

50. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the work his Department has done with Ireland’s seat on the UN Human Rights council; the issues it is prioritising; and if he will provide regular updates to Oireachtas Members of the ongoing work of this council. [41164/13]

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Seán Kyne

Question:

74. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the contribution Ireland has made in general sessions of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, the most recent of which concluded on 27 September; the number of Irish officials representing the country on the council; and the dialogue between the Government and the representatives in raising human rights issues in this important forum. [41097/13]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 74 together.

Ireland’s membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) presents an opportunity to enhance our reputation internationally and to make a meaningful contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. During Ireland’s three year membership of the HRC, which runs from 2013-2015, we are actively working to add value to the work of the Council and strengthen the institution itself.

Ireland’s approach to membership of the HRC is guided by the pledges and commitments made during our campaign to secure election which reflect our well-established human rights priorities. These include the following: Defending the universality of human rights; Freedom of expression (particularly on the internet); Freedom of religion or belief; LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) rights; Peace building and conflict resolution; The human rights situation in the Middle East; Strengthening the UN Human Rights Treaty Body System; The promotion and protection of human rights defenders; The promotion and protection of an enabling environment for civil society; Women’s rights, combating discrimination and Gender-Based Violence. We are also highlighting the importance of ensuring that human rights considerations underpin all areas of development – with a particular focus on health, education and combating hunger.

Ireland held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first six months of this year, which encompassed the March and June sessions of the Human Rights Council. As Presidency, Ireland played an active role in the HRC as part of the Joint EU Team, together with the EU Delegation (EEAS). In the March session, I personally delivered the general statement on behalf of the EU on a number of country situations and thematic priorities. Over both sessions, the joint EU Team, which included the Irish delegation, led in the preparation of drafts and the conduct of negotiations on the EU-led initiatives including DPRK, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Freedom of Religion or Belief and Rights of the Child. Ireland worked in tandem with the EEAS on resolutions relating to Sri Lanka, Mali, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Middle East, human rights defenders, combating religious intolerance and illicit funds. Ireland also negotiated four further resolutions on behalf of the European Union on national human rights institutions, discrimination against women, cultural rights and foreign debt.

Ireland led on two important initiatives during the September session, which concluded last Friday. As part of our commitment to ensuring that our human rights priorities and development programme are mutually reinforcing, Ireland led on a resolution on preventable mortality and morbidity of children under five which was adopted by consensus on 26 September. Some 6.6 million children under the age of five die each year, mainly from preventable and treatable causes. This resolution focuses on how the HRC can act in elaborating a human rights based approach to this issue and support the much needed engagement of the human rights community in the ongoing efforts to strengthening accountability for children’s health. As a result of the adoption of this resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will elaborate technical guidance, in close consultation with the World Health Organisation drawing on the particular expertise of that agency, and with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including Governments. This technical guidance, grounded in human rights principles, can help national Ministries and other actors to design policies and programmes to reduce and eliminate under-five mortality.

Ireland also led on a resolution on creating and maintaining a safe and enabling environment for civil society which was adopted on 27 September. Civil society actors have come under increasing pressure in many parts of the world in recent years. In some countries, dialogue with civil society remains limited and the space for civil society engagement is narrow or shrinking. Restrictive legislation and repressive practices in some countries have led to stigmatisation, harassment, and even criminalisation of civil society actors engaged in promoting and protecting human rights. The resolution adopted last Friday underlines the important contribution of civil society and calls on States to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate effectively. It also provides for a panel discussion to be held during the next session of the Human Rights Council in March 2014 on the challenges facing States in their efforts to ensure space for civil society, and lessons learnt and good practices in this regard.

Ireland has also made national statements at the most recent session of the HRC on human rights situations in a number of countries, including Egypt, Syria, Sri Lanka, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Sudan, and Somalia. We have also raised important issues such as the safety of journalists, children affected by armed conflict, and the role of civil society in integrating gender perspectives in the work of the HRC.

Ireland will continue to respond proactively to emerging human rights situations and themes, including emergency situations, and to play an active role in the Council’s three yearly sessions (March, June and September) and in the sessions of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examinations, during which countries’ human rights records are examined. Ireland will continue to promote and defend the work and independence of the human rights treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council special procedures and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva is responsible for the management of day-to-day activity on the Human Rights Council. A team of three diplomats and two interns work in support of the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the UN in Geneva to deliver on our priorities for our membership term. My Department is in close daily contact with the Permanent Mission in Geneva in this regard, with input from other government departments within their areas of responsibility. Officials in my Department would be prepared to provide regular briefings to members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade on our engagement with the Human Rights Council as appropriate.