Human Rights Issues

Questions (51)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

51. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has contacted the Russian Government and if not, if he will give a commitment to contact the Russian Government regarding the appalling conditions faced by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the Russian punk group, Pussy Riot, who has gone on hunger strike at what she calls gulag like prison conditions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41181/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As the Deputy is aware, three members of the Russian music band ‘Pussy Riot’ were sentenced to prison terms of two years on 17 August 2012 following the performance of a satirical song in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012. While the sentence of one band member was subsequently suspended on appeal, the court upheld the custodial sentences imposed on the other two members, Maria Alekhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova. The imposition of lengthy prison terms on the two women, both of whom are mothers, is a matter of great regret and deep concern. While their actions may have given rise to offence in some quarters, the sentences appear out of proportion. This is particularly so as Ms Alekhina and Ms Tolokonnikova had spent five months in custody prior to sentencing.

The EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, has urged the Russian authorities to review and reverse the sentences in line with Russia’s international obligations in regard to respect for freedom of expression. I strongly support those views. In recent days, worrying reports have emerged in the media concerning the conditions in which Ms Tolokonnikova is serving her sentence. These reports appear to be based on an open letter in which Ms Tolokonnikova announced that she was going on hunger strike last week in protest at what she alleges is a brutal, inhumane and degrading regime at the prison. While we are not in a position to substantiate the detailed allegations which she has made in her letter, I would urge the authorities to initiate a dialogue with Ms Tolokonnikova or her representatives without delay and to fully investigate the issues which have been raised. I have asked officials in my Department to keep me closely informed on further developments in this case and to examine what actions might be taken together with our EU partners to signal our concerns to the Russian authorities.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (52)

Mick Wallace

Question:

52. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on whether a US military strike on Syria will bring further hardship on its citizens; and if he would advocate that the EU refuse to support such a military strike. [41177/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland has long held the position that only a political solution can bring peace to Syria. I have repeatedly stated my belief that further militarisation is unlikely in any way to contribute to a solution of the conflict or lessen the suffering of the Syrian people. I have also consistently opposed the supply of weapons to all sides of the conflict and continue to do so. The EU has repeatedly called for a negotiated end to the conflict, a position reaffirmed in the discussions on Syria which took place at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Vilnius on 7 September which I attended.

Northern Ireland Issues

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 12.

Questions (53)

Robert Troy

Question:

53. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the proposals he has to have further discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State and members of the Northern Ireland Executive on the need to progress the proposal to establish a civic forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41217/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

In my ongoing contacts with the Secretary of State and with the Northern Ireland Executive, including in the context of the North South Ministerial Council, I have pressed for the re-establishment of the Civic Forum as a valuable and, as yet, unimplemented provision of the Good Friday Agreement. In my address to the British Irish Association on 7 September, 2013, I pointed out that Northern Ireland was currently facing many difficult issues and that it was neither sensible nor realistic to expect the political system to shoulder these on its own. I have previously put on the record of the Dáil that I support the establishment of a Civic Forum which would provide for a broad range of voices on community relations and stimulate informed public debate in relation to key societal challenges. I welcome the extent to which Richard Haass, Independent Chair of the All-Party Group on Parades, Flags and Emblems and the Past, has encouraged groups and representatives of wider civil society to contribute ideas to the talks process.

I will be hosting a Reconciliation Networking Forum event in Dublin Castle in October 2013 for people who are involved in community, peace-building, public policy or reconciliation work, to discuss what civil society, including the community sector, can and should do to meet the reconciliation challenges ahead. This is in line with the view of the Government that a strong and resilient civic society can play an important role in building a more reconciled and prosperous Northern Ireland.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 12.

Overseas Development Aid Issues

Questions (55)

Seán Crowe

Question:

55. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Danish Government is publishing a strategic framework for Danish involvement in EU development policy in October; and if his Department has plans to produce a policy paper which explicitly states the reason and the way Ireland spends aid via the EU. [41148/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Last May, the Government launched Ireland’s new development policy “One World, One Future” setting out the vision, goals and priorities for our overseas aid programme over the coming four years. The new policy, which was published following a very extensive public consultation process, reaffirms Ireland’s strong support for multilateral efforts, recognising that global challenges require global solutions. Our membership of the EU, which provides over 50% of global development aid, enables our collective development efforts to have greater impact and reach. Given the EU’s central role in international development, we recognise the value of influencing EU policy and are playing our part in ensuring that the EU continues to deliver aid that is effective and assists those most in need.

The new policy also commits Irish Aid to reviewing the range of our funding for multilateral organisations, including the EU, to ensure that it is as effective as possible and that it is fully aligned with our goals. In the context of carrying out this review, we will be drawing on the body of recent work carried by international partners including the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) and the strategic framework for Danish involvement in EU development which I understand is being published today by the Danish Government.

Last year, Ireland contributed €99.6 million to the EU development budget through assessed contributions of €29.2 million to the European Development Fund, which covers African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and €70.4 million to the EU’s general budget, which broadly covers development co-operation in other regions of the world.

Northern Ireland Issues

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 48.

Questions (56)

Joe McHugh

Question:

56. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on his Department's engagements with Dr. Richard Haass in September 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41147/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I met with Richard Haass in New York last week to discuss his work and the issues that he has been asked to address by the Northern Ireland Executive. The meeting followed an earlier conversation with him on 13 September last. Our discussions provided a valuable opportunity to hear his considered view on the talks process and to get his assessment of the way forward. I had met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 23 September, and I stressed to him that both governments are determined to maintain and build on all the hard-won progress which has been achieved in Northern Ireland and that Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan and their team have the full support of the Government in the task that lies ahead.

Following my visit to Belfast on 29 August, I was particularly glad to hear of the wide process of consultation with civic society undertaken by Dr Haass and Dr O’Sullivan. A broad spectrum of people, who are not part of the political process, need to be heard in relation to these difficult societal issues. Civil society has an important role to play in determining the best way forward. I look forward to close contact with Dr Haass and his team over the coming months, and I hope to welcome him to Dublin during his next round of discussions.

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 48.

Foreign Conflicts

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 31.

Questions (58)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

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]

View answer

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.