Human Rights Issues

Questions (38)

Brendan Smith

Question:

38. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the resolution entitled civil society space: creating and maintaining, in law and in practice a safe and enabling environment, at the Human Rights Council of the UN; if this issue was discussed at the Human Rights Council session in March 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18442/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland’s three-year membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council, from 2013 - 2015, presents an opportunity to make an enhanced contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. Ireland is committed to defending the universality of human rights, and one of our key priorities is the promotion and protection of space for civil society to operate, free from harassment and intimidation. 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. As part of our commitment to the protection of civil society space, Ireland took the lead, with the support of a cross-regional group of member states consisting of Chile, Japan, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, on a new draft resolution entitled ‘Civil society space; creating and maintaining, in law and in practice a safe and enabling environment’ at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council which took place in September 2013.

The creation and maintenance of space for civil society is inextricably linked to the ability of individuals to exercise their fundamental right to the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, opinion and expression. This resolution addresses, for the first time at the Human Rights Council, the issue of civil society space as a human rights concern, underlining the importance of the contribution of civil society in so many aspects of our lives, and calling on States to create and maintain, in law and practice, a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate effectively. The draft resolution was the subject of difficult and politically sensitive negotiations. Ireland successfully defended the draft resolution against several hostile amendments, paving the way for it to be adopted by the Council without a vote.

On foot of the resolution, a panel discussion was held on 11 March 2014 during the 25th session of the Human Rights Council, on the challenges facing states in their efforts to ensure space for civil society, and lessons learnt and good practices in this regard. The Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations in Geneva worked closely with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the preparations for this event.

The panel discussion was addressed via video message by the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. Ms Flavia Pansieri, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, also delivered opening remarks, which was followed by an interactive discussion moderated by Ms. Hina Jilani, a prominent human rights lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner. The panellists were: Ms. Safak Pavey, member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression; Ms. Deeyah Khan, film, music and arts producer; and Mr. Mokhtar Trifi, Honorary President, Tunisian League for Human Rights.

In addition to the panellists, many states, national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and UN agencies intervened during the discussion to highlight their diverse experiences in the promotion and protection of civil society space.

Ireland delivered a national statement during the interactive debate which emphasised that protecting civil society space entails the fulfilment of the rights of peaceful assembly, association, opinion and expression, online and offline, which in turn facilitate the enjoyment of other human rights. It is the primary responsibility of states to promote and protect these rights and to be accountable to their citizens. The statement also noted that governments should see civil society as an asset, not a threat. It expressed deep concern that in some countries, certain provisions, such as those relating to national security, public morals, defamation, funding and regulation of the internet, have led to the harassment, stigmatisation and criminalisation of civil society actors.

The statement also emphasised that ethical, religious or cultural values should not be used as a justification for putting in place national legislation which undermines the universality of human rights, and that national legislation should be consistent with international human rights law and should facilitate civil society to operate in a safe and enabling environment. Ireland also highlighted that the engagement and inclusive participation of civil society can cultivate democracy, enhance the promotion and protection of human rights, prevent violations and abuses, and foster social and economic development.

As mandated by the resolution on civil society space, OHCHR will now prepare a summary report of the panel discussion which will be presented to the Human Rights Council at its 27th session in September 2014. Building on this report, Ireland intends to work with its partners to lead a further resolution on civil society space at the Human Rights Council. We will also continue, through our development cooperation programme, to use our voice, influence and partnerships to protect and promote the ability of civil society organisations to operate.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (39, 44, 52)

Brendan Smith

Question:

39. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had any recent discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State in relation to the proposed bill of rights for Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18444/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

44. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his proposals to discuss further with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Executive the need to establish a civic forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18451/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

52. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State or Members of the Northern Ireland Executive in relation to the Irish Language Act; the progress made in relation to this legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18521/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 44 and 52 together.

I believe that the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements provide the essential framework for the achievement of reconciliation and mutual trust in Northern Ireland and in the totality of relations between these islands. In my ongoing contacts with the British government, and with the Northern Ireland Executive, I continue to stress the importance of progressing implementation of all outstanding aspects of the Agreements.

I welcome the report agreed at the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly plenary in Dublin on 31 March 2014 on the implementation of the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreement and which calls on all parties to the Agreements ‘to maintain momentum to ensure that all outstanding provisions are implemented in their totality ’.

I continue to urge all the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly to engage in constructive discussion with a view to reaching agreement on the substance of a Bill of Rights. A Bill of Rights drawn up by agreement between the main parties of the Assembly could set out precisely and formally the rights underpinning a reconciled society in Northern Ireland can be based.

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.

On my regular visits to Northern Ireland, I continue the practice of engaging with civil society representatives.

In the context of the North South Ministerial Council, most recently at our Plenary Meeting on 8 November 2013, the Government expressed support for the re-establishment of the Civic Forum as a valuable and, as yet, unimplemented provision of the Good Friday Agreement.

I am firmly of the view that an Irish Language Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland. All parties to the Good Friday Agreement recognised the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity in Northern Ireland.

In the St Andrews Agreement, the British government committed to introducing an Irish Language Act and to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.

Since the restoration of the devolved Institutions on 8 May 2007, the question of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland has been a devolved matter and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive and in particular the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Ms. Carál Ní Chuilín MLA.

Officials in my Department maintain regular and ongoing contact with the Irish language community in Northern Ireland including those involved in cross-community Irish language activity.

I will continue to press in my discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive the urgent need to address this issue and to legislate for an Irish Language Act. Officials in my Department will continue to monitor this matter in their ongoing contacts with the Northern Ireland Office.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (40, 51)

Brendan Smith

Question:

40. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the urgent need to provide much needed additional humanitarian aid for South Sudan was discussed at the recent EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18445/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

51. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the urgent need to provide much needed additional humanitarian aid for South Sudan was discussed at the recent EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18512/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 51 together.

The political and humanitarian situation in South Sudan was most recently raised at the EU Foreign Affairs Council which the Tánaiste attended last month. At that meeting, the European Union expressed its deep concern about the ongoing conflict in South Sudan and the grave human suffering it is causing for ordinary civilians caught up in the violence.

Since the outbreak of the conflict in mid-December 2013, more than one million people have been forced from their homes and around 3.7 million people are severely food insecure. At the Foreign Affairs Council, the EU welcomed the role of the UN in coordinating the humanitarian response and urged all partners to contribute both generously and swiftly to the South Sudan Crisis Response Plan. In particular, the EU urged the international community to align efforts in addressing the growing food security problem while at the same time strengthening the resilience of the population. EU Foreign Ministers also condemned continued restrictions on humanitarian activities and called on all parties to allow rapid, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to all populations in need, in accordance with international humanitarian law and principles.

Total EU (Commission and Member State) humanitarian support currently stands at €127 million. This funding is supporting immediate life-saving activities such as distributing essential food and non-food items, providing shelter, healthcare, protection, water, hygiene and sanitation. Funding is targeted at people in need within South Sudan, as well as South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries.

Ireland has committed more than €3.6 million to date in 2014 in response to the current outbreak of conflict and resulting displacement. In January, I authorised two airlifts totalling 45 tonnes of emergency supplies to South Sudan from our pre-positioned stocks in Accra, Ghana, valued at €400,000. A further airlift of 36 tonnes of emergency supplies, valued at €370,000 was dispatched to Uganda in March to assist the South Sudanese refugees in the country. I also approved €1.5 million in funding to the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) for 2014 to ensure that UN agencies and NGOs on the ground can respond to urgent humanitarian needs. Finally, under Irish Aid NGO humanitarian funding schemes, I have so far in 2014 also approved a total of €1,360,000 in funding to Concern, MSF, World Vision and Plan, for a range of emergency response activities in Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Warrap States.

Ireland will continue to advocate at all relevant international fora for increased support to the humanitarian relief effort both within South Sudan and for South Sudanese refugees and host communities in neighbouring countries. We will continue to provide assistance, within our means and as the situation evolves.

European Council Meetings

Questions (41)

Brendan Smith

Question:

41. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will outline the issues discussed at this week's Foreign Affairs Council meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18446/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

As the Deputy is aware, I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) in Luxembourg on 14 April.It will come as no surprise, that – given the crisis in Ukraine – discussions at the Council meeting were largely dominated by recent developments in that region. Before addressing this in detail however, I would like to briefly outline the discussions that took place on other key issues.

Opening the Council meeting with short introductory remarks, High Representative Ashton updated Ministers on: the latest developments in the Middle East Peace Process; her recent visit to Egypt; the latest round of nuclear talks with Iran; preparations for the elections in Iraq as well as the recent first round of Presidential elections in Afghanistan. She also noted the outcome of several high-level exchanges that had taken place in Brussels in recent weeks, notably the EU-US energy Council, the EU-US Summit, the EU-Africa Summit and the visit of the Chinese President.

In the lunchtime discussions, Ministers had an exchange of views on Syria and Bosnia-Herzegovina; Council Conclusions were adopted in both areas.

On Syria, the EU’s emphasis remains on the importance of supporting Special Envoy Brahimi and the so-called ‘Geneva II’ political talks process and on addressing the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries. The scale of the humanitarian challenge was underlined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's recent report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2139, which noted little evidence of meaningful progress on the ground in delivering humanitarian assistance since the adoption of UN Resolution 2139.

The discussion on Bosnia-Herzegovina was wide-ranging. The EU’s efforts are firmly focussed on supporting Bosnia in its efforts to meet the accession criteria; Ireland remains a strong supporter of Bosnia’s EU perspective.

In the afternoon, we moved on to a detailed discussion of the crisis in Ukraine and for the latter part of the exchange, we were joined by Commissioner Oettinger who briefed the Council on exchanges that day with Energy Ministers, on the critically important energy dossier.

Ministers decided to expand the list of those to whom visa bans and asset freezes will apply. Preparatory work continues on so-called Phase Three measures so that further steps can be taken should they be required. Ministers also agreed to send an expert mission to Ukraine to prepare possible EU assistance in support of reform and capacity-building in the areas of policing and rule-of-law.

The FAC also adopted a Decision on macro-financial assistance for Ukraine, which brings the total amount of funding being made available by the EU to €1.6 billion. The support is part of a broader package of international support put together by the IMF and conditioned on Ukraine's implementation of wide-ranging reforms.

The EU will also continue its engagement in international facilitation initiatives involving the UN, the OSCE and others. Ireland is participating fully in these efforts: we contributed officers to two interim OSCE observer missions pending the deployment of the main OSCE Monitoring Mission which is being put in place and in which Irish personnel will also take part.

The FAC expressed strong support for the holding of free and fair presidential elections on 25 May. Ireland is sending a number of observers to Ukraine to help achieve that objective, one which will allow the Ukrainian people to determine their own future and help build trust across the country. It is in the interest of the entire region that a sovereign, prosperous, stable, democratic and inclusive Ukraine emerges from the current crisis.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings

Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 39.

Questions (42, 43)

Brendan Smith

Question:

42. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he raised last week in his discussions with the British Foreign Secretary the need for the British Government to respond positively and without further delay to the motions passed unanimously by Dáil Éireann requesting the British Government to release the papers and-or files pertaining to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings in 1974; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18447/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

43. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he raised last week in his discussions with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State the need for the British Government to respond positively and without further delay to the motions passed unanimously by Dáil Éireann requesting the British Government to release the papers and-or files pertaining to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings in 1974; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18448/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 43 together.

The 17th May this year will mark the fortieth anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. With 33 killed, that terrible day saw the highest number of casualties on any single day during the Troubles. It left a further 300 people injured.

The Taoiseach and I have reiterated our support for the all-party Dáil motions of July 2008 and May 2011 urging the British Government to hand over all original documents in their possession relating to the bombings. I met with Justice for the Forgotten most recently on 26 March 2014 and confirmed the Government’s ongoing support. I welcome also the continued all-party support for their campaign on behalf of the Dublin/Monaghan families.

I have raised the matter of access to information related to the bombings with my ministerial counterparts in the British Government, including during a meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Theresa Villiers MP on 31 March 2014. On that occasion the Secretary of State agreed that the British Government would reflect afresh on the Government’s request.

The Government will continue to pursue the issue at both ministerial and official level.

Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 39.

Northern Ireland Issues

Questions (45, 46)

Brendan Smith

Question:

45. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update regarding the actions he has taken to assist in progressing to a successful conclusion the Haass talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18453/14]

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Brendan Smith

Question:

46. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the most recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and Members of the Northern Ireland Executive on the urgent need to progress to a successful conclusion the proposals outlined by Ambassador Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18454/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 46 together.

It is disappointing that the Party Leaders have not made more progress in their discussions, following the substantial work done under the chairmanship of Dr. Richard Haass and Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan prior to the new year. It is regrettable also that the UUP is not participating currently in these discussions which are focussed on issues of genuine concern to so many people.

I met with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland last Thursday to discuss the talks and the support which both Governments are giving to the process. We are both firmly of the view that Northern Ireland urgently requires a new way forward on dealing with the past that can command public confidence. We agreed also that the early successful conclusion of the political talks represents the best opportunity to make progress across all three important areas of parades, flag and identity issues and dealing with the past. Maintaining the status quo in relation to these issues is not a feasible or satisfactory option for anyone. The Secretary of State made clear her Government’s support for the talks in a speech in Belfast yesterday and also confirmed that the British government would play their part in working with any new institutions that may arise in the implementation of the architecture proposed by Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan.

I spoke recently with the First and deputy First Ministers and with the leaders of the SDLP and the Alliance Party. All have confirmed to me their commitment to reaching a deal. I encourage all leaders to aim for an early agreement, not in the coming months but in the coming weeks. The groundwork has largely been laid by the party leaders over the past few months. I applaud that – and urge them to recognise the opportunity that is now in sight and to take it.

We witnessed last year how some are only too willing to decry and reject politics altogether or take politics into their own hands and out onto the streets. Those individuals and groups must be given the clearest message that progress is made only through dialogue and negotiation by those elected to lead. Those political leaders can count on the full support of this government as they work through the talks process to reach a comprehensive agreement.

The Government wants to see an early agreement as we believe it is in the best interests of Northern Ireland and I will continue to engage closely with the British Government and the NI parties over the coming weeks towards that end.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (47)

Brendan Smith

Question:

47. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the failure of the international community to provide adequate humanitarian aid to Syria and that region was discussed at the recent EU Foreign Affairs Council, if he will outline the commitments made by the international community following the humanitarian aid pledging conference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18455/14]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The protracted and tragic crisis in Syria has resulted in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, requiring a sustained response from the international community. As the number of fatalities surpasses an estimated 140,000 people, there are now over 9 million people within Syria who are in need of immediate life-saving support, with a further 2.6 million Syrian refugees requiring assistance in neighbouring countries. Ireland has been to the fore in the international efforts to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and is one of the most generous contributors to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis. In view of the immense needs in Syria and neighbouring countries hosting Syrian refugees, I announced Ireland’s pledge of a further €12 million in humanitarian assistance at the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria and region in Kuwait on January 15th 2014. This additional pledge in Kuwait brings Ireland’s overall funding commitment over the period 2011 to 2014 to €26.011 million, of which over €20 million has been disbursed to date. Funds have been provided to a range of established UN partners as well as to Irish NGOs. We will continue to provide assistance, within our means and as the situation evolves.

Ireland has also been consistent in its efforts to ensure that the necessary attention is given by the international community to this crisis, including at the most recent meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg. At this meeting discussions were focussed on the need for a political solution to the conflict which has had dire humanitarian consequences, both within Syria and in its neighbouring countries. Ministers considered the latest developments on the ground, in particular the state of play in diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the crisis and the implementation of the UN Security Resolution 2139, on humanitarian access.

The revised UN response plan for Syria and the refugee populations has requested US$6.5 billion dollars in total for operations in 2014, of which approximately 23% has been provided by the international community to date. This represents the largest humanitarian appeal in the history of the UN. The international community has pledged US$2.5 billion in assistance in response. Ireland strongly supports the continuation of the EU’s role as the largest donor to this prolonged crisis and has used every opportunity to encourage donors to honour their pledges towards the humanitarian response.