Humanitarian Aid

Questions (21)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

21. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the situation regarding UN aid not reaching all intended areas most in need of aid in Syria; his views on Kenneth Roth's executive director of Human Rights Watch response that the UN is constrained by the Syrian regime and is hampered by its lawyers who prioritise sovereignty over feeding the starving; the action he will take to ensure that Irish aid money, most of which is sent to the UN, is being delivered in areas of most acute need in opposition controlled areas in Syria; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28134/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The protracted and tragic crisis in Syria has resulted in unprecedented levels of humanitarian need, with over 10.8 million people within Syria in need of immediate life-saving support and a further 2.8 million Syrian refugees requiring assistance in neighbouring countries. The conflict has been characterised by ongoing and persistent violations, by all parties to the conflict, of international humanitarian and human rights law, including the denial of humanitarian access to those in need. UN Security Council Resolution 2139, adopted in February 2014, expressly demands that all parties – and, in particular, the Syrian authorities - promptly allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, including across conflict lines and across border, to ensure humanitarian assistance reaches people in need.

In his fourth report on the implementation of this Resolution, presented to the Security Council on 20 June, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon highlighted the lack of progress and ongoing deterioration in the humanitarian situation, particularly around the issue of sustained humanitarian access to those in hard-to-reach areas. The current estimated population in areas that are difficult or impossible for humanitarian organisations to reach has risen to 4.7 million people. This includes at least 241,000 people who live in areas that are besieged by either Government or opposition forces. Only 33 of the 262 locations identified as being hard to reach or besieged were reached with food and nutrition assistance, and non-food items were provided for just 269,000 people in these areas.

I am aware of the views expressed by the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch. I believe that negotiated access remains the most effective approach. Despite the challenging and dangerous operational environment on the ground, humanitarian agencies including the UN remain committed and prepared to scale up operations and provide life-saving assistance to men, women and children in need throughout the country.

Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has confirmed that nearly 3.3 million people received food assistance from the World Food Programme and partners in May; more than 16 million people were assisted with clean drinking water through the provision of chlorination tablets by UNICEF and partners; around 2.9 million children were vaccinated against polio in the latest round; 2.3 million people received critically needed non-food items from UNHCR and its partners; and 4 million people received medical assistance by WHO and partners in the first five months of 2014. Regardless of these very considerable achievements, the fact remains that humanitarian access across Syria is exceptionally difficult as a result of increasing disregard by armed groups on both sides of the conflict of their obligations under International Humanitarian Law.

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. Ireland has already exceeded our pledge of €12 million in support throughout 2014 by €2 million, bringing our overall funding commitment since the crisis began to €28.011 million. Irish humanitarian assistance is provided not just through UN agencies but also through the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement as well as trusted NGO partners operating in different parts of the country, including in opposition-held areas. Ireland has consistently matched our material humanitarian contribution with concrete support to international efforts to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis, and to advocate for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access, as well as for respect by all parties of International Humanitarian Law. We are saving lives through our support to those most affected by the conflict. Ireland will continue to use every opportunity to advocate for the full and immediate implementation by all parties to the conflict of UN Security Council Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance in Syria.

Iraqi Conflict

Questions (22)

Seán Crowe

Question:

22. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is monitoring the deteriorating situation in Iraq; the growth of ISIS in the region; and if his Department have any plans to provide aid to the unfolding humanitarian crisis. [28186/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to my earlier reply to Question no. 9 concerning Iraq, which was as follows:“The dramatically deteriorating situation in Iraq is a matter of very serious concern, both for the Iraqi people and for the international community as a whole. The Al- Qaeda linked islamist militia known as ISIS, with allied Sunni groupings, have captured large parts of northern and western Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. It is also targeting key installations such as the country’s largest oil refinery.

The Government has previously warned of failings and inattention on the part of the current Iraqi Government in actively promoting reconciliation with the minority Sunni community. These concerns have now been shown to be wholly justified. The ISIS advance has been concentrated in Sunni-dominated areas and has only been possible because disaffected local Sunni forces, many of whom had earlier fought Al-Qaeda during the US-led surge in 2006, decided to joined forces with them.

The Tánaiste discussed the crisis in Iraq with EU colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June. The Council agreed Conclusions condemning the recent attacks by ISIS, and reports of horrific atrocities. The Council emphasised that a security solution alone cannot resolve the current crisis, but must be combined with a sustainable political solution through outreach by the Iraqi Government to local communities and Iraqi society as a whole. Following the elections on 30 April, the Council also called on Iraq’s political leaders to negotiate as soon as possible the formation of a government representative of all Iraqi society. Similar messages were also set out in the Joint Declaration of EU and Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Athens on 11 June, which I attended.

The Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June also expressed its serious concern at the humanitarian situation amid a further massive civilian displacement of some 500,000 people arising from the current emergency. The EU has increased its humanitarian assistance to Iraq to a total of €12 million this year. Ireland, for its part, is sending an airlift, worth €220,000, to be distributed by GOAL, which recently also received €200,000 to support their emergency response in northern Iraq. A further allocation of €75,000 to another Irish Aid NGO partner, Christian Aid Ireland, brings the Government’s total humanitarian assistance to Iraq in 2014 to €655,000. “

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (23)

Brendan Smith

Question:

23. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the outcome of discussions at the recent EU Foreign Affairs Council regarding the conflict and humanitarian disaster in South Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28226/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The conflict and ongoing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan has been discussed by the European Union Foreign Affairs Council on a number of occasions since the outbreak of violence there in December 2013, with an in-depth discussion held most recently on 17 March 2014.

On 15 May 2014 the African Union and the EU jointly welcomed an agreement to resolve the crisis in South Sudan signed by President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar on 9 May 2014. The EU and the African Union also urged the two sides to fully implement all agreements that have been signed to date, including the 23 January Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. EU Development Ministers further discussed the crisis with High Representative Catherine Ashton on 19 May.

The EU, through the efforts of its Special Representative for the Horn of Africa Alexander Rondos as well as its Embassies in the region, is actively engaged with international efforts to resolve the conflict in South Sudan. The EU has supported mediation efforts by the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Moreover, we have been working with the United Nations to protect civilians and provide humanitarian relief wherever possible. The UN Security Council unanimously agreed on 27 May 2014 to reorient the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to focus on the protection of civilians. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) co-hosted the Humanitarian Pledging Conference for South Sudan in Oslo from 19 to 20 May, at which donors pledged more than $600 million. Ireland pledged €2 million at the Oslo conference, to support life saving work of UN and NGO partners in the country, and this pledge has been fulfilled. In total, Irish Aid funding for the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan amounts to almost €5 million to date in 2014. Our support has saved and continues to save many lives.

Five members of the Irish Permanent Defence Force are currently deployed for service with the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) at UNMISS and my Department has also deployed a number of civilian experts to the UNMAS mission through the Rapid Response Initiative.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (24)

Seán Crowe

Question:

24. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the case of a person (details supplied) who has been arrested, released and rearrested in Sudan for the supposed crime of converting from Islam to Christianity and that they face the death penalty; and if he has raised this human rights abuse with the Sudanese authorities. [28188/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Irish Government has been following closely the case of Mrs. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim in Sudan. In response to her arrest and sentencing, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Eamon Gilmore T.D has made it clear that we are completely opposed to the death penalty in all cases. We also prioritise the fight against all forms of discrimination based on religion or belief, and have called on all countries to repeal legal provisions that penalise or discriminate against individuals for leaving or changing their religion or belief. Ireland has made freedom of religion or belief a priority for our membership of the Human Rights Council, from 2013 to 2015.

I was appalled by the death sentence against Ms. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim in May and Ireland strongly supported the European Union statements of 15 May and 10 June expressing our dismay and emphasising that freedom of religion is a universal human right that must be protected everywhere. We called for the urgent release of Ms. Ibrahim and her two young children, and we called on Sudan to meet its obligations under the relevant UN and African Union Conventions.

Our Embassy in Cairo, which is accredited to Sudan, has been reporting on developments in the case, and the Tánaiste welcomed Ms. Ibrahim’s release from prison on 23 June. I pay tribute to all involved in facilitating her release, including the EU Delegation to Khartoum and the Human Rights Council’s Independent Expert for Sudan.

I understand that Ms. Ibrahim and her family were detained and prevented from leaving Sudan on 24 June and that there are issues to be resolved before she is free to travel. I call on those responsible to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. Our Embassy in Cairo will continue to monitor developments and to work with our EU partners to encourage an early resolution of the case.

Egyptian Conflict

Questions (25)

Seán Crowe

Question:

25. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists in Egypt; his views regarding the crackdown on journalists and the freedom of expression in Egypt; and if he has raised his concerns with the Egyptian authorities. [28189/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

In my address to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week I condemned the severe sentences imposed by a court in Cairo on 23 June on a number of Al Jazeera journalists for essentially doing no more than their job.

I share the widespread international concern over this verdict, which amounts to the criminalisation of the legitimate activities of a free press. This verdict represents an unacceptable restriction on freedom of expression and fundamentally undermines the credibility of the Egyptian judicial system.

There has been widespread international criticism of the verdict in this latest case, including by UNSG Ban, who warned that they could undermine Egypt’s stability. The UN Human Right Commissioner, Navi Pillay, expressed her shock and alarm at the verdicts which she pointed out were rife with procedural irregularities and in breach of international human rights law.

The issue was also discussed briefly at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg which I attended on 23 June. High Representative Ashton issued a statement after the meeting on behalf of the EU expressing the concern of the Council about the verdicts as well as about the death sentences imposed against more than 180 people following the recent well-publicised trial in Minya, Upper Egypt.

Egypt’s new constitution provides guarantees for the fundamental rights of its people which the Egyptian courts, regrettably, do not appear to have fully recognized in a number of recent verdicts. This is deeply worrying to those of us who wish to support Egypt and the Egyptian people in their ongoing difficult transition to democracy. It is a message which continues to be clearly communicated in our ongoing contacts with the Egyptian authorities, both here and through our Embassy in Cairo, most recently by senior officials in my Department at a meeting with the Egyptian Embassy earlier this week which also relayed my concerns over the recent Al Jazeera verdicts as well as the continued detention of Ibrahim Halawa.

Foreign Conflicts

Questions (26)

Joe Higgins

Question:

26. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the Government's position on the political and military situation in the Central African Republic; and his views on further intervention by foreign powers in that State. [28243/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government remains seriously concerned at the situation in the Central African Republic. With our EU partners, we are supporting the efforts of the leader of the transitional Government, Ms. Catherine Samba-Panza, to negotiate an end to the conflict and to hold democratic elections by February 2015. We also support calls by the country’s religious leaders for all factions to lay down arms and enter dialogue.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Eamon Gilmore, T.D. has highlighted the situation in the Central African Republic at recent meetings of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, and our views have been articulated through the UN Human Rights Council, including at last week’s dialogue in Geneva with the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic. On 23 June, officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade highlighted the country’s appalling humanitarian situation at a high level meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council in New York.

Ireland has supported a strong EU response to the crisis. We have strongly welcomed the launch of the EU Mission to the Central African Republic on 1 April 2014, with a mandate to restore stability and protect civilians and humanitarian actors. We also welcome UN Security Council Resolution 2149 of 10 April 2014, establishing a UN mission to the country, which Ireland believes is the best mechanism to address the crisis and restore law and order.

Ireland is committed to addressing humanitarian needs in protracted crises, which often lack the funding they deserve. We have provided assistance to the Central African Republic since 2007, and have provided almost €19 million to the work of UN and NGO partners there since 2008.

We are continuing to monitor political and humanitarian developments and stand ready to provide further humanitarian assistance, in line with needs on the ground and the budgetary resources available.

Scottish Referendum

Questions (27)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

27. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his Department has made any standby preparations for a change in the status of Scotland following the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence; and if he has had any recent contacts with the Scottish Government and its First Minister. [28132/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

This issue of Scottish independence is a matter for decision by the people of Scotland.

The Government has adopted a strictly neutral approach to the debate in Scotland and has avoided being drawn into speculation on, or anticipation of, various potential outcomes. Our impartiality should not however be mistaken for indifference or lack of interest. We fully recognise the importance of developments in Scotland and are monitoring developments and their implications in light of our interests and policy objectives. The Government accords high priority to the maintenance and development of strong relations with all our neighbours in these islands and will continue to do so regardless of the referendum outcome.

We maintain regular contacts with the Scottish Government. In particular, both our Ambassador to Britain and our Consul General to Scotland meet regularly with First Minister Salmond and with other Scottish politicians. They brief me regularly on these contacts, as well as on issues arising in the referendum debate. Although First Minister Salmond and I have not spoken in the recent past, there are frequent exchanges of Ministerial visits. Most recently, the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, visited Ireland in late May for a series of meetings. Senior Scottish Ministers also meet the Taoiseach at the British Irish Council Summit.

Good Friday Agreement

Questions (28)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

28. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he proposes to discuss with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State or with other members of the British Government the need to implement all outstanding aspects of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28246/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent St. Andrew’s Agreement are essential to peace and reconciliation in Ireland and across these islands. Their key elements include devolution based on power-sharing; agreement on sovereignty; human rights; parity of esteem; and support for the rule of law. These principles have rightly been at the centre of the Government’s approach to politics in Northern Ireland.

The continued shared responsibility of the two governments is to guarantee these principles and to support the implementation of both Agreements. The Irish Government is determined to realise their full potential. This is a vital and challenging responsibility which concerns us all. I continue to underline the urgent importance of fully realising the agreements with our partners in the British Government and with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Progress in implementing the Agreements has benefited all of the people of this island. However, there is still work to be done regarding some outstanding elements of the Agreements. These include the introduction of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland, the establishment of a North/South Consultative Forum and the implementation of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. These measures have the potential to significantly enrich the cultural and political life of citizens across this island.

The Government will continue to take every opportunity to advance progress on the outstanding elements of the Agreements.

Iraqi Conflict

Questions (29)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

29. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the international community can have a stabilising influence on the situation in Iraq with particular reference to the need to encourage the restoration of order including Government recognition of the need to address issues of concern that appear to have led to the recent violence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28237/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I refer the Deputy to my earlier reply to Question no. 9 concerning Iraq, which was as follows:“The dramatically deteriorating situation in Iraq is a matter of very serious concern, both for the Iraqi people and for the international community as a whole. The Al- Qaeda linked islamist militia known as ISIS, with allied Sunni groupings, have captured large parts of northern and western Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. It is also targeting key installations such as the country’s largest oil refinery.

The Government has previously warned of failings and inattention on the part of the current Iraqi Government in actively promoting reconciliation with the minority Sunni community. These concerns have now been shown to be wholly justified. The ISIS advance has been concentrated in Sunni-dominated areas and has only been possible because disaffected local Sunni forces, many of whom had earlier fought Al-Qaeda during the US-led surge in 2006, decided to joined forces with them.

The Tánaiste discussed the crisis in Iraq with EU colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June. The Council agreed Conclusions condemning the recent attacks by ISIS, and reports of horrific atrocities. The Council emphasised that a security solution alone cannot resolve the current crisis, but must be combined with a sustainable political solution through outreach by the Iraqi Government to local communities and Iraqi society as a whole. Following the elections on 30 April, the Council also called on Iraq’s political leaders to negotiate as soon as possible the formation of a government representative of all Iraqi society. Similar messages were also set out in the Joint Declaration of EU and Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Athens on 11 June, which I attended.

The Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June also expressed its serious concern at the humanitarian situation amid a further massive civilian displacement of some 500,000 people arising from the current emergency. The EU has increased its humanitarian assistance to Iraq to a total of €12 million this year. Ireland, for its part, is sending an airlift, worth €220,000, to be distributed by GOAL, which recently also received €200,000 to support their emergency response in northern Iraq. A further allocation of €75,000 to another Irish Aid NGO partner, Christian Aid Ireland, brings the Government’s total humanitarian assistance to Iraq in 2014 to €655,000. “

Undocumented Irish in the USA

Questions (30)

Seán Kyne

Question:

30. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on his recent trip to the United States on which he raised issues including migration, US immigration reform and the estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish residing in the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28191/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I visited Washington D.C. over the period 17-19 June for various meetings in relation to U.S. immigration reform, which remains a key Government priority.

My programme included separate discussions with Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Congressman Paul Ryan, Senator Pat Leahy, members of the Congressional Friends of Ireland Group, House Judiciary Committee Member Congressman Mark Amodei, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Congressman Xavier Becerra and White House Domestic Policy Council Director Ms. Cecilia Munoz. I also met with Irish-American community leaders, including from the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, the Chicago Celts for Immigration Reform, Irish Apostolate USA and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, with whom the Government has worked closely on our shared U.S. immigration reform agenda.

Each of my meetings proved very useful, offering different insights and analyses into the prospects for when progress towards legislation that would provide relief for currently undocumented Irish migrants and also a facility for additional future legal migration between Ireland and the U.S. There was widespread consensus that an already complex political landscape had become even more complicated by the electoral defeat earlier in the month of the Republican House Majority Leader. The general sense which I received from interlocutors was that further time would be needed to assess the full implications of this development for ongoing immigration reform efforts, particularly from the perspective of the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections. I found it encouraging that proponents of immigration reform in Congress appear determined to persist with their efforts and they hope that further progress may yet prove possible this year.

As my visit took place, Mr. Kevin McCarthy was elected as the new Republican House Majority Leader. Through our Embassy in Washington and also directly, the Government looks forward to working further with Mr. McCarthy, House Speaker John Boehner and other key Congressional figures on both sides of the political aisle, and with the U.S. Administration, with a view to advancing Ireland’s immigration reform-related objectives.

Since my return from Washington, I understand that there has been a further sharpening of the political engagement in the U.S. Congress in relation to the situation of unaccompanied migrant children who are seeking to enter the United States via its southern border. This may now impact negatively on the prospects for wider immigration reform progress being achieved over the immediate period ahead. It would clearly be disappointing if this proves to be the case. Nevertheless, as I noted earlier, we will continue our intensive efforts to persuade members of Congress to seize every opportunity to make immigration reform a reality.

Global Economic Forum

Questions (31)

Dara Calleary

Question:

31. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views that the Global Irish Economic Forum is realising its full potential in terms of supporting employment growth in the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23794/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

There have been three Global Irish Economic Forums to date; 2009, 2011 and 2013.

The first Forum took place in 2009 as a response to the deepening economic crisis at the time. It brought together members of the Diaspora and the Government who were tasked to come up with new and innovative ways to help lift the country out of recession. This first Forum recommended the establishment of the Global Irish Network, which was set up in 2010.

Subsequent Forums took place in 2011 and 2013 and built on the work of the first. The focus of these was on generating ideas for economic renewal, restoring our reputation overseas and creating jobs across a range of sectors. The themes for the 2013 Forum were based on the Action Plan for Jobs agenda and the outcomes, where possible, have been included in the 2014 Action Plan. Recommendations such as the Year of Irish Design in 2015, the placement of Origin Green ambassadors, the development of an agency to market Irish agri-business expertise globally, increased on-line trading for SME’s and initiatives around Smart Ageing, among others, will all be taken forward in this context.

Other ideas arising from the Forum have been taken forward independently by members of the Global Irish Network. An idea for a new third level institution for the arts came out of the first Forum in 2009, and earlier this year, Uversity, a recognised college of the National College of Ireland, launched an MA programme in Creative Process with a choice of modules from 24 partner institutions. The various Forums have also provided launch pads for other initiatives such as the Gathering, Connect Ireland and Limerick City of Culture.

To date, over 100 Global Irish Network members have signed up to provide mentoring and advice to Irish SME’s through the Global Irish Contacts Programme run by Enterprise Ireland. On a day to day basis Global Irish Network members provide the network of Embassies and State Agency offices with advice on sectoral and regional issues, they facilitate high level access to decision makers, encourage Foreign Direct Investment and help promote Ireland as a destination for both tourism and education.

It is not possible to quantify how many jobs have been created as a direct result of the Global Irish Economic Forum. However, I am confident that the impact of these events, together with the ongoing work of the members of the Global Irish Network, has been a significant factor in the restoration of our reputation abroad and the consequent economic benefits to Ireland.

Middle East Issues

Questions (32)

Seán Crowe

Question:

32. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers from an Israeli settlement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; the heavy handed response of the Israeli army which has killed three Palestinian civilians and detained over 300, which is amounting to collective punishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28190/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on 12 June understandably aroused great public anxiety and concern. I condemned this abduction and called for the urgent release of the three teenagers and their safe return to their families.

The finding on Monday of the bodies of the three missing youths has sadly ended all such hopes. I have issued a statement on behalf of the Government condemning the killings and extending our sympathies to the bereaved families. There is no excuse for such actions. I know Deputies will share those sentiments.

Israeli security forces launched extensive actions in Palestinian areas, seeking to locate the missing teenagers, but also striking at individuals or structures linked with Hamas, who they have claimed were responsible. In these operations, some hundreds of Palestinians have been detained, and perhaps as many as six have been killed. Some of those killed may have been engaged in protests, but none were alleged to be involved in the abductions.

Such heavy handed measures, whatever the reasoning behind them, run the risk of proving counterproductive. It should be noted that President Abbas and the Palestinian authorities clearly condemned the abductions, and have expressed their regret over the deaths of the youths. Palestinian security forces actively assisted in searching for them, and indeed it was Palestinian police who first raised the alarm over their disappearance. Such cooperation is difficult to sustain alongside widespread and excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces.

It is deeply saddening that this episode has ended in this way. I call on all authorities to act in a responsible way so that there is no further loss of life.

Good Friday Agreement

Questions (33)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

33. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views that some aspects of the Good Friday Agreement, which have yet to be implemented, can be progressed at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28248/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The principles and values of the Good Friday Agreement and the subsequent St. Andrew’s Agreement are essential to peace and reconciliation in Ireland and across these islands. Their key elements include devolution based on power-sharing; agreement on sovereignty; human rights; parity of esteem; and support for the rule of law. These principles have rightly been at the centre of the Government’s approach to politics in Northern Ireland.

The continued shared responsibility of the two governments is to guarantee these principles and to support the implementation of both Agreements. The Irish Government is determined to realise their full potential. This is a vital and challenging responsibility which concerns us all. I continue to underline the urgent importance of fully realising the agreements with our partners in the British Government and with colleagues in the Northern Ireland Executive.

Progress in implementing the Agreements has benefited all of the people of this island. However, there is still work to be done regarding some outstanding elements of the Agreements. These include the introduction of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland, the establishment of a North/South Consultative Forum and the implementation of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. These measures have the potential to significantly enrich the cultural and political life of citizens across this island.

The Government will continue to take every opportunity to advance progress on the outstanding elements of the Agreements.

Ukrainian Conflict

Questions (34)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

34. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his EU and UN colleagues continue to monitor the situation in the Ukraine with particular reference to the need to establish the sovereignty of the Ukraine and Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28238/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The crisis in Ukraine continues to be a major focus for the EU. At the most recent Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on 23 June, which I attended, Ministers were briefed by the new Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Pavlo Klimkin.

The Council conclusions reiterated strong condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol. The Council decided to prohibit the import into the EU of goods originating from Crimea or Sevastopol with the exception of those with a certificate of origin issued by the Government of Ukraine. The Council called on the European External Action Service and the Commission to continue to monitor the situation, and to present further measures, as necessary. We also urged UN member states to consider similar measures, in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262 of 27 March 2014 concerning the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Ireland is also co-sponsoring a Ukrainian draft Resolution on assistance and cooperation with Kiev in the human rights field at the twenty-sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council currently underway in Geneva. The draft Resolution reaffirms our commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

There have been several positive developments in recent weeks – not least the Presidential elections and the peace plan presented by President Poroshenko. As the Deputy will be aware from our meeting at last week’s Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ireland fully supports the President’s initiative which we hope will lead to the negotiated peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine that we all wish to see. However, the situation in Eastern Ukraine remains volatile and violence has continued despite the ceasefire announced by President Poroshenko on 20 June. It is now all the more important that direct contacts between Ukraine and Russia bring rapid and tangible results, that the opportunity offered by the ceasefire is seized by all and that the EU continues to support efforts towards de-escalation and stability.

The signature of the Association Agreement with Ukraine on 27 June on the margins of the European Council is an important symbol of the EU’s continued commitment and support, and will provide further impetus to political and economic reform efforts. President Poroshenko signed on behalf of Ukraine and shared his assessment of the prospects for a lasting settlement with the Taoiseach and other EU leaders.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (35)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

35. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his work with counterparts in the European Union on addressing human rights violations, including the right to religious freedom, in some states of the Middle East. [28131/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Threats to human rights across the broad Middle East region are numerous and, in many cases, grave. Promoting and enhancing respect for human rights, together with core related principles such as freedom, equality, and the rule of law, form a very important part of the EU’s dialogue and engagement with countries in the region. The right to religious freedom is an area of particular concern. Freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental human right and a prerequisite of any democratic state and I am greatly disturbed by the continuing, and indeed increasing, prevalence of persecution and attacks on people based on their religious beliefs, including in the Middle East region.

Both Ireland and the EU attach great importance to combating such forms of discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief. In June 2013, under the Irish Presidency, the EU adopted Guidelines on the promotion and protection of freedom of religion or belief, which reaffirmed the EU’s determination to promote, in its external human rights policy, freedom of religion or belief as a right to be exercised by everyone, everywhere. These Guidelines were a priority for the Irish Presidency and we engaged extensively in the drafting process. The EU has also taken a number of steps in recent years in support of freedom of religion or belief, including issuing Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions on the matter, for example in February 2011.

Ireland raises regularly the issue of the safety of religious minorities through its official bilateral contacts with many countries in the region, stressing in particular the responsibility of any state or government to protect all its citizens and minorities. Of course, in situations of general instability and insecurity, such as in Iraq or Syria, this is especially difficult. Ireland also works with our partners in the EU to raise the issue in multilateral fora such as the UN Human Rights Council, as part of the EU’s human rights policy.

The issue of freedom of religion or belief is one of our priorities as a member of the UN Human Rights Council, and we have played a central role in the negotiation of two important resolutions on this issue in the past year.

Officials from my Department also meet frequently with members of religious minorities from the Middle East region, to hear first hand their concerns and to discuss issues affecting their communities. They will continue to do so, and the protection and promotion of the right to freedom of religion or belief will remain a key element of our engagement with countries in the Middle East region.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (36)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

36. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to testimonies of abuse endured by children in Palestine as published in a magazine (details supplied); if his Department has made representations at EU level of the abuses suffered by Palestinian children under Israeli Army practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28133/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I have paid particular attention to the incidence and conditions of detention of Palestinian children. The report referred to provides graphic details of further allegations of practices which are clearly unacceptable. My view is simple: Palestinian children in Israeli custody should be afforded the same rights, protection, and treatment under the law which Israel rightly considers appropriate for Israeli children, and in conformity with international standards.

Ireland has repeatedly drawn attention to concerns regarding the treatment of Palestinian prisoners, including minors. We have also pursued these issues in cooperation with our EU partners, in particular in local coordination of EU Missions on human rights issues. At the Universal Periodic Review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2013, Ireland recommended, inter alia, that Israel end the practise of night arrests of children, the admissibility in evidence in military courts of written confessions in Hebrew signed by Palestinian children, the use of solitary confinement against minors, and the denial of access to family members or to legal representation.

These serious concerns were among those raised by Ireland in its statement under item 7 on “the human rights situation in Palestine” at the 25th session of the Human Rights Council in March. In addition, Ireland raises its concerns bilaterally, both with the Israeli Embassy in Dublin and with the relevant authorities in Israel, at every appropriate opportunity. We will continue to do so. Ireland also provides financial support to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs who are active in bringing these issues to light. We have seen some improvements in the treatment of minors in detention. Reports, such as the one highlighted by the Deputy in this question, clearly demonstrate that much more remains to be done.

Middle East Issues

Questions (37)

Joe Higgins

Question:

37. Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made representations to the Israeli Government on the matter of the Israeli Defence Forces operation in the occupied Palestinian territories following the abduction of three young settlers near Hebron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28239/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I refer the deputy to my reply to Question no. 32 on the same topic, which was as follows:

“The disappearance of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank on 12 June understandably aroused great public anxiety and concern. I condemned this abduction and called for the urgent release of the three teenagers and their safe return to their families. The finding on Monday of the bodies of the three missing youths has sadly ended all such hopes. I have issued a statement on behalf of the Government condemning the killings and extending our sympathies to the bereaved families. There is no excuse for such actions. I know Deputies will share those sentiments.

Israeli security forces launched extensive actions in Palestinian areas, seeking to locate the missing teenagers, but also striking at individuals or structures linked with Hamas, who they have claimed were responsible. In these operations, some hundreds of Palestinians have been detained, and perhaps as many as six have been killed. Some of those killed may have been engaged in protests, but none were alleged to be involved in the abductions.

Such heavy handed measures, whatever the reasoning behind them, run the risk of proving counterproductive. It should be noted that President Abbas and the Palestinian authorities clearly condemned the abductions, and have expressed their regret over the deaths of the youths. Palestinian security forces actively assisted in searching for them, and indeed it was Palestinian police who first raised the alarm over their disappearance. Such cooperation is difficult to sustain alongside widespread and excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces.

It is deeply saddening that this episode has ended in this way. I call on all authorities to act in a responsible way so that there is no further loss of life.”

As I have stated in that reply, I consider the reaction of the Israeli security forces in response to have been, in some respects, counterproductive. I hope the Israeli authorities will take note of that.

But to seek to admonish them directly on this basis, at a time when they were still searching for three abducted teenagers, amid great public anxiety, or now when they are mourning a tragic loss, would itself be counterproductive in another sense, and I have not done so.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Questions (38)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

38. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding development education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28699/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Government’s aid programme, Irish Aid, works on behalf of the Irish people to fight poverty and hunger in some of the poorest countries in the world. Development education is an integral element of this work, as reaffirmed in our policy for international development, One World, One Future, launched in May 2013.

In line with the recommendations of an external review in 2011, Irish Aid funding support for development education is focused on a number of new multi-annual strategic partnerships in identified priority areas. Complementary support is also provided by Irish Aid through an annual grants scheme, for the implementation of innovative, results-focused initiatives that support the achievement of the objectives of the Development Education Strategy. In recent years, Kerry One World Centre has been provided with funding from Irish Aid primarily through this scheme.

The Development Education Annual Grants Call is a competitive process. Grants are awarded based on the recommendations of a Development Education Grants Committee, which comprises independent consultants, a representative of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and members of the Development Education Section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Input is also received from the Department of Education and Skills. I am satisfied that the appraisal of all applications for funding is carried out fairly and independently, ensuring that all applicant organisations are assessed for grant allocations in a fair and consistent manner.

Kerry Action for Development Education have requested a meeting with officials from my Department, to include other relevant stakeholders, to discuss their role in development education. I have asked my officials to organise such a meeting.

European Parliament Elections

Questions (39)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

39. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his colleagues at EU level have discussed perceived disenchantment with the EU culminating in the election to the European Parliament of a significant number of eurosceptics; if any research has been undertaken to ascertain the underlying reasons; if the fault lies with EU structures and institutions or with a tendency towards emerging nationalism in member states, the extent, if any, to which cognisance is taken of any such trends; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28715/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The recent European Parliament elections confirmed the extent of European citizens’ concern over the continuing effects of the economic crisis across the European Union and the uneven pace of economic recovery. While increased support for eurosceptic parties and, more worryingly, parties with extreme views on some issues, is a cause of considerable concern, that support varies greatly across Member States and should not be overstated. A sizeable majority of voters registered their support for pro-EU parties, thus ensuring that they will continue to represent the largest political groups in the new European Parliament.

I have discussed the outcome of the elections and its implications with EU counterparts on a number of occasions. On 27 May, the Taoiseach joined other EU Heads of State and Government in Brussels to discuss the significance of the results for the way the EU functions and how it is perceived. He stressed there, as I have stressed in my own meetings with EU colleagues, that our immediate focus must be on addressing the concerns raised by Europe’s citizens and that this will best be achieved by prioritising measures to speed up economic recovery and spur job creation across the EU, including through the completion of Banking Union, deepening of the single market, and the negotiation of free trade agreements with external partners.

I am pleased that these priorities were at the centre of the strategic agenda agreed at last week’s European Council meeting. This sets out what the EU should focus on and how it should function, identifying five overarching priorities which will guide the work of the European Union over the next five years: stronger economies with more jobs; societies enabled to empower and protect; a secure energy and climate future; a trusted area of fundamental freedoms; and effective joint action in the world.

In delivering on this agenda, above all in working to support employment growth, I believe the European Union will reaffirm its value and importance to our citizens. This, more than anything else, represents the best counterargument to populist euroscepticism.

Middle East Peace Process

Questions (40, 49)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

40. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which he and his colleagues at EU and UN level continue to endeavour to support efforts to restart the peace process in the Middle East; if any provision is being made to examine the issues deemed to have caused the stalling of the process; if the international community remains committed to the two state solution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28716/14]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

49. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which efforts continue to achieve the release of Palestinian prisoners and the discontinuation of the establishment of new settlements which remains an issue and or an obstacle in attempts to achieve settlement in the Middle East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28725/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 49 together.

Direct negotiations between the parties were suspended at the end of April, and there is no immediate prospect of the talks being resumed. The essential issues behind the breakdown were the profound lack of trust between the two sides, insufficient political commitment, particularly by the Israeli government, to reaching an agreement, and the continued and indeed accelerated expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory throughout the period of the negotiations.

These are of course not new problems, and we have discussed them many times here in the Oireachtas, and indeed in the EU at the Foreign Affairs Council.

I have called for a substantial review by the EU of its policies and levers on the Middle East issue, and I hope this will begin at the July Foreign Affairs Council. Such a review is clearly critical if we are to maintain the prospect of a viable, two-State solution.

The EU should of course continue to give what support and encouragement it can to a resumption of negotiations, which are the only way to reach a solution. But negotiations for their own sake are of no use, there must be a real commitment to find agreement on the core issues and to make the difficult compromises that inevitably will be involved.

The two state solution remains the only outcome which could satisfy the aspirations of both parties, but the possibility of achieving it is increasingly threatened by various destructive Israeli policies on the ground. In my view, the EU should therefore use the influence and leverage at its disposal to give effect to its disapproval of these policies, and above all the relentless expansion of settlements.

Possible release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel is a matter between the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The non-release by Israel of the final group of prisoners previously agreed to be released was a significant element in the breakdown of the talks, and I stated at the time that I believed the release should have gone ahead. We are all aware, however, of the sensitivity of this issue in any society.