I am aware of the specific mine to which the Deputy refers, although I should say at the outset that queries regarding where the ESB sources its coal would be more properly directed to my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.
I understand that there have been complaints from some non-governmental organisations regarding private sector activities in the Cerrejón Mine and I am aware of negative publicity that has surrounded the mine. I remain concerned at reports of mining activities having a negative impact on local populations or on the environment, as well as of reported abuse of workers.
The EU Delegation in Bogotá has been monitoring the situation closely and the EU Head of Delegation has visited the Cerrejón Mine in order to hear stakeholders' views on the allegations and to assess the situation on the ground. Several follow-up meetings have taken place and the EU has maintained contact with representatives of sectoral trade unions and other civil society and environmental organisations.
Ireland is currently in the process of opening its first resident Embassy in Colombia, with Ambassador-designate Alison Milton having arrived in Bogotá earlier this month. This significant step demonstrates this Government’s commitment to developing Ireland’s relationship with Colombia and in particular our commitment to supporting Colombia’s transition to a peaceful post-conflict society, including the vindication and protection of human and social rights.
This, combined with the opening of the Colombian Embassy in Ireland last year, marks a period of exceptional relations between our two countries and will greatly enhance our ability to engage on issues on the ground.
While our Embassy’s focus will be on developing the political and economic relationship and on continuing to support Colombia’s transition to a post-conflict society, having a permanent presence in Bogotá means that we will be much better positioned to monitor issues such as the impact of the Cerrejón mine on the local community and the environment.
Historic strides have been made in Colombia in recent years in the transition to a post-conflict society and addressing social and environmental issues is part of that process. Significant challenges remain, but Ireland remains committed to supporting the full implementation of the peace agreement, which will ensure a more peaceful, stable and prosperous future for all Colombians.
We will continue to monitor developments in the country and the particular issue raised by the Deputy as closely as possible. Officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin, and at our new Embassy in Bogotá, will continue to engage with human rights defenders and civil society organisations active on the ground, and with our EU colleagues in Bogotá.