I am aware of the situation to which the Deputy refers, and of other issues that have been raised by environmental and indigenous rights defenders in relation to the Cerrejón mine.
I should repeat at the outset that queries regarding the ESB and where it sources its coal would be more properly directed to my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. However, issues such as environmental degradation, and the right of indigenous communities to be consulted in regard to projects which affect them, are recurring challenges across the Latin America region.
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.
Ireland has just opened its first resident Embassy in Bogotá, with Ambassador Alison Milton presenting her credentials late last month. This significant step demonstrates our 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.
Having a presence on the ground in Colombia will greatly enhance Ireland's ability to engage on and monitor important issues, among them those raised by human rights, environmental and indigenous rights defenders, including the impact of the Cerrejón mine on the local community and the environment. This is something that the EU Delegation in Bogotá has been monitoring for some time, having met with representatives of the mine as well as of trade unions, civil society and environmental organisations. We will continue to liaise closely with our EU partners on this issue.
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 my Department in Dublin, and at our new Embassy in Bogotá, will continue to engage with indigenous rights defenders, environmental groups and other civil society organisations active on the ground.