Priority Questions

Northern Ireland Issues

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

81. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has made a formal submission to the panel of parties in the Northern Ireland Executive; if he will provide an update on any discussions he has had with Ambassador Richard Haass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49226/13]

I welcome the Haass-O'Sullivan talks process and earnestly hope for a successful conclusion. The issues under discussion are important for this entire island, as Ambassador Haass's remit includes issues surrounding parades, flags, emblems and the past. Mechanisms must be developed to resolve, once and for all, the ongoing disputes over these contentious issues. The period from December to March last winter was a dark time for Northern Ireland because of the flag protests and the negative impact of that misbehaviour, to put it mildly, which included a sharp decline in business, particularly in Belfast. Unfortunately, last summer we also saw thuggery associated with parades.

I met with Dr. Richard Haass on 31 October in Iveagh House. We had met previously in New York on 25 September and agreed to keep in close touch. I believe that close and ongoing contact with Dr. Haass and his team is preferable to a formal submission at this stage in the process. While Dr. Haass’s primary reporting lines are to the Northern Ireland Executive, the British and Irish Governments take seriously our supporting responsibilities in the context of the process. During our meetings, we discussed each of the issues that he has been asked to address by the Northern Ireland Executive. including parades, flags and emblems and the past. Dr. Haass has committed to concluding his work by December and, to that end, he has embarked on an ambitious programme of work. He returns to Northern Ireland this week and again in early December, when I understand he also intends to visit Dublin and London.

I am very supportive of the process of consultation with wider society undertaken by Dr. Haass and his team. I believe this is an essential component of a successful process. I have been struck on my visits to Northern Ireland and in my engagement with stakeholders by the widespread support across society for progress on these issues. On 30 October I partnered with a number of peace-building and peace research actors to host a reconciliation networking forum in Dublin Castle which brought together many diverse groups working in the community, business, faith and other sectors. There was an overwhelming consensus, especially from younger speakers, that there is an opportunity to make progress on these issues. I welcomed Dr. Haass’s decision to meet members of the 15 Years On group, who formed the steering committee for the reconciliation networking forum, while he was in Dublin on 31 October.

The Government believes that the process presents an opportunity to reaffirm the commitments made throughout the hard-won peace process and to make further progress towards advancing reconciliation and the creation of a truly reconciled and prosperous society in Northern Ireland. During our meetings to date, I have assured Dr. Haass that he and his team have the full support of the Government in the pursuit of their work and that we are ready to assist them in any way we can. Dr. Haass and I have agreed to remain in close contact and to meet again in the coming weeks.

This is the first time in decades the Irish Government has not been involved in an important talks process. Does the Tánaiste agree this is a retrograde step? Crucial matters are under discussion and, I hope, due for resolution. The two Governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement and the opportunities of the Agreement for the people of all of the island have yet to be achieved. This takes into account and recognises the huge advances that have been made, including devolution, stability and parliamentary politics and a society opposed to terror. The last major talks resulted in the devolution of policing and justice issues. None of the major items was achieved without Dublin and London working together and driving the process forward. Does the Tánaiste agree that the work, influence and capacity of two sovereign Governments are needed to drive on and resolve these issues? We cannot have another winter, spring or summer of discontent, as we witnessed last winter and summer. From regular contact with parties in Northern Ireland, we know there is considerable concern in many communities about the lack of economic progress and progress in general in achieving the potential of the Good Friday Agreement.

It is not true to say the Irish Government is not involved. It is very much involved, as is the British Government. The Haass process was established by the Northern Ireland Executive; it was an initiative taken by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. In May the strategy, Together: Building a United Community, was launched, as part of which the Northern Ireland Executive established a panel of parties and decided to invite Dr. Richard Haass to chair the discussions. We must understand the initiative to invite Dr. Haass was taken by the Northern Ireland Executive and announced by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister and it is supported by the Government. From the beginning, the Government engaged with Dr. Haass. I telephoned him straightaway following his appointment and have met him on two occasions. My officials are in regular and continuing contact with his team.

The Tánaiste knows that participating in the talks is different from having regular consultation and being involved as a participant around the table with all of the other parties. On the several occasions when substantial progress was made, for which I commend everyone involved, it was driven by two sovereign Governments working with the relevant parties. The Tánaiste used nuance in replying on the issues of participation and consultation. Is he confident Dr. Haass and Ms O'Sullivan will be able to bring the talks to a conclusion by the middle or end of December? Some of the Belfast newspapers referred to the Secretary of State convening meetings with the smaller political parties in Northern Ireland from mid-January. It is essential not to have a quick fix but to get a proper fix on these important and contentious issues.

Dr. Haass has set the objective of having the talks concluded by the end of the year. It is an ambitious timetable. I discussed the timetable with him and he expressed confidence in being able to conclude the discussions. It is important to recognise that he will only be able to reach a conclusion provided there is political commitment and a political will on the part of all parties involved.

In that respect, the Irish and British Governments - I have discussed this with the Secretary of State and we are of one mind on it - are in close contact with the officials in the talks process. We very much welcome that this initiative was taken in Belfast by the Executive, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We are working with it and I have a continuing contact and dialogue with Dr. Haass, which we will maintain. The success of the process will depend to a large measure on the willingness of the parties in Northern Ireland to fully engage with the process and work to find solutions on the issues of flags parading, and, most important, the very difficult issue of the past.

Middle East Issues

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

82. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the Swiss forensic test which suggests that Yasser Arafat was poisoned with radioactive polonium and that this led to his death; his views on whether this will have an impact on the current negotiations between Palestine and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49071/13]

I suppose this is moving from one talks process to another in a different region. Since we last had Question Time, compelling evidence has been released from Swiss forensic scientists suggesting that the former leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, was killed by radioactive polonium. There is a question of what effect the results of these forensic tests will have on the talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. What is the attitude of the Government in that regard?

I am aware of media reports that Swiss forensic experts have detected the radioactive element, polonium, in samples taken from the remains of President Arafat, who died in November 2004. It is reported that the levels detected are unlikely to have been natural, and therefore that grounds exist to investigate the possibility that he was poisoned. The Government has no official information on these results or means of investigating the matter. I understand a French judicial investigation into the circumstances surrounding President Arafat’s death was launched in August 2012 and is ongoing. There is obviously a concern that this allegation could have a disruptive influence on the current negotiations. I note that many Palestinians, perhaps not unexpectedly, have stated their assumption that Israel was responsible for poisoning the late president.

It is clearly regrettable that, despite widespread rumours of foul play at the time, no tests were carried out - at a family request - on President Arafat’s remains at the time of death, and that this suspicion should arise now at the very moment when, after long efforts, direct negotiations between the two sides have been resumed. President Arafat spent his whole life in the pursuit of Palestinian freedom and an independent state of Palestine. While it is quite legitimate to pursue questions about his death, it would be a tragedy if this was to jeopardise the best, and perhaps the last, chance to achieve what he worked for. I would therefore hope and urge President Abbas and his administration not to allow themselves to be distracted from continuing to engage fully in the crucial peace talks now under way.

It is nine years since Yasser Arafat died and the event still brings more questions than answers. The recently released forensic report indicates results from Yasser Arafat's body moderately support the proposition that he was poisoned with polonium 210, which will surprise few. Polonium 210 killed Alexander Litvinenko and it is a rare and highly radioactive isotope that is extremely hard to detect. It is so toxic that a fatal dose would kill an individual almost immediately.

It has been well documented that the former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been vocal in admitting that he tried but failed to kill Yasser Arafat. Famously, in 1997 Israel botched an attempt to poison political leaders in Hamas. The big concern is the impact this may have on the talks, and other actions have already been taken by the Israeli Government, particularly with regard to new and illegal settlements. Will the Tánaiste support the investigation by the French and use his influence to call on Israel to end its illegal practices, which threaten to undermine the peace process?

As I stated, the French authorities have an investigation under way.

Deputy Crowe mentioned Ariel Sharon, who was the Israeli Prime Minister at the time of President Arafat's death. Mr. Sharon has been in a coma since January 2006. The focus of the international community must be on supporting the talks process after many years' lack of activity between the Palestinian and Israeli sides to achieve a peace settlement. I very much welcome the fact that talks began at the end of July and have proceeded continuously, with one or two sessions most weeks to date in Jericho and Jerusalem. On the positive side, the talks are continuing and both sides remain engaged and are maintaining confidentiality. The United States has a commitment to those talks. I commend the initiative of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, in getting the talks under way. There are challenges facing the talks, including announcements of settlements, but we must concentrate on supporting the talks process and work for a peace settlement.

Yesterday, the Palestinian delegation to the UN cast a ballot for the first time in a routine General Assembly. That is the one positive message. We hope that symbolic and important action will lead the Palestinians closer to UN membership. Unfortunately, last night there were reports that Israel had bombed Gaza, which led to Palestinian deaths. Palestinians know that the way to peace and freedom is through negotiation. The timing of the report is bad but it is important that we pursue all avenues in regard to it. Is the Tánaiste working with his European counterparts to ensure that Israel abides by international law and fully commits to the talks?

Together with our European partners, we have been very much urging the commencement of peace talks and we very much support the talks that are under way. Both Ireland and the European Union will work to support those talks in every possible way. Ultimately, as in any peace talks, the key participants are the sides in the conflict - in this case, the Israeli side and the Palestinian side. The opportunity must be taken to conclude a settlement. Some big issues have to be negotiated and decided. It is important that both sides concentrate on the talks process and do not allow themselves to be distracted or deflected from the core objective of trying to achieve a settlement. This country has consistently expressed support for a settlement in the Middle East and that is very much the position of the European Union. I will work with my European Union colleagues to support the process.

Biofuel Obligation Scheme Targets

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

83. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade following the Minister of State with responsibility for development's statement supporting a 5% EU cap on food based biofuels because of its implications for land and food security in Africa, the reason the Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources has reneged on this by supporting a new 7% cap which has potentially devastating effects in the developing world; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49072/13]

My question relates to what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is saying about biofuels and what the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources is saying. There was a commitment to 5% by one and 7% by the other. What is the Irish position on biofuels?

My colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, has lead responsibility for Government policy on biofuels. By 2020, 10% of energy used in transport must come from renewable sources, according to the 2009 renewable energy directive. In October 2012, the Commission proposed amendments to mitigate the potential negative effects occurring as a result of the use of certain biofuels. These would limit the use of food-crop-based biofuels for renewable energy to 5% by 2020. Some member states argue for a higher cap or no cap at all on relevant biofuels. Others want a cap lower than the 5% proposed.

During Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union we worked hard to facilitate consensus, but at the moment there is no agreement in Council.

biofuel production and use, unless properly regulated, could have a negative impact on food production and food prices and might increase the emissions of greenhouse gases. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, has conveyed to member states the need to be cognisant of these potentially adverse impacts of biofuels on land use in developing countries.

Ireland argues for a restriction on food crop-based biofuels and for incentives to develop advanced biofuels. Our preference is for as low a cap as is achievable. To help reach agreement on the Commission's proposal, Ireland has been practical by supporting the Lithuanian Presidency's compromise providing for a reduction in a cap of 7%. The proposals tabled are part of the normal process of identifying a workable compromise.

That is very disappointing. The bottom line is that the production of biofuels should not undermine food security. There is no doubt that the biofuels mandates are having major negative effects on food production. It is almost as if there is a conflict between the production of food for the world's poor and fuel consumption by the world's rich. It is very disappointing that Ireland regards the 7% cap as being as low as is achievable and that we are supporting it. Why are we not continuing to support a cap of 5%? The merits of such a cap were borne out at the Mary Robinson conference on climate justice which Ireland hosted. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, when he met representatives of the NGOs, certainly gave the impression that they had made a compelling case for not applying the higher rate of 7%. We are aware that a number of countries, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Belgium and Luxembourg, have committed to having a cap of 5%. Italy has lowered its cap from 7% to 6%. A cap of 5% is advocated by the European Commission, but the Presidency is supporting a cap of 7%. My question is on policy coherence between the two Departments.

What I said was that during our Presidency we had fought hard to make the Commission's amendment, namely, a rate of 5%. We failed to obtain agreement at that point. We would like to achieve the lowest possible level, but at this point there is very substantial disagreement among member states, particularly Poland and eastern European states, which want a higher level. Many of them want no cap at all because of investments they have made in biofuels in their territories. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark want a lower level, just as Ireland wants the lowest possible level that can be achieved. In this matter, as in most matters in the European Union such as the multi-annual financial framework voted on today in the European Parliament, there is much desire on the part of Ireland and other countries to have a greater amount of finance for the period 2014 to 2020. Eventually, a compromise is brought forward. We have opted for the upper end of the compromise figure, which is 7%. We would prefer if it were 5%. If the cap is achievable, it will certainly be better than the 10% that obtains at present.

Failing to have an agreement does not mean that Ireland should give up on this issue. An interesting report produced recently by Action Aid examines the difference between the rates of 5% and 7%. The difference is such that if the former was adopted, over 68 million people could be fed. It is all very well to say we might have the lower cap by 2020, but by then how many more people will have died from hunger? I acknowledge what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Irish Aid do to relieve hunger, but it is as if we are giving with one hand and taking back with the other. I urge the Government not to take the issue of the cap off the agenda and to continue to argue for a figure of 5%. Ireland should join the group with the United Kingdom and the other member states which are supporting a cap of 5%; it should not regard 7% as a compromise.

The current position is that the cap is 10%. It is an amended position put forward in 2012. The Deputy should not forget that the original position in 2009 meant a cap of 10%. That will remain the position, unless we make an amendment securing a reduction. It is a question of working towards the best cap we can get and continuing with that work. We fought hard during our Presidency for a reduction to 5%. One should remember that all Irish biofuel is from waste material and that we do not use any food crop in its manufacture. We are setting a good example in that respect and will continue to seek a further reduction.

Humanitarian Aid

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

84. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with his counterparts in the EU Foreign Affairs Council and with the European Commission the need for the EU and the international community to respond with the utmost urgency to the current humanitarian crisis in the Philippines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49227/13]

The tropical cyclone 11 days ago was one of the strongest ever recorded. It is estimated that 13 million people or over 10% of the population of the Philippines were directly affected. I take the opportunity to compliment the Tánaiste and the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Joe Costello, on the rapid response of the Government in directing the release of very necessary aid funding. It was also heartening to see, at churches and other collection centres last weekend, the great response of the Irish people to this humanitarian disaster. I also compliment the Irish NGOs that are working with local sister organisations and have people working in the field. I commend them for their work.

Current estimates indicate that typhoon Haiyan has affected 13 million people across 41 provinces, representing over 10% of the country’s population, with up to 4 million people displaced. Official estimates indicate that at least 3,600 lives have been lost. However, it is likely that the full picture of the human cost of the disaster will only emerge in the coming days as relief teams get to remote areas which are without power and communications following one of the most powerful storms ever recorded.

Despite the many logistical challenges to the relief effort, the response of the international community has been rapid, with a large UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination, UNDAC, team and a team of experts from the European Commission’s Directorate for Humanitarian Assistance and Civil Protection, ECHO, being deployed to assist the national authorities to assess the impact of the disaster as early as Friday, 8 November.

A UN flash appeal was jointly launched by the United Nations and the Government of the Philippines on Tuesday, 12 November. This appeal calls for funding of just over US $300 million to cover immediate emergency relief and continued support for the affected populations in the coming six months. To date, US $78 million or 26% of the funds requested under this appeal have been received. Ireland will examine the potential for contributions, within our means, to the relief programmes identified within the appeal.

While the situation in the Philippines was not on the agenda for yesterday’s EU Foreign Affairs Council, the meeting did provide me with the opportunity to hear from my EU counterparts on the wider EU response to the crisis. In the light of her visit to the Philippines over the weekend, I also availed of the opportunity to receive a briefing from the European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, on her impressions of the situation and her views on the manner in which the response was being co-ordinated. My officials are in regular contact with ECHO and, in particular, the EU Emergency Response Centre. The European Union has made available €10 million in emergency funding to support the immediate relief efforts in the areas worst affected by the typhoon and pledged a further US$40 million in longer term development assistance to assist with the Philippines’ efforts to recover from this devastating disaster.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

For our part, Ireland was among the first countries to respond to the disaster and, on the basis of pledges announced to date, our contribution currently stands as one of the highest amounts provided by a bilateral donor. On Sunday, 10 November, the Government announced emergency funding from Ireland of €1 million towards the relief effort for typhoon Haiyan. One week later, as the magnitude of the disaster became apparent, this sum was increased to €2.25 million. A separate dispatch of over 100 tonnes of essential shelter items for distribution to families worst affected by the disaster, to the value of €510,000, was also authorised. Ireland’s airlift of these relief items was among the first delivered to the Philippines, arriving in Cebu on Wednesday, 13 November.

Irish Aid is preparing for a further airlift of essential shelter and water and sanitation items in the coming days. My officials are also in daily contact with UNOCHA, UNICEF and the WFP on requirements for deployment of technical experts from the Irish Rapid Response Corps. An Irish captain and engineer in the Defence Forces was deployed on 17 November to support the WFP’s operations in the Philippines and an information management specialist was deployed on the same day to support UNICEF’s operations. We expect further deployments in the coming days. In addition, we have authorised the release of €425,000 in funding which had been pre-positioned with trusted NGO partners for sudden onset emergencies such as this. That brings the total sum of Ireland’s contributions to date to over €3 million.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. It is welcome that the matter was discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting; it should be on the agenda for forthcoming meetings for some time to come. The typhoon hit the Philippines one month after a major earthquake, measuring 7.2, which directly affected 350,000 people. This shows how disaster prone the country is, with two major disasters in a single year. Is the Tánaiste confident about the capacity of the United Nations to co-ordinate the relief efforts in an effective and timely manner? While it is welcome that there seems to have been a significant improvement in the relief efforts in recent days, it has been reported that up to 600,000 people have not yet been reached with food, which is a frightening prospect. It seems that those in very remote regions have not yet received direct assistance. We must remember that we are talking about very vulnerable people, including children, pregnant women, the elderly and people who are sick. I have tabled this question in order to highlight the need to ensure added impetus is given to the co-ordination of relief efforts by the United Nations and the international community.

I acknowledge what the Deputy said about the Irish response to this disaster. We were one of the first countries to respond officially and I agree with him about the generous response last Sunday in churches and the generous response of the NGOs. On the basis of the pledges announced to date, our contribution currently stands as one of the highest provided by a bilateral donor. On Sunday, 10 November the Government announced emergency funding from Ireland of €1 million towards the relief effort. A week later, as the magnitude of this disaster became apparent, this sum was increased to €2.25 million. A separate dispatch of more than 100 tonnes of essential shelter items for distribution to families worst affected by the disaster to the value of €510,000 was also authorised. Ireland's airlift of these relief items was among the first to be delivered to the Philippines, arriving in Cebu on Wednesday, 13 November.

While it is obvious and necessary that our focus should be on the immediate needs of the people, there is a longer term need for continued assistance. In one remote region, 90% of the people have lost their livelihood. They were in the fishing industry and all their boats were smashed. They are totally dependent on fishing for their income. Will the Tánaiste ensure that the needs of the people in this region are not forgotten when the immediate crisis eases?

They will not be forgotten. There is a plan. Approximately 500,000 people are in need of immediate water, sanitation and hygiene supplies. Essential health services are being provided for almost 10 million people, along with nutrition services for 100,000 children and 60,000 mothers, and shelter and urgent household items for 560,000 people. The work is being co-ordinated by UN agencies, and clusters have been identified for the co-ordination of the entire effort at both field and global levels. These include nutrition, which is the domain of the UN Children's Fund, UNICEF; health, which is the domain of the World Health Organization, WHO; water and sanitation, which is under UNICEF; emergency shelter, which is the area dealt with by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; camp co-ordination and management, which is under the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration; protection, which is under the UNHCR and UNICEF; early recovery, which is under the UN Development Programme; logistics, which is under the World Food Programme, WFP; and emergency telecommunications, which is under UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNICEF and WFP.

A co-ordinated effort is operating through the UN agencies. We are working with them and the NGOs. This was the worst typhoon on record and an ongoing body of work will have to be undertaken over a long period.

Middle East Issues

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

85. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the pressure his Department is putting on the Israeli Government, through the Irish embassy in Tel Aviv or other channels, to address the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza; if he will provide details of his Department's most recent correspondence with the Israeli Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49260/13]

The Tánaiste rightly described the need for urgent action following the natural disaster that has afflicted people in the Philippines. However, a man-made disaster on a similar scale has been occurring in Gaza every day for years and the humanitarian situation is worsening by the day. When will we say "enough is enough" to Israel? The lack of fuel at Gaza's power plant means there are power outages for between 12 and 17 hours a day. Patients in hospitals with leukaemia and rheumatoid arthritis do not have the medicines they need. Fishermen were shot at by the Israelis for the umpteenth time in the past week 1.5 km from the Gaza coast as they went out to fish. Israel is trying to strangle and decimate Gaza. Is it the case that the only time we care about the people of Gaza is when they are being bombed, and we ignore their plight while they are being slowly strangled by a vicious and concerted campaign of destruction being wreaked on them by Israel?

What are we doing about this?

It is not the only time we care about the people of Gaza. We are concerned about the situation there all the time. Amid the turmoil in the Middle East, it remains essential to keep a focus on the unacceptable and unsustainable conditions in Gaza which I visited last month as part of a visit to view the Irish Aid programme in the occupied Palestinian territories to see what conditions were like on the ground. Subsequently, I made a report on the visit to the foreign affairs committee. While Israeli restrictions have eased marginally, clearly the overall situation in Gaza has deteriorated in recent months as Egypt has acted against smuggling into Gaza owing to its own security concerns. This has impacted principally on supplies of fuel and building materials, adding to an existing fuel shortfall which, in turn, is impacting on domestic use, electricity supply and water and sewerage facilities, with obvious negative effects for residents.

Ireland has consistently stressed that it is essential that Israel move progressively to the full opening of Gaza’s borders to people and goods, subject to normal security measures. I also deplore efforts by some groups in Gaza to attack Israeli border posts, which only helps those who wish to treat the situation in Gaza as purely a security issue. All relevant actors, inside and outside Gaza, should consider how their policies are impacting on ordinary people who are innocent victims of larger forces.

Ireland raises the problems in Gaza, among other issues, both directly with Israel and through EU engagement with Israel. This includes regular contact between the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Israeli authorities, as well as between officials and the Israeli embassy here. In addition to my visit, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade also travelled to Gaza last year to highlight the conditions. Ireland also raised the issue of Gaza in the universal review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council last month. We will raise it again with Israel at senior official level in the next few weeks.

While it is right that priority attention is given to supporting the political talks taking place, in Ireland’s view, the international community has not pressed as hard as it should on the issue of Gaza. We will continue to argue that case wherever possible.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I asked specifically in my question if he could furnish us with copies of communications he had had with Israel, whether with the embassy here or Tel Aviv. We need to know what is being said.

The blockade has been ongoing for years and it is just getting worse. I do not doubt that the Minister has taken action. He has made public statements in the Dáil that I welcomed. However, nothing has changed; in fact, the position is getting worse. I do not condone border attacks, but the problem is the Israeli blockade and Israel's concerted policy to strangle Gaza in the most vicious and cruel way. The blockade is hitting the sick and the young. If the Minister of State had been there, he would know about the appalling conditions in which 1.7 million people are living.

When are we going to stop treating Israel as if it is just a normal state? It does major trade with this country and Europe, having favoured trade status with the European Union.

I call the Minister of State. I will come back to the Deputy for a further supplementary question.

How can we allow this to continue when Israel is doing this to the Palestinians, particularly Gazans?

I replied to the Deputy on the issues that he has raised again. I agree that the situation is getting progressively worse. For a considerable time essential supplies for Gaza could be moved through tunnels on the Egyptian side. Since the overthrow of the Morsi Government in Egypt, 85% of these tunnels have been closed which has meant food, medicines, building materials, water and other essentials coming through from Egypt have virtually ceased.

They should not have to rely on tunnels for such materials.

Israel is not allowing access through the natural hinterland for Gaza through to Israel and the West Bank. As I said in my reply, we have constantly raised these issues with Israel. They are not security issues. Security measures can be put in place. These are restrictions on a population of 1.2 million, 800,000 of whom are reliant on American Near East Refugee Aid, ANERA, for essential food supplies on a daily basis.

Can we have sanctions?

We raise these issues regularly at every level.

When will there be sanctions? With South Africa's apartheid we reached a point where we said "enough is enough" and imposed sanctions. Surely the clock has run out for Israel to be just asked nicely to stop doing what it is doing to the Palestinian people. Should we not publicly demand that sanctions be imposed? Is it not unbelievable that Europe gives favoured trade status to Israel when it flagrantly flouts all human rights obligations? Israel even refuses MEP Emer Costello entry to Gaza. European delegation officials alleged that they were beaten by Israeli soldiers when they tried to access certain areas of the West Bank. When will we say, "Sorry, this is not acceptable and we are going to impose sanctions on you people"?

Ireland acts in conjunction with the EU on sanctions. We have already made a strong stand on the guidelines and that has had an impact on the peace talks. In the context of what is happening, peace talks are under way and we hope that some progress will be made in that area. Meanwhile we will continue to raise the issue at the levels we can, including the EU and our position on the Human Rights Council, and any fora we have on a bilateral basis with Israel.