Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014

Vol. 826 No. 1

Priority Questions

Northern Ireland Issues

Brendan Smith


1. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the next steps to be taken to secure agreement among the panel of parties in the Northern Ireland Executive on the Haass proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1505/14]

Seán Crowe


2. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an assessment of the Haass proposals; and the actions his Department intends to take to deal with the issues of flags and emblems, the past and parading in the context of the Good Friday Agreement. [1502/14]

Maureen O'Sullivan


3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason behind the failure of the recent Northern Ireland talks; the extent of the role the Irish Government played in the talks; the positive aspects that came as a result of the Irish Government's involvement; if any progress can be attributed to Ireland's role in the talks; where the progress is on the issue of flags and parades, including legacy issues; and the extent to which the prisoner issue and revoking of licences was addressed. [1504/14]

This is a very important issue and I compliment Ambassador Richard Haass and Dr. Meghan O'Sullivan on their work with the five parties in Northern Ireland. It is extremely regrettable that the two Unionist parties have not agreed to the proposals put forward. I am of the view that those proposals are good and important and can be built upon. I hope the Tánaiste will be in a position to provide assurance to the effect that the Government will take a hands-on approach in respect of the efforts to try to reach an agreement on these very important issues. There is an urgency with regard to this matter, particularly in view of the tension, conflict and violence we all witnessed in 2013.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

As Deputies are aware, the panel of parties talks on parades, flags and contending with the past, under the chairmanship of Dr. Richard Haass and the vice chairmanship of Dr. Meghan O’Sullivan, concluded in the early hours of New Year's Eve. I commend Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan on the energy, commitment and vision they brought to their work. The panel of parties talks arose on foot of an initiative by First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness last May, when they established a working group of representatives from each of the five Northern Ireland Executive parties to examine the contentious issues of flags, parades and the past. The establishment of the working group formed part of the Executive's Together: Building a United Community strategy aimed at improving community relations and continuing Northern Ireland's journey towards a more united and reconciled society. Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan started work in September 2013 with the objective of concluding agreement by the end of last year. They undertook an ambitious programme of work, including an extensive process of consultation with wider society between September and November, which proved particularly valuable. Following four earlier rounds of discussions, the talks entered an intensive political phase in the run-up to Christmas and between Christmas and the new year. Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan circulated a number of draft texts to the parties, with a seventh and final version submitted to the five parties in the early hours of New Year's Eve.

I will briefly outline to the House the main provisions of the final Haass-O'Sullivan proposals. On parades, the proposals recognise parading as an important cultural and historical tradition for many in Northern Ireland which enjoys protection under European and international human rights law. They also note the wide variety of other rights potentially affected by parades and other events and call for a new consensus based on rights, responsibilities and relationships.

The proposals provide for devolution of responsibility for parades to the Northern Ireland Executive which would require legislation at Westminster and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Such legislation would establish two new bodies which would take over responsibilities currently held by the Parades Commission.

An office for parades, select commemorations and related protests would have responsibility for receiving event notifications and promoting dialogue and mediation among event organisers and local communities. An authority for public events adjudication would in some cases set conditions on the relatively small number of events which prove contentious. Determinations would be made by a seven-member panel led by a legally-qualified person. Affected parties could pursue an internal review and judicial review. A new code of conduct would be enshrined in legislation by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Discussion on flags and emblems proved the most difficult. There was no agreed approach reached on the flying of flags on official buildings or the unofficial display of flags and emblems in public spaces. It was recognised by the panel of parties that these issues are closely linked to larger debates about sovereignty, identity and related matters which they judged to be beyond the remit of the talks. The proposals provide for a commission on identity, culture and tradition to hold public discussions on those issues throughout Northern Ireland. The commission’s remit would not be limited to flags and emblems and would include consultations on Irish and other languages, including Ulster Scots; a Bill of Rights; gender; public holidays, possibly including a day of remembrance or reflection; and memorabilia and other items in public buildings. The commission, which would comprise of MLAs and non-political members, would report within 18 months. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister would bring any recommendations of the commission receiving broad support to the Northern Ireland Executive for further action.

During the period of the talks substantial progress was made on agreeing an approach to dealing with the legacy of the past. The final proposals make special provision for victims and survivors, affirming that their individual choices should be paramount wherever possible. The proposals welcome the ongoing review of the Victims and Survivors Service and pledged to promptly consider recommended reforms, including the establishment of a comprehensive mental trauma service. The proposals establish an historical investigations unit, HIU, with the full investigative powers of the PSNI, to take over the Troubles–related deaths cases at present within the remit of the Historical Enquiries Team, HET, and the historical unit of the Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland, PONI. The proposals provide that where the evidence warrants, the HIU could refer cases to the Public Prosecution Service. The HIU would consider remaining HET cases in chronological order and in extreme cases of old age or illness, cases could be brought forward out of sequence. Once the HIU has completed reviews of all outstanding HET and PONI cases, it would consider requests for further review of cases previously examined by the HET or PONI. Should resources permit, it would also consider requests for reviews of cases involving serious injury but not death.

The proposals call for an independent commission for information retrieval, ICIR, to enable victims and survivors to seek and privately receive information about conflict-related events. The ICIR would not provide amnesty for those who come forward with information about the conflict. It would provide those coming forward with limited immunity, also known as inadmissibility, for statements given to the ICIR. The information provided to the ICIR could not be used in court but prosecution would still be possible, based on evidence obtained through other means. The ICIR would also use information it recovers, as well as public records and interviews it conducts independently, to assess the presence of certain patterns or themes involving paramilitary organisations or governments in conflict-related cases. It would also report on the degree of co-operation with this process by governments and paramilitary organisations. The proposals call for public statements of acknowledgment by those involved in the conflict, encouraging them to take responsibility for what they have done and to express remorse for the pain they have caused. Under the proposals, the Executive would pledge to facilitate the collection of individual narratives of the conflict and to establish an archive for their preservation. As Deputies are aware, the Government, in common with the British Government, was not directly involved in the talks process. The Government has, however, provided ongoing support and encouragement to the political parties throughout the process, working closely with the British Government. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the close engagement of the US Administration throughout this process and to place the Government's appreciation on the record of the House.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Throughout the talks, I have made clear the Government’s view to all participants and stakeholders that there is now a unique opportunity to make further progress towards advancing reconciliation and the creation of a truly reconciled and prosperous society in Northern Ireland. That remains the Government’s view and we will continue our engagement with the Northern Ireland political parties and the British Government to that end. While acknowledging that the issues to be addressed in the talks are difficult and contentious, the Government encouraged the parties to be ambitious in their approach and to engage actively with the process. I welcome that very significant progress was made within the talks process over a short period on a number of the most difficult issues that face society in Northern Ireland. The priority now should be to safeguard and give practical effect to what has been achieved. I welcome that the five political parties in the Executive have been meeting to discuss the next steps and that they are working together with the common goal of reaching a final agreement as soon as possible.

I wish to send a clear message of support from this House to the five Northern Ireland Executive parties as they continue the vital task which they have set in train. The Government, along with the British Government, will play its role in partnership with the Northern Ireland parties to the full as they complete their work on an agreement. It is in all our shared interests to see Northern Ireland make further progress towards reconciliation in line with the vision of the Good Friday Agreement. Our support and our work in this regard continue unabated.

I thank the Tánaiste for his detailed reply. He outlined the substantial progress that has been made. I take this opportunity to compliment the SDLP and Sinn Féin parties for their positive approach to the negotiations. Unfortunately, the two Unionist parties have rejected the proposals put forward by Ambassador Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan. It is hoped that the proposed talks will change that attitude. I also recognise the important work of the Alliance Party.

The last day we had oral questions I expressed an opinion, which unfortunately turned out to be correct, that it would be very difficult to reach an agreement without the hands on and direct involvement of the two sovereign Governments. We all know the Downing Street Declaration, the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 and the St. Andrews Agreement were driven by the two Governments, working with the parties in Northern Ireland. Will the Tánaiste reconsider the position of the Government and, indeed, of the British Government and have our State directly represented by Government in these negotiations? Has the Tánaiste had any direct contact with Ambassador Haass or Dr. O'Sullivan since they went back to the United States?

There has been hands on involvement by the Government in these talks. From the very moment Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan were appointed, we were in contact with them. I met them before they commenced their work and on a number of occasions while they were doing their work. Over the Christmas to new year period when the talks were in their intensive stage, I was in regular telephone contact with Dr. Haass, leaders of political parties and with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I spoke with Dr. Haass directly following the completion of his work. We are in continuing contact with him and with his team. I met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on the morning of New Year's Eve following the completion of the talks. I met her since then and I expect to meet her tomorrow evening. I met the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister last Friday. The Irish and British Governments are committed to working together very closely. The Government supports the proposals that have emerged from the talks and would like to see them implemented. We will continue to work to advance progress on these issues.

Dr. Haass made it clear that the proposals he put together were part of a package. I think the proposals were the seventh draft and they reflected many long hours of hard work and compromise. Does the Tánaiste accept that the final proposals and documents were all about compromise and mutual agreement and were not partisan? I do not think they reflect any one party's view of how to resolve the situation but were collective. Dr. Haass pointed out that the negotiations have now concluded and parties need to respond and move to implementation. The Good Friday Agreement and the ancillary agreements provide the context to address parades, identities and the past. Does the Tánaiste accept that non-implementation means that these issues will continue to bog down not only political moves forward, but also the overall peace process itself? As Deputy Smith said, a number of parties have agreed to them, including Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party and the SDLP.

The Tánaiste said he was in touch with Dr. Haass and so on but the optics were wrong in this regard. Some commentators almost suggested that a sort of ambiguous role was being taken by the two Governments and that they were actually hard-hearted in regard to their involvement and were stepping back. Does the Tánaiste agree the optics in that regard possibly did not help the situation?

I do not agree with that portrayal of it. I think that is inaccurate. The Irish Government was directly involved in this process. The Deputy must remember this process was initiated in Northern Ireland. This proposal was made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, involving all the five political parties in the Northern Ireland Executive. The parties in Northern Ireland, the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister invited Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan to chair these talks. It was always intended that these would be talks between the parties in Northern Ireland. The role of the two Governments on this occasion was to provide support to that, which we did by keeping in regular contact. Over the Christmas to new year period, I was in contact with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland almost on a daily basis.

I was in Northern Ireland - in Belfast - on 30 and 31 December when the talks closed. I was in very close contact with Dr. Haass and the party leaders. The Secretary of State and I have met since then. We have spoken about the responsibilities of the two Governments as co-guarantors of the agreement, one of which is to provide continuing support. The day after the outcome of the talks became known, I described the failure to reach agreement as a step not yet taken rather than a step back. I still take that view. I will continue to work with the Secretary of State and the parties in the hope that the additional step will be taken.

It must have been extremely frustrating and disappointing for Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan that all the toing and froing, the journeys across the Atlantic and the issuing of various drafts did not come to fruition. There was no resolution in the form of an agreement that could be accepted by all sides. We know that the flags, parades and legacy issues are very serious. As long as the prisoner issue, which we have discussed previously, is not resolved, prisoners in the North will face injustice and peace will be threatened. As the Tánaiste knows, a group from the Dáil has been visiting republican and loyalist prisoners in the North. It is obvious that there are issues in this regard. When licences are revoked without reasons being given, people are left on remand for three or four years and draconian conditions are proposed when releases are being considered. It does not contribute to the process we are discussing. This aspect of the matter must also be addressed.

As the Deputy has acknowledged, the prisoners issue was not directly involved in the recent talks. She is aware I have raised a number of these issues with the Secretary of State and the Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland. As she knows, some of these cases are at different stages in various court and review processes. Obviously, we have to be mindful of where they are in the court situation. It must be said that we have seen some very worrying activity in recent months. I am sure everybody in this House will roundly condemn attempts to place bombs or engage in activity of that kind. The attacks on PSNI officers, for example, have no place in our society and have no support of any kind. Dr. Haass and Dr. O'Sullivan made significant progress. Their comprehensive document covers some issues that have been contentious and difficult for a long period. We need to press forward with that now. As I have said, I am in contact with the Secretary of State. Since the break and over the new year period, I have spoken to the leaders of all the political parties in Northern Ireland. I intend to continue that dialogue. We are in continuing contact with the Haass-O'Sullivan team. We are also in contact with the US Administration, which has been very helpful throughout this process.

There has never been a breakthrough in Northern Ireland without the direct hands-on involvement of the two sovereign Governments. We note the huge contribution the SDLP has made to the progress that has been achieved over the years. That party's leader, Alasdair McDonnell, said in the British House of Commons this day last week that "the Secretary of State will recall that when the Haass process has been mentioned on previous occasions, I have urged a much greater involvement at an earlier stage by both the British and Irish Governments". The Tánaiste mentioned his participation in this process, including his meetings with the Secretary of State and the parties. He seems to have given some urgency to this issue when it was concluding. I would have thought that when the Northern Executive decided to set up a panel of five parties to address this issue, it would not have been opposed to the two sovereign Governments taking a hands-on approach to dealing with the difficult issues that need to be resolved, as everyone else has said.

We need to get away from the violence and thuggery we witnessed on the streets in Belfast and other urban centres in Northern Ireland in 2013.

We know that Unionist leaders have opposed the implementation of this agreement at this time. They are now saying they want negotiations to continue. Does the Tánaiste believe they are serious about coming to agreement or is this more about the illusion of movement on these matters? Would he accept that they may be more concerned about future elections than trying to resolve this situation? Bearing that in mind, what can the Government do? The Tánaiste has said with regard to the British Government that he will look at it and try to kick-start the talks again. Can the Government act independently regarding some of the matters? I am talking about the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. There are a number of outstanding matters that need to be implemented, including the bill of rights, for instance.

Can the Government move ahead with legislation to deal with the area of victims and dealing with the past? Would that be a good idea?

I agree with the Tánaiste; the last thing anybody wants is a return to violence and everybody would condemn the use of violence to achieve a political opinion. However, people are entitled to hold a different opinion and that is not a reason for putting them in jail. In engaging with the people in the North, we have seen it is very difficult to identify who exactly is calling the shots as it were. In each of our discussions the decision seems to be that it goes to the Minister for Justice and then it is the Secretary of State. The parole commissioners are supposed to be independent and yet we are told the Judiciary has a role and it does not seem to be independent. It is hard to understand where the buck stops. When the Irish and British Governments were involved it brought another impetus that brought about the Good Friday Agreement. We know that other agreements from that time are not being implemented or adhered to. There are quite a number of issues and the involvement of the Irish Government can only do good.

Lest there be any doubt about it, the Government is involved. It is not true, as Deputy Smith suggests, that the Government became involved at the end of this process. At this time last year, along with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, MP, I met the First Minister and Deputy First Minister at a time when the flags protest was in a very difficult situation. Considerable progress has been made over the course of the year.

As far as our engagement with the process is concerned, this was initiated in Northern Ireland with five parties involved. Dr. Haass and Professor O'Sullivan were invited to chair these talks by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. We all have to respect that and work with it. From the time Dr. Haass was appointed, I contacted him by telephone. I met him initially in New York and then subsequently met him here in Dublin. I have maintained regular contact through meeting and by telephone over the course of his work.

The two Governments are the co-guarantors of the Agreement. We are both of one mind that this must succeed. We do not want things slipping back. There are difficult issues that need to be addressed. We are both in contact with the leaders of the political parties and are both in contact with each other. As I have said, I intend to meet the Secretary of State again tomorrow and will discuss the issue further with her. I will continue to remain engaged. I am optimistic that this can be progressed.

To answer Deputy Crowe's question, I believe that all of the parties in Northern Ireland want to see this succeed. Clearly different parties have certain issues and there are compromises, as the Deputy rightly says, that have been reflected in the Agreement. However, I believe that all political parties in Northern Ireland want this to succeed and the two Governments want it to succeed.

Foreign Conflicts

Brendan Smith


4. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the current number of Irish persons in Syria; if he will provide an update on Irish Aid’s provision of humanitarian assistance to that country and adjoining regions; if he has raised at the EU Foreign Affairs Council the need to have an urgent and effective response to assist in the refugee crisis there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1506/14]

This crisis in Syria has continued for almost three years. I welcome that the Government has provided substantial overseas development aid in recent years. It is very disappointing to hear today that in the pledging conference that is taking place only one fifth of what is needed has been pledged to date.

There are approximately 80 Irish citizens who have registered with the Department and who are resident in Syria. We have been advising all Irish citizens to leave Syria since March 2012.

Ireland has provided in excess of €14 million in assistance since the crisis began. The total includes support to NGO partners as well as to members of the Red Cross or Red Crescent and six different UN agencies. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Joe Costello, is today attending the Second International Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria and its neighbouring region in Kuwait, where he has announced Ireland’s pledge of €12 million in support of the humanitarian relief effort over the course of 2014.

I have discussed the humanitarian situation inside Syria and of Syrian refugees with my colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council on numerous occasions since the start of the conflict. The Syrian crisis was most recently discussed at the European Council on 19 and 20 December 2013, which reiterated the EU's continuing deep concern at the humanitarian situation, and reaffirmed the EU's commitment to working for increased humanitarian access to those in need and the provision of adequate funding for the humanitarian relief effort.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I welcome the commitment of €12 million in aid for 2014. Will the Minister ensure this issue is on the agenda of every meeting of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council? It is the humanitarian issue of our generation. A total of 130,000 people have died in this conflict and approximately 2.3 million are displaced or are refugees in adjoining countries. We should recognise the commitment, effort and assistance that those neighbouring countries have given the people of Syria, in particular Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey. There is particular pressure on that region too.

The latest figures I saw show that 9 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. It is frightening to think of that. Millions of people have been displaced internally in Syria as well. Of the 130,000 who have perished in this civil war, more than 12,000 were children under the age of five.

Europe has been one of the better donors. Will the Minister state again at EU level that it is very disappointing to think that only one fifth of the funding the United Nations estimates is needed has been pledged by the international community at the humanitarian pledging conference taking place today?

This is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time. That is reflected in the fact that the call from the United Nations for $5.2 billion in humanitarian assistance is the largest call for humanitarian assistance in the entire history of the United Nations. The official figure is 120,000 but we know that may be an underestimate of the number of people killed in this conflict. There are 9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and 6.5 million - more than the entire population of this island - have been driven out of their homes, 2.3 million of whom are refugees in neighbouring countries.

There are several dimensions to this problem. First, there is the need for humanitarian assistance, second is the issue of getting humanitarian assistance to those who need it. A United Nations presidential statement made in October set certain ground rules for the delivery of humanitarian aid. That is not being complied with. Humanitarian aid is not getting through as it should be, for a range of reasons. We have been pressing for a United Nations Security Council resolution on the delivery of humanitarian aid.

We are in contact with Ms Valerie Amos, who has been leading the UN effort in that regard. I can assure the Deputy that I will be at the Foreign Affairs Council again next week and that I will reflect the views the Deputy has expressed here on behalf of this country. We will continue to lead by example, as the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, is doing today in Kuwait.

I welcome every comment the Minister has made in regard to this humanitarian disaster. As he rightly stated, we have been one of the better donors. I read an Amnesty International report that described Europe's response in regard to providing for refugees as "pitiful". Perhaps this is an issue that could be pursued at the EU Foreign Affairs Council. Will the Tánaiste assure the House that, in every international forum available to us, at political and at official level, be it in the EU, the UN or other international fora, this issue is given serious and continued attention by those representing our country, and that we continue to highlight the plight of so many innocent people?

First, we have to recognise that the EU, with its member states, has been, by some distance, the biggest single donor in terms of humanitarian assistance to Syria. The EU has also been very active in seeking a settlement and support for the Geneva II talks process. Ireland, on a per capita basis, is at the top end of the donors on humanitarian aid. However, the need is huge, at a number of levels. First, there is the question of the delivery of aid and the provision of the finance to support that. Second, there is also the question of the delivery of the aid to those who need it. We are working closely with NGOs and partners, which are doing great work in this area. I want to assure Deputy Smith and the House that we avail of every opportunity to bring, in particular, the humanitarian dimension of this crisis to attention at the Foreign Affairs Council, and we will continue to do that. This is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our lifetime.

Human Rights Issues

Seán Crowe


5. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to reports that the Israeli authorities put Palestinian prisoners, including children, in outdoor cages during the severe winter storm that struck the region in the middle of December; his views that this practice is yet another example of Israel abusing and ill-treating detained Palestinian children; and if he will raise the issue with the Israeli authorities. [1503/14]

This question relates to the treatment of Palestinian children. At the end of last year a statement was made by the advocacy group, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, that Israel had put Palestinian prisoners, including children, in outdoor cages during the severe winter storm that struck the region last month. This occurred in the Ramla prison complex, where Palestinian prisoners from the West Bank are regularly detained. I do not believe this is the first time Israel has been shown to detain children, undermining international law and mistreating prisoners. It is on that basis that I put down the question.

I have seen a number of reports relating to this matter. The precise details involved are somewhat confused, and some media reporting may be inaccurate. Nonetheless, there is evidence of unacceptable treatment.

Most media reports seem to follow a report from the NGO, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, but the actual report of that NGO does not mention children. There is a more specific account from the Israeli national Public Defender’s office, detailing some incidents of detainees being held outdoors for some time. It referred to unspecified prisoners in Israeli prisons and was not confined to Palestinians. The specific reports concerning the winter storm related to a prison which holds Israelis convicted of criminal offences and does not hold Palestinians. Likewise it did not mention children, although another document states that minors had been included in this practice, not necessarily on this occasion. The allegations are not of prisoners being housed in the open, but being held there for some time, usually an hour or two, prior to being moved to court, or while a search took place. Indications are that this was a routine practice, which in at least some institutions was continued despite the onset of severe winter weather. This is clearly unacceptable.

I note that it was an Israeli official body, the Public Defender’s office, and an Israeli NGO, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, which raised this issue, and that the Justice Minister immediately issued an order to all prisons to end this practice. I have asked that further inquiries be made and that the situation be kept under review.

Ireland has pursued issues related to conditions of detention, including detention of minors, with Israel in recent years. We have raised these concerns on a number of occasions. Ireland raised the question of treatment of minors under Israeli military justice in the Universal Periodic Review of Israel at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva last October. We will certainly continue to do so.

I thank the Tánaiste for bringing some clarity to the situation. Again, I was working off reports from the region. As the Tánaiste mentioned, a statement from the public defender who visited the prison and witnessed this said that the practice had been going on for a number of months, a fact that was verified during official visits and was not denied by the Israeli prison service. It is a fact that human rights organisations estimate that up to 700 Palestinian children, some as young as 12 years of age or even younger, have been subject to Israeli military detention each year and 74% of those children experience physical violence during their arrest, transfer or interrogation. That is unacceptable and needs to stop.

Israel remains the only nation to automatically and systematically prosecute children in military courts. Perhaps there are other countries of which the Tánaiste is aware. These are courts where a basic and fundamental fair trial, which must be guaranteed, is lacking. It cannot continue. Can the Tánaiste raise this with his European colleagues and at all levels? The ongoing treatment of children is unacceptable in any civilised society and needs to stop.

As I understand it, the reports were of cages that were used to hold prisoners before they were taken to court or while a search was under way. My information is that the Israeli justice minister has ordered a discontinuation of that practice. There are wider issues relating to detention that we raise. I am concerned that rather than being extraordinary measures that are only applied in the most exceptional cases, detention orders are being used as part of the broader system of control of Palestinians and legitimate protest as well as violent action. It is not right that such detention orders are renewed indefinitely without a case coming to trial. I, therefore, strongly support the calls for this practice to be brought to an end. Ireland and its EU partners have repeatedly represented these views to the Israeli authorities and the number of cases of administrative detention has fallen during that period. We will, of course, continue to press the issue.

In respect of the reports coming out of the occupied territories, other human rights organisations have talked about how they found that Palestinian children detained by the Israeli authorities are being systematically subjected to torture and violence including threats of rape by Israeli interrogators in order to force them to confess to crimes like stone throwing. It is unacceptable. I share the Tánaiste's concern about the use of house detentions and illegal detentions - people being released from prison and then re-arrested on spurious charges. We are talking about people being slowly strangled and cut off from resources. These reports came out at Christmas and, at the same time, we saw the situation in Gaza with the floods and people being refused access to supports and aid. It is an ongoing problem but the treatment of these children is just a symptom of what is wrong with that society.

The mistreatment of Palestinian children by Israeli forces in the occupied territories has been a matter of deep concern to us. Ireland with its EU partners has conveyed this concern directly to the Israeli authorities. We feel that this has had some result as the age of criminal responsibility for Palestinian children was raised in 2012 to the same age as that for Israeli children, as should be the case.

In Ireland's statement on Israel for the Universal Periodic Review in October, we urged Israel to implement fully the recommendations of the March UNICEF report, entitled "Children in Israeli Military Detention", including seeking an end to the arrests of children at home and at night. We also raised the issue of conviction based only on unrecorded, written confessions in Hebrew, solitary confinement for minors and the denial of access to family members or legal representation.

It should be pointed out that these issues are not unique failings. Similar or, indeed, worse criticisms could be made of penal systems in many of the neighbouring countries in the wider Middle East. This is not to excuse anything but to point out that we must be equally concerned about human rights elsewhere. I assure the Deputy that we have raised the specific issue of children and will continue to raise and make progress on it.