Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 5 Jul 2016

Vol. 916 No. 2

Other Questions

Passport Services

Michael Healy-Rae


27. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to provide additional resources to the passport office (details supplied) to deal with the massive backlog of applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19351/16]

I congratulate the Minister sincerely on his reappointment and look forward to working with him and wish him good luck and success. What are the Minister's plans to provide additional resources to the passport office to deal with the massive backlog of applications? Could he make a statement on this matter, please?

The passport service is in peak season with 53,139 applications in the system as of 1 July. The level of demand is very high this year with an 11% rise in the number of applications year-to-date compared to the same period last year. However, the situation has improved somewhat in recent weeks. On 31 May, there were a total of 68,009 applications in the system and this figure has fallen throughout June.

To respond to the seasonal spike in demand and the more general increase in applications, a total of 233 temporary clerical officers have been recruited so far this year, an increase of 62 on last year. Furthermore, processing work has been redistributed across passport offices and staff have been redeployed from other areas of the Department as needed. As a matter of best practice, I recommend that applicants apply well in advance of travel and allow six weeks in case any difficulty arises with an application, for example, an incomplete application form.

The most convenient way to apply for a passport is via passport express. The passport office advises applicants to allow 15 working days for renewals submitted via passport express. At the moment, these applications are being processed within 13 working days. First-time applications take longer due to additional anti-fraud measures and the passport office advisers to first-time applicants using password express to allow 20 working days. At the current time, first-time applications are taking 19 working days.

While there is likely to be an increase in the number of first-time applications submitted from the UK and British people living overseas, it is too early to assess how significant this will be. We are seeing an increased number of queries relating to passport and citizenship from Northern Ireland, Great Britain and elsewhere. The passport office will continue to closely monitor the situation to ensure the effective deployment of staff resources and to minimise the impact of the high volume of applications on turnaround times and customer service. The need for additional resources will be kept under review.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I have to compliment the Trojan work of those in the passport office who are dealing with a major backlog and applications. I would like the Minister to go back with a very clear message to those working in his office and offer my sincerest thanks to them for their efforts and the Trojan work they do in emergency and urgent cases. When people's lives are upset and they are experiencing trauma, we have received nothing but the utmost courtesy, dedication and determination from those working in the Minister's Department. I want to acknowledge that, as well as those working in ordinary passport offices. I want my message to go back to those dealing with the mountains of applications that we sincerely thank them for their work. They are dealing with people who are highly distressed. People may have to travel for a funeral or may have made arrangements and find themselves without passports, and as a result they are extremely upset. They are treated very well to the best of people's abilities.

I acknowledge the Deputy's kind words. I will be more than happy to convey his very kind and well-received remarks directly to Mr. Austin Gormley in the passport office and his team. I acknowledge that they work very hard in challenging circumstances. It is not often that the House is witness to kind remarks of the type we heard from Deputy Healy-Rae. I take them as they were given, namely, in very good faith.

I wish to underline that there is no need for concern about current freedom of movement or entitlement to an Irish passport. The process of negotiation to enable the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is likely to take at least two years, as envisaged under Article 50 of the treaty of the EU once the article has commenced. During this period, the UK remains a member of the EU and its citizens continue to enjoy full rights, including freedom of movement, within the EU. The referendum in Britain has in no way changed the entitlement to an Irish passport, including as it extends to people born on the island of Ireland and those who may be entitled to Irish citizenship through parents or grandparents who were born in Ireland.

I thank the Minister. Does he believe the decision of the UK to leave the EU will lead to a further spike in the number of applications being submitted for Irish passports? Can he continue to provide additional staffing and resources when this happens?

Can the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade arrange that notification of the current passport waiting times is sent to all post offices in the country? Some post offices are informing applicants that the normal passport express time of ten days still applies. As the Minister knows, that is inaccurate. I ask that we keep post offices informed and wonder whether there is a cost effective way of doing so. It might be a major task, but with modern communications surely there is some way that post offices could be advised of accurate waiting times. They could put up notices to advise people of the current waiting times. If that could be arranged it would be very helpful.

The Deputy makes a very important point. The passport service offers a passport reminder service to customers, which can be accessed via the passport service web page, www.passport.ie. It automatically sends an e-mail three and six months before a passport is due to expire to those who register. Registration simply requires passport holders to record their names, e-mail addresses and expiry dates of their passports. It is envisaged that as part of the future online application process for passport renewals for adults, which is scheduled to launch in early 2017, reminder notifications will automatically be sent to passport holders well in advance of renewal dates.

In respect of the Deputy's concern regarding the Irish community in Britain following the referendum, according to the 2011 census for England and Wales and Scotland, there are a total of 430,000 Irish-born people resident in Britain, 407,000 in England and Wales and 23,000 in Scotland. Estimates vary as to how many second and later generation Irish people live in Britain. It is not possible to say what proportion of these people may apply for an Irish passport. We will continue to monitor the situation. In the meantime, there is no need for concern because the current legal regulations still apply and will continue to apply until after the conclusion of negotiations.

Military Aircraft

Paul Murphy


28. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to report on any contact he has had with the US Government in regard to its military foreign policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19479/16]

Has the Minister had any contact or discussions with the US Government regarding military foreign policy? I am interested in two areas. One is the continued use of Shannon Airport by the US military. Since 2000, some 2.5 million US soldiers have passed through the airport. The second is the reports of the number of casualties as a result of drone strikes authorised by President Obama. In effect, there is a drone assassination programme.

The Irish Government maintains contact with the United States on a broad range of issues, both bilaterally and through European Union structures. Bilaterally, there are regular contacts between political leaders from our two countries, such as through those that took place during the recent visit by Vice President Biden to Ireland and the annual St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington DC. These discussions typically cover a wide range of topics of particular interest to Ireland, such as immigration reform, as well as relevant foreign policy issues, development aid, economic and investment ties and support for human rights. My visit to the US in September for the UN General Assembly usually provides me with an opportunity for bilateral exchanges with senior US foreign policy officials.

In addition, our embassy in Washington regularly engages with members of the US Houses of Congress and officials in various US Government Departments on a wide range of issues, as do our consulates in the US at a regional level. Ireland is also party to contacts with the US by the European Union through the transatlantic dialogue, which includes a range of policy areas such as development co-operation, non-proliferation, energy security and the environment, as well as foreign policy.

With regard to military policy, Ireland maintains a long-standing policy of military neutrality which is characterised by non-participation in military alliances. This policy has been pursued by successive Governments and was reaffirmed in my Department's foreign policy strategy, The Global Island.

The policy of military neutrality pursued by the Government is one that exists in words only - witness the discussion at the European Council about increased co-operation with NATO or, most importantly, the very regular use of Shannon Airport to transport US military soldiers to the Middle East to pursue US war aims. I do not see how that is compatible with a supposedly neutral foreign policy. Does the Government have any intention of changing the use of Shannon Airport?

In particular, I wish to raise a question about a particular aircraft in Shannon Airport on 1 July. Two issues arise here. One is the use of Shannon to transport troops but the other was previously in terms of rendition. An aircraft was at Shannon Airport that was previously identified as one of the CIA planes used in the extraordinary rendition programme by the European Union TDIP committee that investigated it, that is, Learjet 35, No. N71PG. Would the Minister be aware of anything in regard to that? Would he be willing to investigate that?

Ireland's longstanding policy of military neutrality which has been pursued by successive Governments is characterised by the non-participation of Ireland in military alliance. This commitment was reconfirmed last year in the context of my Department's foreign policy review and in the White Paper on Defence which was also published last year. Successive Governments have made overfly and landing facilities at Shannon available to the US for well over 50 years. This facility is also made available for military aircraft from other countries. From 2013 to 2015, permission was granted in respect of requests from 23 countries. The same conditions apply to all landings by military aircraft. These arrangements do not amount to any form of military alliance with the US and are consistent with our policy of military neutrality.

In relation to the specific instance raised by the Deputy on 1 July, I do not have information on that particular aircraft but I will endeavour at the earliest opportunity to appropriate this information and to contact the Deputy's office on it.

I thank the Minister. For the information of the Minister, the aircraft in question is Learjet 35, No. N71PG, which is reportedly a CIA aircraft. Obviously, if CIA planes were to land at Shannon Airport and potentially were to have prisoners inside, it would be a very serious matter that the Government would want to investigate. I do not think neutrality is compatible with a policy of allowing soldiers to land and allowing aircraft to be used that then go on to kill innocent Iraqis, Afghans and so on. I do not think that is neutrality.

What is the approach of the Government to the question of drone strikes? The first official release of figures claims close to 3,000 people were killed as a result of drone strikes between 2009 and 2015. There is the horrific situation where Obama signs a kill list; effectively, it is a judicial action but it is non-judicial assassination. There is no oversight whatsoever. They decide to kill people outside of combat. Does the Irish Government have a view on it?

Prior permission is required for all foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports and permission, if granted, is subject to very strict conditions which I have outlined. Bilateral relations between friendly nations are founded on mutual trust. Both parties have an interest in maintaining that trust. Details provided by diplomatic missions, including confirmation that the aircraft are unarmed, carry no arms, no ammunition and no explosives, are therefore accepted in good faith as being accurate. In accordance with international practice, foreign military aircraft which are granted permission to land in Ireland are not subject to inspection. I will provide the Deputy with details in respect of the aircraft as evidenced by him earlier.

Human Rights

Paul Murphy


29. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to report on any contact he or his Department has had with the Brazilian Government since the impeachment of that country's president; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19478/16]

Ruth Coppinger


41. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has received reports on the current political situation in the Federative Republic of Brazil; if he or his officials has had contact with the Brazilian Government or with opposition political leaders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19457/16]

These questions are in respect of Brazil. I am sure the Minister is aware that the elected President Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached a couple of months ago in a process that has been described by many as a coup, has been replaced by the Vice President Michel Temer who, despite also being engulfed in corruption scandals, has become the acting president and has unleashed a very serious assault on women's rights and workers' rights. Has the Minister had any engagement with the new government of Brazil and does he support the calls of the protesters?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29 and 41 together.

My Department is monitoring closely the current political situation in Brazil, including the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff. Our embassy in Brasilia provides regular reports on the latest developments and their possible repercussions. In addition, the events in the country are also the subject of ongoing discussion at European Union level in Brussels.

Along with our European Union partners, the Government of Ireland is of the view that the current political situation in Brazil, including the suspension of President Rousseff, is a matter for the legislative and judicial branches of that country. Consequently, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further on the constitutional process under way in Brazil, other than to assure the Deputies that we will continue to follow and monitor the situation closely.

In addition to the ongoing political reporting provided by our ambassador and embassy, a major priority for Irish officials in Brazil is to prepare for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro. Ireland will open a temporary consulate in the city for the duration of the games in order to provide assistance to Irish athletes, officials and spectators, as required. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the internal legal situation in Brazil and I do not intend to do so.

What has happened in Brazil is fundamentally undemocratic. Its intent is to deny the democratic wish of people as expressed in the last election and to impose an extremely right-wing regressive reactionary government. The Minister should express a statement of opposition to the Government that has come to power via a coup impeachment process. Some of the numerous counter reforms include a tax being implemented by the government, the ending of compulsory state funding of health and education, cutting of universal access to health care, fire fighters and other public sector workers not being paid, the cancellation of a home building programme of 10,000 social houses, the abolition of the ministry for culture, attacks on abortion rights for women who have been raped, and a rowing back on other women's rights such as proposed changes to protect people against domestic violence. There has been a huge protest movement of women workers and ordinary people in response and the Government should simply deal with this government.

The constitutional process in Brazil involves both the legislature and the judicial branches of the federal government. President Temer has been appointed for a period of 180 days while the impeachment of President Rousseff is considered by the Brazilian Senate under the chairmanship of the current chief justice. Ireland will continue to monitor the situation via our embassy in Brasilia. We remain firmly of the opinion that the current beleaguered situation in Brazil, including a number of investigations that are under way, is a matter for the Brazilian authorities.

The pretext for which this impeachment process has taken place has crumbled. A report by independent auditors on behalf of the Senate concluded that there was no indication of direct or indirect action by Dilma Rousseff to engage in the budgetary malfeasance which was alleged. Neither I nor the Socialist Party is a political supporter of Dilma Rousseff. We would be supporters of PSOL and the LSR tendency within PSOL but this is a basic question of people's democratic rights and what is a major assault by the right via undemocratic means to try to impose a very right-wing government. They are now being met, rightly, by massive opposition on the streets and massive mobilisations by people who are calling for a free and fair general election to elect a government that will serve the interests of ordinary people.

I am aware of reports regarding gender-based violence in Brazil to which the Deputy has referred. A number of cases are being investigated by Brazilian authorities and, therefore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on matters that are in effect ongoing investigations. However, I wish to point to the Marie da Penha law which was enacted in Brazil in 2006 which is the principal legal instrument in respect of violence against women. The law incorporates a multifaceted approach in efforts to combat gender-based violence. This includes a dedicated court, police support solely focused on dealing with violence against women, urgent protective legal measures for victims of domestic violence and a reinforcement of public social services in the areas. The law also provides for educational measures such as the inclusion of gender equality in school curricula. I wish to acknowledge government campaigns to raise awareness of the problems of gender-based violence. A telephone service has been made available throughout Brazil giving women an opportunity to report crimes, provide information on victim's rights and legal procedures.

As I did at the outset of my earlier reply, I assure the Deputy and the House that our embassy in Brasilia will continue to monitor developments relating to this case on the wider issue of gender-based violence.

Human Rights

Bríd Smith


30. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to bring home a person (details supplied) from his detention in Egypt. [19410/16]

Gino Kenny


36. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is aware of the comments of a person (details supplied) that torture and abuse takes place in the prison and that a person not receiving the same level of support that they did; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19352/16]

Eamon Ryan


59. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts he is making to return a person (details supplied) back here, given the trial of the person has been suspended until October 2016. [19456/16]

I know the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has been asked this many times, but I ask him again to lay out in detail what his plans are to bring Ibrahim Halawa, an Irish citizen, home from his detention. This young man has been detained now for well over 1,000 days. Many people, including former prisoners from other countries, are openly asking whether the Irish Government is doing enough to get Ibrahim, who is an Irish citizen, home. It looks to us it is not nearly enough, compared with what is possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30, 36 and 59 together.

I and my Government colleagues are extremely disappointed at the recent news of a further delay in the trial of this citizen. This latest delay is a particular source of concern and frustration for the citizen and his family and we fully share their sense of frustration. It is our understanding that at the latest hearing in this case on 29 June, the court ordered a review of video evidence by a technical committee, with the court due to reconvene in early October.

My own concerns and that of the Government about this delay have been conveyed directly to the Egyptian Government. I met with the ambassador of Egypt last Thursday and asked that she convey to her authorities in Cairo my disappointment and frustration at this further postponement of the trial. My officials are seeking more detail about these latest developments and their potential impact on this trial.

I met this citizen's father and sister last week, in advance of the hearing, to reaffirm our continued commitment to securing his release. A further meeting between the family and my officials took place on Friday where the latest developments were reviewed and options for future action, including a new application under Presidential Decree 140, were considered. The Government will continue to bring all of its influence to bear on this citizen’s behalf through all appropriate channels. The Taoiseach and I stand ready to have further contacts with our Egyptian counterparts.

Regardless of our difficulties with the trial now under way, the reality is the Irish government cannot interfere with a trial in a foreign country. What we can do, and what we are working very hard to do, is to provide all consular care possible to this citizen while he is in prison and to work towards his release at the earliest possible time.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

All actions taken in this case are considered in the context of the Government’s clear strategy, which is focused on two core objectives, first, to see this citizen released by the Egyptian authorities so that he can return to his family and his studies in Ireland as soon as possible, and, second, to provide every possible consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention.

Our ambassador to Egypt, Mr. Damien Cole, was once again present in the court for the latest hearing. This citizen’s welfare is an important priority for our embassy in Cairo, as it is at home in Ireland. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is continuing to provide consular assistance to this citizen through regular visits to him in the prison where he is being held. The ambassador visited him again on Sunday last, 3 July.

I am aware of media references to a letter concerning allegations about the Egyptian prison system. On my instruction, the contents of this letter were discussed with the family and legal representative of this citizen as soon as the matter became known to me. I also instructed that the matter be brought to the attention of our ambassador in Cairo as he is best placed to assess the level of concern to attach to its contents. The ambassador visits this citizen regularly, and did so on 29 May and again on 3 July. As would be the case for any Irish citizen imprisoned abroad, any concern related to ill-treatment is treated with the utmost seriousness and would be raised urgently with the appropriate authorities. This point has been consistently reconfirmed to this citizen and his family.

In the coming days, I expect the Government will have further high level contacts with the Egyptian Government aimed at achieving a resolution of this case.

It really is just not good enough. I quote to the Minister Peter Greste, who spent 400 days in prison and was at one stage Ibrahim's cell mate, who told Australian Al-Jazeera said that Ibrahim is simply not getting the same level of support as he did. He said he wondered whether it was because his name was Peter, not Ibrahim, in other words, that he was considered white, normal and English-speaking, as opposed to Muslim with a different name. Internationally and globally, he received more respect and had more people batting for him.

Ibrahim has been detained for far longer than is absolutely necessary and was denied any opportunity to defend himself in court. I also mention that the Minister tweeted and welcomed the release of Joshua Molloy, a constituent of his, after he was captured and put in jail in Iraq for a very short period of time. The Minister welcomed Joshua Molloy's release. Certainly it was welcome that that young man got out, despite the fact that he had fought and was in combat, rather than somebody as innocent as Ibrahim, who is now 1,000 days in and there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by him.

In relation to Peter Greste, as named by the Deputy, of course I welcome his release. I would welcome any advice or guidance he or Deputy Smith might proffer in my direction as to how best this case might be advanced.

Absolutely I would.

I assure the Deputy that my door is open, as it is to any Member who may have observations, advice or guidance. It is important to note that each and every case is different. We have considered the cases, as mentioned, in some detail. We have consulted extensively on them, but my focus remains on the citizen, and his case, which is before the courts. We have consulted extensively, including with states and governments that have had citizens in similar circumstances, but any decision as to the release of this citizen will ultimately be taken by the Egyptian authorities. I travelled to Cairo within the past few weeks. I met face-to-face with my colleague, Foreign Minister Shoukry. This was the fourth occasion on which I had a face-to-face meeting with him. I assure the House that I and the Taoiseach are doing everything possible to ensure a satisfactory outcome. If Deputy Smith or any other Deputy has advice or guidance, I would be very happy to hear from them.

I do have some advice and guidance. It is just not good enough. There needs to be a statement and a call from the Taoiseach directly to the Egyptian authorities. There needs to be a presidential decree that there should be a demand for his release. I also think we should recall the Egyptian ambassador, just as the Italian authorities have done after a young student disappeared and was later found murdered on the streets of Cairo. It was an immediate recall. They are now looking at banning some importations and trade dealings with Cairo. Our representatives in the European Union should object strongly when arms deals, such as were recently concluded between France and Egypt, go ahead without any objection. This is an appallingly brutal regime with a significant record of breaching human rights, where prisoners have no rights. Should anything happen to Ibrahim, should he not be released, should he be tortured or found damaged in prison, be it on the Minister's head and that of the Government because not enough is being done to secure his release.

I assure the House that the Government formally supported an application made by the legal team on behalf of Ibrahim Halawa in 2015 for his return to Ireland under Presidential Decree 140, as referred to by the Deputy. This was done by way of formal diplomatic notes and by our embassy in Cairo at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 February 2015, in consultation with the family and its legal representatives. The Government intends to lend its full support to a further request for release under Presidential Decree 140. We will continue to work in support of these efforts.

UK Referendum on EU Membership

I will not bother asking the question because it has been dealt with repeatedly in the last session.

Question No. 31 replied to with Written Answers.

Human Rights

Mick Wallace


32. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on reports that at least 60 civilians have been shot in 2016 by Turkish soldiers while attempting to flee Syria via the Turkish border; if reports of this nature will have any impact on Ireland's approach to the European Union-Turkey refugee deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19225/16]

Deputy Wallace thanks the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating my asking this question. He is on his way back from a funeral in England. This again relates to the EU-Turkey deal. I do not believe it was ever a safe place for refugees or a good deal, but given the number of civilians who have been shot by the Turkish authorities attempting to flee Syria, does the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, not think that it is now time to rip up the deal and argue for a more humanitarian approach?

I am aware of recent reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, including testimony from migrants and witnesses that some Turkish border guards have used violence against Syrians. I learned with deep concern of the death of 11 refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border on 19 June. I am also aware that the Turkish Foreign Ministry has refuted allegations that the refugees were shot by border guards, saying that Turkish security forces "act fully within the legal framework". These reports are very worrying. While Turkey has a right to secure its border with Syria, all actions on the part of Turkey must be in line with international law, including international humanitarian law.

More broadly, the issue of human rights in Turkey has been raised by the Taoiseach at meetings of the European Council and continues to form an integral part of the country’s enlargement process, which we, along with our European partners, keep under close review. At the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 May, I reiterated Ireland’s concerns in respect of the rule of law, human rights and freedom of the media in Turkey and the need to hold Turkey to account to the core European values inherent in the accession process.

The core intention of the agreement which emerged from the March European Council was to break the business model of the people smugglers who are profiting from the suffering of the vulnerable. In particular, it aims to discourage the victims of people smugglers from risking their lives. The very significant decline in the number of people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek Islands since the agreement entered into force suggests that it is achieving its aims.

The need for the agreement to comply with EU and international law was a key concern for very many EU member states, including Ireland. The legal advice of the EU institutions and the Attorney General’s Office was that the terms of the agreement were not in breach of EU or International law.

The EU and Turkey continue to work together to address this crisis, and I take this opportunity to express my sympathy to the people of Turkey, and in particular to the families of those who were killed in the bombing at Istanbul airport on Tuesday 28 June. I signed a book of condolence at the embassy last week and conveyed our deep shock at this dreadful act to the ambassador.

The Minister is quite correct that the reports are incredibly worrying, but they are unsurprising. The fact that the Turkish regime has denied them or said it was doing everything in accordance with a plan is a bad sign rather than something to take comfort from. The EU is saying: "Tut tut, lads. We're really not too happy with what you are doing here." The problem, however, is that it sends a contradictory message when we continue to do business with them. It is a fact that refugees have been shot, along with arbitrary detention and deportation without due process. By continuing to deal with that, we are complicit in it, and not only in terms of the refugees themselves. It also gives a green light to the Turkish authorities to continue their poor treatment of the Kurdish population. The Minister will know that, according to the UN, Turkish security forces have shot civilians, destroyed infrastructure, carried out arbitrary arrests, and triggered a wave of displacement in their ongoing campaign against the Kurds. By continuing to do business with them, we are giving a green light for that to continue.

As I said earlier, and I think Deputy Daly may have been present, the EU and Turkey have been working together for many months to address what is a hugely challenging migrant crisis. Turkey is hosting an estimated 2.7 million refugees, which is an enormous number for any country. The EU is committed to assisting Turkey and has established a €3 billion facility for refugees there. This facility aims to support Syrians and other refugees by providing access to food, shelter, education and health care. As part of the deal, the EU has also agreed to take from Turkey, on a one-for-one basis, a Syrian refugee for each irregular migrant returned there from the EU.

I acknowledge the fact that there are issues and problems. Instances have taken place recently that are matters of huge concern and I share that concern. I ask the Deputy to consider that the agreement entered into and the manner in which this process is under way are not the actions of an institution intent on outsourcing its problems.

The Minister's fantasy account of support, food and shelter being grand is belied by circumstances which have been highlighted by media outlets that are not the most radical, such as Der Spiegel. They have reported stories about Syrians being brought to Turkey from Greece and taken directly to detention centres. We know that these centres are largely off limits to journalists, aid organisations and lawyers. One MEP who managed to visit one reported that detainees are only permitted to leave their cells for a few minutes every day.

The Turkish regime is brutally undemocratic and vicious. Its treatment of the Kurdish population is reprehensible, not to mind its treatment of refugees. That is an established fact and many of the international organisations which deal with refugees are saying so. The Minister has not done enough to highlight this matter in dealings with his European counterparts.

Under the agreement between the EU and Turkey, each migrant has the right to apply for international protection in Greece, to have his or her application assessed on an individual basis in line with international law, including the right to appeal. Part of the assessment of persons process includes ascertaining whether Turkey can be considered a safe country, given an irregular migrant or asylum seeker's individual circumstances. Turkey has provided a series of formal guarantees as part of the EU-Turkey agreement, including that Syrian refugees returned to Turkey will be granted temporary protection upon return. Non-Syrians in need of international protection who are returned to Turkey will also be able to apply for and receive protection there. On 4 May, the European Commission reported that Turkey has received all those returned from Greece in accordance with the agreement.

I share the concern as evidenced by the Deputy and I wish to assure her that we will continue to monitor the situation. Ireland is one of a number of countries that continues to provide humanitarian aid to the region, which is obviously a priority in terms of the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers and other displaced persons.

Military Aircraft Landings

Richard Boyd Barrett


33. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the numbers of United States of America troops and military hardware that passed through Shannon Airport during the period 2001 to date 2016, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19430/16]

Despite the Minister's previous answers to Deputy Paul Murphy and answers he has given in the past, I would like him to detail the numbers of US troops and military hardware that have passed through Shannon Airport from 2001 to date. The Twin Towers were attacked in 2001 and the war on Iraq followed subsequently. I would like the Minister to address that matter factually, as best he can.

The Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order 1952, made under the Air Navigation and Transport Act 1946, gives the Minister for Foreign Affairs primary responsibility for the regulation of activity by foreign military aircraft in Ireland. Permission must be sought in advance for landings by all foreign military aircraft, including US aircraft, and, if granted, is subject to strict conditions. These include stipulations that the aircraft must be unarmed, must not engage in intelligence gathering, the flights in question must not form part of military exercises or operations and the aircraft must carry no arms, ammunition or explosives.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has primary responsibility for the regulation of foreign civil aircraft in Ireland. Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order of 1973, the carriage of munitions of war through Irish airspace or Irish airports is prohibited on civil aircraft unless an exemption has been obtained from the Minister. In considering applications for exemptions, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport consults with a number of Departments, including my Department. However, the final decision on all applications lies with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to whom any questions regarding the quantity of munitions transported by civil aircraft landing at Shannon Airport should be addressed.

In considering requests for landings by foreign military aircraft, my Department’s primary focus is on whether the flights in question comply with conditions which I have already outlined. These conditions do not include a requirement in relation to the numbers and designation of passengers. Accordingly, my Department does not compile records of the numbers of passengers, including military personnel, travelling on foreign military aircraft.

Any queries regarding the numbers of US military personnel who pass through Shannon Airport on chartered civil aircraft should be directed to my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

This is an extraordinary example of passing the parcel with people's lives. The Minister says that permission must be sought in advance and the final decision, extraordinarily, rests with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, not with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Department of Defence. It is an extraordinary system that allows Ministers to pass responsibility from one to the other without really taking responsibility for 1 million troops passing through Shannon. Even if those 1 million troops do not have arms, ammunition or explosives, although we cannot prove that, they are still going through for a reason. These human beings are being used to engage in war on other people through invasion. The Minister cannot deny that affects decent foreign policy.

I remind the Deputy that prior permission is required for all foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports. Permission is subject to a strict set of conditions and criteria. Bilateral relations between friendly nations are founded on mutual trust and both parties have an interest in maintaining that trust. Details provided by diplomatic missions, including confirmation that aircraft are unarmed and carry no arms, ammunition or explosives, are therefore accepted in good faith as being accurate. In accordance with international practice, foreign military aircraft which are granted permission to land in Ireland are not subject to inspection.

I assure the Deputy that there is a difference between military aircraft and civilian aircraft, hence the division of responsibility between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Defence and Tourism, Transport and Sport. Arrangements under which permission is granted for foreign military aircraft to land at Irish airports continue to be strictly governed by conditions, including that they should at no stage carry arms, explosives or munitions.

They carry soldiers and soldiers carry and fire arms and drop bombs.

The Chilcot report will be released tomorrow, nine years after it was commissioned. Comprising 2.6 million words and having cost £9 million, it will be the second earthquake to rock the British establishment in less than ten days. It will reveal engagement in war by the British establishment, in which, in terms of its co-operation in this area, the Irish Government is complicit. It is hoped that, as a result of this report, Tony Blair will be indicted for war crimes. Should he be so indicted, then the complicity of the Irish Government in allowing troops fly over and land at Shannon Airport will be clear. One million people have been slaughtered as a result of the engagement in the Middle East since the commencement of the Iraq war. We stood in silence this morning for 200 people killed in Baghdad a couple of days ago. The war and the carnage continues and we continue to allow soldiers who carry weapons and drop bombs to land at our airport.

Questions regarding the arrangements concerning the operation of the application process are matters for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, the carriage of munitions of war is prohibited on civil aircraft travelling through Irish air space or airports unless an exemption has been obtained in advance. In considering these applications the Department of Transport seeks the advice of relevant Departments and agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, a decision to authorise or refuse applications for exemptions is a matter for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.

In considering applications made by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, my Department examines the nature of the munitions that it is proposed to carry. My Department will recommend against granting an exemption where the munitions in question are non-discriminatory in their effects.

Unaccompanied Minors and Separated Children

Mick Wallace


34. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts he is making to protect unaccompanied minors who are arriving in refugee camps on the Greek islands and throughout Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19226/16]

By the end of last year there were almost 90,000 unaccompanied minors registered in the European Union. According to the International Organisation for Migration, approximately 30% of the drownings that have occurred involved children. What initiatives is the Minister taking to encourage and facilitate the safe passage and relocation of unaccompanied minors?

I agree with the Deputy that the situation of unaccompanied minors is a distressing aspect of the ongoing migration crisis and there are concerns in this regard in many countries in Europe and elsewhere. While there is an acknowledged problem with the care of unaccompanied minors in parts of Greece, the Greek authorities are working with the UN High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF to provide appropriate facilities for unaccompanied minors. Since the EU-Turkey statement of 20 March this year, new arrivals on the islands, including unaccompanied minors, are taken to the hot spots where their claims can be assessed. If they are found to be admissible under the terms of the statement, they can be taken to centres on the mainland. Up to 500 asylum seekers have already been deemed admissible and moved to the mainland.

The Greek Government, working with the European Asylum Support Office, the UN High Commission for Refugees and other agencies, is currently conducting a mass pre-registration programme in the mainland refugee camps. They hope to pre-register all migrants who arrived in Greece prior to 20 March by the end of July. Once the pre-registration has taken place, the Greek Government will know where it stands in respect of the profile of all asylum seekers - age, family status, nationality, and special needs - and it will be able to devise appropriate responses, including and especially relating to the care and protection of unaccompanied minors.

Ireland has deployed seven rapid responders to Greece and the Balkans since mid-2015 through Irish Aid, our overseas development and humanitarian assistance programme managed by my Department. These experienced specialists continue to provide much needed surge capacity to our UN partners' refugee response operations on the ground, helping to improve both water supply and sanitation services in camps and other settings and the delivery of protection services to refugees, including unaccompanied minors. Three of our responders remain on deployment in Greece at this time.

Deputy Wallace tabled this question in the aftermath of a conversation he had with the Minister in regard to what specifically we might be able to do to help unaccompanied minors following our trip to Calais and Dunkirk. The Minister informed Deputy Wallace that he would contact the UN High Commission for Refugees to find out if we could take any initiatives in that regard.

The British Government, not known to be particularly radical in the midst of the Brexit debate in which there was a lot of anti-immigrant scaremongering, managed during that time to get through the so-called Dubs amendment to its immigration Bill, which will allow between 1,000 and 3,000 unaccompanied minors to be settled there. What has the Minister done in terms of going to Greece, Calais and Dunkirk to seek the putting in place of a process whereby humanitarian visas could be exercised for unaccompanied minors there?

This question has been discussed on previous occasions. What Ireland can do in these circumstances and whether it can take in more unaccompanied minors in response to what is a crisis of huge dimension is an important issue. Tusla, the child and family agency, under the auspices of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, has statutory responsibility for unaccompanied minors. I understand that my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, recently chaired a meeting of the high-level task force established to oversee the implementation of the Irish refugee protection programme, during which an approach to taking in unaccompanied minors, most likely to come from Greece, was discussed in some detail. The task force is designed to deliver a whole-of-government response to the crisis. Following this meeting, the question of an intake of unaccompanied minors under the programme is being considered by Tusla and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. I am informed that high-level contacts are ongoing between the Departments of Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla with a view to progressing Ireland's response to this issue.

In regard to the unaccompanied minors and the Minister's point that they will most likely come from Greece, I take it that he means they are most likely Syrian. Deputy Wallace raised previously with the Minister the possibility of investigating what could be done in respect of the large number of unaccompanied minors coming from Afghanistan. The Irish Red Cross, which acts as an intermediary between residents and Tusla, has received a steady stream of offers from Irish citizens to assist unaccompanied minors and take them into their homes at no additional cost to the State. I do not understand why the Minister has not taken any initiatives in that regard. He indicated to Deputy Wallace that he would write to the UN to find out if something of this nature could be done, given a previous response to the effect that it could not be done. Has the Minister written to the UN, what response has he received and where do we stand in that regard? Why would we not do that? Would that not be the best option?

The response is twofold in so far as there is an EU response and an Irish national response. As stated earlier, the Greek authorities are working closely with the UN High Commission for Refugees and UNICEF to provide appropriate facilities for unaccompanied minors. The European Asylum Support Office is also working closely with the authorities with a view to an appropriate response. In April, the European Commission provided €83 million under an emergency assistance instrument to provide for living conditions for refugees in Greece, with funding being made available through UNHCR.

In the context of the Irish national response, Tusla is expected to respond with formal proposals regarding its capacity to accept an intake of unaccompanied minors under the programme mentioned earlier. Once that response has been received, I understand decisions will be taken speedily.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.