Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Foreign Conflicts

Clare Daly

Ceist:

43. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will lobby for a full trade boycott and embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia in view of the fact that Saudi Arabia has been deliberately and systematically using starvation as a weapon of war in Yemen since the beginning of its assault on that country in 2015. [3970/19]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

49. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had communications with his counterparts in the European countries that continue to sell arms and provide support to the coalition that is bombing Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4119/19]

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

52. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the assessment he has made of the extent to which arms supplied by Saudi Arabia are reaching terrorist groups in Yemen; the steps he is taking to assist the humanitarian response in Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4134/19]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

75. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is satisfied with the role the UN has played in terms of ending the war in Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4120/19]

We know that Saudi Arabia has been committing war crimes in Yemen since the start of its assault on that country. It has consistently and deliberately bombed civilian targets. Just as significant is the fact that Saudi Arabia has systemically used starvation as a weapon of war in Yemen, a tactic worthy of the Third Reich and one which it employed. Given that Ireland is exporting beef and baby formula to Saudi Arabia, a country that is enacting its own hunger plan on Yemen and actively and deliberately engaging in mass murder through the systemic starvation of a population, is it not about time that we called a halt and imposed a full trade and arms embargo?

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 43, 49, 52 and 75 together, if that is agreed.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I have quite a long answer here so-----

Extra time will be given.

After nearly four years of conflict in this extremely poor country, the lives of millions of people in Yemen are in danger and have been for many months now. In addition to the hazards of war, many have difficulties in accessing food and healthcare due to insecurity and poor humanitarian access. Millions of others are unable to pay for food and medical care even when it is available due to the collapse of the economy under the strains of conflict. This crisis in Yemen is a matter of grave concern and a solution is urgently required.  

The United Nations plays an absolutely critical role in working towards a political solution to this conflict. Ireland and the EU regard the appointment of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in March 2018 as a very positive move. Mr. Griffiths has worked tirelessly to bring the parties together, with EU support. At the very end of 2018, his efforts bore some fruit with the holding of talks in Stockholm between the Yemeni parties. This meeting was the first time in two and a half years that both the Government of Yemen and the Houthi leaders came together to promote the interests of the Yemeni people. However, this is only the beginning of what may prove to be a long and painstaking process. It is expected that the next round of talks will take place in the region. Their success will be dependent on progress made since December and in that regard implementation of the agreements reached in Stockholm will be crucial.  In December agreement was reached on the basis for a ceasefire and troop redeployment in the port city of Hudaydah, the key point of entry in Yemen for the majority of food, medicine and aid. The ceasefire is fragile and both sides have accused the other of breaches but notwithstanding that, it is holding for the most part.

What is needed now is time to allow the agreements to be implemented and space to allow the UN sponsored talks to continue. However, that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing. The UN Secretary General has urged the international community to sustain pressure on both parties as they work together to implement the Stockholm agreement. Careful diplomacy is required to ensure we achieve the best end result for the people of Yemen.

We discussed the situation in Yemen at the EU Foreign Affairs Council last week. The UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has thanked the EU for its support, saying it would not have been possible to reach agreement in Stockholm without it, including reaching out to Iran. However, as my Swedish colleague confirmed to me, what was agreed at Stockholm is fragile and needs EU support to move forward. Therefore, despite these hopeful steps, we should be under no illusion as to the gravity of the situation. After almost four years of conflict, the humanitarian situation on the ground remains dire, with a devastated economy and an almost complete collapse in basic public services exacerbating the crisis.

The UN has a crucial role to play in co-ordinating the delivery of assistance. The UN reports that the gravity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen is exacerbated by the underlying poverty of the country. Even when there is food in shops, people are often unable to afford it. Humanitarian access is also a critical issue and access across Yemen deteriorated significantly in 2018, both in Government and Houthi-controlled areas. Security issues, bureaucratic impediments and delays to humanitarian movements continue to interfere with humanitarian responses.

In terms of humanitarian funding, Ireland has provided almost €17.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen since 2015. This includes a contribution of €5 million to the UN Yemen humanitarian fund in 2018, which provides assistance in areas such as education, logistics, food security, nutrition and health. We plan to make a similar €5 million contribution to the humanitarian fund in 2019. The majority of Ireland’s direct assistance in 2018 was channelled through the UN humanitarian fund for Yemen.

Ireland and Saudi Arabia have a significant economic relationship but our trade partnership does not prevent us from raising human rights concerns through the most appropriate and effective channels. Ireland’s foreign policy has always been based, above all, on the resolution of conflict by dialogue. In many cases, continuing our trading relationships and building on our close ties allows us greater access to key interlocutors who can be influential on foreign policy decisions.

On the question of an arms embargo, I am aware that some EU member states which have arms industries have decided to halt arms exports for the present to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen. A decision at EU level for a full arms embargo on any country would require the agreement of all EU member states but there is currently no consensus at EU level on an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia or any member of the coalition. However, all EU member states have signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty exists to ensure that arms sales do not fuel conflicts and to prevent arms from falling into the hands of non-state actors or terrorists. Ireland’s efforts are concentrated on ensuring the effective implementation of that treaty. 

I reiterate Ireland’s deep concern on this issue. The scale of need on the ground cannot be overstated. While Ireland is contributing what we can to the humanitarian effort, we must continue to push for a lasting political solution that will address the conflict at the heart of this extraordinary human suffering.

Our concern and our stern words have not altered the fact that millions of Yemenis are in danger of death by starvation. The Minister's response which refers to poor humanitarian access and the collapse of the economy due to conflict ignores the fact that these are not accidental by-products. Famine is not a side effect but a deliberate tactic by Saudi Arabia. This is an orchestrated situation. We know, from evidence given, that Yemen's geography is such that to destroy its farmland is something that one must go out of one's way to do. It does not happen by accident. The fact that hundreds of Yemeni fishing boats have been shot to pieces by machine gun fire from Saudi helicopters is not a coincidence. It has to be organised. The blockade of Hudaydah was calculated and organised because it is the only port in Yemen capable of bringing in food supplies from abroad through the overseas humanitarian aid programme. The aid programme was deliberately obstructed by the Saudi bombardment in the area.

It is time to do a lot more than just utter stern words and talk about negotiations. Much more is needed when this deliberate tactic is leading and contributing to people's deaths.

I do not disagree with anything the Deputy said. Much of the focus of the briefing we received at the meeting in Brussels with Martin Griffiths was on the port of Hudaydah in terms of, first, ensuring there was not a massacre there and, second, ensuring that the port could facilitate delivery of aid, medicines and so on. I assure the Deputy the issues in regard to Yemen have been the source of intense discussion at EU level, repeatedly, and interaction with the key UN person involved in trying to ensure that a ceasefire sticks this time. Sweden has played a proactive and helpful role in that and will continue to try to do so. In this instance, Ireland is most effective being part of a collective voice from the European Union rather than demanding to do things on its own. I do not think that would work.

I ask the Tánaiste to conclude. He will have numerous other opportunities to contribute.

As discussed in this House previously, Ireland does not have the capacity to implement trade embargos on its own.

I have two questions for the Tánaiste.

The Deputy should ask both questions in one minute. He may have an opportunity for a supplementary question later.

This is a war of resistance by the people of Yemen against the pillage of their country by global financial capitalism. Mr. Saleh was implementing neoliberal policies and the people were resisting them. He was thrown out and replaced by Mr. Hadi, who, when he ran out of rope, ran away. The war started in 2015. There is zero justification for the Saudi UAE bombing of Yemen, with the support of eight countries, many of which sit at the table with the Tánaiste. This is ludicrous.

On the arms issue, an end-user certificate system exists, which the Saudis and the UAE were supposed to sign up to but are abusing left, right and centre. The guns, arms and munitions being sold to the Saudis in UAE are ending up in all kinds of groups in Yemen. They are on both sides of the conflict at this stage. The Saudis are using al-Qaeda and ISIS to fight the people of Yemen and they are arming them illegally, with no repercussions. Why is Europe not addressing the breach of international law around their use of the weapons that the US, UK, France and others are giving them? Nothing is being done about this. The more guns that go into Yemen, the worse the situation becomes. The only ones losing are the ordinary people of Yemen. It is mindless.

We know what the problem is; the issues is how we stop it. Any country that signed up to the arms trade treaty of 2014 has a legal obligation to ensure that if it is selling arms they do not end up in the hands of non-state actors, of which there are many in Yemen. That is an enforcement issue. Ultimately, we need to focus on the core issue, which is how we stop the conflict, the bombing and the targeting of people and, most important, how we ensure that the ceasefire that exists, which is fragile, lasts such that a political dialogue can be built over time. In the meantime, we are focussed on getting supplies of aid and medicines safely to into communities that desperately need them and ensuring that the millions of euros of support aid committed by countries such as Ireland gets to where it needs to. We can talk about how we got here and what should and should not have happened, on which I know the Deputy has strong views, but in the here and now, we have a ceasefire that is fragile, an agreement that comes out of Stockholm, and we need to try to make it stick.

The Tánaiste said that Ireland cannot go out on a limb on its own and that it is tied to the EU. European countries sometimes take a separate stand. For example, prior to the latest slow walk to a coup in Venezuela, the Spanish Minister was backing Mr. Maduro and giving him a chance to work things out. In the past few days, the French and the Germans declared that if there are no elections within ten days, they will support Juan Guaidó, which is nonsense. There were elections last year in Venezuela, which because the opposition was not in a position to win, it decided to boycott. Before the votes were counted, countries in the EU were saying that the elections were legitimate. There is no logic to it. I find it heartbreaking that Ireland will not publicly support somebody who has been elected. He may not be brilliant but he was elected. Let us leave this to the people of Venezuela and not interfere. It seems Ireland is going to join the other countries in this regard; likewise, in Yemen. How can we continue to trade with Saudi Arabia in light of the sanctions or boycotts we have in place with other countries? How do we justify this? The Israelis are shooting at will through a fence and the Saudis are starving people to death and we think it is okay to impose sanctions on other countries and not these countries? Will the Tánaiste explain that?

The Tánaiste spoke about how best Ireland can be effective. The problem is that Ireland and the EU have not been effective. For example, last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the starvation of civilians in war time and particularly on behalf of the Yemeni civilians but they are still starving. That is the point. They are starving as a result of deliberate, orchestrated tactics by Saudi Arabia, which have occurred with only a verbal reprimand. The EU - and Ireland in particular because last time I checked we were a sovereign nation that has the right to make policy itself - should make a stand against the trade and sale of our beef and baby formula to war criminals who use their might to ensure that ordinary civilians die in other countries. This would be far more effective because the tactics we have used up to now sadly have not worked.

In the same vein in regard to our diplomatic missions to states that have demonstrated poor standards and approaches to human rights and, similarly, states we do very little trade in and with, how can the Government justify the visit of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to Cuba as part of the St. Patrick's Day diplomatic missions? The Tánaiste will be aware that such missions are an opportunity to sell Ireland abroad. Traditionally, these missions have been to countries with which we trade significantly.

The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, should be sent to Saudi Arabia.

It has been reported that this is a personal request by the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath and that Mexico was added to the visit to make it present better. How can the Government stand over sending a Minister of State to Cuba given all that has happened over the years in terms of how it approaches human rights and the fact that we do little international trade with it?

On Yemen, we would be very foolish not to follow the advice of Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy. He is the person from whom I take our lead in terms of what we do and say. We have had a number of engagements with him at an EU level. The focus was very much on Stockholm for the end of last year to try to bring the parties together, to try to get a basis for a ceasefire and to try to ensure that we avoided what many regarded as a likelihood slaughter in the port of Hudaydah. We are trying to make progress on that. This is where the focus should be in reaching a political solution.

On the questions raised by Deputy Niall Collins, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is going to Cuba and to Mexico after that. The truth is one does not cut out countries from which one has a different political perspective in terms of diplomatic missions. Cuba is changing. The relationship between Cuba and Ireland is improving. That does not mean we agree with the political approach in Cuba on every issue. We do not. It is a legitimate exercise and we will visit 56 countries in total, if one takes all the ministerial visits. There will be a big emphasis on the EU for obvious reasons around Brexit and solidarity.

We are also increasing our presence in Latin America and South America. We are two opening to embassies this year, one in Santiago and one in Bogota. We have a growing trade relationship with Mexico and have had good engagement with the new government. We need to visit a broad perspective of countries and that is the context of Cuba being on the list.

Trade Agreements

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

44. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the UN recognised representative of the Saharawis has stated that it will again take a case against an EU-Morocco trade deal to the European Court of Justice (details supplied); if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that the EU and member states continue to ignore this ruling; his views on the December 2016 ECJ ruling that established that Western Sahara is separate and distinct from Morocco; and if he has raised the continued neglect of this ruling with EU officials and his counterparts in other EU member states. [3963/19]

On 16 January the European Parliament voted to agree that a new trade deal between the EU and Morocco will be applied to Western Sahara. This was despite the fact the Court of Justice of the European Union, CJEU, in December 2016, ruled that Western Sahara is a separate and distinct territory that cannot be included in EU-Moroccan agreements unless the people of Western Sahara give consent to this. They have not consented to this. Can the Minister outline why the EU supports this deal extending to Western Sahara and why we are ignoring the rule of the CJEU?

The EU-Morocco agreement on reciprocal liberalisation of trade entered into force in 2012. This agreement was the subject of a legal challenge at EU level and in December 2016, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that the EU-Morocco Association Agreement and the liberalisation agreement between the EU and Morocco did not apply to Western Sahara.

In May 2017, the Council authorised the European Commission to open negotiations with a view to providing a legal basis to grant preferences to products originating in Western Sahara. Last year, EU member states agreed to sign the proposed new agreement and the European Parliament gave its consent earlier this month.

Ireland has consistently emphasised that any amendment to the existing agricultural agreement with Morocco must be consistent with the December 2016 judgment of the CJEU. My Department has received assurances from the European Council legal service that the new agreement fully respects both international law and the Court of Justice of the European Union's judgment.

In addition, the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional, pending the resolution of the dispute through the UN, and in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. The agreement is entirely without prejudice to the position of the EU on the question of sovereignty over Western Sahara.  In other words, there is nothing in the terms of the proposed agreement or its protocol which would imply EU recognition of Morocco’s sovereignty or sovereign rights over Western Sahara.

Ireland and the EU recognise the United Nation’s classification of Western Sahara as a non-self-governing territory. We fully support the ongoing UN efforts to assist the parties in reaching a lasting political resolution to the dispute in Western Sahara. The personal envoy of the UN Secretary General for Western Sahara, Horst Köhler, has conducted extensive stakeholder consultations in recent months. These consultations resulted in a round table meeting on Western Sahara in Geneva in December last with representatives from Morocco, the Polisario Front, Algeria and Mauritania. I welcome this meeting and I hope that it will lead to the renewal of the negotiations process. This is the only path towards a sustainable resolution of the conflict which is mutually acceptable and provides for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara.

The people of Western Sahara have not given their consent to this deal. In fact, the UN-recognised representative of the Saharawis is the Polisario Front. Not only has it not given its consent but it has indicated that it will take a fresh case to the CJEU to try to block this deal. The CJEU ruling was clear. It said the EU would violate EU law if it included the territory of Western Sahara into a trade agreement with Morocco without the prior consent of the people of Western Sahara.

Instead of asking the Saharawis for acceptance or prior consent, the European Commission undertook a consultation process as to how it wanted an EU-Morocco agreement to benefit the populations. My concern, and that of others, is that it would benefit illegal Moroccan settlers and not the indigenous Saharawis. Some 94 Saharawis groups have condemned the EU for its negotiations with Morocco and this fake consultation. There was no discussion. The rapporteur of the consultation report, Ms Patricia Lalonde, MEP, had to resign her position before this report came to the floor of the European Parliament. It was found that she was sitting on the board of a Moroccan lobby group. There was no consultation or discussion with the European Parliament. Does the Minister accept we are sending the wrong message in relation to this deal?

I answered some of those questions in my reply when I said that the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional, pending the resolution of the dispute through the UN in accordance with the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council.

It is also important to say that in February 2018, the European Commission and European External Action Service, EEAS, conducted a wide-ranging consultation with key stakeholders in Western Sahara with a view to ascertaining their views on the proposal. This consultation process concluded that a majority favoured amending the EU-Morocco Association Agreement to extend its tariff preferences to products from Western Sahara, primarily due to the expected benefits in terms of the economic development of the region. It is true to say, as the Deputy said, that the Polisario Front did not wish to take part in the consultation process and together with a number of NGOs expressed negative views on the proposal to amend the agreement. I understand the criticisms were primarily motivated by concerns that the tariff preferences would maintain the status quo in Western Sahara which they consider to be under Moroccan occupation.

The issue here is one of consent. Considering Ireland's historical position in regard to Western Sahara and the illegal occupation by Morocco, it is a sad day that we are supporting this. I find it astonishing that we seem to completely ignore how this disagreement violates the EU's own rules and the judgments of the Court of Justice of the European Union. On the one hand, we say we support these rules but on the other, we seem to be moving ahead on this. It does not add up. The people of Western Sahara have not given their consent to this deal but it would appear to be moving ahead despite that lack of consent. The primacy of trade over human rights and the development of the people in this region is completely wrong.

I understand the Deputy's concerns but the information I have is that there was a consultation process and that there were people in Western Sahara, who were part of that consultation process, who wanted to see the extension of the trading arrangements to Western Sahara. It is true to say that Polisario Front did not involve itself in that consultation for the reasons the Deputy outlined. That is why I say the proposed amended agreement is understood to be purely provisional pending a resolution of the dispute through the UN. We are looking for a resolution to this dispute. We support the UN's position on Western Sahara. In the meantime, there was a consultation on trading arrangements that involved Western Sahara, so there are conflicting priorities and views here. I do not believe it is quite as simple as the Deputy makes out.

Brexit Issues

James Browne

Ceist:

45. Deputy James Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed with his UK counterpart the issue of border checks on trucks originating here and arriving in the UK from Rosslare Europort but plan to travel onwards to another country within the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3777/19]

Has the Minister discussed with his UK counterpart the issue of border checks on trucks originating here and arriving in the UK from Rosslare Europort which plan to travel onwards to another country within the EU?

The Government’s preparedness and contingency planning for Brexit has from the start included issues relating to the continued effective use of the UK landbridge. This is a priority for the Government given its importance for Irish exporters and importers as a means of access to the rest of the Single Market, particularly with regard to agrifood products. This is an important issue with regard to protecting the competitiveness of our producers and ensuring continued unhampered access to the EU Single Market.

Retaining the effective use of the landbridge post Brexit has been discussed at both political and official level with the UK and the EU. As a result of these contacts, the importance of maintaining the landbridge has been recognised through the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland in the draft withdrawal agreement. This reaffirms the commitment of the UK to facilitate the efficient and timely transit through the UK of goods moving from Ireland to another EU member state or another country, or vice versa.

To this end, I welcome the EU's agreement that the UK may join the common transit convention upon its departure from the EU and that a number of the formal steps to allow this to happen have been completed. The UK’s accession to the common transit convention will play an important role in ensuring Ireland’s access to other EU member states via the UK landbridge. Work is also progressing with the European Commission and affected member states with regard to the Union's internal transit procedures and infrastructural solutions at EU ports to facilitate transit post Brexit.

As the Tánaiste knows, the UK landbridge is strategically important for Ireland's economy. Two thirds of our exports to the Continent, comprising 3 million tonnes or €100 billion worth of trade in 150,000 trucks per year, go over the landbridge. The UK exit from the EU will obviously complicate that. As the Tánaiste stated, the UK has signed up to the common transit convention but it is my understanding that agrifood products and live animal products are not covered under the latter. The Tánaiste might clarify whether that is the case. He might also clarify what will be the role of non-Irish citizens driving trucks. For example, if a Romanian or a Polish national is driving an Irish truck, will he or she still be covered under the common transit convention in order to access the UK landbridge? Will he also address the congestion that may be faced by trucks at Dover, as I understand this has still not been resolved? Will he confirm whether he has raised the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his counterpart in the UK?

There were several questions there. In simple terms, the common transit convention effectively means that if one seals a container in Dublin and it is going to France, Belgium or the Netherlands, it should be able to be transported across the British landbridge and back into the Single Market without being checked. While it may have to be scanned while passing through, the goods should not have to be checked. That is what we are trying to achieve in order that Irish trucks will not be treated as coming from a third country outside the EU and re-entering the Single Market. That is what should be facilitated. Of course, it is not as straightforward as that because if the connectivity between the south coast of England and the EU Single Market through France in particular, but also the Netherlands, is not as seamless as it is today, then Irish trucks will get stuck in that traffic and they will certainly not be facilitated to skip the queue easily. We have spoken to our French counterparts about trying to differentiate between goods that originate in the UK and those that originate in the Single Market in Ireland and then come back into the Single Market to ensure that Irish trucks, where possible, do not get stuck in the same parking and inspection systems as British trucks.

I asked four questions. The Tánaiste only touched on one of them. I will repeat the other three. Does the common transit convention apply to agrifood products, fish products and live animals? What is the position of non-Irish drivers driving trucks through the UK landbridge under the common travel convention? Rosslare Europort was established under the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company by UK statutory instrument in 1898 and is effectively still controlled by the UK Government. Has the Tánaiste raised the ownership of that? I have asked this several times as a parliamentary question in written form.

Is the Deputy asking whether I have raised the ownership of Rosslare Europort?

Yes. Rosslare Europort is owned by the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, established in 1898 under a UK statutory instrument. Its future is effectively controlled by the UK Government, which could dissolve that company in the morning if it wanted to. It might like the idea of having a port still in the EU after Brexit. Has that been raised? I have asked this question numerous times in written form and it is probably an official from the Department who has been answering it. This is an important issue and I would like a reply in respect of it.

I will have to come back to the Deputy on the ownership issue because I do not have an answer to that.

If live animals move between these two islands today, 10% of them need to be checked because we manage animal disease on an all-island basis. Therefore, even moving within the Single Market as it is today, some checks are required, and that is unlikely to change in the future in terms of disease management. I would hope there will be veterinary agreements in place between the EU and the UK in the future which would keep those checks to a minimum. However, the container traffic travelling on the back of trucks should be able to be sealed and not have to be reopened and checked between Ireland, as part of the EU Single Market, when travelling across the UK as a landbridge and then back into the Single Market again.

Foreign Policy

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

46. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the two Catalan civil society activists and seven Catalan politicians that remain imprisoned in Spain (details supplied); and if he has raised the continued detention of the persons with his Spanish counterpart. [3966/19]

Six former Catalan Ministers, the former speaker of the Catalan Parliament and two civil society activists remain in prison on politically motivated charges relating to the Catalan independence referendum that took place in October 2017. I have just come from the audiovisual room where the former Catalan President, Carles Puigdemont, addressed Deputies and Senators. He is living in enforced exile along with four other Ministers and is facing charges. Is the Tánaiste concerned that these political prisoners remain in pre-trial detention? Has he raised the issue with his Spanish counterpart or his colleagues within the EU?

Constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters that are best determined by its citizens and their public representatives.

Such arrangements must be determined within the framework of the constitution and the rule of law which have underpinned democracy in Spain over the past 40 years.

I have raised it with my Spanish counterpart - in fact, it was with the previous Minister before there was a change of Government, when there was huge tension in Catalonia. The Government continues to follow with interest developments in Spain, a country that is an important EU partner and friend of Ireland. I welcome the increased engagement between the Spanish Government and the regional authorities in Catalonia.

I am aware that judicial proceedings are under way and a number of individuals are awaiting trial.  As these matters go before the courts, it would not be appropriate for me to comment politically in respect of them.

This goes back to an earlier discussion in terms of raising the question of where is the EU's collective voice and the condemnation of the violence, the state repression, the attack on polling stations, the attack on voters and the jailing of politicians and civil society activists. Does this not concern Ireland and the EU? Where is the talk of sanctions? I listened to what the Tánaiste stated in the context of these matters being before the courts. That approach is interesting in view of the fact we are celebrating Ireland's independence, when many of the Irish leaders were in prison. The people who are in jail believe in democracy and are non-violent but the Spanish response has been repression and the closing down of debate and the media. The use of violence has come from the state, not from those who are jail. I accept that it is before the courts but Ireland and the EU need to do more in this regard. Yes, we are concerned about what is happening in Poland and Hungary, but we should also be concerned about what is happening in Spain.

The Government continues to follow with interest developments in Spain. However, constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters that are best determined by its citizens and their public representatives. As stated, such arrangements must be determined within the framework of the Spanish constitution and the rule of law, which have underpinned democracy in Spain for the past 40 years.

The embassy in Madrid maintains contact with Spain's national and regional authorities, including Catalonia, on an ongoing basis.

This is a political issue not a legal one. The Spanish Government must enter into meaningful dialogue with the Catalan Government to find a political solution. After what I heard today, people are saying that the dialogue is not happening and that is what is missing. Those people should not be before the courts on charges of rebellion. The Spanish state needs to stop using the Spanish police and the Spanish legal system to attack the Catalan independence movement, which has a legitimate political demand. All of us in this Chamber must raise our voice in support of our Catalan counterparts. We cannot ignore this important issue of democracy and human rights. Will the Minister ensure the Department sends observers to the upcoming trials of the Catalan political prisoners?

I do not think this issue is necessarily as Deputy Crowe presents it. Catalan independence remains a deeply divisive and contentious issue in Spain. It is a legal and constitutional issue. Deputy Crowe is simplifying a complex issue. The Spanish Government is willing to open dialogue with the regional government. As another EU member state, we must respect the constitution of another country. While we have always sought and advocated for a political solution to this issue, which has caused a lot of tension, as we would expect other countries to respect us, we must respect the Spanish constitution.

Brexit Issues

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

47. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the further preparation that has been made for the various possible outcomes (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50419/18]

Alan Farrell

Ceist:

56. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he is taking to prepare legislation for each possible eventuality which may be necessary in response to Brexit. [52794/18]

Question No. 47 in the name of Deputy O'Sullivan is grouped with Question No. 56 in the name of Deputy Farrell. As Deputy O'Sullivan is not present, according to Standing Orders, Deputy Farrell can pose the question.

This question has been somewhat overtaken by the publication of the heads of the Brexit Bill last week. However, I am interested in hearing about the numerous policy areas the Bill will cover in preparation for the event of Brexit. I also wish to hear the Minister's view on whether the legislation will prepare us for every eventuality, given the uncertainty in Westminster today and no doubt in the coming weeks.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47 and 56 together.

The legislation itself is a big challenge, logistically, for this Parliament. There are nine Departments involved in contributing to the legislation, including the Department of the Taoiseach. Essentially, there will be 17 pieces of legislation in one omnibus Bill. We hope to publish the Bill on 22 February. The legal draftspeople are working overtime to try to get it done. We have given them the heads of the Bills from each of the nine Departments. What this is about is legislating for a worst case scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal, without proper contingency planning and without a transition period, which is what everybody wants to create the time and space to be able to put permanent solutions in place. In that scenario we must protect our own citizens in a practical way.

We must make sure that trains can continue to travel between Dublin and Belfast under a new environment because they will be travelling out of the EU into a third country and back in again. We must ensure that British students can continue to come to Irish universities in the way that they do today and that Irish students can continue to go to British universities and get the kind of financial supports that they get today. We must continue to ensure that children in Belfast who are being brought to Dublin for specialist paediatric care can continue to do that in a way that is catered for in law, and that in the same way the many patients from Donegal who go across the Border into Altnagelvin hospital will get the same kind of treatments. We must ensure that people in Ireland who get pensions that are paid for by the British Government, and people who get pensions in the UK that are paid for by the Government continue to be able to hold onto their incomes in a way that is seamless after 29 March. There are lots of practical areas to be addressed.

Secondary legislation is also required to deal with issues such as the recognition of a British driver's licence in Ireland. Those are all things we take for granted when we share a Union together, when we share a Single Market, and when we all operate to the same rules base and the same series of directives.

The Minister has taken two and a half minutes for his reply.

We need to compensate for the absence of that certainty which all of us have taken for granted for most of our lives.

I must have some order. I call Deputy Farrell for his first supplementary question.

Given that the heads of the Bill have been published, there is a lot of meat to be put on the bones prior to having a meaningful debate on this matter. As Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Children and Youth Affairs I am concerned about such issues as intercountry adoption and education. Those areas are of great interest not just to the committee but to the general public. There are concerns over the time the Government has set out for the passing of this legislation. The intention is to get it through the House in two weeks. I accept the necessity to plan in advance but I am concerned over the likelihood of full co-operation by all Members of the House in order to expedite the passage of the Bill. The Bill then has to go through the Seanad, which is an entirely different matter. It would be worthwhile to arrange for a debate on this matter on or about the 22 February or at least to have statements involving the Minister and other Ministers on the progress of this matter.

The Deputy will have another opportunity to contribute.

I understand that we are asking for a lot in this regard. We have asked the Business Committee to agree that we would waive pre-legislative scrutiny for this legislation. In return, I am very anxious to meet the Chairs of all the relevant committees in the areas that relate to the omnibus Bill. If necessary, we will facilitate sending officials into the committees, if Members so wish, to give full explanations and to tease out what is being proposed. We can do that in advance of the Bill being published because we know what the heads are. We can do a lot of the groundwork before 22 February so that everybody understands what is in the Bill. Much of it is straightforward but there are some more complex areas where questions will arise and Members may wish to table amendments, which we will consider. I will make myself and officials available to committee chairs and, if necessary, we can offer that the people who put the legislation together can address the committees, but what I do not want is to send the Bill to seven or eight different committees when it is published because I do not think we could complete it in the timeline that is needed.

I call Deputy Farrell for his final supplementary question.

I appreciate the Minister's response. There is nothing in the draft Bill that relates to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. That is not to say it will not affect children, especially in terms of intercountry adoption, the potential for interruption to education streams and also in healthcare. I would be interested to hear if there is a specific part of the legislation that will cover matters relating to the Department or Children and Youth Affairs or whether it will just relate to the Departments of Justice and Equality and Health. I would welcome the opportunity outlined by the Minister to meet with officials from his Department or from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to discuss the omnibus Bill.

We must move on to the Topical Issue debate.

There is a range of areas. Even though the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has not been directly involved some of the measures may impact on children. I refer, for example, to child benefit payments for people living in Northern Ireland who may have been working south of the Border, who receive payments in the North.

We could take a detailed look at the legislation and if the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs wants to follow up it is no problem for us to provide the briefings needed.

The next item is a Topical Issue debate raised by Deputies Gino Kenny and Richard Boyd Barrett on the planned increase in value added tax, VAT, on food supplements, including vitamins. We await the arrival of a Minister.

Who is the Minister?

The Minister must be on his way.

We will give the Minister an opportunity to arrive.

The next question is Deputy Gino Kenny's.

If the Tánaiste wishes to take it, he can.

I am happy to take it while we are waiting for the Minister.

If Deputy Kenny will forfeit his 30-second introduction, the Tánaiste can answer his question and Deputy Kenny will have one supplementary question.

I am glad to have the opportunity to answer this question.

We have to be pragmatic now and again.

Human Rights Cases

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

48. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he will take to request that the authorities of a prison (details supplied) lift the ban on freedom of prisoner movement and association within the prison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3899/19]

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

90. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the recent attacks on prisoners in a prison (details supplied) by Israeli prison administration and military forces, including the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, sound grenades and police dogs; if he will raise the attacks with the Israeli authorities and request they cease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3898/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 90 together.

Prisoners' issues are among the human rights issues which my Department follows in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict and raises with the Israeli authorities both bilaterally and through EU-level contacts. We have paid particular attention to the questions of administrative detention, treatment of minors and the increasing use of prosecutions to suppress legitimate protest. Ireland also provides funding to the Palestinian NGO, Addameer, which monitors and works on prisoner issues. We have also raised some of these issues internationally, including at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Of course, my officials do not, and cannot, follow up every allegation of mistreatment received. The incident referred to was a large-scale search of the prison for contraband material. Little is known about it in detail, although I am aware of allegations of mistreatment. I know that Deputies have seen the same material, which was circulated by the Palestinian mission.

It has been reported that Israeli authorities have consciously decided to introduce a tougher regime in the prisons in recent weeks, including restricted conditions for prisoners and ending the separation of prisoners from opposing factions. I have no basis as yet to comment on this or on the specific allegations referred to by the Deputy. Prison searches and other measures are not unknown in other jurisdictions. However, I have not seen any security or practical rationale for such a change in policy, or any reference to similar changes being applied to Israelis who are imprisoned. Issues to do with prisoners are always sensitive for both Israelis and Palestinians, and for obvious reasons they have the potential to have a wider political impact outside the prisons.

I am also acutely conscious that similar and indeed worse criticisms could be levelled at prison conditions in many Middle Eastern countries. However, it is obvious that Palestinians imprisoned by Israel should have the same conditions and protections as Israel considers proper for its own citizens in detention.

I thank the Tánaiste. It is important that this issue be flagged. The prison in question is the Ofer Prison. It is one of the most notorious prisons in the occupied West Bank. There are 1,200 Palestinian prisoners there at the moment who have been incarcerated without trial. There are also 180 child detainees in the prison. As the Tánaiste referred to, more than 150 prisoners were injured last week, some with rubber bullets. At the moment a hunger strike is taking place in response to the actions of a special forces unit called the Metzada unit. The unit is a quite brutal force of the Israeli Prison Service. The Tánaiste should signal to his counterpart in Israel that human rights abuses by the Israeli authorities should not be acceptable under any terms. I would appreciate if the Minister could convey that.

As the Deputy knows, I am very interested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as are many Members of this House. We debate it regularly here and I take questions on it regularly. We do raise human rights concerns about conditions in prisons, particularly for minors. I have raised it both in Israel and in other fora, and I will continue to do that. I do not have the full details on this case so I must be careful not to make statements I cannot fully back up. The broader question of conditions in prisons, which impacts on the broader political environment, is something we follow closely.

It is just as well we took the question. Otherwise we might have had to suspend.

Let us just let it roll. I can come up with a few questions.

Let us talk about Venezuela.

What is the Topical Issue matter?

It concerns planned VAT increases.

If I had a reply, I would read it out for Deputies but I do not have it.

The Minister is missing.

If Deputies will give me two seconds, I will see if he is available.

He is probably on the vitamins.

Do we know which Minister it is?

I am not sure. It is one of the Ministers at the Department of Finance.

It is probably Deputy Michael D'Arcy. I will make sure the relevant Minister comes in straight away.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.