I propose to take Questions Nos. 148, 149 and 154 together.
I have strongly condemned the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northern Nigerian town of Chibok on 14 April by the terrorist organisation Boko Haram. I am also appalled by the reported abduction of a further 11 girls on 4 May. Acts of violence of this nature against school children are completely unacceptable. Through our development policies and programmes, Ireland is a strong supporter of the rights of women and girls, and in particular the right of girls to education.
I have given my full support to the demands of the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and the High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, that the girls be released and that those responsible be brought to justice. I welcome the offers of support to the Nigerian authorities from a number of our EU partners and from the US, to help find the missing schoolgirls. The Nigerian authorities need to accept this support and do everything in their power to secure the safe release of the school girls. I urge the Government of Nigeria to take all appropriate steps to protect their citizens and to ensure that the girls can return safely to their families, and to education.
Our Embassy in Abuja is working closely with our EU partners and others on the ground and maintaining contact with the Nigerian authorities in their efforts to locate and free the missing schoolgirls. At the meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels yesterday, Ministers discussed possible further measures to strengthen Nigeria’s efforts. The EU is already actively supporting the Nigerian authorities to strengthen their capacity to provide security and combat terrorism. An EU support programme to strengthen the investigation and prosecution of terrorist suspects will begin later this month. It will include EU technical assistance to counter violent extremism and radicalisation.
Officials from my Department have also been in contact with the Nigerian Embassy in Dublin to express concern at the ongoing situation to and to request regular updates regarding the actions taken by the Nigerian authorities to recover the abducted schoolgirls.
At the most recent session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva during March 2014, Ireland highlighted recent attacks by Boko Haram during discussions with the UN Special Representatives for Violence against Children and Children and Armed Conflict. Our objective was to draw attention to the ongoing trend of attacks on education around the world and to highlight the importance of ensuring that the right of children to education is upheld during and after conflict.