Overseas Development Aid Provision

Ceisteanna (37)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

37. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the expected percentage of official development assistance, ODA, and gross national income in 2020 following the recent budget 2020 allocation of just under €21 million; his plans to ensure that the 0.7% target is reached by 2030; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53292/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I will certainly try to adhere to the Acting Chairman's request. I ask the Tánaiste the expected percentage that ODA will be of GNI in 2020 following the recent budget 2020 allocation of just under €21 million and to outline the Government's plan to ensure that the 0.7% target is reached by 2030.

The Government allocated almost €838 million for ODA in budget 2020. This represents an increase of almost €21 million on the 2019 allocation and the sixth consecutive year in which allocations to ODA have increased.

Based on the Department of Finance budget day forecast for GNI in 2020, we expect the ODA-GNI percentage to be in the region of 0.31%.

The Government is firmly committed to making incremental, sustainable progress towards achieving the UN target of 0.7% of GNI to ODA by 2030. Reaching 0.7% will require a significant expansion in ODA volumes over the next decade and difficult choices will be required between competing priorities, particularly if economic circumstances change.

It is essential that the planned growth in ODA is managed effectively and in a manner that ensures optimum progress in advancing our development objectives. To that end, we are looking to grow capacity and systems to ensure that we can further increase ODA contributions in a responsible way while maintaining the high quality for which Ireland’s development co-operation is known internationally.

There you are, 45 seconds just there.

Budget 2020 allocated €20.8 million for ODA, an increase of 2.5% from 2019, resulting in a total ODA package of €837 million. I recognise that budget 2020 was framed in the context of Brexit. As a result, I welcome the increase in ODA. Information released under freedom of information regarding budget negotiations indicates that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated in an email to the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform that in order to remain at the Government target of 0.31%, Vote 27 will require an increase of €50 million and that it recognises, in this difficult economic situation, that further increases in the Government's ODA percentage will be very difficult but requests that the Departments agree a roadmap to reach the Government's commitment of 0.7% by 2030. The email suggests including specific reference to this in the Budget Statement. As far as I am aware, despite the requests from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister for Finance did not refer to a roadmap in the Budget Statement. What prospect is there of putting in place a roadmap for this issue?

Both the Tánaiste and I are anxious to see a roadmap put in place. There is no question about that. We have made several references to it in the past. Thankfully, when one speaks about this subject at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, there is absolute consensus among all members that this is the direction in which we need to go. Last year's increase to the ODA budget was the largest in a decade. This year's increase was somewhat less substantial in the context of competing domestic priorities, most prominently with regard to a possible no-deal Brexit. In the context of that very challenging financial environment, the allocation of €830 million to ODA remains a significant budgetary commitment by the Government to international development. We are well on our way there. We are anxious to reach that goal of 0.7%, which would push us towards €2.5 billion in spending per annum. The earlier public engagement process that led to the publication of our new international development policy in February, A Better World, included a number of significant meetings throughout the country. Thankfully, there is also consensus among the general public that this is the right thing to do. Nobody need have any fear. The Government and all of the political parties represented here are determined that we reach that 0.7% target.

In pre-budget negotiations, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought reference to a roadmap in respect of ODA in the Budget Statement but it was not forthcoming.

Will the Minister of State commit to working with relevant stakeholders to develop a realistic and workable roadmap that will set out steps as to how this objective will be achieved? The fulfilment of this ODA target represents an essential commitment, on which the poorest nations depend. Several other countries have met this target and we must actively strive to do the same. I think I know what the Minister of State's answer is going to be, namely, he would like to work with all the parties to bring about this roadmap and to achieve the target, but perhaps he might confirm that.

As I said, we have seen the sixth annual increase in our ODA budget, with the largest ever increase last year. I would argue that is a strong indication of the Government's intent in this area. As I said, we have absolute consensus that this is the direction we need to go in. Let us assume and hope that, in the context of a post-Brexit scenario, where a little bit of certainty is restored to our public finances, we can then begin to collectively work towards such a roadmap.

Citizenship Status

Ceisteanna (38)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

38. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a report will be provided on his latest meeting with a person (details supplied) regarding the person's legal challenge in relation to the citizenship provisions of the Good Friday Agreement; if he will report on the developments in the case; if the possibility of providing financial support will be examined to ensure the person can continue the person's legal challenge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53317/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Tánaiste met Emma DeSouza yesterday in Belfast. I tabled the question to get an update on his Department's support for Ms DeSouza's legal challenge and whether it is examining the possibility of providing financial support to ensure she can continue her legal challenge.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I met Emma and Jake DeSouza yesterday to discuss their case, along with political representatives from three different political parties, which is very encouraging. This was a very constructive meeting and we agreed to remain in ongoing contact as the Government engages with the new British Government to secure a satisfactory solution.

Citizenship and identity provisions are central to the Good Friday Agreement and it is vital that they are upheld. Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and this is provided for and protected under the Good Friday Agreement. The decision of the tribunal in the DeSouza case on 14 October does not define the extent of the British Government’s obligations under the agreement. In the Good Friday Agreement, the Governments "recognise the birthright of all the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish or British, or both". It, therefore, includes an explicit right to both Irish and British citizenship, and an explicit right of people to identify and be accepted as Irish or British, or both. Sensitive and generous approaches by the British Government are needed to ensure this is meaningfully provided for in law.

The Taoiseach has raised the DeSouza case with the British Prime Minister and will do so again. I have discussed the matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on a number of occasions, including yesterday, when we met in Belfast. In February, then British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, acknowledged the serious concerns in this area and pledged to "review the issues around citizenship urgently to deliver a long-term solution consistent with the letter and spirit" of the agreement. I have written to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the British Home Secretary to formally ask that this review be urgently concluded to provide an outcome that is consistent with the letter and spirit of the agreement.

I found Emma DeSouza to be a really impressive individual yesterday, and she is very well informed in regard to what she is trying to do. This is a test case for many other people as well, and she sees it as that. That is why we will continue to work politically with our partners in the British Government to try to get an acceptable resolution to this issue.

I welcome the fact the Tánaiste met yesterday with Emma and Jake DeSouza and a number of political representatives. I acknowledge and commend his work on the case up to now. The Tánaiste's comments that no one should have to go to court to assert their rights to be identified as Irish or British citizens, and their right to be respected, are also welcome and bring clarity from the Irish Government to this case.

This rights case goes to the heart of the citizenship section of the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement is crystal clear on the terms of citizenship. Emma DeSouza is an Irish citizen and it is unacceptable that she should have to go to court to prove it. I know the Irish Government's support is appreciated but, given the fact the British Home Office continues to drag Ms DeSouza through the courts, continued Irish support and defence of the rights of Irish citizens is vital. It would not be unprecedented for an Irish Government to support an Irish citizen who is trying to assert his or her rights. I again appeal for the Irish Government to do whatever it can in this regard. It is long past time the British amended their laws in regard to citizenship provisions. We all know citizenship and identity provisions are central to the Good Friday Agreement.

The Tánaiste has raised the case with the British Government. What does he believe should happen next? What is the next step we should expect from the British Government?

In regard to legal costs, I explained to Emma DeSouza yesterday that for the Irish Government to essentially fund a legal case in another jurisdiction for an Irish citizen would set a precedent that, as I think she understands, would create difficulties. Therefore, while we want to support Emma and Jake DeSouza, I believe the best way we can do that is through political influence and conversation with the British Government.

My relationship with the Secretary of State, Mr. Julian Smith, is very good. I know this is a decision that may well be taken by other Cabinet members in the British Government. Certainly, there was the commencement of a review mechanism under then British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, and we would like to see that review concluded and providing a successful outcome. While I do not think the Irish Government should be prescribing how the British Government does this, certainly, the Irish Government, as a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, has a responsibility to make sure people who were born in Northern Ireland and want to be considered as Irish should not be prevented from accessing entitlements and rights that everyone in Northern Ireland should be able to access as a result of that identity. We will continue to pursue this issue until it gets resolved.

As the Tánaiste knows, the Court of Appeal in the North has granted Emma DeSouza's application to appeal and she is due before the court on Friday of this week. The ongoing legal battle has been a huge financial strain on the DeSouza family and they are currently fundraising online to help raise funds for the legal case. They have had to make huge financial sacrifices. I am aware the Oireachtas justice committee has agreed to write to the Tánaiste to explore practical support for Emma and Jake DeSouza in the context of the Irish Government being co-guarantor. What practical support can the Irish Government give this family? Despite the warm words and promises from the British Government, it is actually using its taxpayers' money to challenge Ms DeSouza's Irish citizenship and a core premise of the Good Friday Agreement in the courts.

It is practical support that is needed and I do not think it would be unprecedented to provide it. I know of other court cases the Irish Government has taken in the past to assert citizen's rights. It would be helpful to the family. Collectively in this House, we are looking for practical ways to offer support. Particularly given the fact the Irish Government is co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, this is one way of practically supporting them.

The most practical way to support Emma and Jake DeSouza is to get a political outcome that solves this problem, and that is what we are going to continue to work to do. I understand the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is also producing a report on this case and it will be published around 16 January. That will be an interesting read. There is activity to try to resolve this case. The best way we can help Emma DeSouza is to resolve this politically in the short term, if we can, so that she does not have to continue to pursue her interests in the courts, which is an expensive and risky process for her financially, and I can totally understand that. We had a good discussion on this yesterday. I said we would keep in contact with Emma and Jake DeSouza, and we will. Hopefully, we will be able to try to make some progress on this issue in the short term to bring an end to the need for ongoing legal challenge.

I intend to take seven more questions before 12 noon, with the co-operation of Members. On behalf of the seven Deputies in the Chamber, I will take it upon myself to write to Santa Claus if they all co-operate with me and we get through the seven questions. I will ask him to be particularly kind to you all. I call Deputy Aindrias Moynihan.

Passport Services

Ceisteanna (39)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

39. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will consider installing passport printing facilities at the Cork passport office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53389/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (11 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I will try to keep to the allotted time. I am seeking to have the widest possible range of passport services made available to people in County Cork and the southern region such that, for example, they do not have to travel halfway across the country to Dublin to get a passport in an emergency, and then travel back to Cork. I understand the passport reform programme has been considering various efforts. Is it considering the provision of passport printing facilities in Cork?

Given that I am from County Cork, this is a particularly pointed question, which is fair enough.

The Passport Service of my Department is one unified service composed of three constituent offices located in Lower Mount Street and Balbriggan in Dublin and South Mall in Cork. It operates three passport printing machines, two of which are located in the main production facility in Balbriggan, County Dublin, with another in the Passport Office in Lower Mount Street, Dublin. Passport applications from citizens residing in Ireland or elsewhere in the world are distributed for processing across the three Passport Offices. All passport applications are processed through the centralised automated passport service system. All production facilities can print a passport, irrespective of the channel through which the application is processed. The printing system allows for flexibility between printing machines if any one machine has reached capacity. Each passport printer has a printing capacity of 250 passports per hour.

The purchase cost of a new passport printing machine is in excess of €1.7 million, excluding the cost of security, maintenance, technical fit-out, staffing or rental costs. Given the current capacity for printing and the costs involved, installing further passport printing facilities in the Passport Office in Cork is not required at this time. I am satisfied that the printing capacity of production equipment currently employed by the Passport Service is sufficient to meet the current and anticipated future demand for passports. There are no plans at this time to commission additional passport production equipment or sites.

The Passport Office in Cork can facilitate the issuance on the spot of an emergency passport where there is an urgent need to travel for medical reasons or due to a bereavement abroad. In the relatively small number of non-emergency cases where citizens require a rapid turnaround on their passport application, applicants can either book an appointment at the Passport Office in Dublin and have the application processed that day, or book an appointment for the Passport Office in Cork and have it processed within three working days.

The Tánaiste summed it up in his last few words: if one is dealing with the Passport Office in Dublin, one can get a passport on the day of the appointment, but if one is dealing with the office in Cork, one must wait three days to get a passport. In the interests of balanced regional development, I am seeking that a service be made available such that people would have access to the faster turnaround and be on an equal footing. It should not be all Dublin-based. We should explore the possibility of having services distributed throughout the country. Cork is the only Passport Office outside Dublin and it does not have a printing facility. The purchase of new machines is not necessary, although it is an option. Alternatively, the existing machines could be moved. There are several ways of dealing with this issue and I am not calling for one particular solution but, rather, that we ensure there is a faster turnaround in Cork. Has the passport reform programme looked at the possibility of having additional printing facilities in Cork?

One of the first questions I asked on my return to the Department after visiting the team at the Passport Office in Cork, who do a fantastic job, was whether we can extend printing facilities to Cork. I asked my officials to consider that possibility. We looked at cost, as well as the printing capacity in the existing locations. We have three printers across two locations in Dublin. As I outlined, the numbers in respect of providing printing facilities in Cork did not add up. People have lobbied me for a passport office in Northern Ireland, given the number of people seeking passports there. More than 80% of applications to renew or access a first passport are completed online and, as such, the system and its efficiency do not rely on the location of the printers. We need to keep the matter under review. I am not saying "No" indefinitely but, rather, that the current capacity is sufficient and the Passport Service is running efficiently. If there is a genuine emergency, people can get an emergency passport at short notice in Cork.

I point out to the Tánaiste that Cork Airport has continued to grow and support the wider region. It has gone from 2.1 million passengers in 2015 to 2.4 million in the past year, with further connectivity to a hub in the Netherlands, as well as Paris. People want to use the south, including Cork Airport, as a gateway to travel around the world. Having a passport is crucial to such travel. In the event of an emergency or the fast turnaround, the Tánaiste stated that it takes three days to access a full passport in an emergency or fast turnaround situation-----

In the case of an emergency, one can access a passport straight away in Cork.

There are two different types of passport, the standard passport and the one-journey passport. If one needs an ordinary passport in a hurry, it will take three days to get it from Cork. One-journey passports are available in the case of a bereavement or other unfortunate incident. To have the fullest possible service in the regions instead of it all being Dublin-based, the Tánaiste should be making every effort to improve the service in Cork. I acknowledge he raised the issue with his officials, but the passport reform programme should give further serious consideration to this issue.

It is not all based in Dublin. If a person in Cork, Waterford or Kerry needs to travel in an emergency, he or she can get an emergency passport on the spot from the Passport Office in Cork. If a person wishes to travel for reasons other than an emergency, there is a turnaround time of three days for those who need a passport quickly. We have managed to achieve a situation whereby normal passport renewals completed online are returned within a week. We have put in place a very efficient system. I take the Deputy's point that sometimes people make a legitimate mistake by not checking their passport when due to go away and, as a result, need a fast turnaround time. Some people need to drive to Dublin to get a passport. It is not true to say that one cannot get a passport in Cork on the spot. One can do so if there is a genuine emergency. We are putting systems in place that are far more efficient than was previously the case. Turnaround times are far faster. That is the reform programme on which we have been focusing rather than trying to place printers in various parts of the country to try to service everybody locally, which would have a knock-on consequence in terms of efficiencies. I am not saying "No" forever regarding printing in Cork. The reform programme we have implemented in the past two years has focused on turnaround times for everybody.

Sadly, I am not getting the co-operation I sought. I ask Members to put their questions as quickly as possible.

It is important that when one is in the Chair, as I have been on many occasions, one implements the timeframes for all Members from the start.

Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (40)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

40. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on the outcomes of his meeting in November 2019 with the Scottish First Minister, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Alister Jack, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Ms Fiona Hyslop, and the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Professor Michael Russell; the co-operation he envisages for Ireland and Scotland during 2020 and post Brexit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51470/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I wish the Tánaiste all the best with his discussions in Belfast. A few weeks ago, he met the other Taoiseach in these islands, the Scottish First Minister, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, and the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Alister Jack. I understand they established a bilateral view on areas of co-operation. Obviously, everything has changed since the British general election and, clearly, Scotland will be moving towards independence. What kind of co-operation can we expect between Ireland and Scotland?

On 13 November, I travelled to Edinburgh for a series of high-level meetings, including with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, whom I have met several times in Dublin. I engaged with the Irish community there and economic partners, as one would expect. I also met the Cabinet Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations and was honoured to address parliamentarians at an event in the Scottish Parliament hosted by its Presiding Officer, Mr. Ken Macintosh.

The purpose of these engagements was to build on the strong cultural, political, economic and community ties that exist between our two countries. The visit took place in the context of a strategic review of Irish-Scottish relations, which I announced jointly with the Cabinet Secretary, Ms Hyslop, at the beginning of November. This review will examine the relationship between our two countries to identify current collaboration on matters devolved to Scotland and how we might build on this to enhance our overall relationship. This is a unique exercise in that it is the first time we are undertaking a review of this kind of joint co-operation with another jurisdiction. From my meetings in Edinburgh, I came away with a strong sense of the interest in, and appreciation for, our bilateral relationship. Through our consulate in Edinburgh, established 21 years ago, and the Scottish Government Hub in Dublin, we have worked intensively to deepen that understanding and collaboration. I am confident that this review will result in a joint report with recommendations and will contribute significantly to strengthening that relationship for the future.

Brexit, and the EU-UK future relationship discussions to follow, will undoubtedly present some challenges for our bilateral relationships with the UK as we work with EU partners to secure the best possible outcome for Ireland and the EU. Strong and close relationships with the UK Government and individually with the devolved Administrations will be of ever-greater importance during this time and in the years ahead.

Our relationship with our sister country of Scotland is a unique one. It was the Men of Ulster, or Ulaidh, who first established the Scottish kingdom. Throughout the Middle Ages, Irish people were referred to as "Scots". What practical steps will happen in terms of co-operation? I know that the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, are establishing a joint health forum. The Scottish have a national health system, because they have Scotland's NHS. What can happen in a practical way in that area? Scotland has an outstanding track record in education. The Tánaiste might have seen recently the University of St. Andrews was given the title of the best university in the world. The Scottish have a separate legal system as well. Scottish MSPs and civil servants attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Budgetary Oversight. They told us about their innovative programme for gender budgeting and other initiatives. What definitive help will we give to them, particularly in the context of us being an independent member of the European Union and their hope to have the same status?

It is important not to confuse two issues, namely, the aspirations some in Scotland hold for independence and what this review is trying to do. Regardless of the future of Scotland, this review is focusing on areas of co-operation that involve devolved powers for a devolved government in Scotland as opposed to anything else. It is important not to create expectation on some of these issues.

The review will comprise three parts: an external mapping exercise aimed at detailing current government-to-government co-operation and where it can be grown; a round of external consultations with stakeholders focused on looking beyond government in the areas of business and the economy, community and diaspora, academic and research links, culture, and rural, coastal and island communities - working together and learning from each other; and a public questionnaire aimed at garnering the opinion of the public on where the relationship can be enhanced and developed into the future. We will have the results of that review in the medium term, in the next couple of months. That will have clear recommendations, and I look forward to implementing those.

I welcome the review. The Minister mentioned the islands. In terms of language, there will be discussion on a language Act for the North in the coming days, but Scotland is a country that has a native language that is virtually the same as our own native language. Will there be any particular developments in that regard? We know of BBC Alba and how close the two languages are in that whole cultural area, but there is also closeness in the economic area. Before our success with foreign direct investment, the Scots had Silicon Glen and were ahead of us on IT.

We are a member of the European Union and we have to remember that we facilitated West Germany to bring East Germany into the Union. I think states like Catalonia and Scotland are hoping to, and there may be a situation down the line - we will call it the Catalonia question - where they may want to enter the European Union. Perhaps that is something that we as existing members of the European Union should be thinking about post Brexit.

I have a huge personal affection for Scotland. I worked there for a while after being a student. I lived in a little mining town called Armadale for six months. I also worked in Edinburgh. Scotland has so much in common with Ireland. We want to be supportive and we want to develop an even closer relationship, with a structure around that relationship, for the future. We want to be a partner to Scotland. We want to do that in the context of the overall relationship between Britain and Ireland. That involves complex political management, for obvious reasons, in the context of Brexit and the political pressures right now in Scotland. We want to be supportive and a good neighbour, but we also, for the first time, want to put a structure around areas where we can co-operate on a bilateral basis in a way that is constructive for both sides.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (41, 46)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

41. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on violations of human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong; the further steps he and his EU colleagues will take, including sanctions attached to EU-China trade agreements, to promote democratic values in China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52647/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

46. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the position of Ireland on the continuation of violence in Hong Kong in the name of democracy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53197/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have asked the Tánaiste many times in the past year or two about the situation in Xinjiang in China, where up to 1 million Uighur people are being kept in concentration camps, and what actions we were taking with our European partners in that regard. The horrendous fate of the Uighur nation was recently highlighted by the great German footballer, Mesut Özil. I also ask about the future of Hong Kong and what supports we are giving to pro-democracy groups there.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 46 together.

Ireland, along with our EU partners, is closely following developments in China, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. As I have stated on several occasions in this House in recent weeks, Ireland and our European partners remain deeply concerned about the credible reports of the treatment of ethnic Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region, including arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance and restrictions on freedom of religious belief. We have raised our concerns with our Chinese counterparts in both bilateral and multilateral contexts, and, along with EU partners, we continue to do so. 

Ireland was one of 23 states to sign up to a joint statement on this issue at the UN General Assembly Third Committee on 29 October. This statement called on the Chinese Government to implement urgently eight recommendations relating to Xinjiang made by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, including refraining from the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and members of other Muslim communities. In July this year, Ireland was one of 22 states to sign up to a joint letter at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This letter expressed concerns about credible reports of arbitrary detention in large-scale places of detention as well as widespread surveillance and restrictions. The letter called on the Chinese Government to uphold its international obligations to and respect for human rights in Xinjiang.

The issue has also been raised at EU level, both bilaterally and in multilateral fora, including at the EU-China summit and EU-China human rights dialogue in April this year. During the dialogue, the EU noted that while actions to counter terrorism are essential, these actions must respect the principle of proportionality, fundamental freedoms and international laws.

The Government is also closely monitoring the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. I am concerned, in particular, about the violent confrontations that have taken place. I welcome, however, that the district council elections were held on 24 November without incident and call on all parties to respect the election results. I also welcome recent moves towards an inclusive dialogue from the Chief Executive, Ms Carrie Lam, and the Hong Kong authorities.

With regard to the protests, Ireland fully supports fundamental freedoms such as the freedom to assemble and the right to peaceful assembly. As I have noted previously in this House, Ireland has consistently called for these freedoms, which are provided for in Hong Kong’s basic law, to be upheld. While the protesters' right to peaceful demonstration should be respected, we should not condone violence. Dialogue and engagement rather than violent actions will provide the best outcomes for the people of Hong Kong. At the same time, I continue to call on the police to exercise restraint and proportionality in its response.

Ireland fully supports EU statements on developments in Hong Kong, the most recent of which was released on 18 November by the then High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Federica Mogherini. This statement recalled the EU's support for the one-country, two-systems principle and reiterated the EU position that restraint, de-escalation and dialogue are the way forward. It called for confidence-building measures, including an inclusive and sincere dialogue, reconciliation and community engagement and for a comprehensive inquiry into the violence, use of force and the root causes of the protests.

At a bilateral level, officials in my Department have engaged with the relevant Chinese authorities to convey our concerns, including with representatives of the Hong Kong Government. Along with the EU office and representatives of other EU member states in Hong Kong, we will continue to engage regularly with Hong Kong authorities on this matter and to convey our support for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the protests.

Ireland and the EU will continue to monitor developments and engage with Chinese authorities and like-minded partners in bilateral and multilateral fora to address these concerns.

It is good to hear that our ambassador to China and the consul general in Hong Kong have been proactive on the matter. It seems clear that the Chinese authorities are not adhering to the basic law and the 1997 agreement, which was to last for 50 years. It is effectively an international agreement but China is disregarding it. The recent local elections mentioned by the Minister demonstrate the vast bulk of the 7 million people in Hong Kong want independent and democratic institutions.

The Minister mentioned the UN General Assembly Third Committee, which found reports of detention of large numbers of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. They were being held for long periods without trial and there was mass surveillance that disproportionately targeted ethnic Uighurs. We had a ludicrous statement from the Chinese authorities yesterday or earlier today that 1 million detained Uighurs have now graduated from these camps. The current position is untenable and outrageous.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There has been a lull in the severity of the violence and ongoing tension but it is obvious that there was an outbreak of violence on a smaller scale last weekend. There was a very disturbing report that on previous occasions first responders and other medical staff were detained by law enforcement agents while they tried to provide assistance to the injured. As the Minister indicates, the values supported by the Hong Kong protestors included freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest, and these have been seen as threats to the Hong Kong Government.

We can see what has happened to Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in China so we cannot really hold much hope that the Chinese would respect the democratic will of the people in Hong Kong, as we saw in recent election results. A great deal depends on China but I do not have too much faith in its respect for democracy.

These are two really serious matters and in some ways separate questions would probably be justified. Ireland is trying to use the influence we can bring to bear in the international fora in which we operate. Within the United Nations we have been both vocal and, I would like to think, quite courageous when many other countries were not signing a joint statement at the UN General Assembly Third Committee. Ireland decided it would do so because we wanted to be part of the process of shining a spotlight on this matter.

It is important to say that our relationships with China are probably better than they have ever been. My relationship with the Chinese ambassador is very good. I met the Chinese foreign minister this week, albeit briefly, in Madrid. From my experience, the way to get results and use influence is through political engagement. That is what we will continue to do.

The oppression in east Turkmenistan, as I believe some of the Uighurs call it, is ongoing. We have a report today that Han Chinese are being sent to every household in the country to continue a level of oppression. How can we deal with a country that seems to have a network of concentration camps? That is a clear point.

The Minister said he had signed these two major international letters on the matter. Is it not time to start thinking about sanctions? The Minister has correctly said that trade between China and the entire European Union has grown exponentially. We are using Chinese phones and other equipment. Is it not time to talk seriously about sanctions and major steps to address the oppression of the Uighurs, who are the majority in their state, and the people of Hong Kong?

Although ours is a small voice, we are respected and there is more we can do. It is good to hear that the Minister met the Chinese foreign minister and that he has a relationship with the ambassador here. It is about keeping these matters on the agenda. The demands of the protestors are things we would take for granted here. They include the withdrawal of the word "riot" and unconditional release of arrested protestors without charge, as well as an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage. There has been no real concession on the part of either Ms Lam or the Chinese Government; it is extremely unlikely that such a concession will come.

We have heard from China the way in which the Chinese media have portrayed what happened in Hong Kong. It certainly did not give a true account that the protestors were seeking democracy. We must be a stronger voice but I know trade is probably dictating our response.

It is not true to say that trade dictates our response. It is true that we have an increasing trade relationship with China but we have trade relations with many countries which, at times, have had questions to answer in respect of human rights. We have raised those questions. Ireland needs to continue to be courageous in raising these matters, shining a spotlight on parts of the world where uncomfortable questions arise and conversations need to take place. The way to do this is not to jump immediately to calling for sanctions but rather to seek engagement. My experience with China and Chinese ministers is that they are more than willing to engage in conversations that may be uncomfortable as long as it is done in a respectful rather than threatening way. That is the approach we continue to take, and it does not mean that we do not raise matters at international forums which force people to have uncomfortable conversations. It is a really important role for Ireland to play.

Middle East Peace Process

Ceisteanna (42)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

42. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made at European Union and international levels to advance a two-state solution and to prevent the ongoing and systematic expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53294/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Foreign)

I ask the Minister to outline the efforts being made at European Union and international levels to advance a two-state solution and to prevent the ongoing and systematic expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

I thank the Deputy and I am glad we got to this question. As some people who know me will be aware, I have given a high priority to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the past two years and I have worked consistently to maintain an international focus on the matter and support for the two-state solution.

From 2 December to 4 December 2019, I undertook a three-day working visit to Israel and Palestine, which encompassed a wide range of engagements in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Gaza and Bethlehem, as well as a visit to an Israeli community close to Gaza. This was my fourth visit to Israel and Palestine in the past two years. I met senior representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as UN officials from United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA; the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, UNTSO; and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR.

At the previous meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, FAC, on 9 December in Brussels, I briefed EU foreign ministers on my visit. In following up the matters I raised, the FAC will discuss the Middle East peace process in more detail at its next meeting in January, and I look forward to participating in that discussion.

I remain engaged with the small group of participants who gathered in Dublin in February of last year to consider how best to encourage a move towards a just and durable peace.

The Israel-Palestine conflict featured in several of my discussions and meetings during the high-level week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, including my meeting with a senior White House adviser, Mr. Jared Kushner. In that meeting, I clearly conveyed Ireland's encouragement for any efforts that can bring about genuine progress, made clear Ireland's support for the long-agreed parameters of a two-state solution and communicated Ireland's well-known views on the expanding settlements in the West Bank. All settlement activity is illegal under international law. Ireland's view represents the settled international consensus. I have been unequivocal about this in public statements when the question of settlements has arisen.

I will continue to ensure the Middle East peace process remains high on the Irish foreign policy international agenda.

(Interruptions).

I ask for a little silence. I notice sometimes that the noise level in the Chamber increases from 11.30 a.m. onwards. I ask Deputies to respect the person asking the question and the Tánaiste, who is trying to reply.

I did not realise that I would be allowed to ask a supplementary question.

We will allow one such question because it is Christmas.

I thank the Acting Chairman. What is the Tánaiste's view on the initiative that has been taken by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, Mr. Jean Asselborn, to start a debate at EU level on Palestinian statehood? Does the Tánaiste support the initiative? He may be aware that Mr. Asselborn has suggested that the EU should have a greater involvement in this matter. What is the Tánaiste's view on that?

I would also like to ask the Tánaiste about the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, which is before the Oireachtas. I am aware that there are different legal interpretations of this Bill. At the very least, it has shone a light on the need to do something to try to address the imbalance in power that exists between Israel and Palestine. I wonder whether the Tánaiste has anything to say about the progress of the Bill.

I am strongly of the view that the EU needs to take a more proactive approach to make progress with the achievement of a peaceful and sustainable solution to a conflict that has been going on for far too long. The EU needs to defend the two-state solution as an outcome of that process and to stand up for international law and its interpretation. As a result of my efforts and those of the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Luxembourg, a comprehensive debate on how the EU might be able to do these things more effectively will take place at the next FAC meeting on 17 January 2020.

The Deputy probably knows my view on the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018. I do not believe there are "different legal interpretations" here. The Attorney General's legal interpretation is crystal clear. Ireland should not do this. Legally, it cannot do this. I understand the frustrations of people about the lack of progress with the Middle East peace process. I understand why this Bill has emerged, but I do not believe it represents the right approach. My views on the legality and consequent appropriateness of this legislation are clear and on the record.