Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 14 to 31, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 32 to 42, inclusive, answered orally.

Middle East Peace Process

Ceisteanna (43)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

43. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 10 December 2019 marks five years since Dáil Éireann unanimously passed a motion to formally recognise the State of Palestine; if the issue is being examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53316/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I have given a high priority to the Middle East Peace Process since my appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and have personally been very engaged in efforts to keep the issue high on the international agenda. Earlier this month I visited Israel and Palestine for the fourth time in the last two years. I have also consistently engaged on this issue at EU and UN level. In February at Farmleigh, I hosted important discussions on the MEPP with a small group of EU and Arab foreign ministers, with whom I continue to discuss how we can contribute to the process of delivering a lasting peace.

The Programme for Government states that Ireland will “honour our commitment to recognise the State of Palestine as part of a lasting settlement of the conflict.” Successive Governments have seen recognition coming in the context of an overall peace agreement. In the context of widespread frustration at the lack of political progress towards an agreement, and not least in light of the views expressed by the Dáil and the Seanad in 2014, we have discussed here in the Oireachtas the question of whether the formal recognition of Palestine, in advance of its full achievement on the ground, would be a helpful step in advancing a resolution of the Israel- Palestine conflict.

One of the many factors bearing on this question is the importance of assessing whether recognition now would positively affect the peace process or merely be viewed as a symbolic gesture, swiftly overtaken and surpassed by events on the ground. Recognition by Ireland outside the context of an overall peace agreement would also undoubtedly affect Ireland’s ongoing influence on the Middle East Peace Process at EU and international level, and it is imperative that such a step would not diminish Ireland’s impact without delivering a commensurate benefit for the Palestinian people.

I have stated that I will be ready to recommend immediate recognition to the Government, if and when I believe it would be helpful in achieving our objective of a free and sovereign Palestinian State, or advancing the peace process in that direction. I have taken a conscious decision not to recommend recognition at this time, as I am aware of how it would negatively impact on the good access we have had to date with all parties, and on our capacity to influence the situation. I would ask the Deputy to trust my judgement, given my personal commitment on this issue.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (44)

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

44. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the gravity of the recent human rights abuses committed by the Government of Bahrain; and the reason a joint statement will not be introduced at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2020 to address the gravity of the abuses. [53209/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The human rights situation in Bahrain remains a matter of concern. Although progress has been made in certain areas, there continue to be instances of violations of fundamental freedoms, including the targeting of human rights defenders.

Respect for human rights is an integral part of Ireland’s foreign policy and we consistently seek to raise our concerns on human rights issues through the most appropriate and effective channels. Our active participation at the UN Human Rights Council is particularly important and Ireland regularly raises the case of human rights in Bahrain at that forum, both in national statements and in our support of EU Statements.

Our principled stance on human rights feeds into our bilateral dialogue. When I met the Bahraini Foreign Minister at the UN General Assembly in New York in September, I made a point of raising the human rights situation directly with him, expressing the hope that we can have an open and honest discussion on these issues. In addition, officials from my Department meet regularly with advocacy groups and Bahraini human rights defenders to discuss the situation in Bahrain.

Since 2012, Ireland has signed five joint statements at the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Bahrain, which expressed concern on a number of fronts including the mistreatment of detainees and the arbitrary deprivation of nationality without due process. No decision has yet been taken on national or EU interventions at the next session of the the Human Rights Council, which will commence in late February 2020. When planning for this session, we will consider carefully which priorities to set, with a view to focusing the weight of Ireland's efforts, and the Council's attention, on the most grave and troubling situations globally.

Ireland will continue to monitor developments in Bahrain, and to call on the Bahraini Government to deliver on its stated commitment to make progress in relation to human rights. We shall do so both directly with Bahraini officials, as well as at EU and international level, including at the Human Rights Council, whenever opportunities arise.

Human Rights

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (45)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

45. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the recently published report by an organisation (details supplied) and its statement that the rule of law should respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly; his further views on the report in the context of Catalan political prisoners and their rights on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly following on from the Catalan independent referendum in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52869/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government follows closely developments in Spain and I am aware of the report to which the question refers.

The freedom to express competing views is essential in any democracy, but differences of opinion must be contested with full respect for the law and the rights of all citizens.

The rule of law is a cornerstone of all modern democracies and it underpins the functioning of the European Union just as it underpins our own democracy in Ireland. Citizens and their elected representatives should, of course, be free to work to change laws but this must be through the appropriate constitutional channels.

The Government’s position is that the constitutional and political arrangements in Spain are matters to be determined by their own citizens, through their own institutions and in keeping with the rule of law.

The balance between the freedom to demonstrate and the need for law and order must be protected so that people can go about their normal lives. That is why the Government continues to support a resolution to the current situation that is based on democracy and the rule of law.

We respect to the separation of powers in Spain, as we do in Ireland, and so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the judicial process involving any individuals there.

The question of independence is deeply divisive in Catalonia. It is important that the voices of all Catalans are fully heard and represented, including those who do not support independence.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 41.

Ministerial Meetings

Ceisteanna (47)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

47. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to meet the new Prime Minister of the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53384/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Taoiseach and I, and our colleagues in Government, look forward to meeting with the new UK Government in the coming weeks. The Taoiseach spoke with Prime Minister Johnson on Friday last and they will meet in person as soon as is possible. For my part, I look forward to meeting with my counterpart, the UK Foreign Secretary, early in 2020, to discuss mutual interests and shared global challenges.

I have been working very closely with one UK colleague - the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Julian Smith - in the last number of days. We are resolute in our determination to see the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement but time is very short, and so we are working hard, with the political parties in Northern Ireland, to find agreement. This is a matter of utmost urgency, and one on which Irish and British partnership is, and will continue to be, vital. The overall relationship with the newly elected UK Government is a top priority for both myself and the Taoiseach. Given our joint stewardship of the peace process, our people-to-people relations, and our economic and trading relationship, it's clear that we will need to establish and maintain close, collaborative relationships with our UK counterparts now and for the coming years. We need to ensure that the “habit of cooperation” that has developed through so many years working side by side as members of the European Union is maintained following the UK's departure.

Regular engagement, facilitated by existing structures like the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and the British-Irish Council, will be key in this regard. We will also discuss with the UK as soon as is possible whether new structures for cooperation between Dublin and London will also be required.

I and my colleagues will also continue to engage closely with the devolved administrations in both Cardiff and Edinburgh in order to strengthen relationships between and within these islands at every level, in what will be a new and challenging context.

Brexit Preparations

Ceisteanna (48)

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

48. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of Brexit preparations that his officials have informed him of. [50345/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The Government has been actively preparing for Brexit for more than two years to make sure that Irish citizens and businesses are as ready as possible for all scenarios. This has the highest priority across Government, and involves every Government Department and key Agencies, in tandem with the EU.

Actions we took during this time included passing key legislation to protect our citizens and support the economy, enterprise and jobs, in key sectors. We held over 1,200 stakeholder preparedness events across the country. The Government invested in the physical and ICT capacity at our ports and airports. We contacted over 102,000 businesses that traded with the UK in 2018 and 2019 and provided a wide range of business supports for enterprise and the agri-food sector including training and financial supports. All this work was supported by a broad range of TV, radio, print and social media information campaigns.

The Contingency Action Plan Update published by Government in July 2019 provided a comprehensive overview of no deal Brexit preparations and mitigation measures. Since the extension of the Brexit process, first to 31 October 2019 and then until 31 January 2020, this work has been further developed and refined.

Following the UK General Election and Prime Minister Johnson's stated intention to proceed as soon as possible with ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement, the risk of a no deal exit on 31 January 2020 has been considerably reduced. However, it remains the case that, until the ratification process is completed, a no deal scenario cannot be formally ruled out and our preparedness work continues.

Brexit of any kind will mean change for Government, business and citizens. The level of this change will be dependent on the status of EU-UK negotiations at the end of the transition period.

Given the range of possible outcomes, the Government will continue its preparedness and contingency planning work during the transition period. The planning already undertaken and lessons learned to date from our no deal preparations will remain valuable. A number of areas will require ongoing attention as they will be affected in any Brexit scenario. These include ongoing work to upgrade infrastructure at our ports and airports, business readiness for different scenarios including supports for the most impacted sectors and ensuring Irish exporters can continue to use the Landbridge effectively.

UN Security Council

Ceisteanna (49)

Seán Haughey

Ceist:

49. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the status of efforts to secure a seat on the UN Security Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53293/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

The expected date of the election for the two available seats in the Western European and Others Group for the UN Security Council term 2021-2022 is June 2020. Canada and Norway, who are committed members of the UN and important bilateral partners of Ireland, are also competing for seats. Ireland last served on the Council from 2001-2002.

In making our case to the 192 other Members States of the UN, we are focusing on Ireland’s consistent record at the UN during more than six decades of active membership, in particular in the areas of peacekeeping, sustainable development, humanitarian action, disarmament and human rights. More broadly, we have sought to highlight the values and principles that underpin Ireland’s foreign policy and will characterise our contribution to the work of the Security Council. At a time when it is under pressure, the importance we attach to securing a seat on the Security Council demonstrates to our international partners Ireland’s strong commitment to the multilateral system.

As we enter the final phase of the campaign, we can expect our competitors to intensify their lobbying efforts. All appropriate regional, multilateral and bilateral engagements are therefore being utilised to give profile to our candidature. In September, I travelled to the 74th session of the UN General Assembly with the President, the Taoiseach and other members of the Government. Our programmes included a significant number of bilateral meetings with senior representatives of other States and Governments, where our strong case for a seat on the Security Council was pressed. Earlier this month, my attendance at the 26th Ministerial Council of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) presented an important opportunity to brief counterparts from across the European neighbourhood on Ireland’s candidature. I also attended the meeting of EU and Asian Foreign Ministers in Madrid this week and promoted Ireland's candidature in my meetings with counterparts.

This campaign is a priority for the Government. The Taoiseach, I as Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministers and Ministers of State across Government - and our officials - will continue to engage intensively with international partners to ensure success in what is a very competitive election.

Human Rights

Ceisteanna (50)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

50. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if the details of the proposed new legislation to create a EU human rights sanction regime that were discussed at the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 9 December 2019 will be provided; the way in which the new legislation will operate; his views on the legislation; and the timeline for the legislation to be completed. [53315/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

At our meeting on 9 December, EU Foreign Ministers discussed the proposal, first introduced by the Netherlands in 2018, to establish an EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. Over the last year, the proposal has been discussed at working level in the EU. These discussions have focused on the intended objective and scope of the proposed regime, and how to ensure its compatibility with existing, geographically based, sanctions regimes.

At our meeting on 9 December, Foreign Ministers concluded that there is now sufficient support for the initiative to move forward. The High Rrepresentative and VP, Josep Borrell, will task the EU External Action Service (EEAS) to produce a non-paper to commence the process.

I intervened in the discussion to support the establishment of a new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime. I believe it will be an important addition to the EU's human rights toolbox. Ireland will be engaging actively in the discussions at EU level in the coming months which we hope will result in the formal establishment of the new regime and we look forward to receiving the EEAS non-paper.

A key goal should be to deter and prevent human rights abuses from taking place. We will also want to ensure that the regime is fully compatable with, and complementary to, existing geographic sanction regimes.

Middle East Issues

Ceisteanna (51, 60)

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

51. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if a report will be provided on his recent trip to Israel and Palestine; the persons he met; the issues discussed; the new proposals he will undertake in order to provide support to a two-state solution and an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel. [53318/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Murphy

Ceist:

60. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the content of his discussion with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel; and if they discussed the recent plans by the Government of Israel to build a further illegal settlement in Hebron. [53210/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 60 together.

From 2-4 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 visiting an Israeli community close to Gaza. This was my fourth visit to Israel and Palestine as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I met with key representatives of the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as UN officials from UNRWA, UNTSO and OHCHR.

On the Israeli side I met Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Katz. In both meetings, I set out Ireland’s deep concerns about the impact of the continuing occupation, including the situation in Gaza, settlement construction and the demolition of properties in the West Bank and actions taken against Palestinians in East Jerusalem. I also raised Ireland’s concerns about the erosion of civil society space, and the importance of ensuring that there are no impediments to the holding of Palestinian elections.

I had a frank discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu about actions taken by Israel over recent years which are jeopardising the viability of a two-state solution and thus the prospect of a just and lasting solution to the conflict for both peoples. I specifically raised comments he had made about annexation of the Jordan Valley. I also raised Ireland’s well known view that settlements are illegal under international law. Although I am very conscious of the specific impact of the settlement announcment in relation to Hebron, given the gravity and extent of settlement activity, I focused on giving strong messages on Ireland's opposition, as a matter of principle, to all settlement activity. I stressed the urgent need to address the unsustainable situation in Gaza.

On the Palestinian side, I met with President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Dr. Saeb Erekat, Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. I also met with the Palestinian Minister for Education, Dr. Marwan Awartani, and signed a memorandum of understanding which outlined Irish support for the Palestinian education sector, and met with Minister Mazen Ghuneim, head of the Palestinian Water Authority. In these meetings I conveyed the importance the Irish people attach to the resolution of the Middle East Peace Process, something that has been a priority for me personally since I took office, supported the intention to hold elections, and discussed how Ireland and the EU can play a constructive role in the MEPP.

During my visit to Gaza, I met with secondary school students from an UNRWA school in Jabalia, where I saw first-hand the impact of Ireland’s commitment to supporting quality education for children. I also met with senior UNRWA officials and discussed the humanitarian situation in the Gaza strip and the operational challenges facing the agency. I was pleased to announce that Ireland will provide an additional €2.5 million in funding this year to support the delivery of these core services, bringing Ireland’s total support to UNRWA in 2019 to €7.5 million.

I also visited the Northern Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment (NGEST) where I met with Minister Mazen Ghunaim to formally launch Ireland’s investment in support of the water sector. Ireland will contribute €8.8 million to a joint project with France to build a solar power plant providing clean, reliable energy to the NGEST wastewater treatment plant. Water pollution is the leading cause of child mortality in Gaza.

In respect of plans for new settlement construction in Hebron, my view is clear; any further settlement expansion would be deeply regrettable and would be likely to accentuate tensions in an already fragile situation. This is particularly the case following the Israeli Government’s decision earlier this year not to renew the mandate of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron, which had played an important role in preventing violence. My officials will use appropriate opportunities to highlight Ireland's strong opposition to any settlement construction in Hebron.

I will continue to work to ensure that the Middle East Peace Process remains high on the international agenda. At the last meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) on 9 December in Brussels, I briefed EU Foreign Ministers on my visit, and in follow-up to the issues I raised, the FAC will discuss the Middle East Peace Process in more detail at its next meeting in January.