Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 23 September 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Trial of Ibrahim Halawa: Motion
I now move to the motion tabled by Senator Mark Daly on attending the trial of Ibrahim Halawa in Egypt on 4 October. Before calling the Senator, I remind members that I will report on my visit to Egypt later in the meeting.
That this committee send a delegation to Egypt to be present at the upcoming trial of Ibrahim Halawa on October 4th.
I have read the Chairman’s very comprehensive report. We discussed this issue before the summer during which it was highlighted by the Chairman’s visit and his meeting with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Egypt. There are outstanding issues such as clarification of the charges Mr. Halawa is facing. The Chairman has spoken on radio about seeking clarification from the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior and he might clarify this when he gives his report to the committee.
I believe some members are considering travelling to Egypt for the trial on 4 October and it is important that we have a delegation present. It may not be the final court hearing, but I understand Deputy Seán Crowe is to propose that those who do travel give evidence to the committee on the current situation, especially on the serious charges faced. We believe and Mr. Halawa’s legal team is of the opinion that he is still facing the death sentence, but the information from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is that he is not and that the charges have been reduced.
To assist any member who wishes to travel for the trial in October trial and visit Ibrahim in prison, I will relate my own experience. When I requested assistance in securing a visa and access to the prison, I was told by our ambassador in Egypt that it was a matter for the Egyptian ambassador.
When I sent the reply to the Egyptian ambassador, I was told by him that it is a matter for the Irish ambassador in Egypt. Correspondence went over and back for two weeks but I still do not have the answer. Even if the committee, its secretariat and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade assisted members who wish to go out by securing access, it would be of great assistance.
I apologise for my having been delayed. As I stated last night, I had a previous commitment that lasted much longer than I had anticipated.
I see some merit in what Senator Daly is proposing, for two reasons. First and foremost, it underlies our concern for an Irish citizen. It would send a positive signal to many people who are Irish citizens by choice, as distinct from birth, that every citizen of this Republic is being treated equally in terms of the concerns of this Parliament.
I support the motion. It represents a good idea. It sends a signal to the Egyptian authorities that this House is very concerned over this trial, which I regard as a show trial. My colleague, Ms Lynn Boylan, MEP, had written to the committee and, along with the Chairman, asked for an updated report. She was shocked by the conditions in the prison and by what Mr. Halawa was experiencing. Mr. Halawa is two years in the prison. What he has gone through must be traumatic. What is proposed would be a very positive step and send the right signal to regimes that arrest Irish citizens that this House is very concerned.
Whoever goes should try to visit Mr. Halawa in prison. There are so many examples of the trial being postponed. I do not see the merit in going for a trial that we are not sure is going to happen. Therefore, there should be other aspects to the visit if we agree to go ahead with it.
Sending a delegation will send out a strong message that this committee has been deeply concerned about the young man and supports him. If a delegation were to visit, is there any indication that it would be allowed to attend the trial? It would be significant to know that in advance. What is the possibility of a further postponement? Is it possible to obtain, through our embassy, clarification on the process that would obtain on arrival in Egypt?
The Chairman should lead a delegation. It is important to ascertain from the authorities beforehand the likely reaction to the appearance of a delegation at the trial. In some jurisdictions, it is resented by the Judiciary, while it is not resented in others. I was involved in a few such cases in the United Kingdom in the 1980s. We were lucky in the sense that the legal profession did not resent the appearance of a delegation. We were successful in what we were trying to do in all cases, but I strongly urge that in the case of a delegation going to Egypt, we ascertain from the Egyptian authorities in advance their likely reaction so we will know the position before we start.
I thank colleagues for their support for this motion. I thank the Chairman. While it would be helpful for him to lead the delegation, he has already gone out to Egypt and has been of great assistance. I would not wish to impose on him a requirement to go again. The presence of other members would be of equal importance. It is important that a delegation go. It would be beneficial for the Chairman to lead it, but I believe he has done a lot on this issue already by facilitating a discussion by the committee and making a personal visit in the middle of the summer during his holidays while other people were off. He made a considerable commitment and represented the people of Ireland on the trip. Therefore, I do not necessarily believe we have to decide now who should go, rather we should agree to the principle of sending a delegation.
I will respond to that. We will go through the report more thoroughly later on. The situation in Egypt is very challenging. There is a very dysfunctional legal system there. We must make that quite clear. When we asked previously if a delegation could travel out to see Ibrahim Halawa we were refused but eventually they came up with a solution that the Chairman would go.
It is not our role as a committee to attend trials of people abroad but, having said that, the Ibrahim Halawa case is unique. He is a young man. There is no guarantee that anybody could get into the courtroom. This place is located an hour and a half outside Cairo. The court case could be over in five or ten minutes and we might not get to see him. We need to be careful about this. The idea, in principle, is a good one. It keeps the committee focused. It keeps a focus on Ibrahim Halawa's case. There is no point in a delegation going out to Egypt if they do not get to attend the trial or see Ibrahim Halawa. They are the two reasons. We need to get more advice on this from the Department and we need permission from the Egyptian Embassy or the interior Ministry to attend the trial. When Lynn Boylan went out the last time she did not get to attend the trial. We need to be careful and to examine the possibilities of a visit. We do not know what will happen. We do not know what the charges are against Ibrahim Halawa. We have a fair idea of the process but we do not know what the charges are. If the witnesses do not turn up the case could be postponed again. We need to make more concrete inquiries about attending the trial before we decide on that and maybe we can decide next week.
Could I suggest that in principle we agree to send a delegation? We will get feedback next week from the Egyptian authorities as to whether members will be allowed to attend the trial and to visit Ibrahim. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that it is important that members of the committee meet him and that the foreign affairs committee agree in principle to send a delegation on the understanding that it will have access to the court and to Ibrahim in jail.
That makes sense. There is no point in going out if the delegation will not see him or go to the court case. It is chaotic there because there are up to 400 people being tried at the same time and all their families are there so the delegation probably will not get in. Even the officials from Cairo find it hard at times to get into the court case. We need to make inquiries about this to both the Egyptian and Irish authorities and to take a sensible approach while at the same time continuing to highlight Ibrahim Halawa's case. Is that okay? Can we leave it until next week?
Unless we get access to both the court case and Ibrahim Halawa I do not see any point in a visit there because resources are not plentiful. We need to get some evidence that we will get in there. Will we withdraw the motion until next week?
My point is that if the Chairman goes to the Egyptian authorities looking for this permission, he goes with the decision of the committee. If they say that the delegation cannot meet him or attend the court case, the committee will not send a delegation. I think that is implicit.