Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Foreign Affairs Council: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade
The joint committee still is in public session and as the Minister is arriving, we will move onto the next part of the meeting after allowing a moment for the Minister and his team to settle into the committee room. We now will continue with the next part of the meeting, which is the main reason members are in attendance today. I welcome warmly the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and his team before the joint committee. The joint committee had an opportunity last week to commend the work done at Stormont by the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, and to acknowledge the success of the Fresh Start agreement in Northern Ireland. Members thank the Minister sincerely for ten hard weeks of negotiations in Belfast into which he put much time and effort. I congratulate him for this as well.
Today's meeting is timely, as an number of issues to be discussed today were considered at the recent Foreign Affairs Council meeting and I am sure they also will form part of the central proceedings of future meetings. I am sure members have many questions to ask in respect of the current situation globally. I refer to the Paris attacks on 13 November, the downing of a Russian aircraft yesterday, the situation with the migrants and the world trade talks coming up in Africa and there is a lot on the agenda in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at present.
I will get down to business. The same format as previously will apply for today's meeting. The Minister will make an opening statement after which we will go into a question-and-answer session with members of the joint committee. I thank all members who have turned up for today's meeting and note they have done so in large numbers. Before I start, I remind members, witnesses and those in the public Gallery to ensure their mobile telephones are switched off completely during the meeting as they cause interference with the recording equipment here in the committee rooms even when in silent mode. Today's meeting is being broadcast live on Oireachtas TV across the various media platforms.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by it to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or an entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
I welcome the Minister and thank him for appearing before the committee.
I welcome the opportunity to address the Chairman and members of the committee on recent developments at the Foreign Affairs Council. I received the sad news this morning that two young Irishmen had lost their lives in an accident in Perth, Australia. As the committee is aware, this year many Irish families have lost loved ones overseas. I am aware of the work and commitment of the committee to Irish citizens abroad and I am sure the Chairman and members will join us in expressing our condolences and sympathy to the families of the deceased. I assure the committee that, as in all such tragic cases, our embassy and consular network will provide any and all assistance that may be required at this difficult time.
My statement will focus on the Foreign Affairs Council meetings held in July, October and November. In addition, I will look ahead to the Council meeting in December.
During the period under review many issues have been addressed by the Council on which I will provide an update for the committee. I will then be more than happy to answer questions and hear suggestions members may have. It is important to look forward and I always welcome the positive and constructive engagement of the committee. I acknowledge the non-partisan nature of its deliberations and engagement.
I attended the most recent meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, 16 November, which took place in the shadow of the horrific attacks in Paris. The meeting was an important coming together of EU Foreign Ministers at a critical time to demonstrate our support and solidarity with our French colleagues and our unity as a union of member states in the face on this assault on citizens and our value system. I conveyed the condolences and fellowship of the Irish people to the French Minister for Europe, Harlem Désir, who was present at the meeting.
The Foreign Affairs Council had a discussion on migration and there was a clear view that the issue of could not and should not be conflated with the appalling acts of terrorism in Paris. Migration has been a key topic at many recent meetings of the Council. The scale of the migration challenge facing the European Union is enormous. The conflict in Syria, the biggest driver behind this year’s migrant flows, has led to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, but the problem is bigger than Syria. An estimated 60 million displaced people worldwide are on the move, the highest number since the Second World War. They are coming not just from Syria but also from such places as Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and a dozen or so countries in sub-Saharan and north Africa.
In recent weeks the European Union has intensified its response to the crisis. During the Foreign Affairs Council meeting last week my colleagues and I discussed the importance of implementing the decisions already taken in this area. In particular, we welcomed the action plan agreed to at the Valletta Summit of 11 and 12 November. The action plan lays out medium and long-term policies to address the root causes of migration. The key deliverable of the summit which brought together EU and African leaders was the establishment of the trust fund to address the root causes of migration in Africa, with €1.8 billion from the European Development Fund and additional bilateral contributions, to which Ireland is contributing €3 million.
In addition, there was a Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting on Monday, 9 November, while the Valletta Summit was followed by an informal European Council meeting called by President Tusk to assess the progress made by the European Union in fulfilling its earlier commitments. The October European Council agreed that tackling the migration crisis was a common obligation which required a comprehensive strategy and a determined effort over time “in a spirit of solidarity and responsibility”. The Council welcomed the EU-Turkey action plan, a key element of which is addressing migration to the European Union via Turkey. The Council also agreed to new measures aimed at strengthening the European Union’s external borders. Third countries are key players in reducing the volume of migration flows and Turkey, in particular, since the majority of migrants transit through it on their journey to Europe. Turkey and the European Union are working to finalise a joint action plan. At the informal summit called by President Tusk on Thursday, 12 November, EU leaders agreed to hold a special summit with Turkey at the end of November. This summit will take place this Sunday, 29 November.
The migrant crisis resulting from the continuing conflict in Syria has brought a foreign policy issue to European doorsteps in a way that is rarely seen. It has brought home to us how conflicts in the European Union's neighbourhoods can impact on the union, down to the level of towns and citizens. The newly formed International Syria Support Group brings together all of the key external stakeholders in the conflict. The high representative is one of those attending. The coming together in that context of countries that otherwise have little or no direct engagement shows a seriousness of purpose which is essential in dealing with the massive challenge faced. They have set themselves ambitious goals to be achieved in a tight timetable. The key elements include formal negotiations with the aim being that they should start by 1 January; establishment of a credible, inclusive and non-sectarian government; a constitutional reform process and free and fair elections under UN supervision within 18 months. This is in line with the conclusions adopted at the October Council which underlined “the need to accelerate the work of the entire international community on the political track in the framework of the UN-led process”.
The Middle East peace process appeared on the Council’s agenda in July and November and is expected to be discussed again at next month’s meeting. Conclusions were adopted in July. That period has also coincided with a significant upsurge in violence, primarily in Jerusalem and Hebron but also spreading to other areas. In common with others, I deplore any resort to violent attacks on civilians. I have condemned any use of violence, encouraged calm and de-escalation and urged positive leadership on the issues that may be contributing to individuals adopting such a dreadful path. While I appreciate the frustration of those who see no political end in sight, it does not justify resorting to violence. However, any security response to the violence must be proportionate.
Just ahead of the November meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, the Commission published an “Interpretative Notice on indication of origin of goods from the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967”, also called, in shorthand, the guidelines on the labelling of goods from the settlements. I was one of those who had called for this notice to be published and I welcome it. However, I want to be clear that it does not represent sanctions on Israel. It involves no new law; instead, it is a tool to ensure consumers can make informed decisions.
The agreement reached on Iran at the beginning of July was very significant and welcomed by Foreign Ministers at the Council meeting in July. Significant potential hurdles in implementing the agreement in both Iran and the USA have been surmounted. To date, reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, and others indicate that the steps required to implement the agreement are being carried out as intended. It remains the assessment, therefore, that the agreement is on schedule to be fully in operation early in the new year, at which stage most of the nuclear-related international sanctions on Iran will be removed.
Libya is currently in political limbo as it continues to transition towards democracy and stability. The matter was discussed at the July Foreign Affairs Council when it seemed that the disparate factions were beginning to approach agreement, although the General National Congress in control of Tripoli remained largely outside the process.
Following the announcement by the UN special representative, Mr. Bernardino Léon, of nominees for the government of national accord the week before, Libya was added to the October Foreign Affairs Council agenda. Council conclusions were adopted supporting the progress made by Mr. Léon and encouraging the various parties to endorse the peace agreement. The European Union stated it would work in close partnership with the government of national accord, once formed, and that it was prepared to offer immediate and substantial support. Sadly, little progress has been made since. The agreement remains unsigned as the factions continue to debate, in particular, the composition of the presidential council. Libya is again on the agenda for the December Council meeting. Mr. Léon was replaced on 17 November by Mr. Martin Kobler, whom I wish every success in this new role. I emphasise my support of the position stated repeatedly by the European Union, namely, that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis. Only a political settlement can achieve peace and stability for Libya and its people.
At the July Council meeting I spoke directly to the Prime Minister, Mr. Essib, and the Foreign Minister, Mr. Baccouche, to underline Ireland’s support for Tunisia’s transition to democracy and the need to counter the terrorist threat to Tunisian political and economic reform. I also made clear our absolute abhorrence of the murder of three of our citizens in Tunisia would strengthen our solidarity with the people of Tunisia, who have also suffered greatly from the impact of terrorism. The European Union has already made clear its commitment to support Tunisia in its development towards a prosperous, secure and democratic state. The core issue is how the European Union can strengthen Tunisia in tackling the threat of extremism, strengthening democracy and the rule of law, supporting stability and prosperity for the Tunisian people. This will be an ongoing, if challenging and difficult, effort. Our task is to work through the European Union with the Tunisian authorities, the legitimacy of which must also be strengthened. It is for us to engage with them and work collaboratively to address our shared needs and interests. That was the clear consensus among European Foreign Ministers and, equally importantly, with the Tunisian authorities. This consensus to work together is underlined all the more by yesterday's brutal and horrific attack with consequent loss of life. It confirms our need to ensure active and positive engagement.
I welcome the adoption of the second EU action plan on human rights and democracy for the period 2015 to 2019 at the Council on 20 July, following on from the first plan adopted in June 2012. The plan will help to increase the effectiveness of the European Union in promoting and protecting human rights worldwide at a time of increasing violations and abuses. It covers a wide range of issues; however, the increasingly vicious attacks on religious minorities, particularly in the Middle East, are a cause for serious concern. Members of minority religious communities, including those of Christian, Muslim and Baha’i faith, have been subjected to appalling levels of violence, discrimination and harassment. Ireland has been vocal in this regard and pressed for the inclusion of a specific action on the freedom of religion or belief, which is reflected in the action plan. I am also particularly concerned about the increasing attacks on civil society in several countries and the parallel harassment of human rights defenders. Ireland worked within the European Union to ensure these concerns were included in the action plan.
The European Union has commenced consideration of a possible successor framework to the Cotonou partnership agreement which covers the Union’s relationship with the African, Caribbean and Pacific, ACP, group of countries. Given the focus of its aid programme, Ireland attaches great importance to its relationship with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Eight of the nine of our programme countries are in sub-Saharan Africa where poverty remains most persistent. The European Development Fund which allocates more than 90% of its funding to programmes in Africa complements our aid focus. The upcoming expiration of the agreement in 2020 will provide an excellent opportunity to take a close look at the ACP-EU partnership and assess whether the Cotonou framework is still the most appropriate model for the European Union's engagement with the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of countries. I understand this issue was addressed recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, at a meeting of the committee. In this context, we must be open to all ideas, taking into account the recently agreed 2030 agenda which, given its universal nature, provides a new approach for a strategic and equal partnership with the ACP countries. The Council meeting in October stressed the need to keep an open mind at this stage of the process. A staff working document is expected by next spring and will serve as a basis for further discussions in the Council and with ACP partners. Ireland looks forward to constructive negotiations which will benefit all partners in the strengthening and evolution of our relationship post the Cotonou agreement in order that we can find the most appropriate and effective way to deal with the common challenges and opportunities ahead.
I now turn to the upcoming December Council meeting. The agenda for the meeting has not yet been settled; however, the high representative has indicated that the Middle East peace process, Libya, Iraq and the Eastern Partnership may feature.
The Eastern Partnership was due to be discussed at the November Foreign Affairs Council meeting when the high representative was expected to report on her recent trips to Ukraine and Georgia and discuss the situation in Moldova. Ministers were also expected to discuss broader developments in the Eastern Partnership region, particularly in the light of commitments made at the Riga Summit. Owing to a full agenda, however, particularly following the terrorist attacks in Paris on 13 November, this discussion was postponed until December.
The security situation in the east of Ukraine has greatly improved in recent weeks, with a significant reduction in violence since a new ceasefire was agreed on 1 September. The position, however, remains fragile and I am concerned about reports of an increase in the number of incidents along the contact line in the past two weeks. I commend the OSCE special monitoring mission for its impartial reporting on the ceasefire and pull-back of weapons, as well as the role it plays in facilitating the restoration of vital infrastructure, prisoner exchanges and demining operations. The respite in violence has provided a platform for progress to be made on the political track. While this progress is welcome, we cannot lose sight of the fact that key elements of the Minsk agreements remain to be addressed. They include the withdrawal of all foreign troops and equipment from eastern Ukraine and the restoration of Ukrainian control of its border with Russia. For this reason, it is vital the positive momentum we have seen in recent weeks is maintained and that work to implement the remaining parts of the Minsk agreements is treated as a priority by all involved. The discussion will provide Ministers with an opportunity to assess the implementation of Ukraine’s national reform programme. I visited Kyiv in July and at meetings with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Mr. Klimkin, and others in government and the parliament I was greatly impressed by the resolve on the part of Ukraine to address the many challenges the country faced and its determination to offer a better future for its people. I underlined the importance of continuing on the reform path and assured those whom I met of the European Union's commitment and Ireland’s continued support for the transformation process in Ukraine.
I thank the Chairman and members of the committee for their time and patience in allowing me to give them a review. They will agree that the Foreign Affairs Council has faced a varied and diverse agenda in recent months. I am happy to deal with questions or observations they might have. On international challenges and relations, the agenda is always full. I would like to see the Chairman and the committee continue the great level of engagement and commitment they have shown in recent times. Notwithstanding the events of next spring, I hope the committee will continue its active travel and engagement on the international stage.
I will not comment on that issue. An issue discussed before the Minister came into the committee room was the EU measures taken recently on the labelling of goods from the territories occupied by Israel. Will he comment on the implementation of this agreement in Ireland? I also ask him for a brief comment on yesterday's attack on the Russian aircraft which was downed by Turkish F-16 fighters and its implications.
Last April the Foreign Ministers of Ireland and 15 other EU countries wrote to EU High Representative Mogherini to ask her to restart work on guidelines for the labelling of settlement products. On 11 November the European Commission adopted the formal notice. It underlines that settlement goods may not be labelled as having been made in Israel or simply as having come from the West Bank without making it clear they originate from a settlement.
This applies where origin is indicated. It does not introduce a blanket requirement for origin indication on all goods. No new law is involved; it is a clarification of existing requirements. Already, the measure has been criticised by some in Ireland who say it goes too far, while others say it does not, by any manner or means, go far enough. However, the guidelines are in line with other measures which differentiate the EU's relationship with Israel from the relationship with the settlements. These include the fact that EU research funding may not be spent in settlements, while universities in Israel are in a position to access it and the EU advice warning citizens against any form of continued investment in the settlement areas.
With regard to implementation, as a first step the Secretary General of my Department has already written to the Secretaries General of other Departments drawing their attention to the notice and the import of the guidelines and assuming that all will embark upon the process of implementation, which is ongoing.
On the downing or otherwise of the Russian aeroplane, this is a matter of great concern. The incident is a bilateral matter between Russia and Turkey. It would not be appropriate for me to make any comment. The detail on it is not yet to hand. I assure the committee that it is the belief of the Irish Government, in common with many of our EU colleagues, that this is a time in which great restraint should be exercised by all involved.
I thank the Minister for clarifying the practical elements of what is involved. He explained that he asked the Secretary General of his Department to contact the other Secretaries General but could we get a note on how that will be implemented practically? Will we receive a list of goods from his Department or the appropriate Department which will outline the goods that should be labelled? That would inform the suppliers, wholesalers and retailers that it is a requirement under EU law that they be labelled.
Is it the intention to have a monitoring team to ensure compliance? If people notice goods that are not properly labelled being sold, to whom do they report it? Is it the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or will there be a specific avenue to report such goods?
The Minister might also tell us about the procedure for labelling Palestinian goods. Palestine is producing excellent herbs and citrus produce. Are these goods listed as Palestinian in order that we can choose? Rather than arguing against purchasing Israeli goods, let us argue in favour of recognising the Palestinian produce on the market. Is there a formula in that regard?
I will be happy to provide the members of the committee with a note. I stress that the process is in the course of implementation and that it is ongoing. There will be further implementation measures, the particulars of which I will be happy to share with the committee.
On Deputy Eric Byrne's question, these issues would be covered by our consumer protection legislation. If people wish to make complaints or observations, it is open for them to do so. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would be happy to engage in this regard. Ultimately, however, this is an issue for the consumer. This is not any form of banning or outlawing. It is an agreement that the labelling of origin should be made clear on the products. It is important that this be the case. Of course, goods from the Palestinian territories can also be labelled as made in Palestine if the producers so wish. However, it is a choice that will be ultimately determined by the consumer.
It is not just a matter for consumer. When chickens were being imported here from Brazil or elsewhere, it was a matter for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to ensure they were properly labelled. If goods are coming here from abroad, it is the responsibility of some Department to ensure they are properly labelled and if they are not so labelled, to ensure that is identified at an early stage. If after that they still end up on the shop floor or in these pop-up shops in supermarkets, there must be somewhere to which the consumer can complain. It is not a matter for the consumer rights authority but for the Department because it is a foreign affairs or international trade issue. There must be some mechanism-----
The Deputy mentioned a food product. That involves the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In the same way as with the food product from Brazil to which he referred, the implementation will be the same in terms of the labelling. A food product will be a matter that will go to the appropriate Department, which in that case is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
Strictly speaking, it is an issue for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. As there are so many topics to be discussed with the Minister, I will confine members to questions. There will be much better interaction if there are questions rather than statements. Deputy Smith was late to the meeting so I will give him time to digest the Minister's statement. I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan to ask her questions. I will be quite strict and insist that members ask questions.
I wish to focus on some areas in particular. The Minister mentioned the EU and the ACP. There have been serious issues in Colombia involving the murder of three human rights activists, the death of a peasant farmer and displacement of the farming community. We have signed this agreement with Colombia and part of the reason for doing so was that it would strengthen the position regarding human rights issues. However, these events have happened and we do see human rights issues being taken up. We heard about the supposedly robust mechanisms throughout the free trade agreement, FTA, but be do not see them. There is also the issue regarding Senator Iván Cepeda, whom we met. Perhaps the Minister would comment on those issues. I brought this to the attention of the Latin American desk so I am also raising it again today.
That leads to migration, which the Minister mentioned. Last week, we discussed the economic partnership agreements, EPAs. Undoubtedly, there are concerns about the EPA with west Africa. That could also lead to more migration because we are denying certain areas in west Africa of the ability to feed themselves. Will the Minister comment on that?
I have two further questions and I will be brief. On the Middle East peace process, it was brought to my attention that there was an Israeli raid on Aida camp in Bethlehem, at the Lajee Centre, a community and youth centre which I have visited twice. There is a group there, Alrowwad, a theatre and cultural group, whose members visited us in the Dáil about a year ago to talk to us about their culture and to give us a demonstration of their dabke dancing. How can the Israeli army firing tear gas in a youth and community centre contribute to a peace process? I ask the Minister to comment on that.
The Dáil has been discussing the Stormont House Agreement today. There is no doubt that there are unresolved issues. We visited Maghaberry Prison last week. There is no movement on resolving the prisoner issues. Regarding the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, there is a need for the British Government to define national security. We know there was collusion and it will be embarrassing for that government, but surely that is not a matter of national security. When will we demand full and open disclosure, instead of just saying the words? The families are tired of the same answer. The Minister says what he is doing but it is not leading to action on the part of the British Government.
In respect of the situation in Colombia, members will be aware of the appointment of my predecessor, Deputy Gilmore, as special envoy. That will feed in, perhaps, to a greater level of engagement on our part in the process in Colombia. I am concerned with regard to the killing of three human rights defenders last week. Representatives from our embassy in Mexico continue to discuss human rights with the Government of Colombia at every opportunity in meetings at official level. Human rights are of great importance. The direct engagement of the former Minister, Deputy Gilmore, will ensure that this country can reflect a greater level of engagement than was the case in the past.
On the Middle East peace process, I repeat the call for the violence to cease. I accept the fact that progress has been slow but I believe there is a need on the part of civil society to disengage from acts that are violent in nature. I hope the European Union will play a stronger and more co-ordinated role. I expect that the matter will be on the agenda in December.
On Northern Ireland, the Deputy is correct: the fact that we did not reach full agreement on the historic legacy issue of the past is a matter of concern. I met some victims' groups as recently as last night and I intend to meet more perhaps even tomorrow as well. I am happy to share with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan information regarding my engagement on this matter at any time. However, it is not entirely within the authority of the Government to ensure a solution. Now that we are in a period of reflection, I call on all the parties to reflect on the level of agreement we reached in respect of the range of institutions and the need to ensure an appropriate process to allow people to seek the facts and seek the truth. We can do so if the will is there.
On the matter of the EU-ACP economic partnership, negotiations on three further economic partnership agreements, EPAs, concluded last year and it is important that there would be ongoing, active engagement in that regard. I understand that this was an issue that was discussed with my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, last week, who, in turn, discussed the matter with me during the week. I am happy to ensure that we have ongoing engagement in that regard. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan requested a debate on the issue. We will facilitate a debate on the matter of the EU trade agreements but, ultimately, this is a matter for the Chief Whip. I would be happy to talk to the Chief Whip in conjunction with the Deputy. I expect her group will be in a position to prioritise such a debate in terms of the agenda.
I will communicate privately with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on Maghaberry. I am aware of her interest in the matter from parliamentary questions. I am also aware of the recent visit of a delegation. I am happy to engage directly with her on the matter also.
I will be as brief as possible. I congratulate the Minister on the role he played in the peace reconciliation negotiations in Northern Ireland. I also compliment all the participating parties on the work they did. We should note the importance of that particular agreement at a crucial time. There was very little public acclaim for it but it is equally as important as any other agreement that was reached. It is second only to the Good Friday Agreement or the St. Andrew’s Agreement. My congratulations also extend to all the officials involved.
Arising from the issues in Paris and Brussels in recent weeks, I wish to ask the Minister whether there is a consciousness within the European Union as to the seriousness of the situation that is now confronting the globe - not only the European Union but the globe - and the threat to peace. To what extent is the European Union going to address those issues and the inevitable and inexorable direction in which they are now headed? Is there a consciousness within the European Union as to the potential for a major international conflict and conflagration the like of which we have not seen in the past 100 years? I am serious about this hugely important issue, on which all of the bodies involved must focus and which is slowly but surely moving in a particular direction that will give rise to disastrous consequences.
I wish to ask also about the vacuum created by the ongoing situation in the Middle East, where nobody wants to accept responsibility, nobody wants to move forward, nobody wants to concede anything and everyone wants to live in the past, focus on the historical grievances and continue to blame each other. This is having inevitable consequences. To what extent is the European Union conscious of the impact that particular vacuum is having and of what is likely to occur? Is the European Union conscious of the need to get the UN involved in situations such as that which obtains in Libya? The latter would be ideal in the context of UN involvement. The international community needs to become involved in Libya. It is now a war zone in respect of which no progress is being made as a result of intervention by various well-meaning people who were wrong and who have now walked away. Nobody accepts responsibility and everybody has gone off on a tangent. Those to whom I refer think it is good to move their attention elsewhere. What I say is not directed at the Minister, rather it is directed at the international community. I wonder whether the latter is aware of where the entire Europe-Middle East situation is heading. This is not going to be a simple thing that will blow away overnight. I wish to know whether action is being taken.
What is the European Union expected to do in Ethiopia and is it going to invoke the UN again with regard to the serious starvation crisis that is likely to emerge there not in the next two or three years but in the next six months? What provisions are likely to be put in place? Again, this is not a criticism of anybody, this is a plea for the recognition of something that is going to unfold with disastrous consequences.
My final comment relates to what has happened in Iraq, ISIS and all that is associated with it. Whether we wish to believe it or not, the situation there is a result of populism and a withdrawal by the international coalition from a war zone, leaving the place open to those who had a particular agenda. That is going to continue for as long as the international community fails to accept its ongoing responsibilities. Could the Minister give us some indication of what is going on? Again, the question is not directed at him personally. It is directed at the international community and those who have direct responsibility, namely the EU and the UN in particular. Could the Minister give some indication to us as to whether there is likely to be any action to confront the direction in which some areas are now heading?
Obviously, there can and must be a number of responses in respect of the horrific atrocity in Paris and the threats in other European capitals and beyond. It is important that the European Union appears as a powerful force. It will do so, assuming that agreement can be reached on a co-ordinated approach. As well as the Foreign Affairs Council being actively engaged, there is an ongoing role and function for EU justice Ministers and these meetings are taking place on a weekly basis.
Of course, in short, defeating Daesh cannot be separated from ending the conflict in Syria. It is the latter conflict and above all the actions and policies of the Assad regime which have given rise to these terrorist threats and acts. Therefore, I welcome the efforts on the part of the EU to press for a negotiated settlement and I call on all parties to support the UN efforts. In the meantime, we must counter the terrorist threat. An element of good progress has been made on a range of fronts to ensure an active and comprehensive counter-terrorism policy while working towards building that capacity by ensuring a funding commitment. There is much that EU states can do by way of sharing information, looking at the availability or otherwise of firearms, and also considering our external borders.
As regards the Middle East, I share Deputy Durkan's sense of frustration and his perception that there is something of a vacuum. That is why this issue has moved up the agenda of the Foreign Affairs Council. The EU needs to be more active in respect of practical issues on the ground, especially Israeli policies on settlements and any acts that might be seen to undermine any possibility of successful political progress. The Irish Government continues to believe that the only option in terms of a resolution is the two-state solution. I look forward to participating on this issue in December at the Council.
I acknowledge that the current political situation in Libya remains unresolved. At this stage, there is no framework involving the two rival governments to raise confidence that matters might be brought towards a conclusion. However, the EU will continue to support a settlement in Libya which will involve not only political dialogue leading towards a unity government, but also an EU package that will involve an injection of finance, which is ready to be implemented assuming that agreement can be reached from a political perspective.
We continue to engage actively with the UN, ensuring that that body continues to play a most important role in areas of conflict. As regards the situation in Iraq, Ireland has repeatedly made clear its support for the new government of Mr. al-Abadi and the political process of reform as set out by him. The security operation to which the Deputy refers must go hand in hand with political engagement between national authorities and the Sunni population in Iraq. Ireland strongly supports the territorial unity of Iraq and its sovereignty.
Ireland has had a long-standing engagement with Ethiopia. The government of Ethiopia faces great challenges from severe ongoing crises, including drought and other disasters. We operate an ongoing programme of support and will continue to respond in any way we can to requests for humanitarian support from the Ethiopian authorities.
I apologise for missing the earlier part of the meeting, as I was in the Dáil for the debate on Northern Ireland. As we know, terrorism knows no borders and it would appear that we need borderless intelligence. Did the issue of greater intelligence sharing among EU member states arise at the 16 November EU Foreign Affairs Council in light of recent terrorist attacks?
The Minister referred to the establishment of a trust fund to address the root causes of migration in Africa. I understand that we are contributing €3 million to that fund. If the Minister does not have them readily available today, perhaps he could send us some details on how that fund will operate.
In his contribution, the Minister also referred to 60 million displaced people on the move. Is that a UN figure and, if so, is it believed to be a reasonably accurate one? Who are the authors of that statistic?
Has the Minister had an opportunity meet recently with the Israeli or Palestinian representatives in Ireland concerning the escalation of violence in Jerusalem?
As regards that and other areas of conflict, is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade continually updating its advice to Irish people living in such regions or people who may be planning to travel there?
I agree with Deputy Smith that the EU must continue to do more and, indeed, intensify its engagement in tackling the continued threat of terrorism. That involves a multilateral approach on a range of issues, including information and intelligence sharing, international passenger name recognition, the availability of firearms in member states, and a response in the criminal justice area. That project is ongoing. Member states must continue to ensure that we speak with one voice on the issue.
On the question of the EU's trust fund for Africa, Deputy Smith is right to say that the proposed sum is €3 million over five years. The Irish position is that we are actively engaged in designing projects under the fund, especially in the east African region. This is a total fund in excess of €1.8 billion. Ireland will continue to play a positive role in relieving many of the challenges of this region.
The figure of 60 million displaced people obviously changes from time to time. It is, however, true to say that all international agencies agree that this is a crisis the level of which has not been seen since the end of the Second World War. The total has gone from an estimated 52 million to almost 60 million. It is very difficult to provide an accurate figure, but the range from 50 million to 60 million - it is 60 million plus from some sources - is indicative of the real and serious crisis we are facing.
On the important issue of travel advice, I assure the committee that the travel advice for individual countries is reviewed on an ongoing basis. It is publicly available on the Department's website and its official Twitter account. The advice is made available to Irish citizens so that they can make well-informed decisions. As well as adhering to the advice, however, we would also encourage people travelling to regions where there may well be potential difficulties to register their details with the Department.
I welcome the Minister and, to get straight to the point, I would like him to answer a couple of questions. We are looking at Europe through the eyes of a small island nation, and then we have the bigger conflicts in the greater world.
Would the Minister agree with me that the last thing the world required was the shooting down by Turkey of a Russian jet on the border with Syria? As a result of the tragic events that unfolding vis-à-visthe downing of a Russian passenger aircraft over Sinai by Daesh and the systematic slaughter of Russians and Chinese in Bamako by those fundamentalists, I suspect the hope was that there would have been a unified world response to the activities of Daesh. What are the Minister's views on the newly developing relationships, given the downing of the Russian fighter jet? Does he believe it will further embolden the Russians in the other regions of the Eastern Partnership, for example? I will not detail them all now but there were allegations that the Russians have been messing about again in South Ossetia and Transnistria, with both countries retaliating, and that there were counter retaliations in the form of blocking wine and agriculture imports. Does the Minister believe that as a result of the downing of this plane, a wedge is being driven through what was developing as world opinion on what Daesh was all about?
Does the Minister share my concern that Europe is in a dodgy state? We have just seen an attempt to form a new government in Portugal, which may or may not survive. We have seen a general strike in Greece, orchestrated by the trade union movement and supported by Syriza. British representatives appeared before the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs this morning complaining about their membership of Europe and discussing immigration. They said that 300,000 immigrants annually is too many and they want to consider putting a proposal to their people to withdraw from the European family.
With all our existing problems in Europe and the additional dimension of the movement of migrants, will the Minister confirm that while Ireland has contributed €3 million to address the problem of the unfolding Ethiopian famine, in terms of the undercurrent of emigration, many Eritreans have been coming in under the radar because of the dictatorship in Eritrea? Eritrea has a population of 6 million or 9 million people. Its neighbour, Ethiopia, has a population of 94 million or 95 million people. Does the Minister believe we could contain that flow of people from Africa if famine and poverty is reinforced in Ethiopia?
I compliment the Minister's Department because I had occasion to deal with its officials regarding the Libyan students studying here whose government scholarships were interrupted because of the divisions in Libya. I thank the Department for intervening effectively and reassuring the Libyan representatives here that it was familiar with their problem.
I have put a few awkward questions to the Minister but on another Eastern Partnership country, Moldova, and it is not just a Transnistria issue, the corruption in Moldova has resulted in the collapse of a government. The biggest political party, the Socialist Party of Moldova, is almost a copy of Putin's party. It is so pro-Russian as to represent extreme dangers for Europe.
I have a final question for the Minister. He said that he felt the situation in Ukraine was stabilising but is he up to date on what is happening in Crimea and the role of the volunteer brigades working in conjunction with the Right Sector and now the Tatars? Is he being serious when he says the situation is becoming more stable?
In response to the Deputy's first question, I am not in a position to comment on any action or otherwise that might be taken by the Russian Government in response to yesterday's action but I would ask the committee to note that Russia has announced it will take a measured response. I repeat my call for restraint on all sides in what is a difficult and challenging time for Europe. The attacks in Paris, and previous attacks both in Europe and beyond, highlight the fact that international terrorism has no regard or respect for international boundaries. We continue to work at EU level, however, and it is important that we accept that the European Union is a force for good, stability and peace. It is important also that we use our collective response in a way that ensures we play our part on the international stage and the approach from the European Union must be comprehensive.
Deputy Byrne is right that we must address the underlying causes of so much conflict and so many displaced persons. We must promote a narrative that counters the propaganda of Daesh and terrorists, and work within the European Union and the United Nations in that regard. It is important we ensure our fundamental principles are very much to the fore. That will involve challenges for Ireland in terms of our active engagement of a type that perhaps we have not seen in the past by way of resolve.
On the specific area of Eritrea, we continue to provide a financial contribution and we will continue to work closely with the Government and communities on what is an ongoing and deeply worrying crisis in that country. We are looking to how we can provide direct assistance in Eritrea. The Deputy will be aware of the very difficult environment there but we work closely with the United Nations and its humanitarian arrangements in that country.
On the matter of Moldova, I had the opportunity recently of attending an Eastern Partnership meeting with my EU colleagues covering updates on many countries in the neighbourhood. The situation in Moldova continues to be of great concern, particularly following the dismissal of the Government due to a vote of no confidence by parliament. It is important that a new government be formed soon. In the meantime, without an acceptable government, Ireland agrees with the necessity to suspend EU funding to Moldova pending a reform programme, which will have to be more meaningful than that we have seen to date. It will involve efforts on the part of the Government to come together in a way that ensures authority and the rule of law. I would be happy to engage with the Deputy further on the particular area of Moldova.
The humanitarian situation in Ukraine continues to be a matter of concern. While there has been a measure of progress, it must be considered against the challenging and conflicted situation that arose last year. It is important that all sides of the conflict continue to engage in ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those in most need of it. That cannot be done because it presents a great challenge in terms of the delivery of humanitarian aid while active conflict is taking place. As the fighting has subsided, it is important we turn our attention to the delivery of the humanitarian aid to those who need it urgently. We are also conscious of the fact we are now in a challenging time in terms of winter months. Repair of damaged buildings is essential and gas, water and electricity must be provided in spite of the difficult circumstances.
In respect of the Middle East, Deputy Smith spoke about the need to have ongoing engagement with both sides. There is a recently appointed new Israeli ambassador. I have had the opportunity to meet with him and have a frank engagement. There was a senior delegation at official level from Israel here last week. I had the opportunity to meet the Palestinian foreign Minister in late September in New York. I continue to raise the unacceptable escalation of violence at every opportunity with both Israeli and Palestinian representatives.
I have a number of questions across a few different issues but I will try to be as brief as possible. In respect of the dashed hopes of victims' groups, North and South, due to the failure to sign off on a truth recovery process in the recent agreement, can the Minister enlighten the committee on the process for the future? How is he going to ensure the British Government lives up to a motion taken twice by the Houses of the Oireachtas, calling on it to release files on Irish citizens killed by the British state through collusion or by its state forces? I welcome the representatives of Justice for the Forgotten who are in the Visitors Gallery. The Minister answered some of my other questions about the agreement in the Chamber earlier on.
Given that some EU countries have rowed back on their stated commitments to take and settle refugees from war-torn Syria and elsewhere, can the Minister confirm that Ireland still agrees to abide by its public commitment to take, I think, 4,000 refugees? Is it intended to segregate those refugees in any way or will we treat them as the UNHCR encourages us to do?
I know the Minister is aware of the case of Ibrahim Halawa. Is he aware that he is stated to have been on hunger strike for 34 days? If that is true, it means he could possibly be dead by the time of his trial, which is set for 15 December, two days after his twentieth birthday. Has the new ambassador to Egypt been to visit Ibrahim? Will the Minister raise his case at the Council meeting? He was a teenager at the start of all this, now he is nearly 20, and he is an EU citizen who has been held without trial for many years.
We discussed labelling earlier, so I am not going to go over that. Given that the settlements are illegal, will the Minister ensure at the Council meeting that the EU condemns the decision by the Israeli Government to approve a further 800 homes to be built in the occupied territories? That decision is contrary to EU laws and the UN. Will he ask that penalties be triggered which were supposed to be invoked under the Euro-Mediterranean agreement, other EU trade agreements with Israel, or even the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, which he was quoting earlier? We should ensure that Israel knows of the EU's displeasure on this.
The Minister mentioned the huge escalation of violence in the Palestinian and Israeli area, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 70 Palestinians and 11 Israelis in October alone. Nearly 7,000 citizens have been injured and more than 1,000 Palestinians arrested. Does the Minister believe, as he said in his speech, that any security response to the violence must be proportionate? Does he believe those figures show a proportionate response by Israel? If he does not, what action will he encourage the EU to take to ensure the escalation is reduced and that, at the very least, there is a proportionate response by both sides to any future escalation?
Ethiopia was mentioned. In respect of disaster planning and humanitarian aid, are the stocks held by Ireland replenished? Are they ready if there is a humanitarian disaster? There is a cyclical weather pattern called El Niño which is predicted to hit the Americas again this year. In the past, it has caused huge disasters. Ireland and other EU countries have played a great role in terms of humanitarian aid. Most countries are coming out of recession and stocks may be reduced. They should be replenished and available so that we are able to help those countries that may need aid in the next months.
I am more than happy to engage with the committee on Northern Ireland matters. I acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of members of the Justice for the Forgotten group. I had the opportunity to meet with them recently. It is a source of great regret to me and to the Government that we were not in a position to reach agreement over the entire gamut of legacy issues. However, it would be unfair of me to go into great detail with Deputy Ó Snodaigh, as he represents a party that was actually seated at the talks for their entirety. He is most familiar with the level of progress made on that issue. It was certainly not due to any lack of capacity on the part of the Irish Government that no final agreement was reached on the very important legacy issues and institutions. I reiterate my call for all parties to continue to engage and to find solutions. In that regard, the party to which Deputy Ó Snodaigh is affiliated has something of a role.
On the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, I wish to assure the Chairman and committee that we will continue to regard this issue as one of importance and urgency. We fully support the all-party motions. I had an opportunity in the course of the recent talks to raise the issue specifically with the Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers MP. She has assured me that she will consider afresh how the British Government can respond fully to the Dáil motions. It is important for that engagement to continue. In seeking the truth on this issue, there are aspects over which the Irish Government does not have complete authority. I assure Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the Chairman and other committee members that we will continue to raise the issue at every opportunity. We will continue to urge the British Government to allow access to the appropriate files and papers by an independent and international judicial figure and to make all the documents available. I travel to Belfast tomorrow and will engage further with victims and their representatives there.
On the matter of the refugees, the Irish acceptance of up to 4,000 refugees is in the course of being implemented. There are issues pertaining to screening, which must take place. This is important for security purposes. We do not intend to apply any ethnic test or confessional approach, however.
I hope the issue can be progressed in a most humanitarian way. I welcome the acceptance on the part of the Irish people towards ensuring that we play our part in what is a humanitarian crisis of huge dimensions.
The matter of Ibrahim Halawa continues to concern me. I am in regular contact with the authorities in Egypt and have had active engagement with the recently appointed Egyptian ambassador here. I was asked specifically about the involvement of the European Union. I discussed the case as recently as two weeks ago with High Representative Federica Mogherini. She has assured me that the case continues to remain high on the agenda of the European Union in terms of its bilateral engagement with Egypt. I continue to receive suggestions, views and proposals in terms of action and keep these proposals under constant review. However, I have to say, as I have said before, that I am guided at all times by the type of action I believe is likely to achieve a measure of progress for our citizen. We supported the application for bail and will continue to do so. Ultimately, this is an issue that will be decided by the Egyptian authorities. In the meantime, I will continue to make a strong case on his behalf, as I have been doing, for humanitarian reasons and having regard to his age and conditions and the fact that he is an Irish citizen remanded in custody awaiting trial for a period of time which I would regard as both inordinate and less than acceptable. I have conveyed these views to the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shoukry, and will continue to engage at the highest level.
There is no disagreement in Ireland or throughout the European Union on the legality or illegality of the settlements. They are illegal. Ireland will continue to ensure that this issue is high up the agenda, notwithstanding the challenges Europe faces in terms of the management of the crisis from within its own boundaries and beyond. As I stated at the outset, I accept that this apparent vacuum in the region has resulted in a situation where a two-state solution may well be less viable than heretofore. This is why it is important that the viability of the two-state solution remains. The European Union has a strong and positive role to play in a way that perhaps it has not in recent times.
We have stocks in place in Brunei, Dubai and other hubs that are deployed in response to need in various regions. We recently deployed 5,000 blankets for refugees in the Balkan region. We will continue to ensure that we play our part in so far as we can.
The question did not concern Ireland alone. We have always played an active role. The question also flowed from the fact that there will be an EU Council meeting. Is the Minister confident our EU partners have similar provisions or stocks in place and that the EU, as a whole, takes its role seriously?
Notwithstanding the challenge of having stocks in place, which is obviously of great importance, we need to ensure the distribution of the stocks meets urgent need. Everyone would agree that the various crises in diverse parts of the world have from time to time placed strains on stocks. We encourage our EU partners to ensure the stocks are in place and ready to be dispersed in a way that meets the crises.
I apologise for the fact that at this stage of the meeting, there is probably going to be a certain amount of overlap but I want to ask about the migration issue which is exercising all of us now. It took Europe a while to wake up to the migration issue, the wave of people coming from Syria, the deaths in the Mediterranean Sea and so on. Eventually, though a consensus has not been reached, there was at least some kind of a programme with increased emphasis on periphery border control and dealing with the problems where they arise, be that in Syria, sub-Saharan Africa or Libya. There is also an increased emphasis on dealing with migrants in their first country of arrival, be it in the EU or elsewhere.
The Minister rightly states that the migration issue cannot be conflated with the acts of terrorism in Paris the weekend before last. He is absolutely right. One does not have to know anything about the problem because one needs only to look at his or her television screen to know that the vast majority of people risking their lives are literally running for their lives. Nevertheless, we know that there is a certain trickle of terrorists coming into Europe.
Since the Paris event, we have heard the French Prime Minister saying there will be no more migration into France. Migration is the political issue of the day in Germany. While it says it can just about cope with the 1 million or so people it received this year, it says it will not be able to cope with another 1 million people next year or the year after or the wave of people that will inevitably try to come from Africa in the years to come.
There is a growing waking up to the reality that our part of the world has become an awful lot more dangerous in recent months. That was demonstrated again yesterday with the plane that was downed over Turkey or Syria, depending on who it is one is listening to. As a result of all these rapidly happening events and the way the situation is changing, does the Minister detect a change in attitude to migration on the part of the European countries? I am talking about a hardening of attitude against migration in our part of the world, based on a fear of a destabilising effect in Europe. I stress when I ask the question that I am not talking about Ireland specifically or particularly. Our response in taking in refugees is fairly modest to say the least. We could probably take in an awful lot more. I wonder about what must be an increased concern about peace and security in the European region. I realise it is a big question and that it is early days but does the Minister sense a change in attitude since the events in Paris?
Excuse me because I am a little hoarse but I will be brief. Like others, I commend the Minister on his role in the talks in the North but I would go further. His advent to the office has heralded a keener and renewed interest in and engagement with the North of Ireland. I commend the Minister in that regard. He has done well on other issues too in the Department of Foreign Affairs. He was a very good appointment and I do not say it to patronise him. Perhaps I am doing it to soften what I will say to him now.
I sat in these rooms for a number of years as a member of the committee which looked at Mr. Justice Barron's report on the victims and how they were treated.
We concluded that the Irish State had failed the victims and that is in our report. That was a joint committee report made up of people from the Minister's party, my party and others, including Independents. We felt the legacy issue would be an integral part of this agreement. To me, it should be a red-line issue. It is to the shame of Sinn Féin, the SDLP and the Government that we did not make it a red-line issue. By not doing so, we are in our own way co-operating with the continued collusion of the British authorities in these events. There is no doubt in my mind or our report that the collusion went to a very high level and even to the top of the British Administration, and that is why it is not being released. Does the Minister agree with our report in saying the State has failed the victims and we are continuing to do that?
An unrelated matter has not yet come up. I have heard from the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament that on 5 November, the first committee of the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that included establishing an open-ended working group, OEWG, to work on legal measures to achieve a nuclear weapon-free world and other measures that would contribute towards that. What active role will Ireland play in supporting that and building the necessary political cohesion for effective measures proposed by the OEWG?
My last area deals with migration. I have three short questions relating to that. I thank the Minister for his very comprehensive report covering a range of issues and particularly this important area. He mentioned the 60 million displaced people, which is an appalling vista if we think about it, who are suffering terribly right across the globe, especially in the Middle East. The Minister mentioned sub-Saharan Africa. The Vice Chairman accompanied me to a seminar I attended recently in Luxembourg with an address from Ms Federica Mogherini, who is a very impressive lady. If I recollect them correctly, the statistics indicated that much African migration is to Europe, with 20% of Africans migrating. That is a very high figure. Given that the population of Africa will grow to more than 1 billion in the next few decades, that will pose a great challenge. What preparation is being put in place at a European level to deal with it?
On page 3-----
I have taken three minutes to get to where I am. Others have had five minutes. The Minister indicated that the Council agreed on new measures aimed at strengthening the EU's external borders. Will he outline what they are?
I raise the issue of the whole migration policy. Many Muslims who have immigrated to Europe feel culturally alienated from the societies in which they live. Some second generation Muslims have resorted to becoming jihadists. We have also seen other examples from Britain, including a young man who converted in 1996 to Christianity, having been a Muslim, who is in hospital today because of continuing persecution. That is happening in Britain. I had this conversation recently with a senior British politician and the issue will feed into the referendum in Britain, so it is relevant for us to hone in on it. His idea was that although we must take our share of migrants, we could prioritise Christian migrants who feel vulnerable and alienated in their societies. We have very valuable Muslim members of society who make a great contribution to the State but why are other Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and others, which sponsor some of the people who radicalise young Muslims, not taking any responsibility with this migration crisis? That must be very much part and parcel of what happens in this process. Those who come here as Muslims and are radicalised might feel more at home culturally in those societies.
Both Deputy Mitchell and Senator Walsh spoke about concerns regarding migration. This is a real challenge and migration is never anything like an appropriate solution to conflict. Migration is a consequence of conflict. From an EU perspective, the priority must be to address the root causes, particularly in areas like Iraq, Syria, Libya and other states experiencing conflict and horror, meaning people are left with no choice but to flee, often without belongings or family members. It is a major issue and therefore it is important, as European foreign Ministers continue to stress, that we implement decisions that have been taken with regard to migration. An action plan was recently agreed in Valletta.
Deputy Mitchell is right and I will respond to her in a most frank and direct way. The sheer volume of refugees coming into the European Union has strained the ability of some of our partners to cope, and this has led in turn to strained relations between some neighbouring states as they attempt to offer a form of management. In Slovenia, a fence was erected along the border with Croatia. Some member states have taken unilateral action that has given rise to difficulty. Hungary has closed its border and Slovenia imposed a daily limit on new arrivals. In more recent days, the debate has shifted between Germany and Austria, and their relationship in the debate has appeared somewhat fractious.
Europe needs to continue to strive for a comprehensive approach involving some hotspots within the region being set up in Greece and Italy, for example. We need to be especially engaged with neighbourhood states and beyond, for example, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. We need to involve states in that area experiencing major challenges in managing the issue. We can consider Sweden as an example, one of the main European destinations for migrants for many years, as it has temporarily introduced border controls. It is now requesting a refocusing process. It is important that Europe responds in a way that will tackle the criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers. We should be in a position at all times to distinguish between refugees and other economic migrants. This presents a major challenge, and that is why there have been so many European meetings in the justice, foreign affairs and particularly at the Council and Heads of State areas. We are seeking to implement decisions that we have already agreed to take and have not adequately implemented. We must ensure there is a medium to long-term strategy, which can often be difficult.
Senator Walsh commented on legacy institutions in the North. I stress, as I have done in the House already, that I was most anxious for agreement to be reached in a comprehensive way, addressing many of the issues referred to by Senator Walsh. It was not the Irish Government that pressed for an agreement that completely left out the issues pertaining to legacy.
It became clear that there was a choice between having an agreement which saw the uncoupling of the past or having no agreement. In the circumstances, let me add with great reluctance, the agreement was to be ultimately less comprehensive but at least it ensured the devolved institutions were protected and placed on a stable and sustainable footing. There are a range of legacy issues upon which agreement was reached, and this has not been adequately recognised. I referred to them in the Dáil and it behoves everybody now, in the first instance, to reflect. The consequences of such reflection, however, must always be action. If the political will exists, which will involve an element of compromise on all sides, including the British Government to a large extent, we can set about the process of finding and determining answers to unresolved issues which have resulted in great hardship and trauma for families and communities over many decades. That must be seen, however, in the context of reconciliation because reconciliation is a prerequisite for a stable society where normal politics is working and seen to work for and on behalf of communities.
On the matter of nuclear non-proliferation, the most significant achievement was the passage of a resolution mandating the open-ended working group to be convened in Geneva. Ireland was one of the leaders in achieving agreement and we have a very proud record in this regard going back to the time of a former colleague, the former Minister for External Affairs, the late Frank Aiken, whose work was perhaps unappreciated and who was probably the longest serving Minister for External Affairs. I acknowledge his great contribution over a range of issues but in particular in the area of nuclear non-proliferation. His legacy is such as to require me to remain active in that regard, which I will.
On the migration issue, it is important we ensure Ireland can play its role in offering an element of humanitarian relief to people. I recently met refugees in my constituency who had just come from Syria and, as members will know, it was a most challenging endeavour for them. It is difficult for such people to relocate here in the winter and many of them do not speak English and have no experience of our way of life, culture, people or housing. I continue to encourage our society to offer an open welcome to these people who are fleeing the most horrific of circumstances, many of them without any worldly goods and many of them without any family.
I apologise for having had to step out for a number of votes that were called in the Seanad, and in doing so I have probably missed some of the answers to questions. I compliment the Minister on the hard work and the efforts that were made in kick-starting the Stormont House Agreement recently and, I hope, building very significantly on the peace process into the future. The legacy issues were referred to and it is a source of regret for the Minister and many others that further progress was not made on those. Is it proposed that the parties will get around the table again specifically to address the legacy issues separate from the agreement and, it is hoped, with a view to reaching agreement on most, if not all, of them?
On the Paris attacks and in light of the grave concern throughout Europe and in our own country, is the Minister satisfied we have sufficient intelligence on potential terrorists living here who would have the potential to cause severe havoc if they were to act as their counterparts did in Paris?
With respect to the awful Syrian situation the Minister has just described, it is very much to be welcomed that the newly formed International Syrian Support Group hopes to start formal negotiations in January. It is to be hoped we will see progress but it is very difficult to envisage much progress in the short term, particularly as the regime there and Russia continue to bomb civilians and the opposition in Syria daily. Does the Minister consider there is any possibility of a ceasefire being demanded by the international community that would in some way assist progress being made on those negotiations due to start on 1 January? Is he confident progress can be made in the short term to try to put together a solution which in the long term will end the appalling killings we have seen, with 250,000 people having been killed in the past four years and 12 million people having been displaced? I agree with the Minister's words of advice encouraging us all to look favourably on welcoming those people who have been left with just the clothes on their backs as they have fleed the appalling situation in Syria.
I apologise for being late due to a few votes having been called in the Seanad. It is amazing that we are approaching the anniversary of the appearance of the late Mr. Justice Barron in December 2003 before an Oireachtas committee on the issue of his report on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and yet the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is still considering whether to release those files 12 years on from that. Even today the High Court in London is examining a case concerning an incident that happened in 1954 in regard to the Scots Guards and the killing of 24 people in Malaysia. That shows how their system works. They wait until everybody is dead or gone and then they might issue an apology which is meaningless because there is no urgency and they do not want to release the files. We should remember that this was the biggest mass murder in the history of the State. If I were accused of it or being involved in it, I would release all the files and say we had nothing to hide, but obviously they have plenty to hide. If they wanted justice, they would assist us. I know the Minister has responded to that question but I ask that the latest correspondence to the Minister's counterpart or to the Prime Minister seeking that file would be circulated to the committee. We have had motions on this atrocity but I do not believe they understand they are being accused of being complicit, by silence or otherwise, in that atrocity.
On the issue of refugees, the Minister referred to screening. We are not suffering from the hysteria the rest of Europe is suffering from following the Paris attacks. We much remember that similar to the 9-11 atrocities in New York, of the 19 attackers, 15 were from Saudi Arabia, one was from Lebanon, two were from the United Arab Emigrates but none was from Afghanistan, yet it was the country that was attacked. Osama bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia. More than a decade later we have had the Paris attacks but none of those involved was from Syria. There were all Belgian or French citizens. It is the idea we need to attack, not the territory. A point that was raised by others is that Saudi Arabia is doing nothing that we can see but it is doing plenty we cannot see. Its people are the perpetrators of this idea, whether officially or unofficially. Has any of the Minister's colleagues on the EU Foreign Affairs Council challenged Saudi Arabia on the issue of what it is doing for the refugees who are on its borders and doorstep? hey are on our borders or doorstep.
On a more practical housekeeping issue, a report from the Ireland Australia Chamber of Commerce on consular representation was circulated to the members of the committee.
We have excellent consular representation in jurisdictions like Canada, where we have six consulates, in Winnipeg, Halifax, Edmonton, Montreal, Newfoundland and Vancouver, as well as our embassy in Ottawa. However, in Australia we just have Perth and Sydney. Before he leaves office, could the Minister look at the idea of having honorary consulates in Melbourne and other cities, such as Adelaide and Brisbane? There are huge Irish communities there, but in the case of Adelaide, because the ambassador covers not only Australia but also New Zealand, Samoa and other parts of the Pacific, he could not get there for three years. If we had an honorary consulate, it would be representation for Ireland there.
My colleagues have brought up the case of Ibrahim Halawa. I am sure the Minister has the document that came from Doughty Street Chambers giving their opinion of the similarities between him and Peter Greste, the Australian citizen. The Australian foreign Minister acknowledged, on the day that retrial was ordered for Peter Greste, he is now back in the position of an accused person awaiting trial, yet we persist in saying that we cannot do anything until Ibrahim has finished his trial. I will circulate it to the Department and to the Minister, but the family has called for the Taoiseach to get involved and has said the Government can do more. It is their legal opinion that Law 140 clearly allows for the transfer to Ireland of Mr. Halawa prior to a final judgment being given in his case. That is from Doughty Street Chambers, which represents people who have suffered human rights abuses all over the world. I ask, as my colleagues have asked, that his case would be on the agenda for the European Council of Ministers in December, which has not been finalised. His case is important because he is the only one of our citizens abroad who is facing the death penalty.
Where have I heard that before? I am the nomadic Member of this Oireachtas, because I was taken off all the committees of which I was a formal member and I am always last but not least. I thank the committee for having me here and I thank the Minister for his contribution. I have learned a lot from listening to it. For my own part, and on behalf of my constituents, I thank him for the work he puts in. It is clear that he does great work and puts in a huge effort.
I cannot underscore more heavily than Senator Daly has the imperative of saving a life. For anybody to be held the way Ibrahim has been held is appalling. He is my constituent. Today on the Luas line in Leopardstown at the Gallops at 7.45 a.m. I met one of his classmates from school and college. This man is doing his final year of engineering and he is a best friend of Ibrahim. He was a very well-adjusted and well-rounded man, who will be doing a master's in the UCD Smurfit School next September. I want to underscore that imperative. The Taoiseach should lift the telephone and arrange for a presidential decree request before 15 December. That would put modus operandiinto place to get him released.
Going back to 13 November, a Friday, in Paris, the slaughter and injury of so many people was totally unexpected. However, on 29 October, just outside Baghdad-----
This is a question. The Minister knows, because I told him privately. Camp Liberty, which is underwritten for the safety of its occupants, outside Baghdad near the airport, was attacked by a bombardment of over 80 missiles for ten minutes, with 23 dead and more than 20 wounded. That was in spite of the written UN and US guarantee that the safety of the people in Camp Liberty would be assured for several years. Only five weeks earlier I had written to John Kerry, Secretary of State-----
I have. Why did the Taoiseach, two thirds of the way through his statement on Paris, say that we have to consider the underlying causes? Having said that, the speech went nowhere, because the underlying causes are that regimes such as the-----
Yes. The question is why our Government is doing nothing, not even reporting that slaughter on 29 October, in the circumstances I have just described. Second, why did the US ambassador to Ireland not respond in any shape or form to that letter on my headed paper, which warned them of the impending attack that killed 23 people and injured more than 20? The British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom warned the US Secretary of State, the US assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran, the US deputy assistant secretary and the US ambassador about this attack, also in writing. This is not good enough-----
Okay. The Minister is aware of Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, NCRI. In 2006, she presented to the Council of Europe a ten-point plan for the future of Iran, which is based on the principles of human rights; democracy - one person, one ballot; gender equality; and all the principles that would make the framework for any decent and civil society, a document that could be our constitution. Why are these things not being used as the bedrock principles and frameworks for a liberated Iran? There are 85 million people there. It is being run by Aytollah Khamenei, the supreme religious leader, and the mullahs, who have an absolute dominance over their people, with-----
Why do we allow it go unreported that there have been almost 1,000 executions this year alone and the year is not even out? Why do we not discuss it? People like Geoffrey Robertson, one of the leading human rights lawyers in the world at the moment, support the examination of these grave injustices. We are prepared to go through the motions of the choreography of parliamentary nonsense - peace in our time, and so on - instead of talking about the realities, like Senator MacSharry did a moment ago, in respect of Ibrahim.
A psychiatrist would say that if a person keeps getting the same results and if they keep doing what they are doing, they will get more of what they have got. One must do something different and radical-----
All of these questions could in themselves warrant a full meeting of this committee, as they are very serious issues for the future of our country, of the European Union and of the people of the world.
Senators Mullins, Daly and Walsh and Deputy Mathews asked about my responsibilities in terms of Northern Ireland, the Irish citizen who continues to be detained in Egypt, the horrendous situation in Syria and the position of Ireland vis-à-visinternational and terrorist attacks. On Northern Ireland, of course there is ongoing engagement. I very much regret the fact that some aspects of the agenda were not fully dealt with, but that does not detract from what is an important agreement and I acknowledge the contribution of Deputy Ó Snodaigh's party towards that. Now, for the first time, there is a comprehensive plan in place to end the scourge of paramilitarism from the island of Ireland and as Minister, I will monitor the commitments entered into by the parties. The devolved institutions are on a sound financial footing and there is agreement by all to tackle the scourge of organised crime.
However, there are aspects of the agenda on which we were not in a position to reach a final agreement. Following the period of reflection we are now in, there needs to be ongoing engagement and I believe we can succeed in that. I believe that part and parcel of ensuring we tackle the legacy issues of the past, are the commitments given on the matter of the release of papers with particular reference to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings. I will continue to engage positively in that regard.
On the matter of the Irish citizen detained in Cairo, I wish to stress how important it is that people do not lose sight of the fact that any decision on the matter of his release will ultimately be taken by the authorities in Cairo, not the authorities in Dublin. I have been asked to assist by advocating that the Taoiseach lift the telephone, but he has done more than that. He has actively and positively engaged on a regular basis, as have I, on this issue. I acknowledge the Senator's visit to Cairo was recognised as important at the highest level. The Government continues to engage at all levels. I am aware that some in this room do not agree with the Government's approach, but I appeal to everyone who has the best interests of this citizen in mind to ensure that actions taken and public statements made are not such that they would ultimately jeopardise his position.
As the Chair is aware, we continue to engage at the highest level. Of all the consular cases and files the Department has ever had, this case is high among them in terms of commitment on the part of officials, ambassadors and the engagement of myself, the Senator and the Taoiseach. We want to achieve a positive result for this citizen and to see his release at the earliest opportunity. We will continue to work towards that. Mention was made of the Australian foregin Minister and other international figures. I met with the Australian foreign Minister on this issue and have engaged with other international representatives to try to ensure the case of the Irish citizen can be made firmly and in a way that ultimately will give rise to a satisfactory conclusion. It is my hope that the trial will take place on the return date in December.
The matter of Syria is a huge challenge with which we are all familiar. For a long time now, a ceasefire has been sought. Staffan de Mistura has given a great commitment at local level. Despite the horror and ongoing atrocities, there are signs of hope. Key players are now around the table, including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. There are hopeful signs that people are working sincerely and urgently to negotiate a peace settlement that will protect the rights of the Syrian people and move matters towards a more stable footing.
The question raised by Senator Mullins on the position of Ireland vis-à-visnational security and a possible attack within our jurisdiction was raised by Members in the House earlier today. The Minister for Justice takes the lead in regard to national security and I keep in close, regular contact with her. I assure members that the level of threat is kept under constant review by our security forces, An Garda Síochána, but nevertheless there is always a possibility of an attack. We need to ensure that the Garda continues to co-operate fully with our EU partners and that we intensify our intelligence and information sharing capacity. This is happening.
The likelihood of an attack on Ireland must always be considered a possibility. However, it is unlikely. We have no information containing any form of threat from international terrorism. This is an international problem and we need to ensure we have an appropriate and adequate level of intelligence sharing. The activities of a small number of people based here whose behaviour may well be of concern to the Garda is known and is monitored closely and all appropriate measures are being taken in that regard. Ultimately, at EU level and beyond, through the international community and through important influencers in middle eastern states and the Arab League, we must use every opportunity to bring an end to the conflicts giving rise to mindless acts of international terrorism by people who have no regard for the rule of law or democracy, a consequence of which is the unprecedented international movement of people we have referred to.
I thank the Minister for his exchange with the committee this afternoon. It has been a long day, but we have done well and have had a good exchange on the questions. We do not normally deal with issues relating to Northern Ireland in this committee, but because the Minister was so deeply involved in the talks, he was anxious to answer questions raised by members and I allowed some leeway in that regard. However, I advise members that I am not setting a precedent for the future. I thank the Minister and his officials for their attendance.