Tuesday, 3 November 2015
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Human Rights Issues
I thank the Deputy for asking this question. It is one in which I have taken a very active role since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade last year. Significant resources in Cairo and in Dublin continue to be deployed in the provision of comprehensive consular assistance to this citizen. The key focus of our extensive engagement on this complex and sensitive case remains securing this citizen’s best interests in so far as we can, working to see him released by the Egyptian authorities at the earliest opportunity and providing consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention. I have had numerous discussions with my Egyptian counterpart about this case. I and my officials have extensive contact with the Egyptian ambassador in Dublin, and there has been ongoing contact between our ambassador and embassy in Cairo and the Egyptian authorities. The Taoiseach has also raised this case with President el-Sisi, in September, in New York. We continue to be in extensive contact with other international partners who have had citizens in similar situations.
This exceptional level of action has been taken by the Government and by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade because of the exceptional nature of this case: he was a minor at the time of his arrest and the group nature of his trial gives rise to particular concerns.
I will continue to take all appropriate action that I believe to be in the best interests of this citizen. However, the reality is that any decision to release this citizen will ultimately be taken by the Egyptian authorities, not by the authorities in Dublin. Given that the trial is ongoing, the Government exercises care and caution to ensure its actions, bothin public and private, will be well judged and not detract from our key goal of securing positive progress for this citizen at the earliest possible time. I am aware that there are those, including some in this House, who do not agree with the Government's approach, but I appeal to allthose who have this citizen's best interests in mind to ensure their actions and public statements are not such that they could jeopardise our considered and concerted efforts to achieve positive progress for this citizen and his release at the earliest opportunity.
Notwithstanding what the Minister said, is it not clear that far more pressure needs to be put on the Egyptian Government regarding the need for the immediate release of Ibrahim Halawa? He is not just an Irish citizen in an Egyptian jail; he is, to my knowledge, the only European Union citizen in an Egyptian jail on a political charge. Is it not clear that the Irish Government should demand action that will avoid a trial? This is not a normal country with a normal judicial process. It is a dictatorship where 400 or 500 people have been put in a cage and are being tried together on charges that carry the death sentence. Has the Minister studied the case of the Australian journalist Peter Greste who was held on trumped-up charges but who was freed under law 140 of the Egyptian code which provides for the deportation of an accused foreign national in Egypt to be dealt with under the law of his or her home state? Should the Minister not call for a presidential decree that this law be invoked? The Minister said the Taoiseach had met President el-Sisi in New York on the margins of the United Nations. Can the Minister tell us what was said and what the President of Egypt said in response? This information has not been relayed to the family.
I assure the Deputy that the Government has formally supported several applications that have been made by lawyers acting for and on behalf of this citizen for his release on bail and under a presidential decree. As an example of our ongoing interest in and commitment to this case, within the past hour I spoke at length to my colleague, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr. Sameh Shoukry. I spoke to him on a number of occasions during the summer. This afternoon my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Sean Sherlock, will meet the Egyptian ambassador in Dublin. We will continue at every level, including at the level of the Taoiseach, to raise this issue.
I assure the Deputy that the family of this citizen are being and will continue to be kept fully informed of all developments. We have made numerous visits to the citizen in prison, most recently by our newly appointed ambassador to Cairo earlier this week. Every opportunity will be taken, both legally and politically, to ensure an earlier return.
I have studied the case of the two journalists and assure the Deputy that we have addressed the issue on the international stage. I have discussed it with my ministerial colleagues from the country of origin of the two journalists to whom the Deputy refers.
The European Union has substantial trade and other links with Egypt. Has the Minister made any strenuous representations to those in the appropriate senior positions in the European Union that they should put pressure on the Egyptian Government for the release of Ibrahim Halawa? The British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, is scheduled to meet President el-Sisi this week. Has the Minister had the opportunity to raise this issue with the British Prime Minister? To my knowledge Mr. Halawa is the only European Union citizen under unjust political detention in Egypt?
I understand the Minister was in Cairo on 12 October to discuss funding for the people of Gaza, which I fully support, of course. Has he brought back any first-hand report on the Ibrahim Halawa case from that visit?
I have not been to Cairo in recent times. However, on my visit to Cairo last year I certainly had an opportunity to raise the issue. As recently as 1 p.m. this afternoon I had the opportunity of direct engagement on the issue. On the specific issue the Deputy raised regarding the international journalist, it is very clear to me from all the contacts I have made and from studying the various documentation that the position of the Egyptian authorities is such that the current trial process must be permitted to take its course before consideration can be given to any application for presidential decree. Any decision is ultimately one for the Egyptian authorities. I assure the Deputy that I have raised the issue on the international stage and will continue to do so. In particular I have raised it with High Representative, Federica Mogherini, high-level persons within the European Parliament and also with the Foreign Ministers of the countries of origin of the journalists to whom the Deputy refers. Every effort will continue to be made until we see this citizen back on Irish soil.