Dáil debates

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Foreign Conflicts

2:45 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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104. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is aware of the twin bombing attack on a peace rally in Ankara, Turkey, organised by the Peoples Democratic Party; that the death toll currently stands at 102, according to the public prosecutor’s office; that this is the third such attack at the party's rallies since June 2015; that it is the only party to be targeted like this; and his plans to express concerns over the apparent inability of the Turkish security services to protect its citizens attending such peaceful rallies, especially in the run-up to elections due to be held on 1 November 2015. [37195/15]

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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This question to the Minister was tabled before the elections in Turkey took place and concerned the attack in Ankara in which 102 people were killed. I asked whether the Minister was concerned about the lack of security services to protect citizens attending peaceful and democratic rallies, especially during the run-up to the election. I note that three months earlier, there was a bombing in Suruç after which the Turkish Government rounded up 2,500 people, the majority of whom were Kurds, who had been the victims of the attack in Suruç. In addition, 114 members of ISIS are supposed to have been lifted as part of that response. However, this has moved on to the question of the election itself and the next question I will ask the Minister is whether he is concerned about what happened.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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The appalling attack on the peace rally in Ankara on 10 October, in which 102 people lost their lives and many more suffered serious injuries, was shocking to us all. I wish to reiterate my condemnation of this attack, which the Turkish authorities believe was carried out by individuals linked to Islamic State. In a statement, I expressed my condolences to the families of the deceased, to those who were injured, and to the people of Turkey. I personally visited the Turkish Embassy and signed the book of condolences. I offer my condolences once more today in the House. The ambassador of Ireland in Ankara was among a group of EU ambassadors who visited the site of the attack on 12 October and laid flowers in tribute to the victims.

I also condemn the earlier terrorist attacks, including on a People’s Democratic Party, HDP, rally in south-eastern Turkey on 5 June and a Kurdish youth centre in southern Turkey on 20 July. It is worrying that the terrorist attacks have largely focused on HDP-related events. I regret the resurgence of violence in Turkey. The integrity of the democratic process must be respected at all times. There is no place for violence in this process.

The Turkish authorities have strongly committed to doing everything in their power to ensure the safety of all Turkish citizens, including by increased security measures. In this context, it is welcome that the elections which took place on Sunday, 1 November, were held in a largely peaceful manner. The breakdown of the PKK ceasefire is regrettable. I reiterate my call that all sides exercise the utmost restraint. Ireland is very supportive of the peace process between the Turkish authorities and the Kurds. Through the work of the conflict resolution unit of my Department, financial assistance is provided for an international NGO which has facilitated study visits to Ireland by Turkish and Kurdish MPs, journalists and advisers working for peace.

Officials in my Department and at our embassy in Ankara will continue to monitor developments in Turkey closely.

2:55 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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I am surprised by the Minister's reply. On Monday the elections observer, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, observed that the Turkish elections had been unfair and overshadowed by a climate of fear. This echoes the claim made by the HDP that it had been unable to campaign effectively because it had been busy trying to negotiate an end to violence in the predominantly Kurdish south east. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, PACE, went further and denounced the entire process as unfair. I have also heard reports that electricity was cut off in certain parts of the country and of the removal of ballot boxes by army personnel. There were a number of difficulties surrounding the elections, in the run-up to which thousands of people were arrested, many of whom had been the victims of violent attacks. Is the Minister concerned that these statements on how unfair the elections process was contradict his that the election campaign was relatively peaceful? As an outsider looking in, I would have the opposite view.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Turkey is facing a very difficult and challenging situation, not least following the horrific bombing in Ankara on 10 October. It faces internal and external challenges. It is an extremely important partner of the European Union, in particular, as we frame our collective response to the current migrant crisis. The Turkish elections held earlier this week which followed the inconclusive result in June, therefore, took place in a particularly difficult and sensitive context. The fact that they were held in an open manner is, I believe, not unimportant. I welcome the peaceful conduct of the elections on Sunday and look forward to working with the new government in an open and constructive manner on many issues of mutual concern, both on a bilateral basis and in the context of Turkey's importance as a partner of the European Union. It is important that the elections have taken place in an open and free manner and in accordance with the norms of democracy. The preliminary OSCE report and assessment highlights that election day was largely peaceful, that the elections were organised in a professional manner and that the count process was transparent. However, I accept that there has been robust criticism of the lack of media freedom and that the incidents of violence which characterised the campaign period were real. Nevertheless, it is important that we continue to work with the new government in a spirit of positivity.

3:00 pm

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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There was a particularly brutal crackdown on the media in the days leading up to the elections. Also, there was an increasingly volatile political climate. Last Wednesday Turkish police raided the offices of the main opposition media company and forced two television companies to close, yet the Minister said there was relative calm. It may appear that there was relative calm from this side of the Irish Sea, but what seemed to be happening in many communities was far from calm. Also, from what we saw on our television screens and reports coming back, clearly there was a problem.

The main focus of the last European Council meeting was on the issue of refugees. Many European governments are seeking to use Turkey as a bulwark against refugees seeking to reach the European Union. Is it now part of the narrative that for some reason we ignore Turkey's deplorable human rights record, especially against the Kurds, and its permanent role in the Syrian conflict in dealing with the issue of refugees? Many of the refugees fleeing Turkey are Kurds and sending them back would lead to the creation of even greater human rights violations. Is the Minister saying we are rewarding the Turkish Government for acting as a bulwark against refugees seeking to reach the European Union?

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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We will continue to engage with the new Turkish Government on a bilateral basis. I had the opportunity to visit Turkey earlier this year and also through the European Union. I assure the Deputy, lest there be any doubt, that Ireland continues to be a strong supporter of the peace talks between the Turkish Government and the Kurdish Workers' Party. We have been encouraged by the ceasefire which has been in place since 2013 and by a number of positive signals in the meantime. This only makes the recent breakdown of the ceasefire and subsequent violence all the more regrettable. I again urge all sides to exercise maximum restraint and work towards the reinstatement of the ceasfire as soon as possible. Ireland continues to believe a fair and lasting solution to the conflict can only be reached through democratic and peaceful means.