Dáil debates

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

International Relations

4:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Durkan has tabled the next relevant and important matter. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, to the House.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important issue. Certainly in my lifetime, and I am sure in his too, we have never known of an Irish-owned aircraft and its passengers and crew being hijacked. They were directed to a destination other than that of their choice and were give no opportunity to negotiate that. They were accompanied by a military aircraft and forced to land at a location chosen by the president of a non-EU state.

On its face, this may seem to be just an incident but I believe it was a sinister, terrorist incident. If repeated, which it could be, it will have serious consequences for air traffic, and there are enough difficulties in the airline business with Covid without having another one visit us in this fashion. There is a need for the international community to recognise the seriousness of what this means. If repeated, as is likely, it will create a new terror for people travelling by air. We cannot allow the incident to pass without there being a calling to account of the perpetrators. It does not matter who they are - Heads of State or whoever they may be. The civil and human rights of the passengers and crew on board the aeroplane were at stake and those of others may be put at stake in future.

I raise the issue to let it be known that other European states and democracies throughout the globe need to react to this in a clear fashion. They need to send a message to such perpetrators that this will not go unchallenged, and that it was a criminal act. Because it was a criminal act, it deserves to be referred to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. There is only one way to deal with this kind of incident. I commend the crew and passengers of the aircraft on their bravery and on having to put up with this intrusion into their journey.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising what I agree is a very important issue. Ireland has promptly and publicly condemned the coercive forced landing of a Ryanair aircraft on Sunday last and the subsequent detention of Roman Protasevich and Sofia Sapega. We have raised our concerns over this incident with our EU and international partners, including at a meeting of UN Security Council members. We have also made Ireland’s position clear directly to the Belarusian Embassy in London.

These acts, which endangered the lives of the passengers and crew, showed a flagrant disregard for international law and were a direct threat to EU aviation security. As the aircraft is registered in Poland and was en route to Lithuania, our Polish and Lithuanian colleagues are actively working on investigations into the incident and we fully support them in their efforts. It is essential that the full details of what happened be brought to light and, in support of that goal, Ireland called for a transparent and independent investigation during a special meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization today.

We categorically reject the false narrative of the Belarusian authorities as to the reasons for this incident. At a meeting of EU leaders on Monday evening, the Taoiseach clearly communicated Ireland’s view that a strong EU response was needed, as is now being delivered through the concrete steps the EU leaders have agreed. EU airlines have been asked to avoid Belarusian airspace and work has commenced on banning Belarusian airlines from EU airspace. The EU will bring additional sanctions against those responsible for what has happened and is actively considering what form of additional economic sanctions it will take. The EU continues to consider our broader relations with Belarus, including its involvement in the eastern partnership mechanism.

I am deeply concerned for the welfare of Mr. Protasevich and Ms Sapega and I reiterate the call for their immediate and unconditional release. There are thousands of reports of human rights violations in Belarus, including numerous allegations of torture and physical and sexual abuse in detention. I know that the plight of those unjustly detained in Belarus is a matter of deep concern for all Deputies. Ireland has repeatedly called for the immediate and unconditional release of all those unjustly detained. I assure the House we will continue to do what we can to press the Belarusian authorities to adhere to their international commitments and obligations.

The repression of the Lukashenko regime has increased in recent months, with independent media and human rights work effectively criminalised. The Belarusian authorities cannot be permitted to continue their heinous acts with impunity. Ireland, the EU and our international partners have been working to ensure those who violate human rights will be held accountable for their actions through international investigations.

Following the successful adoption of an EU-led resolution at the Human Rights Council, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has begun establishing a team who will investigate human rights violations in Belarus. We strongly support her and the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus in their work and urge the Belarusian authorities to engage with them.

Ireland’s support for the Belarusian people in their long-standing defence of democratic principles and human rights is unequivocal and unwavering. We have stood in solidarity with them since the beginning of this long night of repression and will continue to do so.

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and note the action that has been taken. As well as that, whatever other measures are necessary need to follow, and will follow, according to what he outlined. If they do not, this will be repeated. Taking a passenger aircraft out of the air, by force, was an effective way of dealing with the situation. There have been incidents with passenger aircraft in parts of eastern Europe in the past, and we should not let it go unchallenged or pass without rigorously registering our concerns about it.

There is no doubt that the aircraft was known to be a passenger aircraft. The Ryanair emblem was clearly displayed. It was an aircraft carrying passengers who were going about their business and they had a right to so do. We talk a great deal about civil and human rights, and rightly so, but interfering in that way shows scant regard for international law, and the full rigours of international law need to be brought to bear on the perpetrators. I have every confidence that the Minister of State, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will utilise and mobilise all forces necessary to ensure the seriousness of the act does not go unchallenged or unnoticed, and that action will be taken to ensure it does not happen again.

Photo of Colm BrophyColm Brophy (Dublin South West, Fine Gael)
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I fully agree with what the Deputy said about the seriousness of this act. There is no question but that the international hijacking, effectively, of an aircraft and forcing it to land is totally unacceptable. I reiterate we are working with our international partners in response to this. We are determined to ensure accountability and will continue to support measures that seek to make those responsible, not just for this but for all human rights violations in Belarus, accountable for their actions. The Irish people have long had a care and concern for the people of Belarus that goes back to the Chernobyl disaster and its aftermath.

We have supported the Belarusian people and Belarusian civil society in many ways. I take the Deputy's point on board that this is a very serious international incident and we will continue to work to ensure accountability for it.