Minister Flanagan’s Statement to Seanad Éireann on the Ibrahim Halawa Case
30 June 2016
I welcome the opportunity to address the Upper House today on the consular case of Ibrahim Halawa, a young Irish citizen detained now for almost three years in Egypt.
From my first week in office when I met Ibrahim’s father, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, securing Ibrahim’s return home to Ireland has been a priority for me. At my direction, unprecedented sustained and focussed attention has been given to this important consular case in my Department, including through our Embassy in Cairo, having regard to the special circumstances of the case; namely, Ibrahim’s age at the time of his arrest and the fact that he has been detained on remand in an Egyptian prison now for three years. As a father myself, I am acutely aware that his detention is a cause of grief and worry to his family here in Dublin.
I am deeply disappointed by the delay in the trial as I know Members of the Oireachtas are, and indeed members of the public. No one is more disappointed than Ibrahim himself and his family. I invited members of Ibrahim’s family, including Sheikh Halawa, to meet with me on Tuesday and my Department continues to provide every consular assistance to them.
I have spoken directly to many of you about this case and I know there are strongly held views about the way that the Irish government should approach it. For my part, I want to assure you that my approach and that of the government is under continuous review. It is informed and shaped by, inter alia, regular contact with Ibrahim’s family and his legal representatives, by the experience and expertise of my Department officials, by our consultations with other States who have had citizens in a similar situation, and by advice from legal and political experts with a knowledge of Egypt.
Regardless of our difficulties with the trial - and I am on record as having very many concerns about it - the reality is that the Irish Government cannot directly interfere with a criminal trial in another jurisdiction. As a Government, what we can do - and what we are working very hard to do - is to provide all consular care possible to Ibrahim while he is in prison and to work towards his release at the earliest possible time.
In this regard, we have proactively used all the diplomatic tools that are available to us to ensure that the Egyptian Government at the highest levels fully understand the political importance that the Irish Government attaches to the resolution of this case. The Government is continuing to pursue every constructive avenue to secure the release of Ibrahim Halawa and we will continue to bring all of our influence to bear on his behalf through all effective channels.
All actions taken in this case are considered in the context of the Government’s clear strategy, which is focused on two core objectives. First, to see Ibrahim released by the Egyptian authorities so that he can return to his family and his studies in Ireland as soon as possible, and, second, to provide every possible consular support for his welfare while he remains in detention.
All of the sustained and focused actions that have been taken by the Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and our Embassy in Cairo throughout this case have been aimed at furthering these two objectives, and importantly, avoiding any action that could be counterproductive or detrimental to Mr Halawa’s interests.
I am in regular contact with my Egyptian counterpart, Minister Shoukry, making clear the Irish Government’s concerns and objectives in this case. Most recently, on 16 June, I travelled to Cairo to underline our concerns about this case directly to Minister Shoukry. I clearly restated our objective to see Ibrahim return to Ireland as soon as possible. I also underlined our concern that everything possible be done to ensure Mr. Halawa's welfare and wellbeing while he remains in custody. My visit conveyed the high importance that I personally and the Irish government attach to this case.
The Taoiseach has also discussed Mr Halawa’s detention with Egyptian President el-Sisi. The Egyptian Government is in no doubt about the Irish Government’s position and our anxiety to see Ibrahim released as soon as possible.
In addition to engagement with the Egyptian authorities, the Government has also been engaging on an ongoing basis with other states who have had citizens in similar situation - with our European and international partners represented in Egypt, and with the European Union. I have engaged extensively with the EU High Representative, Ms Federica Mogherini, who – at my request - has personally raised Ibrahim Halawa’s case with the Egyptian Government.
Officials in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, both in Dublin and in Cairo, remain in ongoing contact with the Halawa family. I met with Ibrahim’s father, sister and legal representative on Tuesday of this week and my consular officials keep an open channel of communication with them.
In the light of all these efforts, yesterday’s further deferral of the trial is deeply disappointing and I share the family’s acute frustration with this lack of progress.
As many members of this House will know, the Government formally supported an application made by Ibrahim Halawa’s legal team in 2015 for his return to Ireland under the Presidential decree 140. We will continue to offer all appropriate supports to the efforts of Ibrahim’s lawyers to secure his release.
I met this morning with the Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland and conveyed to her the Government’s deep concern at the very prolonged nature of the trial and my own concerns for Ibrahim. Ambassador Cole will visit Ibrahim in the coming days and my Department will tomorrow meet with the Halawa family and their legal representative to review options for possible next steps.
I assure this house that the Government will remain resolute in pursuing its clear objectives in this case and what we firmly believe to be in this citizen’s best interests and to be most likely to contribute to a positive outcome for him. To any Member of the House who feels they have a helpful contribution to make, my door is always open and, as I’ve stated already, our approach to the case is kept under continuous review.