Sunday 4 December 2016

Committee willl not hear from Amal Clooney law firm after criticism of Halawa case

Shane Phelan Public Affairs Editor

Published 09/12/2015 | 11:56

Lawyer Amal Clooney
Lawyer Amal Clooney
Ibrahim Halawa

The Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee has voted not to invite lawyers for imprisoned Irish teenager Ibrahim Halawa to a public hearing.

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The surprise vote came after a report co-written by the law practice of Amal Clooney was critical of the Government’s efforts to secure his release from custody in Egypt.

The high profile human rights lawyer is the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney.

Her practice, Doughty Street Chambers, is one of three sets of lawyers representing the Dublin teen and had requested an audience in front of the committee.

Mr Halawa was arrested in Cairo two years ago while protesting against the coup which toppled president Mohamed Morsi.

Egyptian authorities have linked the 19-year-old to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a banned organisation in Egypt. The Halawa family denies the link.

A motion moved by Fianna Fail senator Mark Daly for the committee to hear public testimony from Doughty Street Chambers was defeated this morning by seven votes to four.

The motion was opposed by Fine Gael TDs Pat Breen, Olivia Mitchell and Dan Neville, Fine Gael senator Michael Mullins, and Labour TDs Eric Byrne, Bernard Durkan and Derek Nolan.

Senator Daly’s motion was supported by Fianna Fail TD Brendan Smith, Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe and Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan.

The vote was called after several members of the committee said they would rather such a meeting takes place in private.

A report last month by Doughty Street Chambers and Gilbert & Tobin Lawyers claimed the Government could seek Halawa’s repatriation under a law used to grant the release of Australian journalist Peter Greste.

The journalist was deported from Egypt earlier this year under what is known as Law 140.

This allows for prisoners to be returned to their home country to be tried or serve out their sentence, depending on the circumstances.

However, the Irish Government has maintained Law 140 cannot be applied to Mr Halawa until the criminal proceedings against him are concluded, citing advice from a former prosecutor general in Egypt.

But the report maintains Law 140 can be applied in Halawa’s case and said the Government’s position was “untenable”.

It said: “The plain terms of Law 140 make it applicable to both criminals and either suspects or accused.”

Mr Halawa, the son of Ireland’s most senior Islamic cleric, Sheikh Hussein Halawa, has twice gone on hunger strike this year.

A mass trial in which he is a defendant has been adjourned on a number of occasions and he is due before the court again next week.

The exact charges he is facing remain uncertain.

Following the vote, committee chairman Pat Breen said he would prefer “an informal meeting with the legal team”.

He said: “They have requested a meeting with us. I think we should accede to that.

“I am disappointed there was a vote on this. All of us here on the committee want this young man freed. That is our goal.

“I think the best way forward is not to deal with this like a court of law in this committee room.”

Labour TD Eric Byrne claimed Mr Halawa’s situation was being used “as a political football”.

However, Sinn Fein TD Sean Crowe said there were clearly diverging views on what the committee should do.

Senator Daly said he was disappointed the legal team would not be heard from in public.

“If there is criticism, let us hear it in public. My concern is that members of the Government do not want to hear criticism of the Department of Foreign Affairs on what they should and shouldn’t be doing,” he said.

The senator said Mr Halawa would turn 20 on December 13 and his trial would resume two days later.

“My concern remains we have been told different things at different times by the Department of Foreign Affairs as to what can and cannot be done for Ibrahim Halawa in relation to Law 140,” he said.

“Other countries have succeeded and we have failed to do the same thing for our citizen that the Australians did for Peter Greste.”

Mr Breen insisted the Irish Government was “following the same lines” as the Australians did in Mr Greste’s case.

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