Friday 30 September 2016

The Government is doing all it can to get Ibrahim Halawa back to his family ...but restraint is required

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

Government doing their best to secure the release of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa
Government doing their best to secure the release of Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa

Today will mark two years since Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa was arrested at a protest in Cairo. Ibrahim has been detained in various prisons since, and is now being sent to mass trial with 493 others. Three of his sisters, Omaima, Fatima, and Somaia, were also detained by the Egyptian authorities but were subsequently released. Since then, Ibrahim's family has worked tirelessly to secure his release to Ireland.

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My priority is also to do what we can to secure Ibrahim's release. Until this outcome is secured, we continue to care for his welfare while he remains in detention. Significant efforts have been, and continue to be, made in achieving those objectives. These exceptional efforts are being made because he was a minor at the time of his arrest, the mass nature of his trial and the length of time he has spent in detention.

My department is in close contact and continues to work with the Halawa family and I know we are all guided by a powerful conviction to do what we consider to be in Ibrahim's best interest. My own actions have been informed by discussions that both I and officials in my department have had with the Egyptian authorities, and through the information we have received from our international partners with citizens in similar circumstances.

The lengthy delays and the nature of the trial are clearly frustrating to the Halawa family, to their many supporters, and obviously to Ibrahim himself. It is also frustrating for me personally, and for the dedicated team of officials working on this case. But the Irish Government cannot intervene in a foreign judicial process, just as we would not allow a foreign government to interfere in our own. The sensitive nature of the legal proceedings demands that we exercise restraint in our public comment in the interests of our citizen.

That restraint, despite criticism, belies the real and substantial work that my department is quietly doing to lay the groundwork for Ibrahim's release. Consular cases should never become political footballs. It is not by megaphone diplomacy or political grandstanding that Ibrahim will be released - rather by painstaking preparation and appropriate intervention at the right time. Ibrahim's welfare, his prolonged detention, and the nature of the legal proceedings against him have, nonetheless, been repeatedly raised with the Egyptian authorities since his arrest.

An important step in this process was taken last February, when an application made by Ibrahim's legal team for his return to Ireland under Egypt's presidential decree law was formally supported by the Government. Informed advice suggests there will be no decision on this request before the current trial concludes. The Egyptian Ambassador to Ireland made this point very clearly in a recent newspaper interview.

I have received and carefully considered several legal submissions in connection with this case. Lawyers acting on behalf of Ibrahim and his family are free to pursue the options open to them. Some of the international mechanisms suggested could take years to come to fruition and, if the Government were to support them, would undermine our ongoing efforts. The actions of the Government are always guided by what we consider to be in Ibrahim's best interest. It remains the Government's considered view, supported by decades of diplomatic experience in other consular cases, that our firm and measured diplomatic approach offers the best prospect for Ibrahim's release at the earliest possible date.

Until Ibrahim is released, my department continues to provide comprehensive consular assistance, and works to try to secure positive progress. Embassy officials will accompany Deputy Pat Breen, chair of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, to visit him again later this week. I look forward to Deputy Breen's assessment of the situation on his return to Dublin.

I take very seriously my department's duty of consular care towards Irish citizens. Any concerns raised in respect of welfare and all accusations of mistreatment against our citizens are always treated with the utmost importance.

There are never easy answers when a citizen finds themselves before a foreign court, but the Government is resolved to do all it can to return Ibrahim to his country and his family.

Charlie Flanagan is the Minister for Foreign Affairs

Irish Independent

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