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Tuesday 13 November 2018

Relief and joy as 'wonderfully brave' GOAL worker set free

Aine Kerr Political Correspondent

PRESIDENT Mary McAleese last night led the deluge of messages of relief and delight following the release of aid worker Sharon Commins.

Describing the early morning news as "wonderful", Ms McAleese said Ms Commins and her colleague Hilda Kawuki had been immensely brave and resilient.

"We are all deeply proud of both of them. Our thoughts are with them and their families now as they seek to recover from the horrendous ordeal they have endured," she said.

"That ordeal serves as a reminder of the huge scale of the commitment made by Irish aid workers and indeed all aid workers every day as they carry out their noble work on our behalf."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said he was "absolutely delighted and relieved" to get news of the aid workers' release in Darfur. He passed on his "warm congratulations" to everyone involved in bringing about their freedom.

"The two aid workers have endured a very difficult ordeal and their family and friends have also suffered during the period of their captivity," he said.

The Taoiseach also commended the family of Ms Commins for their "wonderful bravery" given the understandable public inquiry and curiosity over these last 100 days.

Last night, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin told the Irish Independent the Government would examine the possibility of honouring Ms Commins and aid workers for their bravery.

Honour

"We will be reflecting on the point you've made. Humanitarian workers are special people. They bring great honour on our country and certainly we will be looking at that issue," he said.

"But first things first, we will welcome her back warmly."

When aid organisations go abroad, they don't take protection from the host country in order to protect their independence, Mr Martin said. The Government will "learn lessons" from the last 100 days and will review the "entire situation" to make sure it can do the best for all aid workers.

Having access to local chieftains who understand the complex tribal network was a key factor to Ms Commins' release.

"The influence of the tribal chiefs was pivotal in terms of influencing the bandits to release the girls," he said.

"We were very concerned about the length of time that had elapsed and we had a number of false dawns. In early August, it was conveyed to us that the girls would be released fairly quickly and that didn't transpire. There were different phases to this."

Fine Gael's foreign affairs spokesman Billy Timmins congratulated the Department of Foreign Affairs, Sudanese Humanitarian Minister, Abdel Baqi al-Jailani and all who were involved in securing Ms Commins' safe return home. Labour's Michael D Higgins said the same effort must now be applied to securing the release of Fr Michael Sinnott who was abducted in the Philippines.

The Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, which had been active in seeking both the aid workers' safe release and met with the Sudanese Ambassador to Ireland Mr Omer Siddig in July this year, yesterday welcomed news of their release.

Committee chairman Michael Woods said credit must be given to Irish and Sudanese officials who worked diligently to broker their release.

Irish Independent

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