DÁIL QUESTIONS WITH MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ON KURDISH POPULATION

  1. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures, including diplomatic, political and economic sanctions, being considered by him and his EU Foreign Minister colleagues against the current Government of Turkey following its crackdown on free speech and the media, Turkish members of parliament, the legal system, Turkish civil and public servants and the Kurdish and other minority populations in Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [36088/16]
  2. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he and the Government have protested to the Government and ambassador of Turkey against the escalating severe repression of the Kurdish population of Turkey and their political representatives in the HDP party; the steps he is taking with EU colleagues to end this repression and restore the peace process in eastern Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [36087/16]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have raised with the Minister the issue of the savage oppression of the Kurdish nation and people on seven or eight occasions since he took office. In July this oppression intensified with the mass arrests of journalists, soldiers, police officers, 120,000 civil servants of all kinds, judges, 28 democratically elected mayors, the destruction of cities and the oppression of the language and the culture of the Kurdish people in Turkey. I would like to know what the Minister, in conjunction with his EU colleagues will do about this.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: I propose to take Question Nos. 31, 45, 51 and 53 together.

I wish to assure the Deputies that I have repeatedly stated my serious concerns about the deteriorating situation in Turkey since the attempted coup on 15 July. My most recent statement of 4 November expressed my deep concern at the arrest of the two co-chairs of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, HDP, and several of its elected members of parliament, as well as at the intensified media crackdown. I have clearly stated Ireland’s position at the Foreign Affairs Council and the Council of Europe where I engaged directly with the Turkish Foreign Minister, and my officials have drawn my statement to the attention of the Turkish Embassy in Dublin.

I have highlighted the need for a proportionate and measured response by the Turkish authorities, and the importance of upholding the core European values of democracy, respect for rule of law and freedom of expression, including media freedom, the rights of minorities and other fundamental freedoms. Ireland fully agrees with the statements by the European Union that there is no place for a country which reintroduces the death penalty within the European Union.

In a strong statement issued on 8 November, the European Union was critical of Turkey’s recent actions and the direction of recent developments and called once again for a resumption of the political dialogue with the Kurds. I have also repeatedly called for a return to dialogue to allow the political process to resolve the Kurdish issue to resume, as did my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy during the extensive debate which took place on Turkey at the most recent meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 14 November. My officials met last week with members of the pro-Kurdish opposition HDP, as did a number of Deputies across the House. The HDP representatives presented a very stark case, in particular on the circumstances surrounding the detention of democratically elected representatives from Kurdish areas, the restrictions on the Kurdish media, as stated by Deputy Broughan, and the very negative impact on the daily lives of large numbers of the Kurdish population.

The European Commission published its annual report on Turkey on 9 November. The report is critical of Turkey on the core issues of rule of law and fundamental rights and outlines backsliding in these areas. The report will be discussed at the December meeting of the EU General Affairs Council.

The EU and its Member States, including Ireland, are keeping the situation in Turkey under close review in light of the recent very negative trends. The EU is considering how best to influence Turkey, and to encourage a commitment to the return of democratic norms and respect in Turkey for basic freedoms. At the same time, Ireland believes that it is important to keep the lines of communication open with Turkey, and that we must try to hold open the long-term European perspective for all the people of Turkey.

I am scheduled to meet with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Nils Muižnieks, later this week and will discuss with him his views on the path to take in terms of the commitments of Turkey as a members of the Council of Europe.

The EU-Turkey deal agreed between EU Heads of State and Government and Turkey in March 2016 is not affected by recent events. Turkey continues to play a key role in addressing the migration crisis. The core intention of the agreement between Turkey and EU Heads of State and Government was to break the business model of the people smugglers who are profiting from the suffering of vulnerable migrants. It is particularly aimed to discourage the victims of people smugglers from risking their lives crossing the Aegean Sea. The very significant decline in the number of people attempting to cross the Aegean Sea from Turkey to the Greek Islands since this agreement entered into force, suggests that in many respects it is achieving its aims.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: We were to meet Deputy Faysal Sariyildiz, who could not travel from Brussels, but I am grateful that the Department has met the Kurdish solidarity group. I hope the conflict resolution unit, which the Minister told me about previously, is interested in this, and that those contacts will continue.

I understand the European Parliament is voting today on the suspension of all talks with Turkey on chapters of accession. Does the Minister agree with that? Will he say that we should suspend talks with the Turkish Government? As I outlined briefly, the savage oppression of the people of the Kurdish area of Turkey continues. The Minister mentioned the return of the death penalty and the absolute refusal of the AKP party to allow the expression of the rights of the HDP, which represents the Kurdish people.

What steps can the Minister take to ensure the peace process which was well under way in 2013 and which Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of the Kurdish people, was anxious to progress will be restored?

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The Deputy has raised a number of issues. I will continue to call on all parties to engage in constructive dialogue. Ireland shares concerns about the situation in Turkey. I note the Deputy’s comment on Members of the European Parliament and the resolution which calls on the European Union to suspend accession talks with Turkey in response to the ongoing crackdown on fundamental freedoms. The prospect of a European perspective will ultimately benefit the people of Turkey, offering them a democratic future and a rule of law of a type everyone in House agrees is important and of advantage to the people of Turkey. However, I also believe it is important to keep all channels of communication open at what is a most sensitive time. The cessation of relations is not in the best interests of the Turkish people. It is important, therefore, that we continue to engage and retain open channels of communication at this very difficult and challenging time.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Like others, I met the Turkish delegation and had hoped to meet the Kurdish Members of Parliament; however it was not to be. It is very disconcerting that what we are seeing is the imprisonment of democratically elected Members of Parliament. We have also seen the removal of democratically elected mayors in Kurdish areas, as was pointed out to us by the group. They also showed us pictures of a number of Kurdish villages which had been destroyed by the Turkish military and it was actually like looking at scenes from Aleppo. This is an issue which is not receiving the media coverage and attention it should. The Minister mentioned something about engagement with the embassy in Dublin. I wonder if he has had a response from the Turkish ambassador. While we can say the European Union is of critical importance, it does not translate into action. I agree with the Minister about keeping lines of communication open, but question whether we are being strong enough about the attack on democracy in Turkey.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: My officials remain in ongoing and continuous contact with representatives of the Turkish Government here. I have repeatedly called for a resumption of dialogue to allow the political process on the Kurdish issue to resume. The escalation of violence as referred to by the Deputy since the breakdown of the ceasefire between the Turkish Government and the PKK in the summer of last year continues to be a cause of serious concern. The breakdown was all the more regrettable, given the positive signs that progress had been made in the course of the talks. Ireland continues to be a strong advocate of peace talks between the Turkish Government and the PKK. I note the work of the conflict resolution unit of my Department and the financial assistance provided for an international NGO which has facilitated study visits to Ireland by Turkish and Kurdish MPs. There was a dialogue only last week, as Deputies have said. We will continue to advocate and work for a lasting peace in the region.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien: During Priority Questions I mentioned the situation in Turkey that my colleagues have outlined. It is time for Ireland to extricate itself from the EU-Turkey arrangement. The Turkish Government has used the coup as an opportunity to shore up and consolidate its power. The attacks on the Kurds, the free press and opposition Members of Parliament are things we should not countenance as a free and open society. Our part in the EU-Turkey migration deal is something I have raised regularly with the Minister. We do not have oversight of how the €20.9 million is being spent. The reason the European Union will not suspend the accession talks with Turkey is it needs Turkey to deal with the migration crisis. We need to speak with a louder voice on this issue. I understand, as Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan mentioned, the need to keep channels of communication open, but Ireland is an independent state and can state its position and that of the Dáil. We do not have to take the EU lead on everything.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Ireland continues to support the eventual accession of Turkey to the European Union. We have been clear that all of the benchmarks, conditions and criteria in the process must be met fully and that there must be no shortfalls as far as accession is concerned. The rule of law, fundamental rights, in particular freedom of expression and the media, minority rights and democracy are core elements of the process of accession. On 9 November the European Commission published its report on the state of play regarding all candidate and potential candidate countries. The report on Turkey is clear and critical and highlights the deterioration of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It also acknowledges Turkey’s positive contribution in dealing with the migration crisis. Ireland’s view, as I said, is that it is important, if we are to make progress, that channels of communication remain open at all levels within the established framework. That includes the accession process which provides the hope of a long-term European perspective for the people of Turkey which, in the circumstances, is very important.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: It is utterly outrageous that the European Union is remotely considering admitting a country engaged in such horrendous oppression. Almost 200 children have been killed, while cities and towns have been razed to the ground. It beggars belief. It is also a problem for us that Germany has a conflicted interest having made the refugee deal and paid large sums of money to Turkey while at the same time, above all, refusing time and again to allow Turkey to proceed to join the European Union. There is total hypocrisy at the heart of this issue. I again call on the Minister to say clearly that what is happening is anathema to us. The peace process must resume and the rights of the Kurdish nation must be upheld. I hope all of Kurdistan will some day have a parliament like this.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Progress was made in 2013 in building peace, but it says something about a regime that one of its targets is teachers. The regime has arrested thousands of teachers and so denied Turkish and Kurdish children the right to an education. Oxfam has stated the European Union needs to reconsider very carefully exactly how much it is willing to sacrifice on the altar of migration. While we are trusting Turkey to deal with refugees in a respectful and humane way, the Turkish military is bombing Kurdish villages, causing so much death and destruction.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien: Does the Minister not see a paradox or contradiction in the European Union and, by extension, Irish support for the EU migration deal, while at the same time calling for Turkey to abide by human rights law and ensure refugee rights are upheld? On the one hand, we are saying to Turkey that there are critical reports within the European Union on human rights abuses, attacks on minorities and the closing down of the free press, while, on the other , we are saying it is okay to send refugees and migrants to what is supposedly a safe haven. It does not stack up. There is an absolute contradiction in that approach.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: The European Union and Turkey have been working for many months on the matter of the appalling migrant crisis. As Deputy Darragh O’Brien will be aware, Turkey is hosting in excess of 2.7 million migrants, an enormous number for any country. Ireland, like our EU colleagues, is committed to finding a solution to this most serious problem.

From listening to some Deputies, one might be excused for forming the view that an imminent accession conclusion to the current issue is likely. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. There is no question of Turkey gaining admission to the European Union until such time as all of the strict criteria, conditions and obligations are met.

It is essential, in the context of what has happened in Turkey over the summer months that the core principles of democracy, including human rights, must be protected in Turkey. I once again urge the Turkish authorities to revert to ordinary procedures and safeguards as early as possible. I will have an opportunity to engage with the European Commission on this issue before the end of this week.