Taoiseach to intervene if Halawa’s release ‘delayed unreasonably’

Minister says Government staff worked about 20,000 hours on case

Ibrahim Halawa who has been acquitted of all charges in Egypt after four years in jail. Photograph:  Family Handout/PA Wire

Ibrahim Halawa who has been acquitted of all charges in Egypt after four years in jail. Photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire

 

The Taoiseach and Minister for Foreign Affairs will intervene directly if there is “any sense of unreasonable delay” in the release of Ibrahim Halawa from prison in Cairo, Minister of State Helen McEntee said on Friday.

“Unfortunately, we cannot say now when precisely he will return to Dublin,” she said.

The Minister said Egyptian courts require “a number of procedures, formalities and administration” to be gone through.

“Our priority is that he will be in a position to return home to Dublin with minimum delay and we have done everything at this stage that we can.”

Mr Halawa was cleared on Monday of all charges relating to a protest in August 2013 after the ousting of then president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ms McEntee also revealed that up to 40 Department of Foreign Affairs staff worked on Mr Halawa’s situation at any one time “and around 20,000 person-hours were put into this case”.

She said there were also 10 engagements with the Taoiseach at presidential level, and 20 direct engagement at foreign ministry level.

“Ibrahim Halawa’s name has been cleared, his innocence confirmed and the most important thing now is that he returns home,” Ms McEntee said.

The Irish embassy has issued a new passport for the 21-year-old and “we are trying to address the practicalities relating to his departure from Egypt, including those relating to his immigration status”.

The court also acquitted, in their absence, three of his sisters who were arrested in the same protest but released on bail three months later when they returned to Ireland.

They were among 453 defendants in the mass trial.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Ireland’s embassy team “will be assisting and supporting him and his family to work through these processes and to make the necessary arrangements so that he gets home as soon as possible”.

Ms McEntee added that Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar “are personally being briefed and updated on developments and stand ready to intervene directly if there is any sense of unreasonable delay regarding his release or clearance to leave Egypt”.

In the Dáil this week, the Ms McEntee paid tribute to “this extraordinary young man for his maturity, his strength of character and his resilience”.

She said he had been cleared and his innocence confirmed.

“This Irish citizen has been deprived of his liberty for four years and he has endured great hardship and distress,” she said.

Ms McEntee also paid tribute to Mr Halawa’s family “for their relentless support of their son and brother throughout the past four years. Their dignity and tenacity have been an inspiration.”

The Minister and TDs across the House also praised the work of the staff of the Irish embassy in Cairo including former ambassador Damien Cole, current ambassador Sean O’Regan and Shane Gleeson.

Tributes were also paid to the consular unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs over the past four years and the efforts of TDs, Senators, MEPs and local councils.

Ms McEntee also praised Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl and the all-party delegation he led to Cairo in January.

Mr Ó Fearghaíl described Mr Halawa as an “inspirational young man. I salute his fearless sisters.”

He also praised the embassy staff and said Egyptian ambassador to Ireland Soha Gendi had been “continuously and constantly available. and assisted me in every way she could”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett said it was important to condemn in strident terms the “minority-led but vocal and quite filthy racist campaign against Ibrahim Halawa, recycling many of the lies and justifications that the Egyptian regime itself might have used for his imprisonment.

“He is an Irish citizen. He is innocent. He is not a terrorist. He was just someone involved in a peaceful protest but whether he was Irish or not, regardless of his religious faith, colour or anything, no one should have been subjected to what he was subjected to by the Egyptian regime.”

Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O’Brien said he too had been contacted by people “who question what this case is about and ask if we are sure about this campaign”.

Mr O’Brien stressed Mr Halawa’s Irish citizenship and said “his background should not matter. He has been acquitted. He is not a terrorist and we always knew that. People who do not accept that should really ask questions of themselves.”