Sharon Commins reunited with family


Goal worker Sharon Commins is spending her first day with her family since being freed after more than three months captivity in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Ms Commins arrived at Casement aerodrome in Baldonnel on the Government jet just before midnight last night to an emotional welcome from family and friends. The plane landed at 23.53, almost 90 minutes behind schedule.

She was greeted by a party of eight including her parents, Agatha and Mark, brother Derek and his wife Ashling and brother Martin with his girlfriend, Áine.

Ms Commins said being home was “brilliant, brilliant…like a dream” and told reporters she would be celebrating by drinking a lot of champagne and was looking forward to having eggs Benedict, a meal she had been craving since day seven of her captivity.

Her mother said: “The darkest hours we have ever been in, we have been through it. We are going to hold on very tightly to her. Kutu won’t be seeing Sharon anymore.”

Ms Commins, from Clontarf, Dublin and her colleague Hilda Kawuki (42), from Uganda, were abducted by an armed gang in early July and finally freed in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The two women, who work for Irish aid agency Goal, were transferred from Darfur to Khartoum yesterday morning. Ms Commins left the Sudanese capital in the afternoon on the Government jet which had been dispatched from Baldonnel to bring her home.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said he was “very happy” the kidnapping came to a peaceful resolution as there were “concerns other options might be used”.

Mr Martin told RTÉ: “We made it very clear early on to the Sudanese authorities that we did not want a plan B - an assault on the site to try and force a rescue.”

“That happened in a previous case in Sudan and it didn’t work out to well.”

He said the Sudanese authorities had agreed not to do anything prior to contacting Irish authorities.

The Sudanese government minister who oversaw negotiations for the women’s release has said criminal charges will be brought. “We are keen to bring them to justice and punish them. We will file a criminal case against them,” Sudan’s humanitarian affairs minister Abdul Bagi al-Jailani told The Irish Times. “We know them by name, clan and tribe, so they will never escape punishment.”

Irish ambassador Gerry Corr said it was essential that aid workers felt able to operate in Darfur without fear of kidnapping, robbery or other crimes, given the war-ravaged region’s massive humanitarian needs.

“It is important that perpetrators of crimes like this be found so that banditry, hijackings and kidnappings stop,” he said. “I think the central point is that this really must not happen again.”

Mr Martin added that the kidnappings had put the broader humanitarian effort in the region at risk. “Kidnappings of this kind have a very difficult and traumatic impact on those who are kidnapped but also have a wider impact on the entire humanitarian effort in Darfur," he said.

The Goal case was the longest-running abduction of foreign aid workers ever to take place in Darfur.

President Mary McAleese  will host a reception at Áras an Uachtaráin on Thursday afternoon to mark the safe return of the Goal worker. The event will be attended by the Commins family and friends and also by representatives of all departments, agencies and organisations that assisted in her release and offered support to her family during her captivity.