Breen questions Foreign Affairs Minister on the future of Belarus Children travelling to Co. Clare.

September 13th, 2008 - Pat Breen

Fine Gael’s Deputy Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Clare T.D. Pat Breen raised the plight of the Belarus children travelling to Ireland at the European Affairs Committee Meeting when he questioned the Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin on this issue at yesterday afternoon’s Committee Meeting.

Deputy Breen highlighted the situation where up to 1000 children a year arrive at Shannon Airport from Belarus for much needed respite care since the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. He questioned the Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin as to why this problem has arisen now when the Irish Government had a document in its possession from the Belarusian Authorities since April of last year. “What is the problem with the document that is has been dealt with since last April?”

Minister Martin confirmed that “A draft document was sent last year to the Office of the Minister for Children under the Minister of State with responsibility for children”, however, he said that the “Minister of State and the Department are of the view that the Child Care Act 2001 with regard to the protection of children, particularly in terms of Garda vetting and the various steps on would take to protect children”.

Nevertheless, he assured Deputy Breen that he was open to accommodating Belarus and that the Irish Government are entering into discussions with the Belarusian authorities in an effort to “resolve the situation in the interest of the families concerned.” He also said that the Irish Government is very supportive of the Chernobyl project and “have approved through Irish Aid some €600,000 to the Chernobyl project for the development of day-care centres in Belarus.”

Deputy Breen added that “Last Christmas over 100 children made the 3000 mile journey from Belarus to Shannon Airport and many Clare Families welcomed them into their homes and made sure that they experienced the true spirit of Christmas. I hope that the Irish Government will finalise an agreement with Belarus as soon as possible so that these children can continue to travel here this Christmas.”

Extract from Joint Committee meeting on European Affairs meeting, Tuesday 9 September 2008 containing Deputy Breen’s comments on Belarus and the Minister’s reply.

 

[Deputy Micheál Martin continuing] ……………….

  A further item related to the Georgia crisis discussed briefly in Avignon was the EU’s relations with Belarus.  It was suggested that there now appears to be some grounds for reviewing our relations with Belarus in light of some recent positive developments.  We raised issues pertaining to the Chernobyl children’s project and I will discuss that later.

 

 

 

[Deputy Micheál Martin continuing] ………….

 

  Recent positive steps have been taken by the Belarusian Government, most notably the release of all remaining political prisoners last month.  The draft Conclusions will therefore welcome Belarus’s actions on prisoners and indicate that, if the upcoming 28 September parliamentary elections demonstrate a commitment to improve the previously dire electoral process, the EU will consider further steps to improve relations.  It is not expected, however, that there will be a debate at GAERC on this issue.

  As I already mentioned, the EU’s relations with Belarus were also briefly discussed at the informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers last weekend.  Clearly, there remain important issues for the EU to pursue with Belarus, including human rights as well as the restrictions the Belarus Government has indicated it wishes to impose on children affected by the Chernobyl accident from travelling to third countries, including Ireland, for treatment and recuperation.

  I conveyed to my colleagues in Avignon the concern in Ireland at these restrictions and my intention to have detailed discussions with the Belarus authorities on this issue.  I look forward to positive and fruitful discussions later this week with Belarusian representatives to resolve the difficulties which have arisen.  Our ambassador in Moscow is in Minsk today for discussions with the authorities there and we have invited the chargé d’affaires in London to Ireland this week to pursue the issue further.

 

 

Deputy Pat Breen: I want to touch on the Belarus problem.  For many of the Belarusian children who have come to Ireland since 1986, Shannon Airport was their point of entry.  County Clare has several Chernobyl children groups, such as the Burren and east Clare groups.  This morning I heard an interview with the leader of the Burren-Chernobyl group who is in Belarus.  He claimed there is no ban on children coming to Ireland according to the relevant Belarusian authorities.  There is a bilateral document the Irish Government must sign which has been with it since last April.  What is the problem with the document that it has not been dealt with since last April?  Most medical evidence has shown that for many of these children, coming to Ireland adds two years to their lives.  The current difficulties have probably arisen because of the child who visited the United States and refused to return home.  Will the Minister comment on the document received by the Department last April and explain why no response was issued, according to the Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Belarus?

 

 

 

 [Deputy Micheál Martin] …………….

  As Deputy O’Rourke said, the situation with regard to Belarus has been going on for about 20 years and on a previous occasion there was an indication there would be restrictions.  We are led to believe the latest catalyst in this regard is the American situation.  There has not been official confirmation of a ban, despite our seeking confirmation on the issue, but the indication is they may be considering one.  A draft document was sent last year to the Office of the Minister for Children under the Minister of State with responsibility for children.  The Minister of State and the Department are of the view that the Child Care Act 2001 more than meets the requirements of the Belarus Government with regard to the protection of children, particularly in terms of Garda vetting and the various steps one would take to protect children.

  We are open to accommodating Belarus.  However, there are some legal difficulties for us in terms of the draft document it sent us.  It is not the case that when a country sends a draft document we just sign off on it.  If it is the case that Belarus wishes to have an international agreement, we are open to that and do not oppose it.  We are entering discussions with Belarus with a view to trying to resolve the situation in the interest of the families concerned.  I will speak to Deputy O’Rourke about the issues she has raised.

  I have spoken with some of the groups who bring children here and it is clear that the children who come here are guests of the nation and of the families concerned.  The Child Care Act deals with private fostering, particularly if children stay over 14 days, and all families and organisations must notify the HSE in such cases.  We respect the right of any government to have concerns.  Any government must concern itself with large numbers of children leaving its jurisdiction and ensure all the right protections are in place.  We are sensitive to that and anxious to respond to the concerns.  We have, for example, approved through Irish Aid some €600,000 to the Chernobyl project for the development of day-care centres in Belarus.  The emphasis is, therefore, beginning to focus on creating the capacity and infrastructure in Belarus to provide adequately for communities affected by the aftermath of the disaster and who continue to be affected by economic and social underdevelopment, etc.

 

However, coming here for a two-month stay in the summer and at the Christmas period has proved to be of benefit to those children.  The matter of adoption would need to be addressed in the context of binding agreements, international law and so forth.