Imagine your teenage son and three daughters are abroad visiting family. They get caught up in a street demonstration that turns nasty. They take refuge in a nearby church.
While running for cover your son is shot in the hand, caught in gun battle cross fire between the army and anti-government forces.
After the fighting dies down the army storm the church and arrest 400 hundred people including your children. They are thrown into a decrepit overcrowded jail.
Imagine that despite releasing your daughters the authorities keep your 17 year old son in an adult prison. He is denied medical treatment for his hand. He is beaten. He is in a cell with 40 others. His trial is postponed over and over again. If convicted faces the death penalty or life in prison.
What would you do? How would you expect your government to act in defence of one of its citizens? What would you demand from the Taoiseach and the Minister for Foreign Affairs?
This isn’t a script from a Hollywood movie. It is not some well-crafted work of high octane fiction.
This is happening right now to a young teenage boy from Dublin. His name is Ibrahim Halawa and he has been held in an Egyptian prison for two years without trial.
Ibrahim was born in the Coombe. He was educated at Holy Rosary primary school in Firhouse and Rockbrook in Rathfarnam.
He completed his leaving certificate after attending the Institute of Education. He was accepted into Trinity College Dublin to study engineering. But he never got to collect his exam results.
In August 2013 he travelled to Egypt with his three sisters to visit their extended family. On the day of their arrest there was a massive demonstration in Cairo. The army, notorious for their brutality, attacked the crowd and the scene turned very ugly.
Hundreds of people sought refuge in a nearby Mosque fearful of being caught in a gun battle between the army and insurgents opposed to the regime. They were all subsequently arrested.
Amnesty International, who had observers on the ground on the day and at the location where Ibrahim and his sisters were arrested have established beyond any doubt they were not involved in any illegal activity.
They have classified him as a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and assembly. They are campaigning for his release.
They also want the 494 defendants in connection with the August 2013 protests to receive a fair trial and for those under the age of 18 to be treated in accordance with the principles of juvenile justice and held separately from adults.
Two years have now passed since Ibrahim’s arrests. The Irish embassy staff in Cairo have visited Ibrahim on over 40 occasions. They are clearly doing everything they can to assist him and his family.
The real question is whether the Government and in particular the Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny are doing everything they can to secure the release of this young Irish man.
There is a real concern that Ireland’s lucrative export trade to Egypt, worth half a billion euro annually, is holding the Government back from taking a more robust approach to securing Ibrahim Halawa’s release.
Some even believe that if Ibrahim was a white, Christian lad called Sean and Padraig he would have got more support.
Last week the situation took and even more serious turn. Frustrated with his treatment in prison and the repeated postponements of his trial Ibrahim started a hunger strike.
In a short letter smuggled out to his family Ibrahim asked, ‘Where is human rights? When every morning I wake up to noises of torture knowing I can be next!’
Despite the hard work of the Irish diplomatic corps Ibrahim is still in prison. The time has now come for the Government to adopt a more direct approach.
Unfortunately judging by the response of Tánaiste Joan Burton to Mary Lou McDonald TD during leader’s questions last Thursday the Government appears unwilling to do what is required to secure Ibrahim’s release.
The Tánaiste said that the Government can-not interfere in the legal process in Egypt.
Egypt is not a democracy. It is run by a former head of the armed forces who played a central role in deposing the last democratically elected President. His ‘election’ was boycotted by the Egyptian pro-democracy movement.
Human Rights Watch has said that during his first year in office President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ‘has presided over the flagrant abuse of human rights’ and that ‘violence by armed groups and the government has escalated.’
Do Joan Burton and Enda Kenny really believe that Ibrahim Halawa will receive a fair trial in Egypt?
So, what would you do if this was your son? You would call on the Taoiseach to pick up the phone to the President of Egypt and demand the release of your son. You would demand that he do everything within his power to get your boy back home.
That is what the Australian Prime Minister did to secure the release of Journalist Peter Greste, who shared a cell with Ibrahim. He did what any real leader would do to protect the rights of one of his citizens.
Ibrahim Halawa’s life in now on the line. He has been in prison too long. It is time for Enda Kenny to pick up the phone to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and demand the safe return of this young Dublin boy.
This article was originally published in the Sunday Business Post on Sunday 14th June 2015