'Fresh hope has lifted Ibrahim's heart', says sister as TDs travel to Egypt in bid to have him freed
The family of an Irish citizen who is being held in an Egyptian prison pray he will finally be released after a group of cross-party TDs flew to Cairo to meet government officials.
Ibrahim Halawa (21), who has gone on hunger strike at least three times since his imprisonment, has languished in jail for more than three-and-a-half years.
He was imprisoned without trial for his part in protests in Cairo in August 2013 after the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in a military coup.
The eight TDs arrived in Egypt yesterday to discuss trade and other relationships with Ireland.
The delegation is due to meet the Firhouse native in Wadi el Natrun prison today. Members will meet the President, Fattah El Sisi, tomorrow.
Ibrahim's sister, Omaima Halawa (24), said all his friends are graduating from college while he is suffering in the Cairo prison in shocking conditions.
Omaima was also arrested for her part in the protest but was released in November 2013. That was the last time she saw her brother.
"I never thought he would be in prison this long," she told the Herald.
"There have been so many times our hopes have been dashed, so many times our hearts have been broken, but now we hope we will have a good result."
Ibrahim was detained in a mosque near Ramses Square in Cairo as the Muslim Brotherhood held a "day of rage" over the removal of their elected president Mohamed Morsi.
The Egyptian authorities have chosen to try Halawa with 500 other people in a mass trial, a decision that has led to repeated postponements.
On his 21st birthday in December, his trial was postponed for a 17th time. The next hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday next week.
Eamon Ryan, Green Party TD and a member of the delegation, said the ultimate aim of the trip was to help secure Ibrahim's return to Ireland.
He said the hope is that the all-party delegation will provide a clear diplomatic message that supports the case for his release.
Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail accepted an invitation to lead the delegation.
Speaking from the family's Firhouse home, Omaima said: "We are very thankful [to the TDs] and we are hoping that they can see my brother and see for themselves what it is like for him.
"We hope Ibrahim's detention without trial ends with this visit.
"He knows the TDs are coming and he is happy. It gives him fresh hope and has lifted his heart. It would be amazing if he could come home."
Ibrahim's family say his health is failing because of the hunger strikes.
"He has not eaten for 15 days and is drinking only two cups of water a day," said Omaima.
"All Ibrahim's friends are graduating now, but he was arrested just after the Leaving Certificate. He is waiting to start his education."
Ibrahim did exceptionally well in his Leaving Cert and was offered a place at Trinity College Dublin to study engineering.
Asked if the Halawa family had hoped politicians would have made a journey to Egypt on Ibrahim's behalf before now, Omaima said it would have been preferable.
"We had hoped, but the past can't be fixed so maybe the future will fix that. It is better late than never," she said.
"Ibrahim is an Irish citizen and Ireland is his home. He gives so much love to Ireland and he needs to see that love returned.
"If he is guilty, let the authorities show he is guilty. But if they can't, they should let him go."
As well as Mr Ryan and Mr O Fearghail, the other TDs in the delegation are Brendan Howlin (Labour leader), Darragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail foreign affairs spokesman), Eoin O Broin (Sinn Fein housing spokesman), Colm Brophy (Fine Gael), Paul Murphy (Anti-Austerity Alliance-People Before Profit) and Noel Grealish (Independent).