“IT STILL feels like a dream.” Those were the words of Dubliner Ibrahim Halawa on his arrival in Dublin Airport for the first time in four years on Tuesday.
Highly emotional scenes saw the now 21-year-old reunited with family and friends as crowds gathered to welcomed him home.
Addresssing the large gathering, Ibrahim said: “This is the moment I’ve waited for four years. It’s a dream come true. It’s impossible that I’m really here. I didn’t think it would come through any time soon.
“I want to thank all the ministers, Minister Simon [Coveney]. I want to thank the Taoiseach and I want to thank [Sinn Fein MEP] Lynn Boylan as well for working so hard.
“The parliament, all the human rights organisations, the student union … I just want to thank everyone for helping me.
“I need to get some medical check-ups. I’m going to be taking some time off. My mum is sick, so I need to spend some time by her side. We need to get some family time as well.
“I really want to thank the haters. They made me stronger, to come out and be ready for everything. Like they say, ‘Sticks and stones will break my bones…’,” he said.
Speaking after leading the airport on Tuesday, Ibrahim said on Facebook: “Thank you so much to all the amazing people who made it today, and to those who didn’t I will be having a homecoming party for all.
“Thank you for everyone who made this happen. Much love to all.”
In a poignant moment that demonstarted how much has changed in the four-plus years since the Firhouse lad left these shores aged just 17, his close pal Pete Moloney told Newstalk: “It was just an absolute joyous day, a great day for him and an even better day for his family who’ve been fighting for the last four years, fighting his corner and never ever stopped.
“The first thing he said to me was ‘Pete, you’re tall’ and I said ‘A lot has changed man, it’s been four years.’
“And then after that we had a laugh and he just kept thanking me and thanking me – and then we just kept hugging, just couldn’t stop”.
Ibrahim was acquitted last month of all charges relating his being incarcerated in Cairo after mass protests in the Egyptian capital in 2013. He said he would speak about his experiences in the Cairo prison in the near future.
Ibrahim was welcomed home by a number of public figures and politicians, all expressing their delight that his ordeal was finally over.
Deputy Ruth Coppinger (SOL) said: “It’s a testament to Ibrahim that he mentioned the homeless and position of Irish prisoners abroad on his return.”
On Twitter, Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty International, said: “Don’t ever underestimate the power of ordinary people standing up for human rights. What a moment.”
Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan said: “I am delighted with the news that Ibrahim has been released. Ibrahim was illegally detained for more than four years and for a further month after he was cleared of all charges. It’s important Ibrahim has the proper supports available to him in order to begin the process of rebuilding his life.”
Minister Simon Coveney said: “I and all of my colleagues in the Government are very pleased that his ordeal is now at an end, and that he is back home with his family.
“There will be many challenges for Ibrahim as he comes to terms with all that he has been through, and all the changes that have taken place while he has been detained in Egypt.
“He will need time and space in the period ahead and I hope that his privacy and that of his family will be respected.”
Deputy Colm Brophy (FG) said: “Every singular effort was made to secure his release and perseverance has finally paid off. I welcome his release today. Ibrahim has waited long enough for it.”
Deputy Catherine Martin (GP) said: “Ibrahim lost four of the most important years of his young life, languishing in prison.
“It’s essential that now, at 21 years old, he be given the chance to rebuild his life with the support of his family and friends.”