Tuesday, 25 March 2003
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: The world is witnessing what is potentially one of the most catastrophic wars for some time. Given the history of involvement of this country in humanitarian issues, did the Taoiseach raise the importance of urgent humanitarian relief for the citizens of beleaguered towns and cities in Iraq at the summit meeting last week? Can he confirm that aid given by the European Union will be in addition to existing programmes, rather than diverted from existing programmes in Africa or elsewhere?
Will the Taoiseach outline what arrangements have been made to protect Irish aid workers who wish to work with the various agencies in Iraq? According to the Taoiseach, we are not part of this war. In that context, will Ireland take a real lead in terms of Irish and EU-sponsored humanitarian relief, given that President Bush today sought sanction from Congress for $63 billion in military aid, $8 billion for humanitarian relief and $4 billion for other safeguard measures? It is important that Ireland contributes as it has always done. Will the Taoiseach spell out the implications of the €5 million announced by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt?
The Taoiseach: The Thursday night session of the summit issued a statement agreeing to fully support the United Nations' humanitarian effort. As the Deputy knows, the UN has – in recent months and particularly since the start of the year – operated in the hope there would not be a war. However, it did not adopt an irresponsible line – it made an assessment of the resources that would be necessary and built up significant stocks of these in a number of neighbouring regions from which they could be moved into Iraq. The UN will continue to play this role. The European Union gave its commitment to this in the resolution agreed last Thursday night, which is part of the conclusions of the summit.
Now that we are in this situation, all our efforts, thoughts and work must be towards trying to help the civilian population. We have already allocated resources to the mainline agencies. GOAL personnel are already in Basra and we  must assist them in whatever way we can. We have made additional resources available. The situation will have to be monitored closely. The Red Cross is providing essential services to the vulnerable population in Iraq in extremely dangerous circumstances. UN workers will do all they can to assist in that but that does not remove the dangers. It is a dangerous operation for aid workers.
The Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, met the NGOs today to discuss the humanitarian situation. He has made a statement on it and there is no need to add to that. He has made the resources available. There is agreement within the United Nations to work closely with the NGOs. We will keep in touch through our officials in the UN and give every assistance we can with regard to the issue of protection.
That does not deal with the entire situation. There are many difficulties, crises and uncertainties about some of the aspects but all the people involved, such as UN officials and staff, Red Cross staff, NGO staff and the GOAL organisation, are doing their best in this situation. We will continue to assist them.
Mr. Kenny: UNICEF has warned that 100,000 children in the city of Basra are now at risk of dying from dehydration. It has also warned of serious consequences for hundreds of thousands of other children. How many Irish citizens are in Iraq at present and have there been attempts to contact them through the Department of Foreign Affairs? Will the Taoiseach confirm that the European aid will be in addition to existing programmes and will not be diverted from other programmes?
My party accepted the decision of the House last week in regard to the issues that confronted us then. I offer the Taoiseach my party's support in taking a vigorous approach in leading Irish and EU sponsored humanitarian aid programmes. This country has had a huge reputation in this area for generations. The Taoiseach will have our support in taking a proactive and vigorous approach to ensuring that our aid gets into Iraq and is directed where it will give the most benefit to those who need it in this unfolding catastrophe.
The Taoiseach: I appreciate the Deputy's remarks. The UN, even though it was working for many months to avoid war, made a detailed and careful assessment of what the conflict would cost in terms of problems such as population movements and lack of water supply – much of the water supply in Basra is gone. It has already moved through the Red Cross to bring in generators to deal with that problem. It moved quickly and is endeavouring to do that in a host of areas which are listed in a briefing note I was given by UN officials today.
I am anxious that we stay consistent in this situation so we will work through the UN system in doing everything we can to support the urgent task of humanitarian relief. Kofi Annan and the  EU are dedicated to working together to resolve this. Whatever other differences exist, and there are differences, there are no differences on the humanitarian issue. There is an opportunity, as the Deputy said, for everybody to work together on this. We are glad to play our part and I will keep the House informed of what is happening in that regard.
Mr. Rabbitte: Has the Government had contact with the United States Government since the conflict began? President Bush said that 30 countries are supporting the coalition of the willing and 15 countries are also supportive and providing overflight facilities and so forth but do not want to go public. Will the Taoiseach clarify whether Ireland is included in that in pectore list of 15? With regard to the Taoiseach's earlier position that a second UN resolution was imperative, what will be the position of the Irish Government if Russia proceeds, as it has stated, with requiring the United Nations to rule on the legality of the war?
Is the Taoiseach aware of President Bush's announcement a few minutes ago that he will go to Congress to seek $74.7 billion to prosecute the war, on the assumption that it will last for 30 days? A total of $500 million of that sum will go towards humanitarian aid and $1.7 billion will go towards the reconstruction of Iraq. Does the Taoiseach not agree that it is an obscenity that $75 billion will be used to destroy Iraq and $2.2 billion will be spent on reconstruction and humanitarian aid? In light of the withdrawal by Kofi Annan of the non-Iraqi UN personnel dealing with UNICEF, who will manage the programme in the absence of the normal structures? How will it be structured? Will the delivery of aid be compromised? Is the Taoiseach satisfied that it will not be compromised by the military involvement?
The Taoiseach: I have had no contact with the American Administration since the war started. I have had no contact with the American embassy either. The Government has made it clear that it is not supporting any state in this crisis. We have consistently supported the Security Council, as Ireland is obliged to by virtue of its membership of the United Nations. Ireland strongly supports, and will continue to support, the system of collective international security, with the UN Security Council exercising primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.
With regard to the legal position, the members of the Security Council were unable to agree on the best course of action to achieve the objective set out in Resolution 1441. The legal position will remain uncertain. If Russia seeks a determination, we will not know the position until that determination is made by a court of justice or the UN. Ambiguity about it will continue until then. That has been the difficulty since 8 November last. The argument was about who would determine whether the resolution had been satisfied.  Should it be the UN or individual countries on the basis of earlier resolutions? That will remain the dilemma.
Our efforts will be, as they have been for some weeks, made through the UN officials working on the humanitarian issue. We will do everything we can to assist. The only NGO organisation in Basra – I am open to correction – is GOAL.
The Taoiseach: GOAL is certainly there. I understand that the UN has already agreed to operate through GOAL and resources and efforts will be directed through its personnel. The Minister of State met the other organisations today. There are other organisations in the region, as well as UN officials. They have already, through the Red Cross, sent in significant amounts of food and clothing as well as heavy duty equipment to try to get the water supply working again. All our efforts will be directed to helping under the auspices of the UN. The EU money is going into that too. In reply to Deputy Kenny's question earlier, they are additional resources. We will continue every hour of the day to assist that effort through our UN personnel.
Mr. Rabbitte: Will the Taoiseach expressly say whether Ireland is on the list of 15 that the Americans think are supporting them? That is a perfectly clear question to which I would appreciate an answer. What does the Taoiseach know about the availability of food and medical supplies and from where will they be distributed? What is the structure of the relief operation? Will the Taoiseach be more explicit about what the Government's influence is as regards delivering the humanitarian relief programme? Does he recall that after the 1991 Gulf war, the cost of reconstruction was $200 million? The cost of reconstruction built into President Bush's figures is now $1.7 billion. If the Government intends to announce the provision of €5 million towards humanitarian relief, it will be entirely inconsequential given the scale of this disaster which is affecting so many innocent civilians, including children.
Are there any circumstances in which the Government would consider it necessary to withdraw the facilities at Shannon Airport that are being made available for this incredible catastrophe that will affect so many innocent civilians?
The Taoiseach: The agencies working through the United Nations include GOAL, Concern and Trócaire as well as the UNHCR, Unicef, the ICHR and the World Food Programme. Ireland Aid is co-ordinating the effort through those agencies. In addition to the €5 million announced today, through Ireland Aid we have also committed €6.8 million to the UNHCR and €8 million to Unicef. Additional money has been earmarked for global relief operations and although it has not yet been allocated, it is available. Both last  week and today, the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, stated that he will be closely involved in monitoring the work of the relief organisations.
We have paid our contribution to the United Nations this year, although many other states have not done so. However, additional funding from the EU and the UN will continue to be used for relief operations. The UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has wisely put a large humanitarian relief structure in place following a full assessment of the aid requirements.
The Taoiseach: No, I am not. Our position is accepted in international and domestic law, as well as by the United Nations and the European Union. In fact, very few people have any difficulty in understanding our position, other than Deputy Sargent.
The Taoiseach: Our position is that we will not participate in this war – we do not support it – but we totally support the humanitarian relief effort. If Members of the House were serious about the matter they should, as Deputy Kenny has done, turn their attention to the relief issue.
Mr. Sargent: The humanitarian issue is the reason it is important to pose the questions we are raising. Would the Taoiseach care to correct his statement that the Government does not support any state in this conflict? The Tánaiste was quite clear in saying that we were supporting the United States –“our friends”, as she put it. That was very clear to everybody. Would the Taoiseach agree that many eminent people regard Ireland as supporting and participating in the coalition of the willing? Dr. John Pike, the head of the Global Security think-tank in Washington is under no illusion that Ireland is a member of the coalition of the willing. Dr. Niall Gardner of the Heritage Foundation Institute in Washington was quoted over the weekend as saying, “I would certainly include Ireland as a member of the coalition. By opening Shannon it is definitely offering support”. Robert Fisk certainly feels the same, writing from Baghdad in yesterday's Irish Independent. In that case, does the Taoiseach accept that these people are basing their views on information he does not have, or are they wrong to disagree with him?
According to the latest news reports, the American President is seeking $75 billion for extra military operations, not just in Iraq but in Afghanistan and other countries as part of the war on terror. Will the Taoiseach be a member of that coalition, whether it is called a coalition of the willing, of friends, of support or of facilitation? Whatever he might call it, will the Taoiseach continue to be a member of that, regardless of how many Iraqi civilian casualties mount up in  the coming days, weeks and perhaps months? Is there any caveat set down by the Government to say that this has gone too far in terms of legality and the price of human suffering?
The Taoiseach: Everybody in this House, and the vast majority of Irish people, would like to have seen this matter being resolved without conflict. They certainly did not want to see war – no one wanted that. It is sad and disturbing for everybody that, 12 years on, this matter could not have been resolved diplomatically. It is unfortunate that four months after UN Resolution 1441 it has not been possible to resolve it by obtaining Iraqi compliance through the United Nations in order to avoid this catastrophe. That did not happen but this country has stuck firmly to its position that we wanted it dealt with under the United Nations. Agreement was not reached on that point, however, and we are not participating in the conflict. We cannot participate in it and will not be doing so. The only coalition towards which we now have to turn our attention is the United Nations humanitarian aid effort. We will do everything we can through our agencies to assist in resolving that problem.
Mr. Sargent: The Taoiseach has not answered the question. He says we are not participating but I think that matter will be resolved in court. Given his definition of support, can the Taoiseach say that we are supporting the US attacks on Iraq through facilitating refuelling and landing at Shannon Airport? Will the Government be pro-active in the humanitarian effort, given that the Taoiseach has been a part of creating the crisis? Will he push for and facilitate a recall of the United Nations General Assembly? UNHCR funding is $25 million, even though it needs $60 million for the coming month for work by UNICEF and the UN environment programme. In addition, the UN chief weapons inspector, Dr. Hans Blix, is on stand-by with his inspectors. The UN General Assembly needs to be recalled to offer some level of constructive humanitarian assistance in the crisis that has been created. Will the Government be pro-active in getting that humanitarian crisis addressed?
The Taoiseach: We will take our line from our representatives in the UN, the UN agencies and the Red Cross. That work is under way and they are leading the way. UNICEF has already provided resources from UN funds to provide medical supplies for children. Those demands are being dealt with through the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan. The humanitarian situation in Basra is deteriorating. According to a briefing I  received about an hour ago, the Red Cross is seeking additional equipment and resources to deal with the situation there. We will do anything we can through our people in New York.
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