Thursday, 24 March 2011
Dáil Éireann Debate
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): I welcome the opportunity to discuss the very serious situation in Libya. A concerted international effort is under way to ensure all necessary protection is extended to the Libyan people from the onslaughts of the Gadaffi government and to support those seeking greater democracy and freedom in that country. In the past three months, we have witnessed an unparalleled series of genuinely popular uprisings which are sweeping through many north African and Middle Eastern countries. We have been inspired by the sight of the young protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo who, with courage and dignity, withstood violence and intense provocation from security forces loyal to former President Mubarak to insist on their right to assemble and protest peacefully for political and economic reforms in their country. We have similarly applauded the Tunisian people for their success in ridding themselves of the corrupt and repressive regime of their former President, Ben Ali.
These developments and the uprisings which have followed in other countries throughout the region such as Yemen, Bahrain and now Libya are historic in nature. They rightly bear comparison in many respects to the collapse of the former communist regimes in eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The general movement of protest against authoritarian and repressive regimes has been described as the “Arab Spring”. It behoves all of us who uphold democratic values to be supportive of those throughout the Middle East and North Africa seeking greater freedoms. In that regard, President Obama eloquently spoke for many in the international community in the comments he made following the downfall of President Mubarak. He identified the basic yearning for freedom which has motivated these movements and emphasised the need to side clearly with those who are seeking, as he put it “to bend the arc of history once more towards justice”.
The tragic events now unfolding in Libya need to be seen and understood against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. Like Tunisia and Egypt, Libya is experiencing a genuinely popular uprising against the deeply repressive and now violent rule of the Gadaffi regime. Just as in those other countries, the origins of the immediate crisis in Libya can be traced back over many years of violence, repression, injustice and misrule on the part of the regime. We need to go back specifically to the horrific massacre of more than 1,200 prisoners at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli in 1996, an episode which for many years afterwards the Libyan regime sought to cover up and for which it refused to accept any responsibility.
Just as the name of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian street trader who set himself on fire last December following severe harassment by the local police, will be forever associated with provoking the series of events that led eventually to the removal of President Ben Ali, so, too, is the name of Fathi Terbil, a young Benghazi lawyer, likely to be associated with the events now in train in Libya. It was Fathi’s arrest on 15 February which provoked the popular uprising in Benghazi, after he had bravely represented for two years the families campaigning for justice for their relatives murdered in Abu Salim prison. The violent reaction by the Gadaffi regime to the peaceful uprising which took place in Benghazi following Fathi’s arrest has now plunged Libya into the profound conflict we are witnessing. It has confronted the international community with the challenge of how to respond when the rulers of a country turn upon their people and flagrantly violate international obligations to provide security and protection for those over whom they have responsibility.
The response to date of the international community to the Libyan crisis has been swift, vigorous and clear. In particular, the United Nations Security Council reacted with unprecedented speed in unanimously adopting on 26 February resolution 1970 which implemented an immediate arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban against Gadaffi and members of his family and regime. The historic significance of this decision, with its clear evoking of the principle of responsibility to protect, is one which needs to be fully appreciated and welcomed by all those concerned to promote and safeguard the central role of the United Nations in international affairs.
An equally important provision of resolution 1970 was the referral by the Security Council of the situation in Libya to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation in light of the clear evidence of the widespread and systematic attacks launched by the regime against the Libyan population. This, too, is an important development, one designed to ensure that Gadaffi and all of his associates suspected of ordering attacks on innocent civilians are properly held accountable for their actions. I urge the fullest co-operation and support from the international community for the ICC investigation. The UN General Assembly also moved rapidly at the time the initial crisis in Libya unfolded in late February to suspend Libya from its membership of the UN Human Rights Council. This was a move which Ireland fully supported and welcomed in a national statement delivered to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 25 February.
Since the onset of the crisis and the clear call contained in resolution 1970 for the violence on all sides to end and for the Libyan authorities to respond to the legitimate demands of its citizens, the response of Colonel Gadaffi and his regime has been characteristically violent and contemptuous of the international community. He has turned the considerable firepower of his armed forces on his people and has engaged in heavy bombardments of civilian populations in towns such as Zawiya, Misratah and Adjabiya. He has refused to facilitate access for humanitarian agencies and actors in western Libya. He has also curtailed media access, arrested journalists and attempted to prevent the true picture of what is taking place in Libya from emerging.
Officials from my Department have met with concerned members of the Libyan-Irish community in Ireland and have heard harrowing accounts of the violence inflicted by Gadaffi’s forces since the current crisis erupted. In particular, there appears little doubt that widespread killing, amounting to a massacre, took place when pro-Gadaffi forces captured the town of Zawiya some weeks ago. In the past day or two, there have been reports of young children blown up in a car as a result of the regime’s bombardment of the town of Misratah. I take this opportunity to publicly acknowledge the bravery and humanity of those Libyan-Irish medical professionals who either chose to return to Libya or to stay there while visiting in order to work in hospitals and tend to those wounded and killed.
The complete disregard of the Gadaffi regime for the views of the international community and its failure to comply with the clear obligations imposed in resolution 1970 led inevitably to pressure for more decisive and effective action against the regime. A particularly significant development was the clear call by the Arab League, meeting in Cairo on 12 March, for a no-fly zone to be established by the UN Security Council and for safe havens to be created within Libya. The Arab League was not alone in making this call, with such a move also supported by the Gulf Co-operation Council and the Secretary General of the Organisation of Islamic Conferences. There can be no doubt therefore about the strong regional support which exists for concerted international action to halt the violence and to protect the civilian population in Libya. This clear regional support, coupled with the threat posed by pro-Gadaffi forces moving steadily towards Benghazi, led to the adoption last Thursday of resolution 1973 by the UN Security Council. Resolution 1973 demands an immediate and complete ceasefire and authorises all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas, including the establishment of a no-fly zone. It also further strengthens the arms embargo, asset freeze and travel ban provided for under resolution 1970. In calling for an immediate ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against civilians, resolution 1973 stresses the need for efforts to be intensified so as to find a solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
I outlined last Tuesday in the Dáil my position on resolution 1973 and its implementation. Ireland welcomes the adoption of this resolution which is clearly intended to halt the violence being waged by the Gadaffi regime against the Libyan people and to ensure civilian protection. I have also urged that any military actions taken in pursuit of resolution 1973 should be in full conformity with its terms and be proportionate, targeted and avoid civilian casualties.
The people of Libya deserve an agreed and democratic future. However, the regime of Colonel Gadaffi has neither the agreement nor the democratic endorsement of the Libyan people. Colonel Gadaffi should order an immediate and genuine cessation of his military offensive. He and his family should surrender power and allow the Libyan people to determine their own shared future peacefully.
It is important to note that resolution 1973 has already been effective in achieving a number of its key humanitarian objectives. Gadaffi’s air defence systems within Libya have been largely neutralised, thus allowing the effective creation of a no-fly zone over the country and the immediate threat posed to Benghazi and its population has been averted. The goal of any further actions taken in implementation of resolution 1973 must be to maintain this no-fly zone and to prevent further attacks by Gadaffi’s forces upon civilian populations and targets.
I refer to those bravely opposing the Gadaffi regime. We are keen to see an orderly transition to democracy and the rule of law in Libya. Earlier this week, I stated in the Dáil that I welcome the emergence of the Transitional National Council, TNC, based in Benghazi as an important political interlocutor and representative of the Libyan people. I encourage all others within Libya who are committed to helping to transform it into a constitutional state based on the rule of law. France has taken the step of recognising the TNC as the legitimate Government of Libya. Ireland’s long-standing position has been to recognise States not Governments. Nonetheless, political contacts with the TNC and other actors supporting the process of democratic change in Libya are important. These should be clearly distinguished from any formal recognition. I would be pleased to meet with any envoys of the TNC should they visit Ireland.
The situation in Libya and the international actions taken in pursuit of the UN-mandated operation will be a major topic for discussion at today’s meeting of the European Council in Brussels. The EU’s role and response in respect of the Libya crisis has been firm and decisive. Ireland fully supported the declaration issued by the extraordinary European Council convened by President Van Rompuy on 11 March that called on Gadaffi to relinquish power and to stand aside to enable an orderly transition to democracy in Libya, in conformity with the legitimate demands of the Libyan people. The 11 March declaration paved the way for adoption of UN resolution No. 1973, in making clear EU member states’ willingness to consider all necessary measures to protect the civilian population, provided there was a demonstrable need, a clear legal basis and support from the region.
The situation in Libya was also extensively discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels earlier this week, which the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Creighton, attended. The Council agreed conclusions which condemn the continued violence and ongoing violations of human rights by the Libyan regime against its own people. Ireland strongly supports the Council conclusions, which also express satisfaction at the adoption of resolution No. 1973 and make clear that the EU will support actions provided for by resolution No. 1973 necessary to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under attack.
The Council adopted further sanctions against the Libyan leadership and a further round of EU sanctions is expected to be agreed by the European Council today. The full range of sanctions imposed in resolutions Nos. 1970 and 1973 have been, or are now in the process of being, implemented at EU and national level, along with additional restrictive measures aimed at cutting off the flow of funds and misappropriated proceeds to the Gadaffi regime, including any misappropriation of oil and gas revenues.
Two other important dimensions to the EU’s role arise. EU contacts have been especially important in maintaining strong regional support from the Arab world, as well as from the African Union, for the concerted international response to the Libya crisis. In this regard, I acknowledge the role played by Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy in convening last Saturday’s important summit meeting in Paris to consider the practical implementation of resolution No. 1973. It is clear that the closest co-operation with the region and with African leaders must be pursued with great urgency in the period ahead.
The EU’s response to the humanitarian crisis arising from the conflict in Libya has also been important, with upwards of €30 million in humanitarian assistance being made available. Ireland has also provided substantial assistance. A further contribution of €250,000 announced today brings total Irish Aid contributions to date to €650,000. This includes €250,000 in funding to help the International Organization for Migration transport migrants leaving Libya back to their own home countries as well as stocks of blankets and tents from Irish Aid’s pre-positioned stocks in Brindisi in response to a specific appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The humanitarian situation remains difficult. The principal problem continues to be access for humanitarian agencies in western Libya. Without such access, it is difficult to form any reasonable estimate of the true extent of humanitarian needs in western Libya, though these are likely to be considerable. The EU has made clear that it is willing to make use of all available instruments, including support under the common security and defence policy, CSDP, to assist the ongoing humanitarian operations and in response to a specific request from the UN.
The crisis which the international community has had to confront in Libya during recent weeks is both a profound and complex one, without any easy answers. However, I believe that the response to date, crystallised in the two Security Council resolutions adopted on 26 February and 17 March, has been swift, generous and effective. It is a response motivated overwhelmingly by humanitarian considerations and aimed at bringing the violence to an end and ensuring that the brave people of Libya are not left defenceless in the face of the aggressive and reprehensible attacks of their own Government.
It is not accurate to characterise the international response to this crisis to date as amounting to an attempt to achieve regime change. The international community seeks an immediate ceasefire, an end to all violence and attacks against the civilian population of Libya and a political solution to the crisis which responds to the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.
It is clear there will be no place for Colonel Gadaffi in the political leadership of Libya. The people of Libya must be given an opportunity to fashion a freer, more democratic and prosperous future for their country. Colonel Gadaffi and his family must be made to realise this, to accept that the game is up and to leave the political stage. No one is under any illusion that this will be an easy political objective to achieve. However, it is one which the European Union and the international community are determined to help to bring about. It is the least we should continue to strive for given all that the Libyan people have endured in the past 42 years.
Deputy Michael P. Kitt: I thank the Tánaiste for his address and I fully support his comments in the Dáil today. Only yesterday, we discussed the humanitarian situation in Japan and today we are discussing another crisis and an equally disturbing ongoing situation in Libya. Seismic shifts in the world’s political landscape are taking shape on a daily basis. Last month, Libya felt the ripples from the popular revolts that had taken place in the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Tunisia. Once the protestors took to the streets, the Gadaffi regime wasted no time in using violence to keep control and the protests became an uprising. However, the situation has escalated considerably since them. Key figures and senior officials have deserted the regime.
Libya has been tightly controlled by its leader, Colonel Gadaffi, for almost 40 years. During this time he has been denounced repeatedly by the West for oppressing internal dissidents and for carrying out what can only be described as State-sponsored terrorism. All the while, Gadaffi has amassed a multi-billion fortune for himself and his cronies. Gadaffi has used deplorable tactics on the civilian population to uphold his dictatorship. He is utterly ruthless and, to use his own words, he has promised to die a martyr, if necessary, in his fight against the rebels and external forces. During his reign, Gadaffi has established revolutionary committees, resembling similar systems in communist countries. It is reported that between 10% and 20% of Libyans worked in surveillance for these committees, similar to what went on under Saddam Hussein in Iraq or Kim Jong-il in North Korea. The surveillance took place throughout all sectors of society, in government, factories and the education sector. Those found having political conversations with foreigners are imprisoned. The teaching of foreign languages in schools was banned in an attempt to stop the people engaging with the Western world. I note last night’s news reports of a woman who tried to contact her family and friends in Ireland. She is a Dublin woman whose husband is a Libyan-born doctor. She made the point that the safest place for her and her husband was in the hospital where he worked.
The people of this country are aware of the effects of Libyan arms being used against innocent civilians during the Troubles in the North. Now may be a good time to bring forward the truth about the extent of Libyan involvement in providing arms during that period. The intelligence community should consider whether intelligence reports could be published, as any record that could provide information would be most helpful.
According to the freedom of the press index, Libya is the most censored country in the Middle East. This makes it even more remarkable that the Libyan people followed their neighbours in calling for a regime change. It shows us the incredible power of social media and the Internet. It is amazing that protestors have used tools such as Facebook and Twitter to communicate and mobilise, as is the effectiveness of those tools. It would appear that, no matter how oppressive a government, it is almost impossible to keep the world out.
Benghazi, the country’s second city, is now established as the rebels’ stronghold and reports suggest that Colonel Gadaffi has no more than 10,000 troops available to him. The air strikes will make it more difficult for him to reassert his authority. The international community watched in horror and fascination as events unfolded in the Middle East. Following the outcry from the international community, the members of the UN Security Council voted to adopt Resolution 1973, which permits the use of all necessary measures, including the imposition of a no-fly zone to prevent further attacks and the loss of innocent lives in Libya where Colonel Gadaffi’s regime has conducted a military offensive against citizens seeking his removal from power. This raises the question of why the West has stepped in to stop the loss of life and protect the civilian population of Libya but has failed to do so in other countries where there have been humanitarian atrocities. As American Secretary of State Ms Hilary Clinton stated last week, the diplomatic landscape changed because the Arab League supported the introduction of a no-fly zone, facilitating Western intervention. Furthermore, Libya’s neighbours in Tunisia and Egypt are not great supporters of the regime and are concerned about the impact of political instability in the regime should the situation rumble on.
Fianna Fáil supports the UN Security Council resolution and the Government in this matter. We support military operations taken under and in strict accordance with the resolution. It is about protecting civilians whose lives are at risk under the Gadaffi regime. It is about helping the innocent victims of genocide. The UN resolution is about the cessation of the violence, not about aggression. In short, it is not about wiping out Gadaffi.
The Libyan intervention force under the UN is being managed by the Americans. As mentioned by the Tánaiste, President Obama stated that he would like to relinquish control in a matter of days and not in a matter of weeks. According to press reports, some of the allies are keen to ensure the mission is NATO-controlled, but this is being resisted by the French who believe it would not be acceptable to the Arab League. Clearly, events are moving rapidly and developments are unfolding on a daily basis.
It is vital that the EU provides support to the people of Libya during this crisis. We must do our best to support emerging democracies in the Middle East. I hope the work of the Tánaiste and the Government will be successful.
Deputy Jonathan O’Brien: Since the beginning of the current conflict in Libya, there has been a growing concern within the international community that deliberate targeting of civilians has been prevalent. The UN Security Council has used this growing concern to set in motion a no-fly zone under the recently passed Resolution 1973. This urgency is in stark contrast with the situation in Bahrain and Yemen. Why is this? Is it because Colonel Gadaffi is viewed by the Western powers of Britain, the USA and France as being less friendly than the ruling dictatorships in Bahrain and Yemen?
The national, democratic and human rights of all peoples must be defended whether they are Libyan, Bahraini, Yemeni, Palestinian or even Irish. The hypocritical stance of the UN on the Libyan conflict is one that the Government should and must raise with our European partners. While there has been some critical commentary on the motives of and speedy response by the UN compared with its lack of a response in other countries, the emphasis on the protection of civilians in Libya contained within Resolution 1973 is to be welcomed. However, it remains to be seen what the effects of such a resolution will mean for people on the ground.
Claims that the international coalition has caused civilian casualties must be treated severely. It is unacceptable that they are dismissed out of hand. Yesterday, it was claimed in the media that an Osprey fighter shot at civilians, one of whom lost a leg in the incident. There is serious mounting concern about a growing number of reports by reputable sources such as Amnesty International regarding disappearances, namely, that those who have disappeared are in the custody of Colonel Gadaffi’s forces. This is a worrying development by any standard. Colonel Gadaffi must immediately call a halt to any human rights violations carried out by his state’s forces.
It is also paramount that those enforcing the no-fly zone adhere strictly to the rules of international humanitarian law. The protection of all civilians must be at the heart of any military action. The international coalition must refrain from targeting areas where civilians could be threatened. It must also refrain from targeting civilian infrastructure. Attacks should not take place on civilian objects even if their destruction is presumed to weaken Gadaffi’s forces. We cannot witness a repeat of the events in Iraq or allow this situation to escalate to such a level.
The growing humanitarian crisis that is people fleeing the Libyan conflict during the unrest is emerging as a critical issue. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, has warned that at least 75,000 people have turned towards the Tunisian border and an additional 69,000 have turned towards Egypt. Thousands of refugees are stuck at Libya’s border with two countries in freezing conditions and with little or no international assistance or hope of escape. This humanitarian crisis is set to deepen and worsen. The refugees must not be forced to turn back. Ireland and the rest of the international community must use whatever influence they can bring to bear on Libya’s neighbouring countries to convince them to open their borders in the medium term while the conflict is escalating. The international community must support and assist countries that agree to receive refugees.
There is no military solution to the situation in Libya. Meaningful dialogue must be employed as the path forward and a halt to military action must be made by all sides. This needs to be the international community’s focus. I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs to use his office to ensure Ireland leads the way in trying to put a stop to the conflict and start dialogue.
Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Níúsáidfidh mé iad go léir. Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and the entire African continent suffered for centuries as a consequence of colonialism and imperialism, when the west carved up territories and pillaged their resources. In recent times, the need for oil has resulted in the west supporting despotic regimes in a number of countries in the region. The region has also been militarised to an extent that has not been witnessed previously. In particular, during the Cold War era, the west and the Soviet Union played one country off another by arming groups and setting them against each other in pursuit of the natural resources in the region. When it suited western powers, they turned a blind eye — they continue to do so — to the excesses of those in charge against their civilian populations or against the members of particular groups and religions in their countries. It is hypocritical that the western powers are willing to impose a no fly zone on Libya, yet when the Israeli regime was bombing the hell out of Gaza not so long ago, there was no move by them to impose a no fly zone on the Palestinian territories to prevent the Israelis from bombing civilian targets.
We need to be careful when endorsing no fly zones to ensure they are not one-sided and to ensure the signal goes out to all other regimes in the region that the UN and the west will not stand by and will impose the same restrictions they are imposing on Libya on any regime willing to target civilians.
Tacaím leis an gcinneadh chun pobal neamhurchóideach Libya a chosaint. Tacaím chomh maith leis an cinneadh go gcuirfear aon ghníomh atá ag teacht salach ar dhlithe idirnáisiúnta i leith chosaint saoránach in am an chogaidh os comhair an Chúirt Idirnáisiúnta agus go gcúiseofar siúd atá i gceannas nó atá tar éis an ghnímh sin a dhéanamh amach anseo. Sa deireadh thiar thall, séard atá i gceist againn agus á phlé againn anseo ná cearta daonna, cearta gnáth saoránaigh atá faoi ionsaí ag fórsaí Rialtais Libya. Sa deireadh thiar thall, níl áit ar bith sa domhan gur féidir le aon duine seasamh i bhfábhar a leithéid. Tá sé ceart go bhfuil an cosaint sin á thabhairt do shaoránaigh. Caithfimid a dhéanamh cinnte de go bhfuil an daonlathas chun cinn sa cheantar. Ach ag an am céanna, caithfimid tuiscint a bheith againn ar stair agus ar chultúr an réigiúin agus a thuiscint nach féidir linne a rá go díreach conas mar a gcuirfear an daonlathas sin i bhfeidhm chomh fada agus go bhfuil cothroime do chách taobh thiar den daonlathas sin.
Tacaíonn siúd atá taobh thiar den chinneadh a rinneadh na Náisiúin Aontaithe le déanaí le Rialtas Saudi Arabia, Rialtas Kuwait agus rialtais tíortha eile sa réigiún sin nach bhfuil meas madra acu ar chearta daonna, tíortha nach dtuigfidh riamh cad atá i gceist le cothroime. Mar sin, caithfidh an t-éileamh ar dhaonlathas sa cheantar seo seasamh don cheantar ar fad seachas do thír amháin thar tír eile. Caithfimid cruthú chomh maith dóibh siúd sna tíortha seo nach ar bhonn cosaint ar ola nó achmhainní nádúrtha eile atá an seasamh seo á ghlacadh againn, ach go bhfuil muid ag déanamh iarrachta cosaint a dhéanamh ar shaoránaigh agus go bhfuilimid ag iarraidh tacú leo seachas tacú le regime amháin thar regime eile.
I find it ridiculous, as a new Member, that so few Deputies are present but they must have a funny notion about how the Parliament should work. I am sure none of the 166 Members would stand up for Gadaffi. He has not behaved in a good fashion over a number of years, like many leaders in the region. Sadly, the guns and bombs he is using in his campaign were supplied to him mostly by Britain, France and Italy, the very countries which are keen to drop bombs on the country. It is all very well for these governments to do business with Gadaffi and to speak to him about oil and arms but when it suits them, they will drop bombs on him.
As British Prime Minister, Tony Blair visited Gadaffi in Libya in 2004. Condoleezza Rice visited him as American Secretary of State in 2008 and President Sarkozy visited only two years ago but they have a different agenda now. There are huge inconsistencies in how western powers apply their foreign policy and it is hypocritical that only in the past week 40 civilians were killed by a government supported by western powers in Bahrain while, in Yemen, 52 civilians also lost their lives at the hands of a government that is strongly supported by them. It would be nice if the Government had the courage to point this out.
As Deputy Ó Snodaigh stated, in January 2009, when Israel was allowed to bomb the living daylights out of Palestine for an entire month, president elect Obama sat on the sidelines and said nothing. His argument that he was not allowed to speak out on the issue because he still had not taken up the office of president was blown out of the water when he made comments on two other issues that came up at the same time. It is pretty obvious to most people on the planet how western governments do business. I firmly believe that the idea of dropping bombs on people is not a wonderful way of introducing them to the notion of democracy. Thankfully, the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt are making progress without recourse to bombing by western powers, which is positive, despite the fact that former president Mubarak was given financial and political support by the Americans for more than 30 years. He ran a very corrupt regime, just like Gadaffi.
Will issues be taken up with Saudi Arabia, which runs a disappointing system? Many people there suffer persecution but Saudi Arabia is America’s main friend in the region and the notion of slapping the country on the wrist does not come into the equation. The Bahraini Government sought Saudi Arabia’s help recently to quell civilian unrest. These are people we are supposed to support but there is not a whisper from the American or Irish Governments about this. It would be great if the Government had the honesty to call it as it is. President Sarkozy could not wait to bomb Libya. The same man did not support the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt but with elections coming up in France in 12 months and there being a good chance he will not be re-elected, he has decided that bombing Libya would be a good idea. This resembles what Margaret Thatcher did in the Falklands War many years ago.
The Irish Government should take note that five of the major powers in the world today — Brazil, Russia, China, India and Germany — have already refused to back this bombardment. We will not cause good things to happen in Libya. We are taking sides in a civil war. We want to see the end of Gadaffi but as Lawrence of Arabia said many years ago to his English counterparts: “Better that the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly”. It is better that it comes from them than from outside powers. History should have taught us the lesson that interfering in these Arab areas in a military fashion costs us dearly, as the deaths of 1 million civilians in Iraq will testify.
Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: What we are seeing happening throughout north Africa is the culmination of years of frustration caused by living under dictatorships with no concern for the well-being of their citizens. It is caused by frustration and the lack of decent living standards, adequate food, water and housing, opportunity, particularly for young people when it comes to education and employment, and, most significant, a lack of democracy — the ability to voice an opinion and decide on the type of society in which one wants to live. Advances in IT have contributed to that, with people living under dictatorships becoming aware of the alternatives such as countries where people over 18 have a vote, where men and women are treated equally and human rights are respected.
Libya is an amazing country with a rich cultural, archaeological and literary heritage but it is horrific to read of what is happening in that country. There is no end in sight to the gunfire, explosions, fatal shootings and bombardments and there is a real possibility of years of civil war and another Vietnam or Iraq.
It would be wonderful to believe that Britain, America, France and Italy were in Libya on behalf of the people and in the name of democracy and that they were not just paying lip service to democracy for their own self-interest, namely, oil. Western leaders and certain groups in the west were very happy to support Colonel Gadaffi, and also receive support from him, but I suppose necessity makes strange bedfellows.
There is also a concern about the military command structure of the intervention source and questions arise over the role of NATO. I am intrigued by the Arab League urging the motive of “protection of citizens” and wonder about their concern for their own citizens.
Ireland, as a neutral country, has a role to play in ensuring that this does not become a game of political football between the various players. I welcome the Tánaiste’s comments earlier regarding UN Resolution 1973 as a way forward but the attack on Gadaffi cannot be allowed favour the emergence of radical fundamentalism.
How does a leader of a country get to the point of stating that his forces would show “no mercy, no pity” in advancing on his fellow Libyans? I have listened to a great deal of debate about the lack of freedoms in Libya, which has been known for many years, but nobody is saying very much about that.
The Libyan writer, Hisham Matar, a Man Booker Prize nominee, said that behind the nightmare of Gadaffi’s violence is hope, an incredible dream, and that there comes a point when being silent is almost like death. It is obvious that the Libyan people are not prepared to be silent any longer.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: We would all agree with the sentiments of the Tánaiste in welcoming the democratic revolutions that are sweeping across the Arab world in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, and which are beginning to impact in other states also. They are to be welcomed because for the most part those regimes were brutal dictatorships that engaged in the systematic denial of the most basic democracy and civil rights to their citizens, and used torture against political opponents and dissidents as a matter of course. To see those revolutions take place, and ordinary people demanding democracy and succeeding in overthrowing dictators, is truly inspiring.
I do not agree with the Tánaiste, however, that the response of the major western powers or the current military intervention in Libya is in any way motivated by genuine concern for the ordinary people of Libya or any of the other countries in the Arab world or by genuine support for those democratic revolutions. The contrary is the case. This military intervention is a cynical manoeuvre by western powers to shore up their strategic interests in a region where the regimes they have colluded with for decades in Libya and in the other despotic states in the Arab world are coming under threat. They are desperately trying to control the situation and secure their strategic interests.
While it is perfectly understandable that desperate Libyans faced with the brutality of the Gadaffi regime would look anywhere they can for assistance, this military intervention will not work to the benefit of ordinary Libyan people because it is not motivated by an attempt to help those people. One only has to look at the lead players in this assault to see that that is clear. It defies any sort of credibility for Italy, France and the United Kingdom to suggest that they are intervening in Libya because of a concern to protect the Libyan people from the brutality of Gadaffi when they have worked hand in glove with Gadaffi for years.
The biggest sellers of arms to the Libyan regime are those very states — Italy, France and Britain. Hundreds of millions of arms have been sold to Gadaffi which he is now using against his own population. These European states were more than happy with the profits bonanza to sell the weapons Gadaffi has used against his own people for decades, and is continuing to do so. How can those states have any credibility? Is it not the case that they are moving to intervene in that region because these countries have oil deals with Libya and major oil interests in Libya?
Ireland has some questions to answer in that regard. We have had oil arrangements with Libya. I understand 23% of our oil comes from Libya. I do not expect the Minister to be able to give immediate answers to this but I would like the Government to look into the contracts we had with the Gadaffi regime, and the other trade arrangements and contacts we have with the Libyan regime, because I believe we will find many connections between business and Government in this State and the Gadaffi dictatorship.
The evidence of the double standards of those involved in the military intervention in Libya extend across the region. Those states that are now bombing Libya did nothing to support the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt when they first erupted. The United States in particular could not bring itself to call for the overthrow of the Mubarak regime until it was effectively an accomplished fact as millions of Egyptians took to the streets and forced Mubarak out. It was only at the last moment that the United States could bring itself to support the call to overthrow Mubarak. There should be no confusion as to the reason the United States was so mixed in its feelings about the movements to overthrow Mubarak; it was the major arms supplier and financial supporter to the Mubarak regime.
Where the double standards in all of this process are most apparent is in terms of what is happening in Bahrain currently and in the despotic nature of the Saudi, United Arab Emirates and Kuwaiti regimes. They are brutal dictatorships that we are still arming and financing. David Cameron, whose forces are involved in this attack on Libya, met with leading figures in the Saudi regime in recent days. Why are they not screaming from the rooftops about the brutality being meted out by the Bahraini regime, with the assistance of the regimes of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in crushing the democratic revolt in Bahrain? The west says nothing about it and continues to maintain normal economic and political relationships with these dictatorships. How can we seriously give credence to the benign intentions of the western powers in view of their cynical record of collaboration with brutal dictatorships in that region?
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Lucinda Creighton): I thank the Deputies who have contributed to this important debate. An important fact which has not been alluded to by any Member of the Opposition to date is that UN Resolution 1973 has already saved countless lives by enabling the international community, through the United Nations and co-operation within the European Union, to stop Colonel Gadaffi and his troops from marching to Benghazi and slaughtering innocent and defenceless citizens. It is important to acknowledge that success which has already happened in Libya. I am proud of the European Union’s involvement in that process.
When one compares what has happened in Libya with previous examples of total and utter ineptitude both within the European Union and the United Nations with regard to the Balkans in the 1990s, one cannot describe it as anything other than a success to date. In the past, the EU and UN failed miserably in regions which were at grave and immediate risk of experiencing mass genocide and gross violation of human rights due to a lack of political co-ordination and a common and coherent approach. The genocide that occurred in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 is a prime example of the horror that can occur due to needless inaction on the part of modern European and western states.
In the case of Srebrenica the EU and the UN stood idly by while waiting for NATO troops to belatedly intervene. While this inaction was paralysing the EU in particular an estimated 8,000 Bosnian boys and men were murdered by units of the Republika Srpska army. Thousands of women and children fled, many of them having been raped and maimed and having suffered inhumane conditions while the western world stood by. We in the EU should still be ashamed that we could not even defend our closest neighbours. The UN could equally hang its head in shame at the weakness and inaction that allowed such bloodletting to occur.
Since that event and other examples of inaction in the Balkans, the EU has gradually worked towards enhancing the capability of its member states through the Petersberg Tasks, the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Treaty of Nice and, more recently, the Treaty of Lisbon. These capabilities have continually been developed to focus on peace and democracy building in particular. The Lisbon treaty has further enhanced these objectives by focusing on pooling our sovereignty to develop humanitarian and rescue operations. That treaty also extended the EU’s potential in terms of conflict prevention missions and post-conflict missions. It introduced permanent structured co-operation, which is open to all states to opt into on a case-by-case basis. EU states are, therefore, prepared to fulfil the most demanding military missions on behalf of the EU, especially in response to requests from the United Nations through agreement by the UN Security Council in the form of a resolution. That has occurred with regard to Libya.
Our decision within the EU and through the United Nations to intervene in Libya was, unlike in the case of Srebrenica, swift, decisive and, so far, successful in its noble aspiration to save thousands of innocent civilian lives. I believe Ireland and the EU can be very proud of this. Undoubtedly, this is an operation with huge and grave implications and we must be mindful of the fall-out that could occur in the weeks and months ahead.
It is in Colonel Gadaffi’s hands as to whether the violence ceases and the people of Libya are allowed to fashion a new and democratic way forward for themselves through reforms and a genuinely inclusive national dialogue. The overall priority for member states of the EU and the UN must be to remain committed to ending the violence as soon as possible, to ensure the safety of all civilians in Libya and to facilitate the humanitarian access that is crucial and which has to date been scuppered by the Gadaffi regime. The intention must be the shortest possible mission to protect Libyan civilians and to persuade the Gadaffi regime to desist from further violence and attacks on them. We must continue to maintain active contacts with our African and Arab partners and, in particular, continue to work in collaboration with the Arab League. That must be a significant priority for all the states involved in the action so far.
It is important to stress that the EU’s intervention in Libya is not simply through the military action relating to the no-fly zone but also through the imposition of a range of measures and sanctions which are designed to put pressure on the Gadaffi regime and to ensure the protection and support of Libyan citizens who have been part of the democratic uprising. The EU imposed an asset freeze, a travel ban and an arms embargo on Colonel Gadaffi, the members of his family and members of his regime following the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1970 which was mentioned earlier by the Tánaiste. This was followed by a round of follow-up measures which target entities such as the Libyan Investment Authority, which controls an extensive multi-billion dollar investment portfolio on behalf of Colonel Gadaffi and his associates. It is important that the EU continues to examine the introduction of other measures and all forms of sanctions to increase pressure on the regime and to try to ensure a speedy resolution and recognition of the democratic forces within the state.
It is important to note and commend the hugely courageous work of the Libyan National Transitional Council. While it is Ireland’s long-standing policy not to recognise anything other than a state, we must recognise and support the efforts being made by the LNTC to ensure a swift transition to democracy within Libya.
There is huge pressure across northern Africa in regard to mass migration, with severe pressure on borders and in terms of security and protection of migrants who are fleeing terror, harassment and the type of military action Gadaffi has imposed on his people. There is an enormous onus on the United Nations and the European Union to co-operate with international agencies to protect and support these people. Ireland can be proud of the intervention we have made through the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in providing practical support to agencies working to protect people in the region.
Deputy Pat Breen: I welcome the opportunity to speak on the events taking place throughout the Arab world. What is happening there is similar to what happened in the old Soviet Union with the emergence of new countries. I was fortunate last weekend to be part of a European Union delegation which travelled to Cairo to see at first hand what has happened since the revolution that took place in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 25 January. Since then we have also had a relatively peaceful changeover in Tunisia.
Most of these regimes in north Africa and elsewhere in the Arab world are run by dictators and there have been serious violations of human rights in all cases. The major difficulty now for Egypt and other Arab countries is how to cope with an emerging democracy. Last Saturday in Egypt a referendum took place on a change to the constitution in which 60% of the people came out to vote. I met an English-speaking woman at a polling station who told me she did not mind what was on the ballot paper — what was important was that this was the first time she had taken part in a free ballot. Instead of fear there was freedom. It was the first time in 35 years that the Egyptian people did not know in advance the outcome of a vote.
What is happening in the Arab world, particularly Libya, is precisely what is bound to happen when a dictator is in power too long. President Mubarak was in power in Egypt for 35 years and Gadaffi has been in control of Libya since 1969 having seized power in a coup d’état from King Idris. Libya has a population of some 6.5 million, which is low relative to its landmass, it being the fourth largest country in Africa. Some 70% of the terrain is desert and most people live on the Mediterranean coast. The capital, Tripoli, is on the eastern coast and has a population of some 1.7 million. The country has a beautiful coastline and the tenth largest oil reserves in the world. Much of the wealth associated with those reserves has been appropriated by Gadaffi’s regime with the people receiving little benefit from it.
Following recent events there are now two entities claiming to be the official Government of Libya. Colonel Gadaffi controls Tripoli and most of the western half of the country, while the national transitional council of the Libyan Republic, led by Mustafa Mohammed Abdul Jalal, is based in Benghazi and controls the eastern half of the country. The only two countries in the European Union that have thus far recognised the new council are France and Portugal. Gadaffi’s attacks on his own people have infuriated the whole Arab world. My group met Amr Moussa at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo last Sunday after his return from Paris where he had given his approval for the air strikes on Libya to prevent Gadaffi’s troops from killing civilians.
More people were killed in Yemen yesterday and there has also been unrest in Bahrain. This unrest is spreading throughout Africa and further afield as various dictators come to the end of their term. The Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, referred to some of the difficulties that may arise as a result of recent developments. For example, there are almost 1 million Egyptians living in Libya. If the war continues — as it is likely to do even though the coalition says it has taken out most of Gadaffi’s air bases — there will be a civil war and an attempt by the Libyan people to take out Gadaffi. It was made clear to us at our meeting last weekend that the Arab world wants him gone. Unfortunately, however, he is holding on and he has his supporters.
The borders of many countries in the region will be under pressure as refugees in Libya seek to return to their home countries. If a significant portion of the 1 million Egyptians living in Libya seek to return home it will cause more problems for Egypt which is facing severe economic problems as a consequence of the regime that was in operation for 35 years. Much of that country’s wealth was taken into foreign banks and Mubarak and his allies have plundered the country. People in the region are crying out for help and Europe must answer that call not only in terms of military intervention but in the form of economic assistance. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Ms Catherine Ashton, and the United States Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton, have visited the region. In many cases the transition to democracy will cause problems and it is vital that we offer support in this regard.
On 17 March the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1973 by a vote of 10-0. French fighter planes entered Libyan airspace last Saturday in the first step in the coalition’s imposition of a no-fly zone under the UN resolution. I hope there will be an end to that within a week or two. It is not a situation we want to see continuing and I hope Colonel Gadaffi sees the light and lets democracy take its place.
I commend the Tánaiste’s humanitarian contribution of €650,000 this morning, it is vital that Ireland plays its role in the humanitarian field. There were reports this morning of tanks attacking a small town in Libya, with brutal forces acting on behalf of Colonel Gadaffi to try to hold on to power.
Deputy Michelle Mulherin: The Libyan situation is an internal matter and coups and attempted coups are commonplace in Africa. The external interference from countries such as the United States is worrying. Lessons seem not to have been learned from Somalia or Iraq and there is an ongoing situation in both Sudan and Egypt.
What makes the Libyan situation special? Purely and simply, oil does. Libya should be helped to settle its problems but that is up to the Libyan people. Those who oppose Gadaffi did not follow democratic means; they took up arms against their leader. They cannot expect support from democratic countries; countries that themselves insist they do not talk to terrorists, no matter what we think of the despot. It was put succinctly by Kevin Myers in today’s Irish Independent; Gadaffi now faces an armed revolt against a Government that is recognised by the UN and the EU. We in Ireland and the European Union must maintain the integrity of this position and resist any inappropriate intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state like Libya.
With the mounting civilian death toll, the genuine hopes of ordinary people in Benghazi and Tobruk that the no-fly zone and military intervention would assist them in defending the revolution and protect their interests are fast disappearing. The tensions between the attacking powers reflect a jockeying for position and show the naked political and economic calculations at the heart of the intervention, which was nothing more than an attempt to seize the opportunity to place a more compliant regime in that oil wealthy region.
It is also being used to establish the democratic credentials of some of the European powers. Are we expected to believe the attacking powers have had a Damascene conversion and are now friends of the Libyan people? They were never their friends before; they were not friends last month, when the The Wall Street Journal was lamenting the fact that the partnership between Colonel Gadaffi’s intelligence service and the CIA was about to be broken. They were not friends of the Libyan people when they were trading in arms and when they turned a blind eye to the actions of the regime. The double standards in the approach here compared with the approach to other countries have been well highlighted. This is about oil and the installation of a more pliable regime.
The Minister of State’s points trying to justify the intervention under the fig leaf of the support of the Arab League need further examination. The composition of that body reflects a collection of reactionary autocrats who rule in their own countries through repression and lack of democracy; it is not a crowd we would want to align ourselves with.
The ordinary people in Ireland stand squarely behind the population of Libya in its struggle for democratic rights and an end to the stranglehold and corruption of the Gadaffi regime and the clique surrounding it, and in the struggle to ensure oil and other resources in the country are used for the benefit of the population. That issue, however, will be decided by the Libyan people. The intervention by attacking forces has not assisted that struggle; it has made it worse, even from the simple point that it has allowed Gadaffi to use anti-imperialist rhetoric to rally his own supporters around the western parts of Libya and in Tripoli.
I agree with the points made by Ministers that this is a complex and dangerous situation. There is widespread opposition to Colonel Gadaffi, particularly in the east of Libya, but it is not that straightforward. People are also concerned about what he might be replaced by and about the west’s involvement in this. They need only look to Iraq or Afghanistan to see the dangers in the situation. I do not agree with the Minister of State that the intervention was necessary to protect the population of Benghazi. There are 1 million people living in and around that city and it would have been possible for the Libyan people themselves to defend the city and to appeal to the army rank and file to support a common programme for democratic rights and a secure economic future.
The self-appointed interim body, the Transitional National Council, does not point the way forward. These people appointed themselves and many of them are defectors from the Gadaffi regime, while others are very pro-western. They are not members of the independent organisations that represent Libyan workers and young people. The way out of the situation is, as Deputy Wallace said, through a mass movement of an organised character similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt, without intervention from foreign powers, based around a programme for democratic rights, the reversal of privatisations and the use of the oil and other wealth for the benefit of the population. We have a role to play in supporting a movement that can cut across the tribal and regional divisions that exist in the country around a programme to transform the lives of people living in Libya and to get rid of Gadaffi.
Deputy John Halligan: I have no truck with despots or dictators who would attempt to enslave their populations but as a neutral country we must be careful when we offer support to military intervention in another country. History should have taught us a lesson in Iraq. Military intervention there resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people at the hands of those who intervened and other forces in Iraq.
It is interesting to hear the Government talking about people crying out for help. Not long ago the Palestinian people were crying out for help when they were being murdered by Israeli forces, bombed and slaughtered. I did not hear our Government or other western governments calling for any sort of military intervention to save the Palestinian people. The chances are the opportunity will be taken by the Israelis again to attack Palestine and it will be interesting to hear what Ministers have to say when that happens.
Will we call for intervention in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain? We have not been clear on this. What are we saying, that we will pick and choose when to intervene? If people rise up in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, will we support military intervention there? Previous speakers were right when they said we should not intervene at all. The consequences have never been good when we intervene, as we saw in Somalia and Iraq. There is no question in my mind that the intervention in Libya is merely an opportunity for the settling of old scores by the British, French and Americans. It is nothing more than that.
I wish the people of Libya well and I hope they eventually overthrow Colonel Gadaffi. As in the case of Iraq, I am of the view that the final outcome will show that the current intervention was not worthwhile. The Government should learn lessons from that, particularly in the context of providing support to the United States when it intervenes in other countries.
Deputy Dara Murphy: This is my first opportunity to make a contribution in the House. It is apt that we should have this chance to discuss the most important international conflict that has occurred for some time. It should be noted that in this small country of ours Members of Parliament are in a position to provide their independent views of the conflict in Libya.
Resolution 1973, which was passed just over one week ago, came about on foot of a unanimous vote of the ten members of the United Nations Security Council. All of us who are democrats and who are part of the broader democratic process must acknowledge that Ireland is a member of the United Nations. As a result, we must respect the decision-making process that has given to rise to a no-fly zone being established in the skies over Libya in recent days. It is important to note that the United Nations speaks collectively for many of the people on this planet. As other speakers indicated, there are many examples of instances where the international community delayed, dithered and did not come to people’s assistance. Past inaction cannot be used as a means to justify not taking action now in respect of the conflict in Libya.
A great deal of nonsense has been uttered during this debate with regard to the role of the French, the Americans and the British. While we have difficulties — such as those relating to corporation tax and other matters — in the context of our relationship with the French, it is important to remember that France, Britain, the US and many other nations remain close friends of Ireland. A number of Members referred to President Sarkozy. It should be recalled that Ireland has far more in common with France than it has differences.
This debates highlights the importance of trying to bring about a resolution of this conflict for the people of Libya. There is great potential for trade between our countries. Until recently we were still hoping to restore live beef exports to Libya. There is also great potential for the Libyan people to live in a democratic society. Their counterparts in Ireland and Europe are very privileged to live in such a society. We must not hide from our responsibilities. We must step up to the plate and forgo the opportunity hide behind our country’s neutrality, which allows us to be protected by greater powers in the European Union and further afield.
It must be acknowledged that Sinn Féin’s stance in respect of Colonel Gadaffi and Libya is difficult to swallow. The Libyan people are entitled to democratic freedom. It must be remembered that there were strong links between Sinn Féin, the IRA and Libya in the past. In 1987, a vessel carrying an arms shipment from that country, which contained some 120 tonnes of weapons, was intercepted in the Bay of Biscay while en route to Northern Ireland. Members of Sinn Féin cannot speak in an independent fashion when it comes to discussing removing Colonel Gadaffi from his position as a dictator in Libya.
I wish the people of Libya well. It is not correct to state that they are not capable of overthrowing the dictatorship which has blighted their country on their own. We must wish them the very best in their struggle. The international community must act swiftly to end the conflict and put in place the kind of democratic freedoms we in Ireland take for granted.
Deputy Peter Mathews: On Friday last I met Mr. Hussein Hamed Buhidma and a colleague of his, Mr. Adam Argaig, in Buswells Hotel. Mr. Buhidma ran as a candidate in the Dublin South constituency in the recent general election. He was born in Libya but moved to this country in 1983. Since then, he has raised a family here. He is extremely grateful for the welcome and support he received from Ireland and her people when he arrived here. I got to know Mr. Buhidma because with a week to go to polling day, I decided to telephone the Independent candidates in Dublin South to wish them well and salute them for being courageous enough to put their names forward for consideration. When I telephoned Mr. Buhidma, he informed me that his brother in Benghazi had been killed by anti-aircraft fire. That brought home to me, in a very real sense, what I had been reading about in the newspapers. I found it difficult to comprehend that the brother of a fellow candidate in the general election had been shot and killed in Benghazi.
At that time a number of people said to me that it was a shame that Ireland, whose people enjoy democracy and huge freedoms — relatively speaking — sometimes hesitates in respect of those in other countries who are struggling to survive in the face of tyranny and despotism. In the days following my telephone call to Mr. Buhidma, I discovered a number of facts about Libya of which I was not previously aware. For example, after the Second World War it took some years for Libya to be established under a constitution. The constitutional model lasted from 1951 to 1969, when Colonel Gadaffi stole power from the Libyan people. He has held them in a vice grip of fear and subjugation ever since.
When we were having a cup of tea together on Friday last, Mr. Hussein Hamed Buhidma asked me to bring to the attention of the Dáil the plight of the people of Libya. He specifically requested that we express our encouragement as overtly and strongly as possible. I am of the view that his request was reasonable. On Monday last, I met Dr. Ibrahim El Sherif and his friend, Mr. Mohamed El-Hagagi, who are both also from Libya. Dr. El Sherif is a consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and also at the Beacon Clinic in Dublin. He has been in Ireland for 20 years and he and his Libyan friends have come together to express their solidarity with the people of their home country in their moment of need. Totally independently of Mr. Hamed, he contacted me and asked if we could lend our voice to that of their people. He explained that Libya has a total of almost 7 million people, something I did not know. Its population is spread in two main directions, from Tripoli to the west to Benghazi to the east and across other towns and cities in between. Those who have expressed the desire for liberation are in towns under the control of the National Council. They were on the point of being obliterated when the United Nations stepped in with the no-fly zone resolution.
It is to the credit of France that it took the lead in this regard. It was explained to me how Muammar Gadaffi extends his vice-like grip of fear. His army is about half mercenary and half native Libyans. The native Libyans are controlled by Gadaffi, who has a hostage mentality. He keeps the families of the people who head up the administration and the army in compounds under a very strict grip of fear. We do not get a clear picture of what support he has, even in the normal understanding of support. The situation is similar to a tiger kidnapping. It is ugly and unacceptable.
I read that letter because it comes from an individual who is hugely appreciative of all that Ireland has given him and his family. He was touched to emotion and had to pause to compose himself. He said Ireland is one of these great places that can add a huge and magnified voice to the Libyan people’s deep desire to put in place, after the removal of Gadaffi, the democracy we all desire.
He went further and explained, in case we had worries or doubts about the make-up of Libya, that Islam is the religion of the entire nation. Libya does not have the problem of degrees or sub-parts of Islam. Islam is a blanket faith that sits comfortably across the entire nation, west and east. After the birth pains of the new democracy, there will be one less complication as a result of traditions. There are tribal elements but they are not so fundamental or deep rooted as to cause a problem. With regard to policing, if Gadaffi has to be forcefully removed there will be a respect for the police force because it is not so endemically contaminated as to present a problem, as happened in other countries under military occupation.
I welcome the debate on Libya. I welcome the assistance being provided by the Government to the people of Libya. Details of this assistance were outlined by the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, in a reply to a parliamentary question and by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs in the House earlier today. I am sure we all welcome this funding and the other assistance that will be committed by Irish Aid.
There is a real and disturbing humanitarian crisis within Libya. More than 250,000 Libyan people are thought to have fled across the borders of their country. This humanitarian crisis has been inflicted on the Libyan people, not by outside forces but by their own leader. I use the word “leader” loosely.
What we see in Libya is tangible proof that the rule of Colonel Gadaffi was no benevolent dictatorship but a despotic regime. For far too long the western world tolerated the antics of Colonel Gadaffi and was happy to view him as a sort of rogue, presumably for the sake of trade, rather than as an illegitimate and cruel dictator who was willing to engage in violence and murder, and continues to do so to this day. In light of the activities of recent weeks, it is farcical to think that Libya had, until recently, a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.
I acknowledge the constructive role of the UN in its adoption of Resolution 1973 and the position adopted by the European Council last week. The actions taken to date have prioritised protecting civilians and it is important to note that the purpose of such actions is to protect innocent civilians from the hand of the brutal regime under which they currently live. I have read and heard much comment comparing the intervention in Libya to the war in Iraq. We heard some of that in the House today. Such comparisons do not stand up to a real level of scrutiny. We must move away from the rhetoric of vested interest and western imperialism. Such rhetoric does an injustice to the seriousness of the crisis in Libya and to the intelligence of people.
There are crucial differences between the Libyan intervention and the war in Iraq. First, there is a clear United Nations resolution authorising the Libyan mission. Second, the resolution sets out very clearly objectives to help the people of Libya. It aims to bring an end to the violence currently ravaging Libya, protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access. Third, the resolution has the support of neighbouring countries in the Arab League.
I welcome this morning’s news that an international conference will be held in London to further examine ways of protecting civilians and assisting the humanitarian crisis in Libya. My thoughts are with the people of Libya and all those oppressed by dictatorship. I am grateful to live and participate in a democracy and to be a Member of a Parliament where we can all express our views freely, no matter how diverse they might be. Let us remember those who cannot.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: I begin by paraphrasing the words of Charles Stewart Parnell and say that no man can or should put a halt to the march of a nation. As Deputies Mathews, Harris and others have said, we are in a free Parliament where we can express our view and participate in the democratic process. We have just completed such a process. The Libyan people have begun their march to freedom. This is to be welcomed.
The geopolitical history of the world is laden with the very bad treatment of people. As a Parliament and as citizens, we must welcome the ability of the people of Libya to have their opinion and to fight for democracy and freedom. I compliment the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Gilmore, and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, Deputy Creighton, on the work they have done.
We must stand with the people of Libya. The weapons Colonel Gadaffi sent to our country to try to destroy our democracy are being used again in his own country against his own people. As Deputy Mathews said, the Libyan people are a very proud and courageous people who are now, like the people of many other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, beginning to see the benefit of having democracy, which is pure and simple.
It is important that we stand with the Libyan people and protect innocent civilians. Equally, it is important that we build a support structure for democracy. We must learn from the mistakes of the past. I noted the words of Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama when they gave a commitment on the role of the United States and stated they would not send ground troops into Libya. Are we saying to the outside world that what we stand for here is democracy, its rights and its freedoms? If so, how can we stand in the way of the people of many other countries who also aspire to this? This is why it is important that the role of the United Nations is scrutinised.
The UN has moved swiftly in its two resolutions. Looking back to other resolutions passed in 1996 and 2006 concerning the violation of human rights, it is important we give due recognition to the UN, which has been a maligned body throughout the world. In this case, the UN has acted on behalf of people. This is about people — ordinary people who are struggling to survive — and their protection is what democracy should be about. The international community has agreed almost in unison on the ending of the reign of Colonel Gadaffi. Let us consider his record in power and how he has treated people. Are we seriously suggesting we can allow this type of regime to continue? As democrats, we cannot.
The fine addresses given earlier by the Tánaiste and the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, showed their thought processes and that of the Government. It is in the hands of Colonel Gadaffi to free his people and give them a new beginning by surrendering power and returning it to the people. We need to support the role of the international community because democracy must have a support structure to flourish and cannot be allowed to hang on its own.
It is democracy which is inspiring many people across North Africa and the Middle East in trying to build a new beginning for themselves and their peoples. If one meets and talks to people who are deprived of democracy, they cherish what we have here. While Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett, Deputy Dara Murphy, Deputy Peter Mathews, Deputy Thomas Broughan and I all have different viewpoints, we can argue, debate and put our case to the people in a sovereign election, and whether we win or lose, the people decide — they determine the type of Government they want. That is what this debate is about. It is not about the battle for oil or arms — that is too simplistic. Members can nod and say it is that, but it is not. It is about people. As democrats, we must always put the people we represent first. In this case, the people of Libya must be given that right to have a say in how their country is governed.
Let us consider the content of the resolution passed by the UN. It is very much focused on what Members have referred to in almost total unison, namely, the no-fly zone and the seizing of assets. I listened to Deputy Wallace earlier. However, it is not simply about going in and bombing. This is not done lightly. No military person pushes a button lightly. I challenge any Member to come to the House to say that. This is not done arbitrarily. Resolution 1973 is about the ending of the violence perpetrated by Colonel Gadaffi on his own people. He has no legitimacy to continue in government, he has lost the confidence of his people and the reality is the Libyan people would be better off if he was gone. It behoves all of us in the international community to ensure it is done quickly so the Libyan people can flourish in a new beginning.
Deputy Ann Phelan: I welcome this, my first opportunity as a new Dáil Member, to make my contribution to the international debate about our concern for the embattled people of Libya. I thank the people of Carlow-Kilkenny for returning me to the 31st Dáil.
I welcome the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1973 which demanded the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against and abuse of civilians, and decided to establish a no-fly zone over Libya in order to help protect civilians. We support the implementation of Resolution 1973 in a manner that is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties.
Colonel Gadaffi has ruled Libya for over 40 years. An uprising against him began last month after the long-time leaders of neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt were toppled. Political stability in the Arab world appears to be progressively breaking up. Over three weeks ago, the people of Libya took to the streets in protest against Colonel Gadaffi and his oppressive regime, asking for new rights and freedoms. There were hopeful signs a better future awaited them, like elsewhere in the free world. Unfortunately, Colonel Gadaffi responded by attacking his own people. He has brought the full might of armed forces to bear on his own people, backed up by mercenaries. Initially, the world watched, but, thankfully, it then moved.
The overthrowing of such regimes by popular uprisings has been welcomed but much more is now required. The vacuum that is opening up could easily be filled by newer forms of oppression instead of new forms of parliamentary democracy. Permitting a Libyan crisis to descend into a massacre by the strongest over the weaker is an anomaly of acceptable international law and a distortion of the basic principles of human rights. I echo the humanitarian thoughts of Irish people in our hope that the peaceful needs of the Libyan people will be quickly met. We support the international community’s demands for an end to the violence, access for international human rights monitors and the lifting of restrictions on the media.
The international community should be behind those movements that are seeking to set up democratic institutions. However, we should remember the tragic lesson of the past that a “one size fits all” democracy is not the solution. We must recognise there is not a perfect model of democracy for export, but a form of democracy that has a relevance to the communities that have paid such a high price for their freedom. This time, the UN Security Council has given its formal backing, the Arab League has asked for intervention and the people of Libya are on side. However, the principal strategy given consideration at the level of the Security Council appears to be one with military implications and may not be free from the influence of the economic interests.
It was only a number of years ago that Colonel Gadaffi was supposedly brought in from the cold, with an agreement that he give up weapons of mass destruction. Little was made of the appalling human rights violations against his own people of which he was guilty.
Through the UN Security Council, the West must now ensure that all kinds of humanitarian aid will reach the besieged citizens in the heart of the areas of popular uprising in Tripoli and Benghazi. As part of the UN resolution it was reported that these forces had discussed the progress of the no-fly zone and the protection of civilians during military action with leaders of the transitional national council. On the coalition’s fifth day of operations witnesses in the rebel-held city of Misrata said pro-Gadaffi snipers had been firing on a hospital. Nothing is sacred in war. When there is a shift in war from peacekeeping to peacemaking, there is sometimes a very fine line regarding the protection of innocent civilians.
If we, as a nation, really care about international law and the relevance of the United Nations we should press for action now before more lives are lost, on a scale that can be clearly foreseen. When that job is done the military intervention will be over. Any regime change should be for the Libyan people to achieve. The international military intervention in Libya is not about bombing for democracy, or for Colonel Gadaffi’s head, rather legally, morally, politically and militarily it has only one justification, namely, protecting the country’s people from the kind of murderous harm that Colonel Gadaffi inflicted on unarmed protesters.
My contribution today is not meant to be empty rhetoric. I believe the Government should draw the attention of the United Nations towards addressing the unsettling change of regimes in this region, in the interest of re-establishing stability. As a nation, we should encourage the UN to look now into oppression in Bahrain, Yemen, Palestine, etc., across the Middle East. We should say now is the opportune time to re-establish a Middle East conference in order to seek an agreed resolution for long-term security and peace in that region.
The response to the Libyan crisis by the international community, the EU and Ireland has been swift and decisive. Above all, we must continue to support the Libyan people in their right to be free from the extremely oppressive Gadaffi regime. The solution will not be a military one. What is needed now are commitments to help build a future for the Libyan people that is based on a political framework.
Deputy Joe Costello: I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak about the current Libyan crisis. Libya has been noted in the international media for a considerable time, ever since Colonel Gadaffi took control more than four decades ago. It was one of the Arab states that appeared regularly in the headlines, most of the time for the wrong reasons. There was a certain amount of terrorism and the regime was never entirely benign given that the Lockerbie disaster in which more than 270 people died was traced back to Tripoli. Very large quantities of arms were imported into this country that undoubtedly exacerbated the conflict in Northern Ireland for a considerable period. However, it was not until recent times that Colonel Gadaffi came in from the cold, to a certain extent, and was again welcomed, particularly in the West. No doubt that had a great deal to do with the oil reserves in Libya but the colonel, too, appeared to want to plot a somewhat less belligerent and more benign political operation than before.
However, the Arab world has never been noted for human rights or democracy, as we in the West would see them. It was surprising, therefore, to see, all of a sudden, an Arab spring sprout up along the perimeter of the Mediterranean, in Tunisia in particular, and in Egypt and Morocco. Even more surprising, the response by the authorities in those countries was relatively benign. They acceded to a considerable degree of democracy and acknowledged the demands of the popular movements that had begun. In other countries the response has not been as benign and there is belligerence. However, the only country that has responded in a totally belligerent and aggressive fashion is Libya. As dictator in charge, Colonel Gadaffi declared war on his own people and engaged in direct violent conflict to resolve the dispute across Libya, from Tripoli to Misrata, Benghazi and other cities.
From that point of view it is important that the international community stands up and says this violent conflict cannot be permitted under international law. It was right, therefore, for the United Nations to intervene and pass two resolutions, the more comprehensive being the one the House is discussing, Resolution 1973, which was passed on St. Patrick’s Day. It provided a comprehensive approach to dealing with the problem. It was unusual that a United Nations resolution should be so comprehensive and specific in regard to the areas to which it was to apply. It sought a very broad mandate and, most important, at the same time it specifically acknowledged the condemnation by the League of Arab Nations, the African Union and the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference of the serious violations of human rights and the breach by the Libyan Government of international humanitarian law, as seen by the Arab world. Only then is set out the action allowed under the new mandate, namely, the protection of civilians — which is the most important point — the enforcement of an arms embargo, the establishment of a no-fly zone and the freeze on assets belonging to the Libyan authorities. These are all very desirable in terms of the dealing by an outside body with matters which are a threat to civilian lives.
What was extremely important was the appointment of a panel of eight experts to monitor the implementation of this resolution, to provide an interim report within three months and a final report within 30 days of the ending of the mandate. All of us know too well what can happen when a resolution of this nature is abused. We have seen what happened in North Korea, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. One hopes the international western community, in particular, the United States, has learned lessons from those situations. It is unfortunate that it is the United States which is now leading the international force. It appears to be more than willing to abandon that leadership. I believe it should be ended as quickly as possible. No country other than Israel is so provocative to the Arab world. It is extremely important the United States is not seen to be to the forefront because its legacy in conflict resolution has not been a good one in all the parts of the world in which it has been engaged. That is one concern I would have. Although NATO is the preferred body, France is the country which has taken the initiative on the ground. It is difficult to see how any Western body leading a military force on an Arab country can be acceptable for any length of time. We must look to the league of Arab states to take over the role from now on. It has already expressed some concerns about the manner in which the resolution has been implemented.
Ireland’s perspective is that of a country not engaged in any conflict in an aggressive fashion, but rather engaged with conflict resolution. It behoves us to point out very strongly the legacy of history and the dangers of getting embroiled in the Arab world. Many of the Arab states have already accepted the popular will of the people in their countries, particularly in Tunisia and Egypt, and there is much on which to be built. The United Nations should go forward strongly to ensure that leadership is returned to the Arab states, especially as the military force in Libya, including its warplanes and tanks, has been blunted successfully.
Ireland has given €650,000 as humanitarian aid, which is very welcome. I am sure doctors and nurses will also be available to help out with any requests made; we should make this clear as a country which is to the forefront in building a new type of European Union approach in dealing with these matters. We should not engage in an aggressive fashion but look to defusing or resolving conflict. From that perspective, Ireland and other neutral countries in the European Union should take the initiative to show the way forward and avoid the greatest threat of all, which is the perception that this could in any way be interpreted as a crusade by the West to impose its authority and principles on Arab states. That is a dangerous prospect.
The United Nations resolution is proper but it must be monitored very carefully. We should disengage as quickly as possible and there should be no threat whatever of regime change being imposed by the coalition of forces involved. In this country we should lead the way to ensure we move to conflict resolution and the humanitarian stage of the action.
Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: I do not intend to go over too many points which have already been well made. As a country, Ireland has a unique opportunity to view what is happening in the Arab states and the north African countries which have been to the forefront of media commentary and international events in the past while. As a widely respected voice in international affairs, Ireland can comment and it is important that we make our voice known in the unfolding events. This reminds me very much of what happened in the late 1980s and early 1990s in eastern Europe, and as Deputy Costello has correctly stated, there is something of an Arab spring about what is happening in Tunisia, Egypt and now in Libya.
I have no difficulty in supporting Resolution 1970 or Resolution 1973 and I am quite happy there is a UN mandate for the actions taking place. The key word is proportionality, and everything that we are seen to support as a country should be done in a measured fashion. There is a danger in the perception that the international community only intervenes when an oil-rich country is at stake. If we are intent on supporting those at risk of genocide, will we always act in such a way in every country where there is such a risk? We know that the international community has been very slow in making interventions when they were needed.
In supporting Resolution 1973 the proportionality aspect is absolutely key. We must be seen to protect those under threat and to prevent the excesses of the Gadaffi regime. We should not be seen to support any attempt at regime change, which is not what the resolution is about. It would be very easy for somebody with non-Western sympathies to get the idea that a force led by France, the UK, the US and others would have the intention of regime change but we do not want to support the idea. There should be a key message from this House that proportionality is everything and the protection of those at risk of genocide is absolutely everything, although we are not into regime change or forcing our will as an international community on anybody.
Russia and China are very unhappy with the implementation of this resolution, although those countries have human rights records which are nothing to shout about either. The Arab League is now also uneasy, and a number of African nations — South Africa in particular — have issues with how the resolution has come into effect.
Our history in international relations is proud and our ability to comment is without any stain of colonialism but we must be careful. While we commend the actions of the international community, protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring nothing happens on our watch that we have influence to stop, we should ensure that everything is done with proportionality and that we are never seen to impose our will or try to influence internal matters of another country. It is an exciting time to be involved in politics and see what people power can achieve but proportionality is key to what is happening with this resolution.
Deputy Costello has already mentioned the humanitarian aid we are affording to the Libyan cause. It is right and we should carry on with it. We must know checks and balances exist in the system and that the claim made by British Prime Minister David Cameron can be backed up. He argued that the action in Libya by the UK and others is legal, necessary and right.
We are happy to support Resolution 1973, as I am sure other Government colleagues will. We must consider how to move on from this and if there is an endgame. Have we considered what will happen when the current period of conflict finishes? Is there any potential for those who want the excesses of Gadaffi stopped to be open to an accusation that his excesses will be replaced by those of Western military forces? The key to the issue is proportionality and how we use our international voice to ensure we make points forcibly.
Deputy Seán Kenny: This is my first opportunity to speak in the 31st Dáil but I will say more about this on the next occasion as this is a serious subject. We must deal with it in a solemn manner. The response of the international community to the Libyan crisis has been clear and vigorous. The United Nations Security Council reacted swiftly in adopting Resolution 1970 on 26 February which implemented an immediate arms embargo, an assets freeze and a travel ban against Colonel Gadaffi and members of his family and regime. The Security Council also referred developments in Libya to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation in light of clear evidence of widespread systematic abuses by the regime against the Libyan population.
Events in Libya have precipitated a major humanitarian crisis, with an estimated 300,000 people, mainly foreign workers, fleeing across the border to neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt. This development could create volatility in neighbouring countries. To its credit, the Government, through Irish Aid, has committed €600,000 in aid to deal with the humanitarian crisis. It is regrettable that many international aid agencies have been prevented from entering western Libya to provide aid and assistance to the population upon which conflict has been inflicted.
United Nations Resolution 1973, which was adopted on 17 March, demanded an immediate and complete ceasefire and authorised the use of all necessary measures to protect civilians as well as the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya. The resolution further strengthens the arms embargo, assets freeze and travel ban imposed under the previous Resolution 1970. I welcome the adoption of Resolution 1973 which is clearly intended to halt the violence being waged by the Gadaffi regime on the Libyan people and to provide protection for the civilian population. I urge that any military actions taken in pursuit of the resolution be in full conformity with its terms, be proportionate and avoid civilian casualties.
The response of the European Union to the crisis in Libya is also welcome. The European Council, at its meeting on 11 March, made clear that Colonel Gadaffi must hand over power and remove himself from the scene to facilitate an orderly and peaceful transition to democracy in Libya in conformity with the legitimate demands and aspirations of the Libyan people. The full range of sanctions imposed by the two resolutions has been implemented at European Union and national level, alongside additional restrictive measures aimed at cutting off the flow of funds and misappropriated proceeds to the Gadaffi regime. Further restrictive measures targeting Libyan oil and gas revenues aimed at ensuring they do not end up in the hands of the regime are under consideration by the European Council.
The international community has also responded to the humanitarian position in Libya. Significant efforts have been undertaken to help those stranded in border areas. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration are working with the Egyptian and Tunisian authorities to ensure the migrants in question receive basic humanitarian aid. The contribution of Egypt and Tunisia has been crucial and particularly praiseworthy in light of recent dramatic developments and difficulties in both countries.
On his recent visit to this country, the United States civil rights campaigner, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, commented on developments in Libya. Jesse Jackson is an eminent world statesman whose warning against excessive use of international military force in Libya should be given serious consideration. He also expressed concern that the United Nations mandate could be stretched beyond its original purpose to protect Libyan people from the humanitarian threat posed by Colonel Gadaffi. He indicated that the aims of the United Nations resolution were containment and a cessation of armed conflict and described it as a humanitarian mission.
Recent reports indicate that the majority of casualties in Libya have been civilians who were attacked by Gadaffi’s forces. I concur with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, that Ireland can only support the implementation of United Nations Resolution 1973 in a manner that is proportionate and avoids causing civilian casualties. The Minister stated the Government’s position is that it supports regime change and a transition to democracy in a manner that is confined to the protection of civilians and on which the implementation of the United Nations resolution is based. I support United Nations Resolution 1973.
Deputy Nicky McFadden: I congratulate the Acting Chairman, Deputy Broughan, on his re-election and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, on her appointment. I wish both of them well and hope they enjoy good health. It is a great honour for me, my family and people in Longford-Westmeath who voted for me to make my first contribution in the Chamber.
Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, who has held power in Libya for 42 years since becoming the country’s leader on 1 September 1969, is one of the longest serving rulers in history. As Deputies are aware, long-serving leaders become corrupt because power corrupts. Colonel Gadaffi’s government has been denounced by the West for opposing dissidents, engaging in state sponsored terrorism, assassinating expatriate opposition leaders and crass nepotism which allowed him and his family to amass a multi-billion dollar fortune.
Last month, major political protests inspired by recent pro-democracy events in Tunisia, Egypt and other parts of the Arab world broke out against Colonel Gadaffi’s Government. These protests developed into a hostile general uprising against the colonel who vowed to die a martyr. It is reprehensible that Colonel Gadaffi would pledge to fight to the death against his own people.
The priority of the international community must be to protect the most vulnerable inside Libya and those who fled and are now living as refugees on the Libyan border. Humanitarian access to the country has been severely restricted for several weeks. As a result, humanitarian agencies have been unable to assess the scale of the needs of the population. Food availability is fast becoming a serious problem. Access to the country is vital to assist those who have been injured in the violence of recent weeks. Doctors have described desperate scenes as they struggle, in some cases without power, to cope with the numbers of injured. We have heard of surgeons who have been forced, through lack of space, to operate on corridors to try to remove bullets or treat shrapnel wounds.
It is worrying that all international humanitarian agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins sans Frontières have withdrawn from the east of Libya. Ireland’s humanitarian response has focused on providing support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to which we have provided 100 tents and 18,500 blankets for use on the border with Tunisia. We have also provided funding to the International Organization for Migration for the repatriation of third country nationals caught up in the crisis. The Irish contribution to date amounts to €650,000. It is estimated that more than 300,000, mainly migrant workers, have fled across the borders with Egypt and Tunisia in recent weeks.
President Obama is fast becoming unpopular and is coming under attack domestically because of the cost of the Libyan operation and its uncertain future. The French Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé, however, has issued a reassuring statement indicating that the destruction of Colonel Gadaffi’s military capacity will be achieved in a matter of days rather than months. I commend the international community on its prompt response. The Irish Government should use every influence to ensure the protection of civilians. Colonel Gadaffi must recognise the popular uprising in Libya and must surrender power. The international response demands an end to all violence and a political solution that reflects the wishes and rights of the Libyan, and all Arab people. Change that is sweeping across the Arab region is irreversible.
Acting Chairman (Deputy Thomas P. Broughan): I congratulate Deputies Nicky McFadden, Peter Mathews and all other new Members who made impressive maiden speeches during the past week or so. I now call on the Minister of State, Deputy O’Sullivan, to reply to the debate.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan): I join the Acting Chairman in congratulating the new Members who contributed to what has been a wide-ranging and informed debate, including Deputies Nicky McFadden, Ann Phelan, Peter Mathews and Aodhán Ó Ríordáin. I acknowledge the concerns expressed, in particular from the Opposition benches, and reiterate that the action was taken in response to requests from the civilians in Libya who feared for their lives, with support from the region and, as many speakers said during the debate, in response to the unanimous UN Resolution 1973.
I will outline Ireland’s consular and humanitarian actions to date and make some observations on the international community’s reaction to the crisis. As the crisis began in Libya, the priority of the Irish Government was the well-being of our citizens. In the week beginning 14 February, as it became clear that tensions were rising in Libya, the Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs became increasingly concerned for the safety of Irish citizens there. The Department advised citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Libya and on 16 February travel advice was amended to reflect the specific risk posed by demonstrations. Also on that date, the Irish Embassy in Rome, which is accredited to Libya, contacted all Irish citizens in Libya of whom they were aware and asked them to register their full contact details if they had not already done so. It asked also that they request any other Irish citizens in Libya of whom they were aware to do likewise.
By 17 February, the situation had further escalated and it was decided to advise citizens not to travel to Libya. The Department continued to monitor the situation and to liaise with EU partners, in particular those with missions in Tripoli, throughout the weekend of 19-20 February. On the morning of 21 February, the consular crisis centre was opened. Ten call handlers were assigned to the centre to deal with calls to a dedicated help line, which was open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each week day and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, 26 and 27 February. In addition, a crisis management group was established to co-ordinate our efforts and to liaise closely with our EU, US and other colleagues.
To lend further assistance to Irish citizens caught up in this crisis, two Air Corps aircraft and crew were deployed to Malta together with the emergency civilian assistance team, a team of Department of Foreign Affairs officials and a member of the Garda Síochána. They were joined by the Irish ambassador to Italy and a consular official. The aircraft, together with the Defence and ECAT team, made three flights to Tripoli, in the course of which the team members assisted in the evacuation of Irish and other EU citizens. Irish citizens were assisted to board flights from a number of EU countries and we, in turn, brought out an emergency medical case.
To date, the Department of Foreign Affairs has assisted some 140 citizens in their departure from Libya. Not all Irish citizens sought to avail of options to leave Libya. Currently, approximately 73 Irish citizens remain. Of these, 57 are in Tripoli, six in Misratah and ten in Benghazi. The Department has maintained contact with all Irish citizens in Libya known to it and with their families in Ireland. Since the air strikes began, we have been trying to contact all the Irish citizens who remain in Libya to inquire as to their safety and welfare. They are understandably concerned, in particular as exit routes out of the country remain difficult. We are maintaining regular contact with them and will provide whatever assistance is possible, in co-operation with those European states with representation still in the country.
As Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development, I am responsible for the Irish response to the humanitarian situation in Libya, which remains extremely worrying. The UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Libya, Mr. Rashid Khalikov, has described it as one marked by violations of human rights, with serious concerns about the impact of the fighting on civilian populations and possible violations of international humanitarian law. Reports of the increasing use of heavy weapons in populated areas are particularly disturbing given the dangers this poses to the civilian population. We are also concerned for civilians living in or near areas where there has been heavy fighting, especially in towns such as Misratah and Adjabiya. Ireland will continue to insist that all parties take all possible measures to spare civilians the effects of the hostilities.
The Government is also extremely concerned that most parts of Libya remain closed to aid workers. An inability to access areas in which civilians are at risk makes it extremely difficult to obtain independent information about the conditions facing the civilian population and an accurate picture of what has happened in cities which have been recaptured by Gadaffi forces.  Along with other EU member states, Ireland will continue to call on the Libyan Government to permit full and unhindered access for humanitarian agencies.
The crisis in Libya has already had serious ramifications for its neighbours. During the past month, more than 350,000 people, mostly migrant workers, have fled across the country’s borders to Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria and Niger, prompting a major international relief effort. In recent days, the numbers have declined and those still crossing the borders are now being dealt with efficiently by the receiving countries and relevant UN agencies. However, approximately 9,000 people remain stranded along Libya’s borders with Tunisia and Egypt where they continue to await onward transport to their countries of origin. I acknowledge the significant contribution made by the authorities in Egypt and Tunisia in facilitating and contributing to the international humanitarian response. This contribution is particularly praiseworthy in light of the recent dramatic events which both countries have experienced.
Clearly, the overall situation remains unpredictable and any significant intensification in fighting runs the risk of generating much larger-scale population movements. With Libya normally importing some 90% of its food, much of it through ports on the Mediterranean coast which have been damaged by the fighting, there is also potential for significant shortages of food supplies should the situation deteriorate further. The Irish Government, through Irish Aid, has already contributed approximately €400,000 in response to the crisis, through direct funding and in-kind assistance. This assistance included the transport of 18,500 blankets and 100 tents from our pre-positioned stocks in Brindisi for distribution by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, as well as €250,000 for the International Organisation for Migration to help transport some of those stranded at border areas back to their countries of origin. In addition to this €400,000, I am pleased to inform Members, that, as already announced, I have today authorised a further €250,000 for the International Organisation for Migration to help it to continue the evacuation process and as part of its contingency planning for a potential escalation of the crisis. This contribution follows an appeal made this week by the United Nations.
The Department of Foreign Affairs stands ready to provide further support in response to the needs identified within Libya by the United Nations and other aid agencies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC. The humanitarian situation lies at the core of international action on Libya. As the Tánaiste stated, the Government welcomes the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1973 to help protect civilians in Libya. It is worth recalling that as UN Security Council members voted last Thursday Colonel Gadaffi’s troops had advanced to the perimeter of Benghazi and were preparing for a final assault to take the city, which they said would be dealt with mercilessly.
The people of Benghazi and the Libyan National Transition Council appealed to the international community to intervene to save them from the murderous mass reprisals that would undoubtedly have ensued if the city had fallen. Large numbers of Benghazi residents had fled to hide in the mountains. Through the Arab League the region had also appealed for help and specifically for a no-fly zone to be established.
One week on, the needs of Libyan civilians remain great. Misratah remains under siege and in desperate need of food and medicines. Unknown numbers of migratory workers hide in Libyan towns, endangered by Colonel Gadaffi’s reckless policy of recruiting mercenaries, many of whom are also from sub-Saharan Africa. It is vital that Resolution 1973 continues to be implemented in a manner that is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties.
Reports from Tripoli and elsewhere refer to specifically military targets being attacked and members of the international coalition reportedly rightly turning back from targets when intelligence suggested that Colonel Gadaffi had moved human shields to target locations. After five nights of air strikes, a no-fly zone is now in place and Colonel Gadaffi’s forces have been repelled from Benghazi. These efforts are not intended to bring about regime change. However, there can be no doubt that Colonel Gadaffi has lost all legitimacy to rule, and there are no circumstances in which one can envisage him or his family continuing to play a political role in Libya. Furthermore, a protracted conflict is not in the interests of the Libyan people, regional neighbours or the international community. The Government calls upon Colonel Gadaffi to order an immediate and genuine cessation of his military offensive. The Government is closely monitoring the upheaval in other parts of the Arab world at present and we will return to those issues again.
My focus as Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development is on the humanitarian dimensions of the crisis. If a ceasefire and peaceful transfer of power can be achieved, the Libyan people will need considerable help to build a democratic administration and society. I look forward to the day when Ireland and the EU, as an immediate neighbour of Libya, can assist it to rebuild the state and move towards a democratic future.
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