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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Apr 1994

Vol. 441 No. 1

Private Notice Questions. - Irish Citizens in Rwanda.

asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps, if any, that have been taken to secure the safety of Irish citizens in Rwanda in view of the conflict there; the number of Irish citizens who have been evacuated; the number still believed to be in the country; if any arrangements have been made to contact these people; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Like other Members of the House, I was deeply shocked by the terrible events in Rwanda in recent days and profoundly saddened by the largescale loss of life. Our information is that there was a total of eight Irish citizens in Rwanda when the violence broke out on 7 April. Six of them were in the capital, Kigali, and two missionaries were in outlying areas of the country.

Since Ireland does not have a diplomatic or consular mission in Rwanda, we immediately contacted the Governments of two of our EU partners, Belgium and France, and asked them to make every effort to evacuate our citizens with their own. Both Governments readily acceded to our request and I take this opportunity to express our deep appreciation for their helpful and co-operative approach. Thanks to the assistance of the two Governments concerned, six of the eight Irish people have now been evacuated: three yesterday — two to Nairobi, Kenya, one to Goma, Zaire — and three to Paris this morning.

Of the two remaining Irish citizens I understand that one, who wished to remain in Kigali in a voluntary capacity as long as possible to help with the evacuation arrangements, is being evacuated later today. The last remaining Irish person is a nun who is a member of a Belgian religious order in Mushiushiro, some distance from Kigali. It has not been possible for us to contact her direct but the Belgian authorities are seeking to do so; we will remain in very close contact with the Belgian authorities to try to get the fullest information about this person and to ensure her safety.

I would like to associate myself with the thanks the Minister has expressed to the Belgian and French authorities. In addition to the efforts made on behalf of Irish citizens in Rwanda, what steps has the Irish Government taken to raise at European Union and United Nations level the question of the massacres in that country? Is there a proposal from Ireland or elsewhere to give a peace-keeping force a mandate to deal with the problem there?

The Government shares the concern of our European Union partners about the massacre and difficulties in Rwanda in recent days and we will raise the matter with our European Union colleagues. There are no proposals before the Government at present on a peace-keeping force, but as in all cases, any request from the United Nations will be assessed on a case by case basis. Such a request has not been received to date, if it is it will get urgent attention.

I thank the Minister's staff for the briefing they gave me on this matter. Have instructions been given to our ambassador at the UN, Mr. Mahon Hayes, as to the line Ireland will take on the discussion of this matter at UN level? Is the Department of Foreign Affairs considering suggestions about ways in which volunteer or missionary workers who may wish to work in African countries can have information on the safety of those countries? A number of agencies are requesting that kind of back-up information.

I am very conscious of the safety of Irish workers abroad and my concern is shared by every Member of this House. It is the responsibility of my Department to provide as much information as possible to Irish workers and non-governmental agencies who are considering taking up missions abroad. I will make arrangements to have full and adequate briefing provided by ourselves and other European Union countries. This can, and will, be provided. I think the Deputy is well aware of the very good and solid relationship between us and the Irish people who go abroad to work.

I want to press the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs on the steps Ireland is taking to have this matter raised at United Nations level. In his earlier reply he said no request had yet been received by the Irish Government for a peace-keeping force or for participation in a peace-keeping force. I understand there are 2,000 UN troops in Rwanda at present but that their mandate is to monitor the implementation of the accords agreed last August between the rebels and the then legitimate Government of Rwanda. Does the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs intend to have raised at the United Nations the question of whether the troops already in Rwanda can be given a mandate to intervene to stop the massacre currently taking place? Reports in the newspapers——

I require brevity.

May I finish my point? Reports in the newspapers indicate that UN troops have to stand by and watch while civilians are slaughtered.

The Deputy can be assured that the Government, in line with its European Union partners, wants to do everything possible to prevent any further loss of life in the terrible tragedy in Rwanda in recent days. In that respect, my Department will be in contact with our ambassador at the UN to ensure that, as always, we play a strong and appropriate role in any action the United Nations can take to stop further deaths in Rwanda.