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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 23 Oct 2002

Vol. 556 No. 1

Iraq Crisis: Statements.

The gathering crisis over Iraq has been several years in the making. Its root cause is the aggressiveness of the current regime. This aggressiveness has manifested itself in repression at home and attacks against its neighbours abroad.

Iraq has fought two major wars against other countries in the region. It invaded Iran in September 1980 and it invaded and occupied Kuwait almost exactly ten years later in August 1990. The number of casualties inflicted in these two wars was enormous, amounting to a million dead and wounded. The Iranians fought Iraq to a stand-still after eight years of heavy fighting, one of the longest and bloodiest wars of the second half of the 20th century. Kuwait was powerless to resist the invaders who were ejected only after the international community put together a massive coalition force which fought a brief but intense war against Iraq.

Iraqi aggression against its neighbours on both these occasions, as on others, was in complete violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations. It was destructive of every effort since the Second World War, and earlier, to build up an agreed code of behaviour among states under international law. Under this code it is forbidden to use force and to seize territory. Furthermore, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is forbidden, as is the massacre of civilians and the abuse of human rights. Iraq has broken virtually every rule of international law and of universally accepted standards of behaviour.

With the ending of the second Gulf War, Iraq was required by the Security Council of the United Nations to give up its weapons of mass destruction. Those are nuclear weapons, chemical or gas weapons and biological or germ warfare. The Charter of the United Nations confers on the Security Council the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. The Council is empowered and required to make decisions to safeguard peace and the stability of the international order. All member states of the UN are bound by the Charter to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council and it is a matter of grave concern when any member fails to do so. Iraq is therefore obliged to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions and must live up fully to the conditions imposed on it by the Council. This means, with specific regard to the elimination of its weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq must agree to the return of arms inspectors in full accordance with the conditions laid down in the resolutions and not seek to impose its own conditions.

There has been a whole series of Security Council decisions relating to Iraq. The first of these was Resolution 660 of August 1990 which condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and demanded withdrawal. When Iraq continued its illegal occupation, Resolution 661 followed a few days later. That resolution imposed mandatory economic sanctions against Iraq. The purpose was to compel Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait without the international community having to resort to the use of force.

Iraq ignored that resolution also. When it became clear that Iraq had no intention of obeying the Security Council's lawful demand that it leave Kuwait, the Council passed Resolution 678 in November of that year. That resolution authorised member states "to use all necessary means to uphold and implement Resolution 660 and all subsequent resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area". In other words, the Security Council authorised the use of force unless Iraq withdrew from Kuwait by 15 January of the following year, 1991. Again, Iraq refused to budge and the result was a major conflict in which Iraq was rapidly defeated by the coalition of forces from UN member states mandated by the Security Council. In the aftermath of that defeat, the Security Council adopted Resolution 687 in April. That resolution detailed measures for a ceasefire, including creation of UNSCOM – the special commission to oversee Iraqi disarmament – and ordered the removal or destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles capable of delivering them. The International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA – was mandated to deal with Iraq's nuclear weapons programme, which turned out to be far more advanced than anyone had thought.

In another resolution passed the same month, the Security Council condemned the Iraqi regime's brutal repression of its civilian population and demanded an end to it. Allied forces set up no-fly zones with the express intention of protecting the Kurds and the marsh Shia Arabs. In 1995 the Security Council established the Oil for Food Programme to spare the Iraqi people the worst effects of the economic sanctions which continued in face of the refusal of the Iraqi Government to co-operate with the arms inspectors. It was not until two years later that the Iraqi Government allowed this humanitarian programme to go into effect and to this day the regime impedes the operation of the programme for the most cynical propaganda reasons. Some Members of the House will recall meeting the head of the Oil for Food Programme in New York, Mr. Benon Sobhan, and his briefing on the extent to which Iraq has disrupted the programme's activities.

More resolutions followed, trying to get Iraq to co-operate with the arms inspectors. Iraq continued to refuse. In November 1998, Resolution 1205 condemned Iraq's formal decision no longer to co-operate with UNSCOM and the IAEA. Operation Desert Fox followed in December with an extensive bombing campaign. One year later, in December 1999, the Council adopted Resolution 1284, a very detailed resolution which replaced UNSCOM with a new disarmament agency known as UNMOVIC, which was also intended to meet some of Iraq's objections and to provide the opportunity for a new start. Very significantly, this resolution also tried to address the humanitarian problem by permitting Iraq to export any quantity of oil and by drawing up lists of humanitarian goods which would be exempted from control by the sanctions committee. The resolution also provided that sanctions would be suspended once the arms inspectors reported that Iraq was co-operating in all respects.

In May of this year, the very important Resolution 1409 was adopted. This resolution completely changes the basis on which the sanctions are operated so as to target the regime and minimise civilian suffering to the greatest extent possible. Ireland has been particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on innocent civilians. As a member of the Security Council we have been actively involved in all the efforts so far to refine the system of sanctions so as to take into account the humanitarian dimension. We worked hard to obtain a comprehensive and timely solution which would impact as little as possible on the lives of Iraq's civilian population. We were particularly engaged in developing Resolution 1409. We recognise that, as long as sanctions remain in place, however, there is no alternative to the Oil for Food Programme in providing for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. The Government will continue to strongly support practical measures aimed at ensuring the delivery of assistance to children and other vulnerable sectors of the population in Iraq. First and foremost, Iraq must live up to its responsibilities to fully utilise the funds available and co-operate in ensuring that the necessary assistance reaches those most in need.

Far from complying with these decisions of the Security Council, Iraq embarked upon a campaign of defiance and deception. Iraq did all it could to conceal its earlier efforts to acquire these arms and proceeded to maintain the nucleus of a weapons of mass destruction capacity. Before the arms inspectors were forced to leave Iraq they discovered a programme of weapons development which far surpassed the worst expectations. They destroyed much of Iraq's capacity, but they were unable to complete their work. When the inspectors came too close to discovering the secrets of the Iraqi regime, they were blocked and thwarted and their mission was made impossible. Four years have passed since the inspectors were compelled to leave Iraq. Sanctions have cut across the regime's efforts to obtain the means of manufacturing these weapons, but we will not know for certain how successful the sanctions have been in disrupting this programme until the arms inspectors return. To this day, there is no guarantee that Iraq no longer possesses dreadful and illegal weapons. Instead, there is good reason to suspect that Iraq has continued to pursue this programme.

This attempted proliferation is an issue that goes far beyond Iraq. These weapons are a major threat to both regional and international security. The very attempt by Iraq to obtain such weapons, in violation of its freely accepted treaty obligations, erodes the international instruments aiming to control the spread of these weapons and ultimately to eliminate them.

There can be no doubt that Iraq is willing to use these weapons. Iraq has invested vast sums in the effort to acquire or develop these weapons, weapons which can only be intended for offensive use. It has deployed chemical weapons against both Iran and its own people. The Iraqi Government has subjected its people to 12 years of economic sanctions, with all the human suffering that has caused, without remorse or compunction. This could have been stopped immediately had Baghdad agreed to readmit the arms inspectors and co-operate with them. We have to ask the question: what makes the possession of weapons of mass destruction more important to the Iraqi regime than the welfare, even the lives, of its own citizens?

As if this was not enough, the Iraqi regime has an appalling record of violating human rights. This is not only terribly wrong in itself, it is a further threat to the international order. Respect for human rights is a core dimension in preventing conflict. It is part of the very foundation on which peace and security are built. One of the major objectives being pursued within the international community is to reinforce respect for human rights as part of the rule of law and as a norm of civilised behaviour. Iraq's record is an affront to conscience.

How could the international community place any trust in a Government which has caused two major wars, used chemical weapons against both enemy soldiers and its own people, and which employs imprisonment, torture and execution as instruments of government? How can we rest satisfied, knowing that this Government is determined to equip itself with weapons of mass destruction, at any cost, and for purposes which range from internal repression to regional hegemony?

These are the questions which the Security Council is now facing. The Council must do so with all the clarity and wisdom and sense of responsibility which it can muster. This is what the Security Council was put in place to do. This is why it was entrusted under the Charter with the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, was quite unambiguous about what is required when he said: "All States have a clear interest, as well as a clear responsibility, to uphold international law and to maintain international order". He called on Iraq "to comply with its obligations for the sake of its own people and for the sake of world order". He went on to say: "If Iraqi defiance continues, the Security Council must face its responsibilities.". We should weigh the Secretary-General's words most carefully.

The United Nations is facing decisions which will determine its ability to cope with an increasingly fractious world. Challenges are posed which demand a sober, realistic and far-sighted response. Inter-connected and multiplying problems combine to assault the international order as the old certainties of the Cold War period dissolve. The Secretary General has called on the members of the Security Council to assume their responsibilities and to demonstrate the necessary will to impose order on an emerging lawlessness which threatens the stability of the international system. As a member of the Security Council, elected by 130 countries who placed their trust in us, Ireland can do no less. We are acting not just on our own behalf, but on behalf of the entire international community and we have an obligation to make decisions which meet the requirements of the situation.

Ireland approaches this crisis, as we have many other difficult situations, on the basis of well-known positions of principle which Ireland has constantly followed under successive Governments. Ireland has a very long-standing commitment to international peace, security and stability, through the rule of law, peaceful settlement of disputes and protection of human rights.

These are not just words—

It is exactly that.

—and this is not a newly-discovered policy to chime with the times. This was already our policy when power blocs confronted each other and the voices of those who insisted on the need for justice and morality in the relations between states were often dismissed. However, let us be honest. This policy also serves our own national self-interest. Small countries need the protection of an international order based on concepts of justice, law and respect for the less powerful.

The other side of that coin is that we must also stand up for the authority of the Security Council and for compliance with the decisions it takes on behalf of the UN members. This means that we must show readiness to adopt measures to enforce the will of the international community when the situation requires. There are no soft options here.

Ireland strongly supports the system of collective international security enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The UN is the centre of this system of collective security. It is the world body invested with unique legitimacy and unique authority. The UN is the central forum for discussion and action on issues of global importance. This is an essential function. It can be realised only when the members, and especially those in the Security Council, live up to their responsibilities. Ireland's position at the Security Council is based on these principles. Further, we believe that the authority of the Security Council must be upheld and its procedures under the charter must be respected so as to ensure the integrity of the Council in the exercise of its duty. It is for the Council to determine whether there exists a threat to the peace, and then to decide what is to be done to remove the threat and to resolve the measures to be taken if its decisions are not respected or implemented in full.

Iraq's refusal over so many years to comply with the decisions of the Council poses a continuing threat to peace and security, undermines the authority of the UN and the rule of law, and weakens confidence that a peaceful international order and effective arms control can be maintained. This carries serious implications for the security of every country, including our own. More immediately, this defiance has had tragic consequences for the Iraqi people themselves and it has borne heavily upon their neighbours. None of this suffering was necessary and the Iraqi Government could have prevented it. Instead, we are now heading into an ever more threatening situation.

This is most certainly not a time for hasty or ill-considered decisions. Events must not be allowed to escape our direction. We see it as imperative that the Security Council should remain in control of developments. For this reason, we welcomed the fact that President Bush brought the issue to the United Nations and that we are now working within the framework of the Security Council.

We have also welcomed the efforts of UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to convince Iraq to accept weapons inspections. As the Secretary General told the General Assembly, this would be the indispensable first step towards assuring the world that all Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have been eliminated, and they must be eliminated and seen to be eliminated beyond doubt or question.

We also welcomed Iraq's agreement to the return of inspectors, without conditions. This is a highly important development, but it has to be put to the test. Unfortunately, past experience with Iraq shows that nothing can be taken for granted. Instead, words must be backed with deeds. The time for Iraq to act is now. It must co-operate fully with the inspectors, end its evasions and allow full, free and unfettered access to all sites, as well as to personnel and documentation. There can be no exception for presidential sites. Nothing less than immediate and complete access can carry the necessary credibility. Nothing less can reverse the present dangerous trend towards an unknown but fearful destination. There can be no excuses and no more prevarication. We are fully confident that the arms inspectors will carry out their tasks with the greatest professionalism and complete objectivity and impartiality, in accordance with their mandate.

Ireland shares in the growing international consensus that the Iraqi regime poses a potential threat to regional security. Iraq has so far consistently failed to meet its obligations under international law and the relevant Security Council resolutions. Nevertheless, we continue to believe that diplomatic means offer the best hope of resolving the crisis. In this respect, we welcome President Bush's assurance on Monday that he is willing to make another effort to find a solution through diplomacy. We will strongly encourage that. In our view, every possible effort should be made to avoid the use of military force. We would be seriously concerned that the use of force could destabilise an already volatile region, particularly in view of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We consider, therefore, that multilateral co-operation in the application of sanctions remains the best approach in tackling the problem of Iraq.

It is clear, however, that a time is approaching when continuing Iraqi defiance, if Baghdad should unwisely persist with its present course, will compel the Security Council to examine all the options available to it. We hope this can be avoided. We call on the Iraqi Government to step up the co-operation with the arms inspectors which it has started to show in recent talks with UNMOVIC and the IAEA. These talks resulted in substantial agreement on practical arrangements for the future work of the inspection teams. Some details remain to be finalised on the modalities of access. In addition, the question of access to presidential sites has yet to be addressed. We look forward to the earliest possible agreement on the return of the inspectors and the speedy commencement of work on the ground.

The entire question will be placed formally before the Security Council shortly. Discussions are under way among the permanent five members of the Council on the text of a resolution to be considered by the full 15 members of the Council. The arms inspectors already have the necessary mandate under existing Security Council resolutions to go about their work and so, strictly speaking, there is no need for a further resolution. However, we agree that there is a strong political case for reaffirming and strengthening that mandate. We have made our views known to the permanent five in consultations at the Security Council. We are ready to study any proposal which would bring further clarity to the conditions under which the inspectors would operate and would strengthen their ability to carry out their tasks.

All members of the Security Council are in agreement that the inspectors must return forthwith and that they must complete their task of ensuring that Iraq possesses neither weapons of mass destruction nor the means of developing them. All members agree that the inspectors must have full, free and unfettered access, although there is still not full agreement about some of the modalities. Further, all members agree that if Iraq refuses to meet these conditions, the Security Council must assume its responsibilities.

Ireland wants very much to see a peaceful solution to this crisis. We are working together with the other members of the Security Council to accomplish this objective. This goal is the overwhelming wish of the international community. The purpose of the UN resolutions is to bring about disarmament, nothing more. Ireland is working within the framework of these resolutions. We do not see that there is a UN mandate for any further end, such as regime change. We believe that UN action against Iraq should be halted as soon as Iraq comes into compliance with the resolutions of the Security Council and implements the Council's decisions in full.

This common goal can be achieved. It is well within the ability of the Security Council to devise a resolution which will create the necessary conditions to do so. The Council acts on behalf of the entire UN membership in carrying out its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security. The Council is therefore entitled to expect the full support of the international community, but it must also ensure that it keeps their support. The members of the United Nations gave the Security Council full authority under the charter to act on their behalf. That authority is necessarily enhanced when the Security Council is seen to be acting in accordance with the wishes of the broader UN membership and with their full support. The strength of resolve felt by the international community is most clearly demonstrated when it acts with unity.

The kind of resolution we believe is most likely to command the widest possible consensus within the Council and beyond is one which deals with the issues firmly, clearly and fairly. It should set out unequivocally what is required of Iraq, show how the crisis can be resolved and make clear the serious consequences of continued non co-operation. First, the resolution must be firm. It should leave no doubt that Iraq must come into compliance, and without delay or further attempts to avoid the obligations imposed on it by the Security Council. The resolution should also leave no doubt that the Council will take any necessary decision to enforce compliance if Iraq does not co-operate as it is bound to do. Second, the resolution must be clear. Any decision on action must be taken by the Security Council in full accordance with the charter. The primary responsibility to make decisions in accordance with the charter regarding the maintenance of international peace and security belongs to the Council and should remain with the Council. It is for the Council to assess whether Iraq is co-operating and, if not, the further steps that should be taken. Third, the resolution must be fair. The demands it makes of Iraq must be demands which Iraq can fulfil, assuming that it wants to do so. Iraq must know that there is a way out of the crisis. If Iraq acts in good faith and meets its obligations, the Security Council will respond. An effective and thorough inspection process, with the full co-operation of the Iraqi authorities, will lead to an early suspension of sanctions, in full accordance with the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1284.

The Government of Iraq can, if it wishes, eliminate the deepening tensions and put an end to the suffering of its people. All that is required is that it lives up to its commitment and obligation under the charter to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. Such compliance would avoid any further escalation and restore calm. It would also lead to the suspension and eventual removal of the current economic sanctions and ultimately end the hardship faced by the Iraqi people.

It may be that Iraq will once again defy the international community and all people and Governments who are committed to peace. Iraq may again take the decision not to meet its obligations under Security Council resolutions. In that unfortunate event, it will be for the Security Council to assume its responsibilities and decide on any further action, including the possible use of force, as provided for under the UN Charter. Our hope must be that the Iraqi Government will act to ensure that the Security Council is never forced to take such a decision.

It is in the power of the international community, and of Iraq, to bring this crisis to a peaceful end, to the enormous benefit of everyone, in particular the people of the region, and most of all the Iraqi people themselves, who deserve no less of their Government. Ireland will do its utmost to help bring about this peaceful solution.

I am glad of the opportunity to make a statement on Iraq in the House. This is timely, if not overdue, and I hope the House will have an opportunity to express its full view on any action the Irish Government takes before a decision is made on Ireland's vote at the Security Council. As the Minister said, this gathering crisis has been several years in the making, but a gathering crisis it is, perhaps the greatest since the Cuban crisis. However, this time Ireland has a Security Council role and in the event of threats to Ireland as a result of its role we remain unprotected. That is one of the greatest lapses in responsibility shown by this House since the foundation of the State.

I imagine if this was taking place in times gone by and Saddam Hussein was gloriously installed in Berlin, some Members of this House would share the view that the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia, as it then was, was "a faraway country. . . of [which] we know nothing", as Mr. Chamberlain said in the British House of Commons. There are people here who seem prepared to turn a blind eye to the outrageous conduct of Saddam Hussein and his maltreatment of his people over a long period. I am glad the Minister has given consideration to the changes that could be made to ensure the sanctions are operated to target the regime and minimise civilian suffering to the greatest possible extent. I am glad to hear that Ireland has been particularly concerned about the impact of sanctions on innocent civilians. Again, we must place responsibility for that where it lies – there have been, as the Minister said, opportunities for aid to Iraq which the regime did not take up.

The Minister said in his contribution that as a member of the Security Council elected by 130 countries who placed their trust in us, Ireland can do no less than ensure the multilateral system works through the UN. I agree with that, but the Minister should consider the people's real concerns about the democratic deficit expressed after the defeat of the first Nice treaty referendum. He should ensure that this deficit does not continue and that this House is consulted fully, either in the House itself or through the relevant committee, before the Government makes up its mind on the vote to be cast by Ireland at the Security Council. I know, for example, that in the USA intelligence chiefs and others are appearing before committees of Congress and explaining their cases. Nothing less than that should be done here because we do have an important role to play.

The Minister mentioned that the entire question would be shortly formally placed before the Security Council. Will the Minister let us know, if not in response to these statements then perhaps by writing to the spokespersons for the various groups, when that decision will be made? How many would give a sufficient mandate – eight, or nine, of the 15? What is the Minister's view? Will the Minister put the case to us before the Irish vote is cast? The Minister said that any approach should state unequivocally what is required of Iraq, show how the crisis can be resolved and make clear the serious consequences of non-co-operation. In that regard the Minister did not make clear to the House whether there would be two resolutions or one resolution in two parts. This should be made clear and we should be told the intentions of the Government in that regard.

The attitude taken by the UN to the Iraqi dictatorship and its activities is one of the most important items on the international security agenda and may well become the most important. Ireland is at present a member of the UN Security Council and we may be faced with difficult and important decisions sooner rather than later. As the attitude of the public in the first Nice treaty referendum has shown, it is no longer acceptable for the Government to make decisions of such vital importance without the authority of the people as expressed in the Oireachtas and specifically in Dáil Éireann, given the role which Bunreacht na hÉireann reserves for the Dáil. As a Member of Dáil Éireann I will listen with care to other contributions made here today.

There are six key issues which should be of concern to the Dáil. Unilateral action against Iraq by any state is not acceptable. Any action must have multilateral support and be authorised in an appropriate way through the UN Security Council. I was alarmed to read recently in a survey that a sizeable proportion of the Irish population is not only against unilateral action but also against multilateral action, even if duly authorised through the UN.

Hear, hear.

This is an untenable position for Ireland to hold. What has been proposed by senior American officials for Iraq is regime change. We need to be absolutely sure before we give our support to any such far-reaching undertaking. That is not necessarily the objective of any campaign, nor should it necessarily be. Ireland should support a new UN resolution in relation to weapons inspections in Iraq. If this resolution is not adhered to, Ireland should then participate in the debate on a further resolution setting out the action to be taken by the UN to meet such failure. Such a carefully calibrated approach would give us the time and real information on levels of Iraqi co-operation with inspectors to make final key decisions. We cannot have it both ways. This approach would allow us to explore to the maximum extent possible all other avenues before considering the authorisation of military intervention.

There is an urgent need for independent verification of the situation on the ground in Iraq. I was interested to note the Blair dossier on Iraq presented last month to the British Parliament. That dossier contained some information that already had been in the public domain for some time and made various claims, including that Iraq continues to produce chemical and biological weapons; has military plans for the use of these weapons and has command and control arrangements in place to use them; has tried covertly to acquire technology and materials that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons; has sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa despite having no active civil nuclear power programme that could require it; and has recalled specialists to work on its nuclear programme and constructed a new engine test stand for the development of missiles capable of reaching parts of the European Union. These are British claims and must be treated with some caution but if they are correct and can be verified, they are of concern.

The concerns being expressed by the US and British governments are grave. To assist the Dáil in any consideration we may make in support of Ireland's stand at the Security Council, the Government should seek to have these claims independently verified and make this verification available to Dáil Éireann. The sources for such independent verification could be (a) the common, foreign and security resources of the European Union, (b) its support structures and information gathering facilities, (c) the United Nations itself where our representatives have access to representatives of all countries, large and small, (d) our resident embassies abroad or (e) the International Institute for Strategic Studies or similar bodies. The key question for Europe now is whether it decides its response on the basis of co-operation or otherwise with US unilateral action or whether it is prepared to take a role as a regional organisation in contributing to world security under the auspices of the United Nations.

I have obtained a copy of the IISS report, which makes for very worrying reading. It states in its introduction that over a period the institute has developed a reputation for constantly providing an objective record of world-wide military holdings. I hope that is the case. The Minister mentioned specifically this report at a recent meeting of the European affairs committee.

It is a view not shared by everyone.

It is the Minister's view which he presented at committee. Reading through the report and the history of US inspections in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, it certainly is a very worrying situation, as the Minister has set out. If Deputy Higgins can assist the House to find other forms of independent assessment, I would like to see them put on the record of the House and made available to us. I will not lead my party into making a decision on this important issue based on anti-American rhetoric or on the sort of nonsense we normally hear in this House from self-serving politicians who have denuded this State of any basic form of protection. I will return to that issue later because I am very worried about it. It is something about which this House should be greatly concerned.

The Deputy's party has been in Government, we have not.

The Deputy will be in opposition for a long time.

Another pillar of our approach must be to stand up to terrorism and tackle injustice. We must make it clear that we stand with civilised democratic states and against demagogues and dictators. In particular we must remember the enormity of what happened on 11 September last year in the United States and the ongoing campaign of terrorism as demonstrated in the Yemen and Bali. However, terrorism can only be reduced and eliminated if the injustices it feeds off are tackled and ended.

The other great source of conflict and injustice in the Middle East is the plight of the Palestinian and Jewish people. It is not credible or proper to threaten action against Iraq for flouting UN resolutions while Israel is allowed to continue to flout a whole series of such resolutions. I recognise the destructive contribution made by Palestinian suicide bombers to the misery of the region. However, this cannot be allowed to be used as an excuse for inaction. President Bush could learn from his father, George Bush senior, who pressurised Israel into talks and concessions as an essential prerequisite to the construction of the Gulf War coalition. On a more global level, Ireland must play its part. The European affairs committee has already set up an advisory group under the chairmanship of David Begg, Secretary General of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. When its report comes before the committee, and later this House, we should use it as a basis to try to get the Irish Government to make the elimination of injustice internationally our primary objective during Ireland's EU Presidency in 2004.

We must not allow knee-jerk anti-Americanism to dictate our attitude to the Iraqi crisis. It has always struck me as odd that so many in this country welcomed American involvement in the peace process while condemning so-called American interference in any other situation where the US Government gets involved. The United States played a major part in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement and in bringing peace to this island. Over the years, it has welcomed our emigrants and its businessmen have invested heavily in our country, with all its implications for employment here. I do not suggest that we should be beholden or blinded by the US, nor do I suggest that we should by bought by it.

However, I suggest that we should be fair in our assessment. Srebrenica was not sorted out by neutrals such as Ireland or even by the European Union. It was sorted out by NATO, led by the US while cowardly, self-serving European politicians, many of them on this island, spoke in the most hypocritical and unpardonable manner imaginable. Not even the atrocities of Srebrenica moved them from their self-serving and self-satisfied outpourings. Sinn Féin again attacked the US in this Chamber yesterday. This is the same Sinn Féin who swan around the White House, the State Department and Congress at every opportunity. I sincerely hope the US authorities take close note of how they are repaid here by the Sinn Féin self-serving rhetoric. We need an independent assessment of Ireland and Europe's security and defence needs. This will not come about as a result of courageous leadership in this House because we have in the main been cowed into outbidding each other by eulogising neutrality to the advantage of politicians while denuding the people of even the basic capacity for self-defence on this island.

Prior to 11 September the American public was quite cosy about the fact that their internal flights lacked any form of real security. They found out to their horror the price they had to pay for this. We are similarly cosy about our neutrality. However, unlike other neutral states, we have not provided to defend our neutrality, therefore we are probably the least defended State in the whole of Europe. If we knew a plane taking off from anywhere within or outside our jurisdiction was to be used to target either a facility within the State or outside the State, such as Sellafield, which would have disastrous consequences for us, we do not have the capacity to deal with such a situation, even if we had notice in advance. Here we are, soon to have the second highest per capita income in the European Union of 27 member states, and our Government has failed to do its first duty, that is, to provide for the security of its citizens. This is an appalling lack of leadership.

I call on the Government to appoint a committee of wise persons to independently examine the security needs of Ireland and Europe and to report directly to Dáil Éireann, not to the Government. Such a committee should examine the role Ireland should play as one of the architects in bringing about a security architecture in Europe which will meet our concerns and needs. We have been running away from this issue for far too long. This is an issue of urgent public policy and concern and should be addressed without further delay.

The European Union should consider what its contribution should be to Iraq when it is freed ultimately of the dictatorship of Sadam Hussein. Recently, the Iraqi people were forced in a so-called referendum where they had to show their votes publicly, to give a 100% endorsement to Sadam Hussein. Is this the action of a free people? The three main elements of Iraqi society, Sunni Muslims, Shi-ite Muslims and Kurds, are kept together within the Iraqi borders by a mixture of cajoling and oppression. Secession from any state has serious implications for neighbouring states. Secession from Iraq could have serious implications for Turkey, Iran and other parts of the region. The European Union is heavily involved in the Middle East in trying to bring about a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The European Union should now examine ways and means to assist Iraq in the event that Sadam Hussein falls. This consideration should commence now if it is not already under way.

We as parliamentarians have a serious duty to consider all the implications of the issues now facing the Security Council. It is not sufficient to wait and see which way the Government may hop and then react to events either by criticising or, in high moral tone, sitting in judgment on others. This House must be as fully informed as possible on developments so that we can give the Government guidance and, if necessary, authorise decisions to be taken at the Security Council, and possibly here at home, which are based on principles. I hope the principles I have outlined in this debate will be considered by the Government and that when the time comes, as it probably will, for a decision by Ireland on the role of the United Nations in Iraq, we will be in a position to make an informed decision based on reason, good judgment and the rule of law.

Lack of time prevents me from quoting extracts from an article by Patrick Smith in The Irish Times on 14 September but I commend it to Members of the House. It shows clearly that we can no longer continue with the rhetoric which sufficed in the past. We can no longer hide in the crowd. We are now faced with serious decisions which may confront us within days. I ask the House to give this issue the consideration it deserves and I ask the Government to set before the House the basis for its authorisation to our representative on the Security Council for his vote when that stage is reached in the very near future. Our response to the evolving situation must be a considered one.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Higgins.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Last weekend, the Government and parties on the "Yes" side in the Nice referendum claimed, fraudulently, that if the Irish people voted "Yes" they were inserting neutrality into our Constitution. Many will wonder how that is compatible with the involvement of Shannon Airport in preparations for war by American military forces. Those preparations are continuing this week, with US soldiers wandering around the airport terminal in desert fatigues. Clearly, they are preparing for war against Iraq. It is amazing to hear the Minister for Foreign Affairs deliver a speech including all the usual fine-sounding words but without any mention of the Americans' use of Shannon Airport.

Having heard the Minister's speech, the Green Party is greatly concerned the Irish Government will support military action against Iraq. This concern is based on the fact that the Government has facilitated both the Gulf war and the war against Afghanistan by allowing hundreds of military aircraft to use Shannon Airport and Irish airspace. The assistance given to the Afghan war was done without Dáil approval and contrary to Article 28.3.1º of the Constitution. This concern is also based on the uncritical support given so far to President Bush's war on terrorism. While Ireland held the chairmanship of the UN Security Council, our Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated that Ireland not only supported the war against Afghanistan but would consider supporting an extension of that war to other countries. The US Ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, delivered a letter to the UN Security Council on 8 October 2001 stating: "We may find that our self-defence requires further actions with respect to other organisations and other states." At that time, the Minister, Deputy Cowen, stated: "As of now, the threat has been identified in Afghanistan. If there were evidence to suggest that other regimes were a threat to international peace and security, such action would be admissible."

It is vitally important that the Government uses its last few months on the UN Security Council to uphold the UN Charter and reassert some semblance of independence in Ireland's foreign policy. The Green Party calls on the Government to pursue the following policies in relation to Iraq in the UN Security Council. It should oppose any UN resolution enabling military action to be taken against Iraq. It should argue that such a resolution would be contrary to the UN Charter. Iraq has not attacked anyone and is not threatening to attack anyone. International law does not allow for pre-emptive military strikes. Article 51 of the UN Charter outlines the terms under which a member state may use force in self-defence, but this force cannot be used in the absence of an attack. There is no evidence of any Iraqi involvement in the 11 September atrocities. The UN Charter does not authorise the use of force to achieve a change of regime, as indeed the Minister has noted. That is merely another word for assassination and any US-UN action based on targeting Saddam Hussein would be illegal.

Ireland should work to secure the lifting of sanctions against Iraq. I visited Iraq last year on a delegation with the Minister's predecessor, the former Deputy David Andrews, and we saw the effects of sanctions at first hand. It is not a myth, it is happening on the ground. The devastating effects of sanctions on the Iraqi people have been well documented. The present comprehensive economic sanctions have been targeting the entire population of Iraq. They have created a major economic and public health crisis in a country which, prior to the Gulf War, enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the region. UNICEF estimates that half a million Iraqi children have died as a result of sanctions and about 5,000 people are dying every month. Ireland should insist on the lifting of comprehensive economic sanctions and a shift towards targeted sanctions. This is called for by such groups as Save the Children and in reports for the UN sponsored by the Swiss and German Governments, including the Interlaken process and the Bonn-Berlin processes. These indicate how sanctions could be better targeted on the arms trade and on the personal finances and travel of responsible leaders and elites.

Such targeted sanctions were imposed briefly by the Security Council in Resolution 1137 of November 1997, prohibiting international travel of listed leaders until full compliance with UNSCOM inspectors had been restored. This was followed by swift Iraqi compliance. Such targeted sanctions should have built-in time limits and clear criteria for lifting or modifying them. Regular humanitarian assessments must be part of any sanctions regime. Free trade, excepting military goods, should be re-established.

Foreign investments in Iraq should be permitted. The need for the removal of all weapons of mass destruction from the region should be highlighted. Resolution 687 on Iraq in 1991 established UNSCOM to investigate and destroy Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and UNSCOM has since been replaced by a new monitoring, verification and inspection commission, UNMOVIC, under Resolution 1284.

In the short time remaining to me in this debate, I wish to put some questions to the Minister. I ask him to clarify the statement made by Ambassador Ryan on 17 October 2002 concerning Iraq. It is not clear from that statement whether Ireland is supporting the US approach based on a single resolution calling for arms inspectors, full Iraqi compliance and the possibility of full military action in default or the alternative approach, favoured by France in particular, on the basis of two distinct resolutions, one calling for Iraqi compliance and providing for inspections and, if Iraq fails to comply, a second resolution which would authorise the use of force. I urge the Minister to clarify the Irish position on this very important matter.

I ask the Minister if the Taoiseach has had recent direct contact with President Bush concerning the war on terrorism? Has there been direct contact concerning the proposed UN Security Council resolution on Iraq? If not, does the Taoiseach expect any such contact? Those are very important questions which I urge the Minister to have clarified. In his speech, the Minister said Ireland is committed to a pacific settlement. I ask him to prove to the House that those are not just words and that the commitments of the Constitution will be honoured.

It is beyond dispute that civilians in Iraq have suffered profound deprivation and hardship as a result of the last Gulf war and the ongoing sanctions. The UNICEF situation analysis of children and women in Iraq found that sanctions have caused the deaths of 90,000 Iraqi people every year since the war. The increase in mortality for Iraqi children under the age of five is mainly due to diarrhoea, pneumonia, and malnutrition. More than one million Iraqi children are chronically malnourished. Malnutrition was not a problem prior to the embargo. The lack of safe water has also contributed greatly to the steep rise in mortality rates. Water treatment plants that were working properly and effectively prior to the embargo now lack spare parts, equipment and treatment chemicals. Despite the increased need, Iraq now lacks even basic hospital and healthcare equipment.

Prior to the embargo, healthcare reached 97% of the population. The oil for food plan has not reduced the widespread suffering and has not provided the needed supplies in full, nor in a timely manner. It has not resulted in adequate protection for Iraq's children from malnutrition and disease. Those children who are spared from death continue to remain deprived of essential rights under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The idea that Ireland, through failure to properly use our role on the Security Council to prevent war or by allowing our island to be used as a way station for troops on their way to attack Iraq, could be participating even if only through our acquiescence in worsening the situation for the Iraqi people is an appalling vista.

Opinion polls showed that the Irish people do not want another war with Iraq, and that Ireland should vote against any UN Security Council resolution authorising military action. I appeal to the Government to heed those sentiments. They are being reflected around the world in a growing anti-war movement. In the US it is now of proportions not reached since the Vietnam War.

Given the high stakes of the crisis and the national importance of this issue we requested a full debate on the first Order of Business when the House reconvened two months ago. This request was denied by the Government. The House has still not properly debated this crucial issue. Today, despite assurances of a full debate by the Taoiseach last week, there is only an anaemic round of statements. Following these the Government will likely continue to do as it pleases on this issue of critical national importance, in defiance of both the Irish people and the Constitution. This is a disgrace and makes a mockery of the pre-Nice referendum assurances about protecting and defending Irish neutrality, and it cannot be allowed to go ahead.

We need a full public debate and at a bare minimum the Government needs to seek Dáil consent to any participation in war, whether preparatory or otherwise. We call on the Government to strongly oppose the launching of a new war against Iraq by the US and British Governments. It must use all its political and diplomatic resources in the UN and EU to promote a peaceful solution. Ireland must use its role on Security Council to prevent this war.

In keeping with our stance on neutrality, Sinn Féin also calls on the Government to immediately cease the practice of giving permission to foreign states to refuel, re-supply, and train military aircraft in Irish airports and airspace, and to prevent the use of Irish seaports for their naval vessels. We welcome the French and Russian initiatives and, in particular, their willingness to stand up and be counted on this issue. Ireland must do the same.

Ultimately, Sinn Féin wants to see multilateral nuclear disarmament and the standing down of all weapons of mass destruction. We believe that this view is shared widely in the House and in Ireland. However, we firmly believe that another war in Iraq is most emphatically not the way to achieve this objective.

I have been used for many years to seeing the cringing subservience of Irish Governments to the position of the United States Administration of the day. However, I have hardly ever heard such a faithful and complete regurgitation of the position of the United States State Department as I heard today from the Minister for Foreign Affairs supported by the Fine Gael spokesperson. No serious observer of the global geo-political situation believes that the United States wants to wage war or Iraq either to grant democratic rights to the Iraqi people or because of alleged weapons of mass destruction.

If the United States is concerned about democratic rights in the Middle East why does it routinely support virtually every dirty dictatorship in the region except Iraq? Why, in particular, does it support the obscurantist, anti-woman, corrupt, anti-democratic, murderous feudal regime in Saudi Arabia? If it respects democratic rights why are there people still in positions of influence in United States politics who master minded the coup in Chile in 1973 against a democratically elected Government? This coup slaughtered tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

When President Bush's favourite European poodle Tony Blair, who specialises in running along at the heels of his master, presented at a few hours notice so-called evidence or proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq many experts derided the document. It was devoid of proof of the existence of these weapons or of the capacity of such weapons if they did exist. What was the capacity of Iraq during the Gulf War? A few Scud missiles, badly targeted, was as much as could be mustered. Even if there were some such weapons which could be delivered outside of Iraq it would be impossible for Saddam Hussein to use them because he would be blitzed into the stone age by the western powers. In fact, there is much more danger that any weapons which are there will be used in the event of an attack by the United States and Britain. Such an attack would precipitate a retaliation.

Where was the United States when the world held its breath as India and Pakistan were threatening us with a war involving tactical nuclear weapons a short time ago? Why was the emphasis not on disarming that very real threat at the time?

The Minister referred to the war against Iran. Who supported Saddam Hussein? Who armed him? Who supplied him with the weapons for that murderous war? The western powers, of course. Even when he committed the most appalling genocide against the Kurdish people in Halabaja with German mustard gas, they continued to arm him because he was their cat's paw in the region at the time.

What is this war for? The national security strategy, outlined on 17 September, says clearly what it is for, namely, that the United States will brook no rival to its economic and military power. To paraphrase Shakespeare, referring to Caesar, the United States now wants to bestride the narrow world like Colossus and carry on the weapons of its military the economic demands for super profits by its multi-national corporations.

Opposition to war is widespread and deep in the country. Deputy Mitchell is correct to say that Irish people do not put faith in the UN Security Council, in particular in the five permanent members. Who can have confidence in Russia or China, which have appalling records, to protect civil rights? The Minister chose to outline the Iraqi regime's crimes, and they should be outlined, but he ignored the crimes of the United States over several decades and their current crime in supporting the murderous repression of the Palestinian people by Israel. The interference of the imperial powers has been disastrous for the Arab peoples for generations and centuries. They robbed their resources and continue to support and arm the most vicious regimes. Removing Saddam Hussein is a matter for the Iraqi people. An uprising of the Iraqi people is made much more difficult by the policies of the United States and the western powers. When the Kurds in the north and the Shias in the south did rise up after the Gulf War, the western powers deliberately stood aside and allowed Saddam Hussein to murderously crush them because they put so-called stability and a unified Iraq before the democratic rights of the component parts of that state.

There is only one useful thing the imperial powers can do for the region, namely to get out and leave the resources of the Middle East to the democratic control of its peoples. Let them work at bringing about a democratic, socialist federation of states where they can exchange their resources between them and the rest of the world. A war on Iraq would be disastrous. The leader of the Arab league said that it would open the gates of hell. This is not only true in relation to the Iraqi people but also in the effect it would have on the Arab world, pushing more and more Arab nations – in desperation, anger and humiliation – into the arms of the horrific reactionary fundamentalists who are waiting in the wings. That this State should have any hand, act or part in such a war is monstrous and unthinkable. Facilities in Shannon should be withdrawn immediately so this State can stand in front of the world and tell the truth about the intentions of the United States. The will of the people has been clearly enunciated recently in an opinion poll which shows they do not support this action.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. It is sad we have so little time to discuss it. When I was first elected to the Dáil, an item like this could have taken hours for discussion and would not have been regarded as a waste of time. It would have been given the appropriate treatment. However, I am glad so many people have taken the opportunity to contribute briefly to indicate their position.

The number of people who are now against war and, in particular, unilateral action by the US or the US and Britain, probably far exceeds the recent "Yes" vote on the Nice treaty and is probably twice the size of the "No" vote. Many of those, like myself, who are in favour of the admission of ten new member states to the European Union in the shortest possible time are also strongly against war.

Even after 20 years in this House, I still have to again draw the distinction between opposition to United States foreign policy of the day and anti-Americanism.

Hear, hear.

I have worked and studied in a number of universities in the US and I find it a cheap accusation. In the 1980s, I raised the use of mustard gas by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and I was not supported by many people as it was regarded as being of little interest. I am neither anti-American nor pro-Saddam and the evidence is there to show it. I am a critic of current American foreign policy in the same way as I was a critic of Reagan's foreign policy when I saw its consequences first hand in Central America while slíbhíns from the Dáil were drinking gin and tonic in the US Embassy and listening to imported liars.

I found the Minister's speech interesting, if so clever at times as to be ambiguous. For example, when he refers to the legal basis for action which is at the heart of our discussion, he gives a list of the UN resolutions and I do not agree with his interpretation of them. He refers to the set of resolutions governing the no-fly zone as having commenced a set of operations in relation to the no-fly zone. What the Minister must know clearly, and he might admit it, is that there was no legal basis for that particular action. That is why the action was taken outside international law or appropriate interpretation of resolutions of the Security Council. France desisted from it at the end of the 1990s.

The Minister's speech reads:

In another resolution passed the same month, the Security Council condemned the Iraqi regime's brutal repression of its civilian population and demanded an end to it. They did. Allied forces set up no-fly zones with the express intention of protecting the Kurds and the marsh Shia Arabs.

That is where the argument as to where the legal basis lies. I will return to this point.

The more important issue is that the integrity of the Security Council has been extraordinarily damaged by the speeches and actions of Tony Blair and Jack Straw. Why can the Minister so easily write a speech about the integrity of the Security Council and not make any reference to the fact that when Hans Blix sets up a regime for the return of the weapons inspectors, the goal posts are changed without reference to the Security Council by the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary? Jack Straw recently said that Britain would abide by a mandate if the Security Council passes the appropriate resolution. This has a serious impact on international law. There are several references in the Minister's speech, and I agree with many of his points, in relation to how an international jurisprudence defends small countries.

I put it that there has been no legal basis for some of the actions that have been directed against Iraq, particularly the abuse of the resolution which established the no-fly zone. The issue concerns Resolutions 678, 686 and 687. Resolution 686 derives authority from 678, but 687 explicitly does not. This is an old issue which I remember discussing with Iraqi diplomats. How would one know, dealing with such people, that a war was ever over? If one argues that there has not been a breach by Iraq – which there has been – in relation to what the inspectors might do, it violates some conditions of a ceasefire. One must then look at the resolutions governing the conflict with Kuwait and the limitations of that. If one can justify a pre-emptive strike on the basis of breach of conditions of a ceasefire, why do we not immediately bomb North Korea on the basis that the armistice of 1953 has been breached? There is not a shred of international law to support the statements that have been made by Jack Straw, Tony Blair and many people in the Bush Administration.

One of the most important elements in all of this is international law. The United Nations Charter itself expressly states in its preamble that the purpose of the UN is to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to practice tolerance and to live together in peace as good neighbours. In Articles 2 and 3 it sets out the procedures that should be used for the settlement of disputes. When international lawyers examine whether there is a legal basis for a strike against Iraq, they examine the body of the UN Charter and rightly point out that if one is to invoke, for example, Article 51 which deals with self-defence, any actions taken later under Article 42 to implement a particular resolution of the Security Council is still in the spirit of Article 51. Let us call a spade a spade. One cannot have a pre-emptive strike and be within the charter. One cannot take a unilateral or bilateral action and be within the charter even under the threat of self-defence. Most legal opinion would argue that the threat must be imminent and proximate and that therefore the defence itself should be proportionate.

Where is all the evidence that linked Iraq to the appalling destruction of life at the twin towers? What has happened that evidence? Vaclav Havel has gone to the trouble of pointing out that the meeting which was supposed to have taken place between Mr. Atta and a senior Iraqi intelligence official never took place. I recall many other things as well. In the last war, for example, the story about the Iraqi soldiers switching off incubators in Kuwait turned out to be an invention. In all of this there is an absence of evidence with allegation and spun stories by those who are as committed to operating outside of the UN charter as anybody has ever been.

There are other issues. Can world peace be assured by Iraqi compliance? Saddam has been a disaster all the days of his leadership and I have said that consistently for 20 years. I saw the children waiting in hospitals suffering from leukaemia and from the absence of medicines. Yes, he is responsible for some of the medical supplies but what about the multinational companies that won supply contracts in a complex and corrupt process? They supplied out of date medicines, equipment with pieces missing and left hospitals unable to operate.

There is a notion that if the position in Iraq is righted we will be able to get on with peace. There is a point to what my colleague Deputy Jim Higgins said in relation to the US national energy policy. I presume he was referring to the 2001 report. The Minister is into "context" today. I will add some context too. The context, for example, is that the United States needs 20 million barrels of crude oil a day. Iraq is about the second largest reserve of oil in the Middle East, next to Saudi Arabia. I am not so naive as to assume the Russian delegation to the United Nations is not entirely conscious of the $7 billion Soviet era debt that hangs around or of the $20 billion contract negotiated in 1997. Consider too France's contracts in relation to Iraqi oil. I am sure President Bush is advised by international jurists who are not a bit interested in oil and that he leaves all that to Vice-President Cheney, who was after all one of the principal oil barons before his conversion to politics, of a sort. If we want context it is interesting to ask about oil.

There are other issues in the region. A war in the region would be catastrophic not just in terms of human life but ecologically for generations to come. It would destabilise not just the immediate region but would have the capacity to turn into something worse. I am more than 20 years a political scientist. When I went to the United States in 1966 Mr. Huntington, one of the most quoted writers, was writing bad articles on the modernisation of the world. He has written a much worse book since then which suggested the crash of civilisations.

What could happen in Iraq should a war take place could encourage a confrontation between the western world and what is regarded as some kind of evil. The historical ignorance which is being brought to bear here is extraordinary. Those of us who have visited the Middle East and those of us aware of the history of the people of Iraq and the history of the Mesopotamian region know the people had a culture and that they made a contribution to mathematics, scholarship, literature and music when many of the countries in the western world barely existed. I find it offensive and racist when people say they have a form of democracy which they will impose on this region. Of course that will bring oil security while they do it.

I have seen one report, not an official document, in regard to the possible future role of General Franks as some kind of Mountbatten in the region who would pay for what would be regarded as the imposition of a US approved democracy from oil receipts. This is something friends should talk to friends about. We have a friendly relationship with the United States, there is much foreign direct investment here and there has been a welcome interest in Northern Ireland. Why is it morally necessary that we have to set up something to tell friends internationally something that is uncomfortable and unpalatable, something that must keep being mediated and balanced against other interests.

The reality is that a connection has not been established between the attack on the twin towers and Iraq. The meetings that were alleged to have taken place in the Czech Republic did not take place. Tony Blair offered to produce evidence but has not done so. A Republican representative from Texas stood up and asked questions. Are we not deflecting resources from the approach to terrorism by pursuing will-o'-the-wisp connections between terrorism and Iraq?

What about the children and people of Iraq? I have been to Iraq more than once and I was not as interested in resuming beef exports as some of the others who were with me. We sold beef to both sides in the Iran-Iraq war. Now it is time to put the people first. One woman wrote to me the other day with a prayer for peace in Iraq.

International legal opinion relies principally on a document prepared at Matrix Chambers by Rabinder Singh and Alison Mc Donald. Matrix Chambers is where Cherie Blair practises. To be fair and accurate another document has issued from there which does not agree entirely with Rabinder Singh's analysis. The point however is that it concludes that there is not a basis for attacking Iraq.

I mentioned the thrust of the United Nations charter and Article 2 which mentions the settlement of international disputes. The main issue is whether we can put automaticity into a resolution. By this I mean we would word a single text that would say the inspectors will return under clarified and redefined conditions and should there be no compliance all reasonable means, force and military strike, will happen. That automaticity was discussed before in the United Nations Security Council and Sweden and other countries said it broke the principle of the Security Council's integrity and right to call the shots.

What is necessary for the inspectors to return is the Security Council's integrity to be respected. Then, when the Security Council reports, let us hear from Tony Blair and President Bush that they are committed to accepting that process and not Jack Straw's suggestion that we will go along with it if we get what we want. That was his statement. He did not say he would wait until the inspectors' report is available to the Security Council. The pre-emptive strike force would be and is illegal. The interpretation of Article 51, through Article 31 of the Vienna convention, is clear. These matters have been discussed before. It is not a case of the Security Council not being able to act. It has acted five times in the past eight years authorising the use of force. I agree with the Minister when, in a flourish at the end of his speech, he said that small countries tend to benefit under the rules of international law. Now is the time to vindicate that and tell those who would take unilateral action. Were they to do so with even the slightest suggestion of approval from us, we would have delivered a mortal blow to the United Nations.

We should remember who left UNESCO when it was suggested in the McBride report that people from what is regarded as the south should have the right to communicate on the same terms as the north. Britain and the United States went marching out. The United Nations Security Council, of which we are a member, has been bullied, as have Hans Blix and his team and the people of Ireland. The time has come for us to say we support the principle and ethos of the charter.

I say that without fear of any abuse people may give me. I know from members of my family that thousands of people in the United States feel the same way and that this type of unilateral action does not speak for them. They find it difficult to get any space in the media. How well Rupert Murdoch serves Tony who took his shilling. They have a lovely relationship. I never thought the time would come at my age when we would have such intolerance and media exclusion and where we would not be free and would be abused if we held a view in favour of peace. There is no coverage of our peace meetings throughout the country or of demonstrations against war. The attitude is that, instead of listening, going through the charter and examining the history of the region and what interests are at stake, one abuses one's opponents. It is a case of being either with us or against us. That is appalling.

However, more than two out of three people in Ireland are still interested in having something which would be an alternative to a $90 billion war. The Taoiseach, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and others were in Johannesburg and know what it takes to provide clean water throughout the planet, to eradicate most of the communicable diseases and they know the cost of a war. I agree with previous speakers that the time has come where, if we get past this point and, I hope, we have stepped back and the inspectors' work will be able to be completed properly, we should proceed with the elimination of weapons of mass destruction and the deflection of resources and intelligence towards the task of building the type of world envisaged in the charter where we might live with each other in tolerance and as good neighbours.

I thank the Minister for outlining the position and welcome the tone of his speech. I also thank him for his tireless efforts on behalf of the people to bring about a resolution to the crisis in Iraq through the UN Security Council and multilateral co-operation generally. We should also record our gratitude to the work done by our diplomats abroad, especially in the United Nations. As a result of their endeavours, Ireland is held in high regard by other countries and we have gained an influence in international relations which is not warranted on the basis of our size.

The crisis in Iraq represents a threat to the peace and security of the Middle East and consequently to the world. We are all obliged to try to find a peaceful solution to this problem and I welcome the Minister's assurances that Ireland intends to pursue this under the terms of the UN Charter through the UN Security Council. Any unilateral action by the USA would only serve to exacerbate the problem and threaten world peace and security. It is interesting to note that a number of EU member states also hold this view.

Iraq has consistently failed to meet its obligations under international law and UN Security Council resolutions. Its decision to admit weapons inspectors must be welcomed. However, I share the Minister's caution in this regard and the sincerity of this move remains to be seen. I know discussions are ongoing on the modalities of this access, especially where the presidential sites are concerned. I hope progress can be made on these issues quickly.

I am grateful to the Minister for outlining Ireland's approach to the proposed new resolution. He referred to the fact that there is a strong political case for reaffirming and strengthening the UN mandate on this issue. He went on to say that all members agree that, if Iraq refuses to meet these conditions, the Security Council must assume its reponsibilities. He stated that Ireland very much wants to see a peaceful solution to this crisis and further stated that we do not see that there is a UN mandate for any further end, such as a regime change. Such a change would be welcome, however, having regard to the repression in that country, its engagement in regional wars and the abuse of human rights generally. The Minister also stated that the resolution must be firm, clear and fair. We are under no illusions about our approach in this regard at the UN Security Council.

I have no doubt that any further non-compliance by Iraq will be viewed seriously by the Security Council and result in a stronger resolution being agreed. I hope for the sake of the Iraqi people that military force under a UN mandate can be avoided. As a result of the present sanctions, the ordinary Iraqi people face a difficult humanitarian situation and the lifting of sanctions in due course would greatly benefit them. The Iraqi leadership had it in its power to avoid this crisis.

I have always supported Ireland's traditional policy of military neutrality. We must be clear, however, about what this means. Our policy in this regard and the avoidance of military alliances generally do not allow us to opt out of our obligations as a member of the United Nations. This raises the question of refuelling facilities for US airplanes at Shannon Airport. I support the decision of the Government to allow this following the 11 September attacks on the USA. As a member of the UN and of the Security Council, Ireland has a responsibility to implement Security Council resolutions and to take all necessary steps to respond to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

There is a perceived conflict between our policy of military neutrality and our obligations under the UN Charter and this should be appreciated. The avoidance of military alliances does not mean that we remain in splendid isolation and avoid multilateral co-operation for the resolution of international disputes. However, I propose that any new permissions for refuelling facilities arising out of the UN Security Council resolutions to which we subscribe should be brought to the Dáil for approval.

Hear, hear.

Such a move would be in the interests of democracy and would allow for a full and open discussion on the issues involved.

I thank Deputy Haughey for his support.

I did not hear Deputy Mitchell's contribution, unfortunately, but it is an issue which would be of help in determining our foreign policy.

Many UN Security Council resolutions are passed and subsequently ignored. This is most unsatisfactory. The Oireachtas should become more involved in this issue and should scrutinise these resolutions. There is a role for the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs in this regard. I have not been a member of that committee and it may be that it does this. However, it should do it in a comprehensive way in the interests of our foreign policy and ensuring international law prevails throughout the world. Ireland should do everything that is practically possible to ensure that UN Security Council resolutions are implemented. I know that will be our policy and role in the years ahead.

I thank those Deputies who made a contribution indicating their views on this important matter. I recognise this is an issue about which there is shared concern on all sides of this House regarding possible developments in Iraq. It is an issue that should and does concern everybody. In response to Deputy Joe Higgins, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, I hold a brief for being responsible for Irish foreign policy and not for any other countries. I am here to defend my own and be held accountable for the foreign policy I pursue on behalf of the Government. Parliament is here to hold me accountable. The Executive, under our Constitution, is there to pursue our foreign policy. That is the way our Constitution works and I am very open to it. When I set out my position, I set out the position of the Irish Government and am not acting at the behest of any other government.

What about the European Union?

Deputies have a right in democratic debate to disagree or agree with the Government position I put forward. Deputies should not insult me with the suggestion that I am putting forward something other than our Government's position. That is exactly what it is.


I did not interrupt the Opposition Deputies. I am putting forward the position of the Government. If Deputy Joe Higgins wants to criticise the Government, he should do so, but he should not go off on his usual rant about issues that are not relevant to this debate. The issue I am dealing with is the situation in the United Nations regarding the compliance with Security Council resolutions in this matter. That is what I am dealing with and not anything else. If Deputy Joe Higgins wants to deal with other issues that he regards as relevant that is his business, but in relation to this matter—

What about Shannon Airport?

Time out of number I have answered parliamentary questions that Deputy Gormley and others have tabled on that matter.

I received no proper answer.

They continue to misrepresent the position. In my reply to the House, I do not intend to have to continue to correct everything that Deputy Gormley says on that matter. He has his parliamentary replies. He should give them to the media and let them print them.

It is ridiculous.

I will deal with the points raised by Deputies that are relevant and I thank them for raising them. Deputy Gay Mitchell asked when we might expect a draft resolution to be tabled. Sometime during the week I expect a draft resolution to be tabled. As Deputies will be aware no draft resolution has been tabled yet. We cannot give a position on any resolution until it is tabled, but we will study it carefully when that happens. I have advised the House of the principles that will inform our position in relation to that resolution and what I have enunciated is consistent with the position of successive governments in relation to our broad foreign policy position, which is to uphold, as Deputy Michael Higgins said, the primacy of the United Nations in the maintenance of international peace and security.

Deputy Gormley asked me to uphold the Charter. I certainly will uphold the Charter in all of its aspects.

In this regard I refer the Deputy to article 42 of the Charter, to which he omitted to refer in his contribution. This allows for the fact that unfortunately there can be circumstances, which I hope will be avoidable, under the UN Charter when the Security Council can legitimately seek the use of military action to enforce compliance with Security Council resolutions. That is also upholding the Charter. It is also upholding the Charter to ensure that we meet our obligations as members of the United Nations to ensure compliance with and enforcement of existing Security Council resolutions.

Does the Minister want to attack Israel now?

Deputy Gormley does not like to hear answers outlining the position. I am as interested in upholding the legality of the position as anybody else. I have decided to practice law when I get the opportunity and no longer have the privilege of being in this House or holding ministerial office. I give substance to the importance of upholding the international legal position. The Government in all its efforts so far and in its continuing discussions formally and informally at official level, political level and at the UN, is making these points.

We are glad an opportunity is being given to the multilateral system to ensure that its credibility can be upheld and respected in the face of those who will defy it. Here is an opportunity for the multilateral system to show it works and that it can muster the collective political will to put to those who are in defiance of its resolutions the necessity to comply on the basis of a clear fair resolution to be put to them once again. If people are interested in maintaining the international legal order, let them be prepared not only to subscribe to it in principle but to put it into practice and to meet our responsibilities and obligations.

This is my central point in reply to this debate. I refer Deputies to the speech of Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, to the general Assembly in September. What he says in that speech I totally and unequivocally support in all of its aspects. Let those who are interested in upholding the primacy of the United Nations read and study that speech by a multilateralist of conviction and purpose who is prepared to work with might and main, day and night to provide a political and diplomatic solution to this problem within the UN framework and within the international legal order. Let those, who think they will test the will of the international community by continuing to defy it, not be under the mistaken belief that the United Nations will not – as the United Nations Secretary General said it must – discharge its responsibilities should that time and circumstance come to pass. It is something we will all seek to avoid and seek to ensure it is not required.

What about consistency concerning Israel?

Let nobody who talks about upholding the United Nations Charter in this or any other forum, suggest that in all cases the prospect of military action is eliminated under international law. It is not. That is not to say one hopes the day will come when it will be used. I have stated in my speech clearly and unambiguously that we seek to resolve this matter diplomatically and politically. We are doing everything we can to ensure our influence is such that we bring about a situation whereby a resolution, if put, will be one that will bring unity to the Security Council and will enable the legitimacy of the Security Council to be respected and will also involve the elements that are required to enhance upholding the international legal order and international law in dealing with this situation. Non-compliance with successive Security Council resolutions for a decade has brought us to the situation where Kofi Annan, as UN Secretary General, has insisted that we must discharge our responsibilities if this defiance continues.

There have been important developments. There is a preparation on the part of the Iraqi regime to conduct discussions with Hans Blix and others to allow the inspectors in. Let us hope the outcome of those discussions will bring about the necessary co-operation to ensure compliance and does not require any further consideration by the Security Council.

Why does this apply just to Iraq and not to Israel?

On a point of order, will the Minister give way to take a question? In my speech I asked a question about the nature of—

Is this about France?

The French are proposing—

I am just about to answer that.

I am delighted.

There is no resolution from the French or from the Americans. There is no resolution on the table. We would wish any new resolution to include a provision whereby UNMOVIC or and the IAEA will report to the council on any failure by Iraq to meet its obligations and that the council will meet to consider its response. That could include the adoption of a further resolution authorising the use of force in the event of non-compliance. I have stated clearly what is our position. We want to see the UN respected. We want to see its primacy upheld by everybody. We want to see Iraq comply. We want to see a political and diplomatic solution. The international community will have to show common resolve in making sure that regime complies as it is required to do in international law to eliminate the threat to international peace and security, which its non-compliance represents. The body to decide that in international law is the Security Council.

What about Israel?

If people have a concern—

Why just Iraq and not Israel?

The Minister must conclude.

I have always said we want to see the good practice whereby all Security Council resolutions are routinely implemented. If Deputy Joe Higgins does not know it already, perhaps I can educate him. These resolutions are under chapter VII of the United Nations Charter and have an implementation mode and an enforcement mode. Others are under chapter VI.

That is a cop out. The United States can do anything it wants.

I will not concede to the Deputy any suggestion that this Government is not as committed to ensuring peace and justice in the Middle East as he is and I do not do it under the shroud of the sort of attitude he has.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.