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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 2 Apr 2003

Vol. 564 No. 2

Private Members' Business. - Humanitarian Aid for Iraq: Motion (Resumed).

The following motion was moved by Deputy Kenny on Tuesday, 1 April 2003:
That Dáil Éireann:
–conscious of the growing concern regarding the humanitarian crisis that is evolving in Iraq and in light of the fact that aid agencies believe that:
–there will be an increase in acute malnutrition in children under five years of age from 4% to 30% as a result of critical food shortages and an increase in morbidity rates in children, particularly diarrhoeal disease, from the consumption of contaminated water;
–there are more than 1 million malnourished children in Iraq who, upon commencement of the military action, have been unable to receive much of the humanitarian aid they had previously been availing of;
–the risk of a measles outbreak among displaced populations is significant and there is an urgent need to immunise children aged six to 12 who may not have received immunisation against the disease, as children aged five and younger have, and who cannot access such immunisation in the present circumstances;
–60% of Iraqi people are dependent on Government food subsidies;
–the long-term effects on the psycho-social health of Iraqi children are likely to be a major problem in the aftermath of war;
–there are likely to be shortages of essential drugs, especially antibiotics, as rates of diarrhoeal disease and acute respiratory infections will increase significantly due to population displacements, contaminated water and shortages of heating fuels;
–as many as 5% of children from displaced or refugee populations might be separated from their families; and
–upon an end to the conflict, it is possible that schools will have been looted, will be bereft of materials and will suffer a teacher shortage due to unsafe conditions;
–calls on the Government to play a full role in the international relief effort in Iraq in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe;
–calls on the Government to work to ensure that the United Nations plays the lead co-ordinating role in the humanitarian relief effort;
–calls on the Government to vigorously pursue a commitment from our partners in the European Union and the United Nations, to provide the necessary funding to ensure the alleviation of hunger and disease among the Iraqi population; and
–calls on the Government to work to ensure that such funding should not come from existing moneys already allocated to help in the humanitarian needs of other regions.

I wish to share time with Deputy Andrews.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I welcome the opportunity, with other Members of the House of all parties, to affirm and endorse support for the major humanitarian effort currently under way in Iraq. It is worth remembering that humanitarianism has its origins in conflicts and wars where people decided that the civilians and non-combatants had to be protected. The humanitarian impulse has always been non-political, and non-judgmental in regard to the victims of war, both civilians and combatants. Our international systems of humanitarian relief grew out of the disaster of the Second World War and they have proven remarkably robust both legally and operationally since then. The United Nations has always been at the centre of this system and it must remain so.

The current humanitarian crisis in Iraq has come about as a result of two international conflicts, the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, ten years of international sanctions imposed by the United Nations, and now this war. In 20 years Iraq has been reduced from a state of relative prosperity to one of mass poverty and ill health. Because of this deterioration in the basic living conditions over the past decade the population of 27 million has very weak coping systems and is far more vulnerable to the shocks and battery of this war than it was in 1991. The ongoing and defiant refusal of the regime to comply with the UN resolutions and the resulting sanctions has resulted in 16 million or some 60% of Iraqis being dependent on Government rations for their food through the oil for food programme. This programme was stopped at the start of the current conflict and left millions of people without access to food.

The Security Council has recently passed Resolution 1447 authorising the Secretary General to administer the oil for food programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer. It is difficult to see how this can be done since, as Deputy Michael D. Higgins pointed out last night, it involved 40,000 Iraqi workers before the conflict began. It is absolutely essential that the UN, which has now been given a mission to reinstate this programme, be allowed to do so without the militarisation of the humanitarian effort. As we debate this motion our thoughts and concerns are with the vulnerable civilian population who are caught up in this conflict. Their situation is becoming more hazardous and pathetic with every passing day. Those of us in positions of influence who watch in horror the scenes on our television screens must not allow ourselves to become passive observers or accept the inevitability of this war continuing ad infinitum.It is not enough for Ireland to respond to the humanitarian aid effort. We must use our authority at the United Nations and galvanise international support for ways in which to moderate the bellicose excesses of this war and to argue that it be brought to an end as quickly as possible so as to minimise human suffering and death. This becomes even more imperative with the news that today a hospital was bombed in Baghdad.

The major casualty of this conflict apart from the innocent lives which have been lost has been the authority of the United Nations. We have seen the United Nations emasculated to an extent, which is deeply worrying for everybody's future and for our collective security.

We fervently hoped that this military action could be averted. We hoped that Iraq could be disarmed peacefully and that any military intervention would have the backing of a second UN resolution. Because we were central to the negotiation and unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441 and because this war is being prosecuted in the name of that resolution there is a real discomfort, unease and shame among Irish people that in some way we are complicit. This war is not the outcome which the Government sought. On the contrary, it is exactly what we always wanted to avoid.

From the earliest days post-11 September, as a member of the Security Council we tried through diplomacy, friendships, contacts and clout to moderate the reflexive instincts for vengeance and unilateral retribution on the part of the United States and its allies. We argued for a multilateral response and insisted that the war against terrorism should front-load the humanitarian issues and ensure they were not sidelined. During the war in Afghanistan prosecuted under UN mandate we insisted at all times that humanitarian issues were centre stage.

The humanitarian arena is where we have credibility in international affairs. We are a non-aligned, traditionally neutral country. Our tradition is very strongly and unequivocally one which highlights the peaceful settlement of international disputes, which upholds the primacy of the United Nations and which places development, justice and human rights central to our foreign policy. We have a reputation for excellence, professionalism and even-handedness in peacekeeping and peacemaking. To our credit, we are a leading donor of overseas development assistance. We do not favour wars and we have made plain we will not participate in this war. We favour peacekeeping and conflict resolution and we invest heavily in a long-term way in building up partnerships with developing countries in the poorest parts of the world, defending human rights, building robust democracies in poor countries and defending the rights of the vulnerable and the poor in natural and man-made disasters. That is what we do. We also respect the sovereignty of nations. There should be an immediate involvement of the UN to guarantee the integrity of Iraq after the military conflict ends. The UN should be working flat out to ensure the stability of the region is maintained and that there will be no extension of hostilities beyond the boundaries of Iraq.

Already our NGOs are active in Iraq and there will be no shortage of funding. We have a large humanitarian budget, which has flexibility and can respond very quickly to emergencies such as this. Yesterday we had briefings from two Irish operational agencies, GOAL and Concern, both of whom stressed the need for the immediate demilitarisation of aid and for the UN to come back centre stage in the planning and implementation of the humanitarian effort. This is vital for the security of humanitarian workers and also because humanitarian agencies have an independence and a professionalism in the distribution of aid which cannot be replicated by soldiers. The chaotic scenes of aid being thrown off lorries by soldiers to fit young men rather than in an orderly fashion to the most vulnerable civilians have shocked those of us who know how such food distributions should be carried out.

Many people are shattered and deeply conflicted by this war. This stems from the fact that, notwithstanding great diplomatic efforts, international consensus at the UN was not achievable, and we now have a war whose legality is disputed by many. This has divided Europe, NATO and even the British Parliament. Nobody doubts that Saddam Hussein's regime is a ruthless and bloody dictatorship. Nobody denies that Iraq has been in wilful defiance of the international community. Nobody denies that the suspicion that it was in possession of weapons of mass destruction posed a potential threat to the security of the world. What is at issue is whether we had definitively reached the point of last resort to justify an attack of this magnitude by two superpowers against a country whose civilian population is so vulnerable in a conflict, one which has the capacity to destabilise the whole region and inflame tensions between the Muslim and western world.

As a former Irish Minister responsible for our aid programme, I am concerned that the world is being diverted and distracted from the humanitarian disaster unfolding in southern Africa. It is a tragedy that there are currently more than 30 million people in acute need of food aid in southern and eastern Africa, particularly in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia and Eritrea, but this has slipped off the world's agenda.

This is a hugely expensive war with the cost of the first 30 days of the military intervention estimated at $62 billion according to a budget supplement issued to the US Congress last week. The allocation for reconstruction was $1.7 billion and the humanitarian interventions allocation was $500 million dollars. The humanitarian budget is therefore 3.5% of that for the prosecution of the conflict. This is a big war in every way. The jingoistic media coverage from the US networks is quite an offence to thinking people. As it develops and as the civilian casualties mount many people are reduced to head-hanging despair, not only for the loss of life but for the perceived dearth of intelligent discourse at the highest level in the United States. Divisions are emerging in the Bush administration about post-war Iraq. Colin Powell's State Department has a different view from that of the Pentagon. Where does this leave the UN? It appears that the only role envisaged by the Pentagon for the UN is the distribution of humanitarian aid under US supervision. Kofi Annan has argued for the operational independence of the UN relief agencies, which I wholeheartedly support.

The UN must play a central role in preparing for the ultimate outcome of the Iraqi people running their own, sovereign country. That is being lost in the din of war. Meanwhile, attention has been averted from the wider conflict in the Middle East, which is disastrous. It is imperative that the road map for peace and security be published and form the basis for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinian authorities. The Palestinians have appointed a new prime minister and are ready for negotiations. The US should take the lead in driving these negotiations. It is very important that, as the Arab world views the conflict in Iraq, the Middle East is being forgotten.

I agree with Deputy O'Donnell that one of the casualties of the war has been the authority of the United Nations. There is no question that this war has damaged the UN. The failure to arrive at a second resolution was a disaster for the UN which, in spite of this, continues to have a very important role. Everybody acknowledges that the UN is an imperfect system. Allowing five nations to carry a veto is not an exercise in democracy. It is not what one would expect of a national parliament.

As a result, international law is imperfect, but it is the only law we have and we must proceed on that basis. It is disappointing that the attitude of the United States is unilateral in so many respects. It is unilateral in failing to endorse a ban on landmines, in failing to ban nuclear testing, in failing to respect anti-ballistic missile treaties, in failing to back the Kyoto Protocol and in so many other respects, including the failure to sign up to the International Criminal Court. It conducts many bilateral agreements with other countries in order to try to avoid the effects of that court. All of this is disappointing and is damaging to the United Nations, to multilateralism and to international law, with all its imperfections.

After the Second World War, Winston Churchill berated neutral Ireland for frolicking somewhat with the Japanese and the Germans, to the point where the Taoiseach, Eamon de Valera, signed the book of condolences for Adolf Hitler at the end of the war at the German Embassy in Dublin. Churchill said that the British were very restrained in not invading Ireland and resisting the provocation of our attitudes to Japan and Germany. Mr. de Valera, very wisely, delivered a measured and temperate response, saying that Britain's need should never become a moral code. It strikes me now that the US need, which is a real one, has become a moral code and a way of steam-rollering institutions that have been built up with great difficulty and effort. US need is not a moral code but multilateralism is. It has served the test of time, with all its imperfections.

There is no question that the United States will win this war, as it won the war in Afghanistan. The question is whether it will win the peace. It arguably did win the peace after the Second World War because the Soviet Union had as repressive a regime as the Nazi regime that was toppled in 1945. Many wars end in military victory, but what constitutes peace and the successful achievement of war aims is quite different. The American war aim in Afghanistan was clearly to crack down on terrorism, but neither Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar or the al-Qaeda network generally were captured or conquered. Thus, one must question whether the specific war aims of the US were ever achieved. One must also ask whether any commitments were properly delivered upon in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the war.

The major powers, including the European Union, met in Tokyo in January 2002 and commitments were made for humanitarian relief to help Afghanistan out of the position in which it found itself. It was acknowledged at that point that a sum in the region of $9 billion to €15 billion was required to reconstruct Afghanistan. The Afghans have been let down in terms of the commitments made in Tokyo, and we must learn from that. There is no guarantee that the funds that will be promised after the war in Iraq – assuming it ends the way I think it will – will be delivered. This Government is doing its bit by providing €5 million, and that is to be applauded. It is a worthy effort and is in keeping with Ireland Aid's great contribution over the years.

US Aid has failed to deliver the contribution it said it would make over 12 months ago in Tokyo. I came across a website called, which states:

In January 2002 at a conference in Tokyo, the world's richest nations pledged to give €1.8 billion dollars in aid to Afghanistan by the end of 2002. However, aid trickled slowly into the country throughout the war. The Government of Afghanistan, NGOs and multilateral institutions called upon donors to deliver on pledges they had made. More than half of the pledges for humanitarian efforts at the Tokyo conference were based upon a preliminary needs assessment for reconstruction assistance.

There is a problem here. Let us take the intentions of the United States at face value, putting aside all our scepticism and cynicism about what are its real motives. Even if it makes commitments after wars like that in Afghanistan, it is not delivering upon them. That is the lesson we must take on board in this debate about humanitarian aid to Iraq. The US failed to carry out its promises for post-war Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan failed to achieve its aims – neither the military aim of finding Osama bin Laden and getting rid of al-Qaeda nor the humanitarian aims of reconstructing the country.

Another website pointed out in March 2003 that families evicted from a high school in Kabul were forced to seek shelter in a nearby neighbourhood, living in makeshift shelters. Of the 87 families evicted from the school, 27 have been identified by the UNHCR as eligible for return assistance, while the remaining 60 families have received non-food items from the assistance community. Thus, there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in that part of Kabul. Nothing has been solved by war. I hasten to suggest that the current military action will achieve as little and that nothing will improve.

The difference between Afghanistan and Iraq is that there was a humanitarian presence in Iraq prior to the war of 2001. It was able to return there afterwards and deliver services quickly. It will be all the more difficult to deliver humanitarian aid to Iraq after the present war, so the omens are very bad. Another bad omen arose yesterday at the meeting of the committee on foreign affairs, when GOAL's John O'Shea pointed out that the military is heavily involved in Afghanistan at the moment. My understanding is that US helicopters are delivering food aid and have taken over from NGOs. Trust that has been built up in the community has been eroded as a result and NGOs are losing their footing in the community. People in the community are unable to make the distinction between NGOs and the military. As a result, the entire humanitarian effort is undermined.

US Aid has said that this direction to use the military has come straight from the top, from Washington. It strikes me again that the United States administration has a narrow, blinkered and purely military outlook on changes which may take place in these countries. At best its view is not rigorous or clear. There are many failings. My concern is that in Iraq, the military will be used to deliver humanitarian aid when the war is over. What will be needed when this war is over is mine clearing. There will have to be dignity in the delivery of humanitarian aid. What we have seen on the television where trucks are unloaded and food boxes are flung at people is typical of a military trying to deliver humanitarian aid whereas NGOs have far greater experience in such matters. There needs to be local delivery by local people and NGOs have that skill. As I said, I do not believe military involvement is helpful.

We should not forget that there are many humanitarian crises around the world, none of them quite as fashionable as the Iraqi one. The Economist has a big piece this week about the Congo where 3.5 million people have died since 1998. Not a single word has been spoken or question raised in this House about how we will help them or energise the UN or the EU to try to help. There are also humanitarian crises in Chechnya and Tibet. There are many humanitarian crises around the world yet, unfortunately, they are not on everybody's lips at the moment.

Many Members said that we, on this side of the House, cannot speak out of both sides of our mouths because, on the one hand, we are assisting the war, but I do not believe that. Our neutrality has operated hand in hand with our policy on Shannon for over 45 years. What we are being asked to do is to abandon that form of neutrality for a different form of neutrality. That is a fair point to make.

Positive neutrality.

One can call it whatever one wants. What we have had so far is a militarily non-aligned neutrality and we propose to continue along those lines. If one is asking for a new departure and a new type of neutrality, that is also a legitimate request to make but one should be clear about that. We are not departing from a particular policy but the Opposition is looking for the Government to depart from the traditional policy. If that is the wish, it is something we can discuss but it is not something we would do lightly and it would require nationally based consultation and a national forum on neutrality and the totality of our relationships with the United States, NATO and the UK, whether political, economic or military. All these issues would have to be discussed, ideally, away from the emotive atmosphere of a conflagration such as this.

I commend Fine Gael on bringing forward this motion in Private Members' time and I commend the motion to the House.

I thank Deputies O'Donnell and Andrews for sharing their time. Like the previous speakers, I commend Fine Gael on bringing forward this motion. We are all aware an appalling humanitarian situation is developing in Iraq. It is due not only to this war but to the previous Iran-Iraq war and the subsequent mismanagement of the Iraqi economy since then. The population has been weakened and has become very vulnerable. This is very clearly illustrated by the figures from the United Nations human development index which show that Iraq has fallen from 96th to 127th in the world. That is one of the fastest falls of any country in the world, if not the fastest. It is an appalling indictment of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

I understand over 60% of the population of Iraq is dependent on the UN oil for food programme. As we all know that programme has been suspended since the start of the conflict and we can only imagine how more than 60% of the population of that country are suffering because of lack of food and other help.

This issue raises the importance of the United Nations. The authority of the United Nations has suffered a severe dent because of the action of the US and UK Governments in going into Iraq. If the United Nations is to re-establish its moral authority, now is a very opportune time for it to do so. Resolution 1447 gives the UN Secretary General the right or ability to administer aid for the next 45 days. It is imperative that any humanitarian aid which goes into Iraq goes in under the guise of the United Nations. It is wrong for aid to go in as a pay-off for the military action taking place at the moment. Like Deputy O'Donnell, I found it appalling to see soldiers handing out aid from the backs of lorries with the clear implication that it was coming from one of the invading countries. Now is the time for the United Nations to re-establish its moral authority and I am delighted that this country is going down the road of using the United Nations.

As part of the war problem, much damage has been caused to the health service in Iraq. I am aware there are some excellent hospitals in Baghdad. My only worry is that some of those hospitals would be used for the republican guard and Saddam Hussein's extended family only. Some years ago I had occasion to spend time working not in Iraq, but in a neighbouring country. It struck me that while their hospital facilities were among the best in the world, they were very deficient at primary care level. I have no reason to believe the situation is any different in Iraq today. One can only imagine the dreadful suffering which is occurring as people flock to hospitals, some of which have been bombed, and are basically deprived of primary care at any level. It is also upsetting to learn that stocks in hospitals are at a very low level. I understand some hospitals have as little as three weeks supply, and it might even be less now.

At the best of times many of the peripheral hospitals would not be of the standard of the tertiary hospitals in Baghdad. The doctors and nurses there are labouring under intense stress. I have no doubt that with the casualties coming from the war – I believe there are severe casualties – the stress of trying to alleviate those patients' sufferings must be immense.

It is important that water and electricity are re-established as soon as possible. The sewerage and water systems are dependent on electricity. Unfortunately, the generating stations have been hit by bombs and it is imperative that in a country like Iraq with a warm climate, both sewerage and water systems are of the highest standard, otherwise prevalence and incidence of diseases will be immense. I noted with interest on Sky News or on CNN that the UK army was busily trying to re-establish the electricity connections to one of the southern towns which it had damaged. It was obviously a great publicity coup but it is distasteful to think that it happened as a result of a war instituted by them.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, and the Government for very promptly allocating €5 million to alleviate suffering. This is a small country but it has built up a worldwide reputation for helping those in distress. Much of our aid in the past few years has gone to Africa. There is a huge crisis now and the swift and prompt allocation by the Minister of €5 million to Iraq is to be warmly welcomed. I also welcome the fact that he is allocating it through the NGOs and the United Nations.

This is the way forward. One of the things that has upset me about this war is that if history teaches us anything, it is that when empires are unopposed, they tend to get expansionist ideas. Invariably, they will expand beyond their own areas and cause distress and loss of life. All human life is sacred. I hope that what is happening in Iraq is not the sign of an empire beginning to go out of control.

I commend the motion and congratulate Fine Gael for putting it before the House. It is important that help is got into Iraq now, not in 20, 30 or 40 days.

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for the opportunity of speaking on this motion. Before I go into the details, I want to put on record once again my total opposition to the war in Iraq. This war is immoral, illegal and, above all, wrong. The vast majority of Irish people also support this position and it is essential that we respect that view if we are serious about democracy. So far in this conflict, the Government has walked away from its responsibilities, shown a complete lack of leadership and is out of touch with people on the ground. The use of Shannon is wrong and a breach of our neutrality.

The humanitarian crisis has begun and it is essential for Members to put past differences aside and to support this motion. Despite the fact that I was dismayed and disappointed by the lack of support from Fine Gael and the Government for the anti-war march last Saturday, I will be supporting this motion.

It is important that we take heed of the warnings of the aid agencies and get assistance in quickly. We now have significant malnutrition in children under five years old, one million malnourished children, some 60% of whom are without clean water, 60% of the Iraqi people are dependent on Government food subsidies, there are major shortages of essential drugs and antibiotics, innocent people are being slaughtered and conscripts with white flags are being shot and killed. We have also seen the slaughter in the cities and at road checkpoints by US and British troops.

We have to intervene with aid and assistance but that should always be with the UN and aid agencies. It is time to put the so-called military strategists in their box and protect the people of Iraq. It is never too late and let us not be afraid to challenge those that say it is too late and that we cannot do anything. This type of cop-out politics must be faced down. We can always do something and this motion is an effort to prevent a disaster.

Section 11 of the motion calls on the Government to work to ensure that the UN plays the lead co-ordinating role in the humanitarian relief. We need to ensure that this happens and we have to win back the UN from the wreckers and ensure that the UN remains the central body in world policing, not the United States, Great Britain or NATO. Then we all win, not just the Iraqi people. If we do not go this route, the whole world is at risk and the violence, death and slaughter will worsen.

This is a wake-up call for all our people as well as the smug sections of Irish society that understand this war or privately support it. Sadly, those people are in Government and it now seems that some of them are pushing their own agenda regarding Irish foreign policy. The Bushites in the Cabinet have to be exposed. People can huff and puff as long as they want but the reality is that those with big business interests in this country, Britain and the USA all support this horrific war.

Let them stand up and deny this. Their silence over the last ten days is deafening. The big players seem to have no problem with spending over €132 billion on war yet ignore humanitarian efforts and famine. I reject the remarks made last night by Deputy O'Connor regarding the anti-war movement. The anti-war movement is peaceful, open and democratic and deserves our support.

This motion is about real people, real life and, above all, it has the potential to save life. I urge the House to support the motion.

The condition of Iraq and its people, as depicted in this motion, is harrowing, and, in what has been dubbed the first war of the 21st century, is evocative of Dante's inferno. The coalition of the willing has reduced the once-proud country of Iraq to this state; and, speaking of coalitions, I recall an old definition of "coalition" which could not be more appropriate to the co-operation between the United States and the UK against Iraq. In the Devil's Dictionary, the word “coalition” or the alignment of groups was defined as the co-operation between two thieves, who have their hands so deep in each other's pockets that they cannot rob a third person separately, though that is no reflection on Members on the opposite side of the House.

The Americans and British are possessed by an unquenchable thirst for reconstructing. The trouble is that in order to rebuild something, one has to demolish it first; if there is no destruction, there can be no reconstruction. The British and Americans are preoccupied with destroying Iraq systematically. Missiles, bombs, tanks, artillery, ships and infantry – everything is employed to facilitate the reconstruction of the country. The main objective of the urge for reconstruction is, of course, Baghdad, a city of five million people with miles of buildings and streets which can be reconstructed after their demolition. If Baghdad becomes the site of Stalingrad-style street fighting, house by house and street by street, there will, indeed, be a lot to reconstruct.

Large American conglomerates are already quarrelling about the spoils but, of course, no foreigners come into this. To quote an American saying: "To the victors belong the spoils." An obnoxious sight, even before Iraqi towns and cities are destroyed, is that of corporate giants dividing among themselves the profits of war.

The Anglo-Americans are obsessed with humanitarian aid. That great humanitarian, Donald Rumsfeld, has ordained that no ceasefire shall take place to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Basra. The policy is to keep bombing the people until they are ripe for aid. Accordingly, it is the humanitarian duty of the Americans to take hold of the oil fields as quickly as possible, not for themselves – perish the thought – but for the Iraqis, in order to help them and do good. All this comes after UN sanctions, imposed as demanded by the Americans, that have for many years accomplished most of what is contained in the preamble to this motion and destroyed Iraqi infrastructure in the name of oil for food. The new humanitarianism is clear. "We had to destroy Iraq over the past 12 years and in the past two weeks, in order to save it. Who will we save next?"

The role of the UN in spearheading the real humanitarian aid effort will be crucial and, as it has done in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo in recent years, it can be relied upon to provide humanitarian assistance to affected and vulnerable populations, whether inside Iraq or in neighbouring countries. Its previous practice has been to provide such assistance in strict adherence to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality that underpin the mandates of the United Nations and its emergency response agencies.

The UN's preliminary estimate with the commencement of hostilities is that €2.4 billion will be required to assist the Iraqi people over the six-month period until September 2003. It is essential that it receives pledges of funds and resources from the donor countries and, presumably, from the oil-for-food programme when it is reinstated, for an effective response with emergency life-saving assistance.

It is fair to say that Ireland's role in regard to the Iraq crisis has been a dismal failure of foreign policy. We have tried to play to both sides of the conflict. We said that we would support a new resolution but when that did not come, we backed America anyway. Despite that, our actions have earned us no new friends in America because we waited so long. Even our European colleagues will see us as fair weather friends.

Over 100 countries voted for Ireland's term on the UN Security Council. I wonder what is their impression of the Government's response to the crisis. Do they watch with shock and awe or do they feel just as cheated by the Government as many of those who voted last May? It might be seen as funny to watch the Government moving not towards Boston or even Berlin, but ever closer to the mythical Ballymagash. Sadly, we are showing an immature reaction to this war.

The hype on international news channels makes a mockery of what war is about. We are watching the most powerful nation in the world pulverise an impoverished desert nation ruled by another despot. The cool, clean heroes of the American army drop nine tonne bombs from 35,000 feet and fire cruise missiles over 200 miles from their final destination while their effort at humanity is to kick food off the back of a lorry to starving, innocent civilians.

Our own experience in Northern Ireland has taught us that war will always be a tragic event. I fear that irreversible damage has already been done to international relationships. The chances of future stability in the region can be improved if a massive humanitarian effort is commenced immediately. The Government can be proactive, for once, and can be seen to make a genuine effort to do the right thing by supporting the humanitarian effort. It should insist on the involvement of the United Nations in the delivery of the humanitarian aid and in peacekeeping duties in Iraq.

When the Taoiseach frets about the airport of choice for moving 100,000 troops to the Middle East, he may not realise that the majority of US soldiers, most of whom come from the poorer sections of American society, do not know the difference between Shannon and Frankfurt. The Government has gone along with this war because, in some respects, it wants to believe that it is a just war. If this is not an oil-grabbing exercise, the US will be delighted when the Taoiseach proposes that it and other members of the coalition of the willing should hand over to the UN those sections of Iraq that are under their control. I commend this motion to the House and I hope that the Government takes action as a result of it.

The House is aware that the Taoiseach wears many hats. He was wearing his pacifist hat this morning when he told the House that "all war . . . is wrong", a statement of which Mahatma Ghandi might have been proud. If all war is wrong, it is fair to presume that the war in Iraq is wrong, and if the war in Iraq is wrong, surely the Government should stop assisting the US war effort which is killing innocent Iraqi women and children. How many broken bodies, broken lives and tragedies have to be witnessed before the Government revises its view of the war?

The Fine Gael motion before the House should have dealt with the matters I have mentioned. Although it is worthy, it lets the Government off the hook because it does not make it face up to its responsibilities. It allows the Government to overlook the obscenity of the fact that the Iraqi people have been bombed and then, subsequently, provided with humanitarian assistance. An Iraqi woman said on "Prime Time" last night that she would be happy for humanitarian assistance not to be given to the Iraqi people. She said that they will not require it if they are not bombed. The distribution of humanitarian aid has featured chaotic scenes involving soldiers. We know from the United Nations that more humanitarian workers have been killed than UN soldiers, which is an incredible fact. It is obvious from what is happening in Iraq that the soldiers who are distributing humanitarian aid there have not been trained to do so as they are simply throwing it out.

I predicted before this war that it would destabilise the Middle East region, create the conditions for further terrorism and result in this humanitarian crisis. I take no consolation whatsoever in being proved right. We are told that humanitarian aid is being distributed by the soldiers as a confidence building measure. Those involved in this war want to be seen as liberators and not invaders. We were told that roses would be thrown in front of them as they arrived in Iraq, but it has not worked out like that. I believe that the crisis in Iraq will work out like Northern Ireland or the West Bank. Iraq will be destabilised as the Shiite and Sunni communities, as well as others, fight each other, and perhaps also the invader, over a long period of years. It is clear that the Bush administration has made a bad miscalculation in this matter. The dangerous people I would single out would be Mr. Rumsfeld, Mr. Perle, Mr. Cheney and, of course, Mr. Saddam Hussein.

When the Taoiseach spoke about the dangers of Saddam Hussein this morning, he said that it is necessary to deal with a man who has not lived up to his obligations. It is not worth spilling Iraqi blood to deal with Saddam Hussein, however, as Iraqi people will testify. We have to ask ourselves a simple question, would we sacrifice our children to get rid of a dictator? The answer is "No", we would not do so. The Taoiseach and the Government have to face up to their responsibilities. When the Taoiseach was asked a direct question about pre-emptive strikes this morning, he said it was not for him to give an opinion on whether they are legal or illegal. We have become used to such responses. The Taoiseach should know that other neutral states have given their opinions on this matter – they have said clearly that such strikes are illegal.

I do not accept for a moment the disingenuous views put forward this evening by Deputy Andrews, who said that to stop the use of Shannon Airport by the US military would represent a "departure". If the policy being pursued by the Government in relation to Shannon is its normal one, why did it not say so before a decision was forced on it? If the Government is serious about peace and humanitarian assistance, it should put down a motion which calls on all countries to unite for peace under the United Nations.

Sinn Féin welcomes any motion brought before the House that unambiguously opposes the Government's support for the invasion of Iraq. This motion makes us face the devastating humanitarian consequences of the Government's present policy of complicity, a policy that is about to be condemned by the Irish Human Rights Commission. The Government's endorsement of this motion, which recognises the terrible humanitarian consequences of the war, is not to be welcomed as it amounts to disgusting hypocrisy. The Government seems to believe in a twisted Jekyll and Hyde version of neutrality as it is content to help the United States to wage war while professing its intention to help the people of Iraq to recover from that war. The Government hopes to be able to straddle the fence, but it cannot have it both ways. I do not believe that this policy represents real neutrality and I do not accept the Government's crocodile tears for the civilians of Iraq, including children.

It is not enough for the Government merely to play a full role in the international relief effort – it must take every diplomatic step available to it to stop the conflict. This process must start with the withdrawal of the Government's logistical support for the war. While it is desirable, it is not enough that the Government intends to work to ensure that the United Nations plays a leading role in the humanitarian effort, to ensure that the EU and the UN fully fund the effort and to ensure the funds are not diverted from the ongoing needs of other regions. The UN, the EU and Ireland should not have to underwrite a mop-up operation for an illegal war that is being waged against the consent of the international community.

There must be no diversion, appropriation or redistribution by the invading forces of humanitarian aid. Food and other forms of aid should not be used by such forces as a propaganda tool, as part of a hearts-and-minds psychological operation against the Iraqi people, or as a form of bribery. The invaders should pay war reparations, which should be independently administered by the United Nations and other international non-governmental relief agencies. There must be no foreign military rule in Iraq at any stage, even on an interim basis. The Government must condemn, publicly and unreservedly, the obscene waste of billions of dollars on this invasion at a time when 14 million people are facing starvation in Eritrea and Ethiopia. The people of many other parts of Africa, such as north Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, Burundi, Malawi and Mozambique are facing food insecurity.

Sinn Féin is calling on the Government to campaign actively for an immediate end to the war, including the invasion. It should cease its participation in it. Government policy should embrace a policy of positive neutrality which includes a multi-front war against poverty. The Government should press for these aims bilaterally at the European Union and the United Nations in accordance with the wishes of the Irish people. The Government should clearly state its opposition to this war and promise the withdrawal of all support for it.

I wish to share time with Deputies Ring and O'Dowd.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I rise to support the Fine Gael motion and to commend our party leader, Deputy Kenny, and our spokesperson on foreign affairs, Deputy Gay Mitchell, for bringing it before the House. I commend the Government also for endorsing the motion.

There was stark evidence of the devastation in Iraq last night on "Prime Time". For those of us who saw them, the pictures were frightening and terrible. Nobody should suffer in the way we saw, but my focus in this debate is on the children who are suffering in this war. To do so is not to minimise the suffering of women and men, the old and the infirm and those with disabilities. In Basra alone, UNICEF reports that 100,000 children under the age of five are at risk and the Government should urge the United States and the United Kingdom to cease their aerial bombardment of cities. It is taking the lives of children on a daily basis. Prior to the start of the war, humanitarian agencies and aid workers repeatedly stated their concerns that a conflict would lead to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children. Their estimates were based on the fact that nearly eight million of Iraq's 13 million children depend on a highly centralised Government-run food distribution system. Most of that food distribution has been curtailed which means that eight million children are at immediate risk. Of Iraq's children, 500,000 suffer from severe malnutrition, mostly as a result of the sanctions. Child mortality rates are 2.5 times greater than the levels prior to the Gulf War while more than one in eight children die before they reach their fifth birthday. This is one of the world's highest mortality rates and is obviously a result of the sanctions. Only 40% of Iraqi children have access to fresh water.

The disruption to food and water supplies and to access to medicines and health care is having a catastrophic effect on children in Iraq. US and British war planes are reported in the media to have targeted communications, transportation and urban infrastructure which will obviously cut off the supply of food. We have seen cuts in the electricity and water supplies and though some of it is reported to have been restored, we do not know what the true situation is. If the water is cut off, children will die. The Children's Rights Alliance provided the Taoiseach with copies of its report on our common responsibility which states that a study of the impact of a new war on Iraqi children was conducted by a Canadian-led international team through a fact-finding mission to the country earlier this year. The study's authors included independent experts in the fields of health, nutrition and emergency preparedness who concluded that, while the exact number of child deaths could not be predicted, casualties among children would probably be in the tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands. Events to date have reinforced their findings.

Steps can still be taken to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Raymond Dooley, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance in Ireland, has pointed out that tens of thousands of extremely vulnerable children stand at the brink or are dead. The war has further disrupted their access to clean water, food and medical care and many will die. Most will not be killed directly by bombs, bullets or fire, instead, already weak from malnutrition, they will succumb to common and preventable diseases resulting in diarrhoea and dehydration from which they will die. The number who die will be determined principally by the intensity and duration of the aerial bombardment of Iraqi cities and the extent to which the war is prosecuted in urban areas. To help save the lives of thousands of children, the Government must call on the United States of America and the United Kingdom to cease the aerial bombardment and withdraw their forces from urban areas. If enough countries and people insist that the fate of millions of Iraqi children be accorded central rather than merely peripheral status in the moral calculus of this war, deaths may be averted.

The United Nations Security Council may have been brushed aside, but world opinion, the statements of governments and, potentially, the General Assembly of the United Nations can still make a difference. With the fate of so many children hanging in the balance, each of us is morally obliged to speak and act on their behalf and to do all we can to save their lives. Maura Quinn, the executive director of UNICEF, has said it is a fact that children will die in this war, but the question is how many can we protect. That must be a priority now. The aid agencies claim that reports from Baghdad confirm that children in the city are suffering obvious signs of trauma consisting of continuous crying, fear of loud noises and nightmares. The closure of schools and the resulting ending of normal life exacerbates the problem.

I watched like everybody else for the last week or two the war coverage on Sky News, CNN and Fox News. War is not a football match or a western movie, it involves real people and real lives and I am appalled by the way it has been portrayed. I compliment RTE whose coverage was balanced and showed viewers the effects of war through images of women and children lying dead in the streets.

The winners in war are the weapons manufacturers who make millions of dollars. The losers are the women who pick up the pieces and the children who suffer. The women and children of Iraq will be affected by this war for the next 30 years. The only winners in war are the multinationals who are involved in supplying weapons to all governments. I am pleased Fine Gael moved this motion and I am pleased to note the Government's support. However, that support must take the form of real money to assist the people of Iraq when this war is ended. I hope the Government, even at this stage, will call on the Americans and the British to allow fresh supplies of medicine into Iraq for one day at least to aid dying women and children. Hospitals are unable to look after the sick and dying. If America and Britain have any guts they will allow the United Nations one day to get these supplies in.

There are no winners in war.

The Government must provide as much money as possible. It can find money for everything else, from the Bertie bowl to Government jets. This war is the greatest tragedy to hit the world since the Second World War and I call on the Government and all the political parties in this House to make sure that the money and resources, whatever is necessary, are made available immediately the war is over to help the people, particularly women and children, of Iraq. We should not just talk about it, we should go in and do something. We should not heed America or Britain, or anybody else. We should support the UN to make sure that the women and children suffer no more.

The people outside are appalled by what they saw on television last night, and I compliment RTE again. The Government must take the necessary action to deal with this, but wherever the Government finds the funding, it should not be at the expense of the aid we are supplying to other Third World countries. There are other tragedies that have been forgotten because the number one agenda now is the war.

I want to finish where I started. The losers are the women and children. It is terrible that innocent people are being slaughtered, and that is what is happening now. They are being slaughtered on the streets of Iraq. We should give whatever help we can when the time comes. I hope the British and American Governments will provide a chance to get the aid in for a couple of days to try to deal with the people who are dying. It must be terrible to have a child on an emergency table and no doctor to deal with him or her, no medication and nothing that can be done. Have they not suffered enough because of one lunatic? It is a pity the Americans and the British could not have taken out that lunatic without killing innocent people. It should be remembered that it was not previously beyond the capabilities of the British or the Americans to take out dictators, and they could have done so this time if they had wanted to.

Like other speakers, I am opposed to this war. We as a country must take an honourable and a principled stand on the question of humanitarian aid. This resolution is one which, for once, unites this House and all parties. It unites the whole country behind the concept that Ireland cares. Whatever influence we have in the world community should be brought to bear on the warring nations and particularly on the United Nations to insist on the primacy of care and concern, as so eloquently put by my colleague, Deputy Ring, for the women and children, the innocent people who suffer in this war. They should be given a priority and that priority has to be a political priority given by countries other than the combatants.

In the last century we had the war to end all wars, the war to rid the world of fascism, the war to rid the world of communism. All these things are still with us. It is my personal belief that wars do not solve anything, but are a means of aggrandisement, of progressing political aims. Whether there would be a war if there was no oil in Iraq is a fundamental question. My belief is that if Iraq only grew bananas or corn nobody would be the least bit interested in the country. What we see on our television screens every night is the reality, these awful, chilling, horrific pictures of innocent people who have died, particularly children and women, brought to us by embedded reporters in the various media. I do not say it is a bad thing that we have this coverage because it is important that people see the realities of war and that war is not just a Playstation game that children play on their computer screens. It is real and real people are dying.

I and other Members of the House received through our e-mail images of the war which came from some of the Arab stations, and what is being done to human beings by the munitions that have been used is really horrific. What we do not see is what is going on and what has gone on for a long time in Iraq under the regime of Saddam Hussein. His regime has certainly been an evil and unacceptable one. He is not a democrat. He has no ballot box. He has his rifle and his death squads. He has nothing whatsoever to recommend him.

It is important that Ireland has played a very significant role in the United Nations as peacekeepers, as the Minister for Defence obviously acknowledged, that it has been accepted in all parts of the world whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu. If Irish troops are needed as peacekeepers they are there and they are respected and wanted. They play a significant and important role. We must keep that role in the world and within the United Nations. Our role in history, the role of our Army has been a peacekeeping role. The Government, which has our support on this issue in the context of bringing humanitarian aid to Iraq, must insist with all pressure in all possible ways that the primacy of the United Nations be established again in the world.

America and Britain are not listening to the United Nations when they are prosecuting the war, but the question of humanitarian aid must not be left to the combatants. Yesterday, the aid agencies made it clear that this must not be done, that humanitarian aid must not be carried out by the British or the Americans. It is extremely worthwhile that the ship Sir Galahad went into the port in Iraq to deliver aid, but the images we saw on television of soldiers firing pistols in the air to control the crowd who were looking for food and water is not acceptable. Neither is it acceptable that the people prosecuting the war should be the ones giving the aid. The Minister, Deputy Kitt, must be given the full authority of this State to put that view forward as strongly and as firmly as possible.

It is very difficult for young people, particularly children, to watch television these days, although I accept it is good that the war is shown on television because it enables us to see, know, feel and understand what is happening there. However it frightens very young children and it really is awful that children are being brought up in a world where they have to see images of real events as they happen which are literally "in your face".

We are a caring country. The Minister has been given a mandate to prosecute the humanitarian case at the United Nations and he has our full support in this regard.

This has been a very valuable debate. I have listened carefully to the wide-ranging concerns which have been expressed here today by all the speakers.

During our time on the Security Council the Government worked hard in support of the international efforts to avert conflict. It is a matter of regret that these efforts did not succeed. We also contributed, as has been acknowledged, to the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1441 which offered Iraq a last opportunity to bring itself into compliance with its obligations. However, war is here and that is the terrible reality. We hope the participants will make every effort to minimise loss of life, particularly by sparing the civilian population from the worst consequences of military action. We urge all combatants to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

It is clear from the statements made by Members of this House today that we must as a nation assist to the greatest extent possible in ameliorating the suffering of those most affected by the conflict. We must focus on saving the lives of the most vulnerable sections of the Iraqi population, mainly women and children, the elderly and the disabled. I reassure the House that the Government's primary focus will, as always, be on the most vulnerable sections of the population and especially on those whose capacity to cope has been severely eroded over the years. The Government acted promptly in responding to the humanitarian crisis which is unfolding before our eyes. Ahead of many of the governments who have yet to indicate levels of assistance, our Government announced last week a significant emergency humanitarian funding package of €5 million with a particular emphasis on the needs of women and children.

The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, and his officials have been working closely with Irish NGOs and international agencies which are best placed to assess needs and to deliver the services required. They have the capacity and experience to respond effectively. Grants totalling €1.5 million are currently being disbursed to UNICEF, ICRC and IFRC for their emergency appeals. Further disbursements will be made shortly on the basis of proposals submitted by the NGOs.

I agree with those Members who said that the horrors of this war and their portrayal on television is akin to a high technology virtual reality event. The reality is that war is brutal and cruel and innocent victims get caught up in it. With the outbreak of hostilities the humanitarian situation in Iraq is becoming more difficult with every passing day and we are seeing the atrocities at first hand through the media.

The challenges facing the international community in dealing with this humanitarian crisis are formidable but they can and must be met. We have gained valuable experience and lessons from similar humanitarian situations, most recently in Afghanistan. The key lesson is that co-ordination between all the agencies and NGOs is essential for effective humanitarian relief. The principal focus of the Government's attention for now will be on assisting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people and these needs are of a breathtaking scale. It is difficult to find a precedent for the volume of food aid which must be supplied if large sections of the Iraqi population are to avoid starvation.

I believe that effective UN co-ordination of a civilian-led humanitarian effort must be established as soon as conditions allow. Many Members of the House have echoed this view in this debate. The world needs an effective United Nations. In the weeks to come, the people of Iraq and the wider region will need the support and assistance which only a united and cohesive United Nations can provide.

The unanimous decision of the Security Council, through Resolution 1472, authorising the Secretary General to administer the oil for food programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer is welcome at this time. I hope that the resumption of the programme will mean that despite the difficulties, basic food assistance can once again reach those who are most vulnerable.

The issue of neutrality in the delivery of humanitarian assistance is of primary importance and safe and secure access to ensure that humanitarian assistance is delivered in a neutral and impartial way must prevail. Military forces should do everything they can to create an enabling environment for this. There is a need to provide humanitarian space for the UN and NGOs to operate effectively and I hope this will be provided in the near future.

Recent scenes of food being thrown off the back of military trucks are an object lesson in how not to deliver humanitarian assistance. Only specialised agencies can identify those who are most in need, and only these agencies with their vast experience have the capacity to deliver assistance effectively. The Government will continue to play its part in helping these agencies to carry out their work.

In addition to direct casualties, the conflict will bring great destruction and dislocation. There is no doubt that we will face a grave humanitarian emergency during and after the conflict. Ireland stands ready in assisting the people of Iraq in recovering from this emergency. We are in a position to respond rapidly and to support the international effort to deal with this crisis as it develops. We will work hard to ensure that assistance reaches the most vulnerable and those most in need.

The humanitarian situation will call for united action by the entire international community so that the long-suffering people of Iraq can recover from the consequences of the immediate crisis with the shortest possible delay. With such support, we hope to see the people of Iraq make a rapid transition to the reconstruction of their country after years of suffering from conflict and sanctions.

Ireland believes that the UN should be at the heart of the reconstruction process. It has the experience, capacity and perceived neutrality to carry this objective forward. Its work in East Timor and Afghanistan is perceived as having been successful. The European Union also believes that the UN must play a central role during and after the current crisis. The House can be assured that every consideration will be given to any request for assistance from members of the Defence Forces in a peacekeeping mission under UN mandate.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Durkan. The Fine Gael motion before the House is a worthy and decent one and my party will support it fully. There is something wrong, very wrong indeed, about a Government that is willing on the one hand to support a motion like this, and on the other to continue to facilitate the activities that make such a call on our humanitarian instincts. As we speak, the casualties of this war on both sides can still apparently be counted in the hundreds, but we have no reliable information about the indirect fall-out. The battle for Baghdad city has yet to begin, the decisions about who should be bombed to secure a surrender have yet to be made. It is inevitable that the casualties will mount into the thousands.

People are dying in the most horrible ways and from everything we know, these are a people already weak, already with a high mortality rate among children, already very vulnerable. People fled from Baghdad before the war started, but these surely were the lucky ones, the ones with sufficient affluence to be able to do it. Those left behind are in a poor position to fend for themselves, let alone to defend themselves. They are ruled by a tyrant, a man for whom surely they have no love. However, the signs are that they are willing nevertheless to fight and die to defend their country from invasion, as they see it. We have yet to see any evidence that these are a people waiting with bated breath for liberation, waiting for the opportunity to strew rose petals under the tracks of the tanks.

We are debating the humanitarian needs of these people. We cannot do so, in my view, without including the most humanitarian thing our Government could do. If our Government is serious about the suffering, the pain, the injuries and deaths that are mounting every day, then it will reverse its policy of facilitating and supporting this war. However, our Government seems incapable even of expressing a view.

In today's newspapers we read of an American plan that all aid should be distributed in Iraq – even in post-war Iraq – under American military supervision. The conqueror will reserve the right to decide who deserves aid, and presumably who does not.

Government backbenchers have expressed the view, quite rightly, that a policy of that sort is an affront to the humanitarian spirit. The Taoiseach, however, has nothing to say on the subject and the same backbenchers look the other way. Neither has he anything to say when it is put to him that even a small country like ours not only has a duty to try to stop this illegitimate war, but can actually offer a lead in doing so. Under the rules of the United Nations, countries like Ireland can call for the General Assembly to be brought into session to discuss the war and the stage it has reached. This mechanism, known as Procedure 377, is designed specifically for those moments when the Security Council has failed, for one reason or another, to secure a position that can maintain the peace. I have put it to the Taoiseach in this House that he should, on behalf of Ireland, invoke Procedure 377. On behalf of Ireland he should lead the way in insisting that the world community be heard on this grave issue. He should be standing up at every opportunity for the voice of the United Nations to once again intervene. It may not succeed in stopping the war because, after all, Mr. Rumsfeld has made it clear that nothing will stop the war but the head of Saddam Hussein. However, it is surely vital that the voice of the United Nations not be stilled.

Our Government, of course, supports the UN and it will issue a platitudinous statement a day to reassure us on that score. It will just not do anything to give expression to that support or to substantiate it. Our Government is against the war, and opposed to suffering of all kinds. More platitudes are issued every day in case we would ever doubt it. It just will not do anything to stop the war, or to express any unease to our friends and neighbours about the way it is being conducted.

This war is being fought on the basis of principles that have no place in a democratic world. The precedents being established here such as the principle of pre-emptive war owe nothing to any concept of democracy I know of. There is a scene in one or other of the TV shows, perhaps "Hill Street Blues", where the senior station master says each evening, "Do it to them before they do it to you." The view of the world that enables national and international policy to be developed in accordance with first-strike tactics like that is a worrying one.

I have tried on several occasions to get the Government to agree that pre-emptive war is a dangerous and unacceptable principle, but without success. Instead the Taoiseach has developed a new side-step which argues that because the US, UK and Australia "wrote separately to the President of the Security Council informing him that military action has been taken", this somehow makes it all right. Similarly, the Government is unable to find itself in a position where it might have to condemn, or even mildly disagree with, the notion of regime change.

We know now that the war is not about liberation. It does not appear anymore to be about weapons of mass destruction, proven links to established terrorists, providing stability in a troubled region or extending the values of democracy and justice to people who have been long denied them. This is a war being fought to construct a scenario that is congenial to American interests now and in the future. We know from the documents published by key participants in the war that it is about establishing American pre-eminence wherever that needs to be done. Humanitarianism comes last in the list of objectives implicit in that policy.

Ireland will stand ready, as it always has, to help the suffering and maimed when the war is over. This time, perhaps, we will go about our humanitarian tasks with a slight sense of shame that has never been there before. We could have done more to avoid a facilitation of the war.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, on bringing the motion before the House at this time. I thank the Minister of State and the Government for bringing about a situation whereby the motion is being agreed. It is symbolic that agreement is reached on this issue at this time. It is unfortunate that the same degree of unanimity did not occur in the debate a couple of weeks ago in regard to the war itself. It appears that those of us on this side of the House were correct in our assessment at the time. However, we will live and learn. I thank, in particular, Deputy Rabbitte and the Labour Party for their support and encouragement to my party leader. Likewise, my thanks to Deputy Ó Caoláin and Sinn Féin for their kind support, Deputy Sargent on behalf of the Green Party and all the Independent Deputies who supported the motion.

The stark reality has now begun to dawn on everyone. Various pundits predicted the outcome of the war, the length of time it would take to come to an end and so on. It now transpires that this is reality. It is not a TV soap, it is real people, real bullets and real injuries, and there are no miraculous recoveries the following day. Nothing extraordinary happens and real pain is being suffered by real people. It brings home to all of us the tragic reality of war and emphasises the need to ensure in future that in the event of something like this occurring again – I hope it will not occur in our time – all other means will be used to resolve it rather than go down the route of the US and its colleagues.

I thank all those who contributed to the debate. It brought home to the House the sentiments privately and publicly expressed in the past by various people on different sides of the House. I want to dwell for a moment on what is likely to take place now and congratulate the Minister on his humanitarian work in the past. However, a new challenge is about to be presented. This is a new era. Something like this has not happened in our time to the same extent. Ireland can now play a major role in influencing internationally the level and degree of humanitarian aid and the efficacy of that aid in a war. We have achieved a great deal of expertise in this area in the past which we can now bring to the fore. We can use it to good effect in influencing others to assist.

I do not want to go over the various points made by people in the House in the past 24 hours, particularly in relation to dispensing humanitarian aid from the back of a truck to all and sundry. That image on television screens throughout the world does not inspire confidence, to say the least. I sincerely hope that the Minister will use his influence to ensure an end is brought to that type of haphazard reaction to what is a very tragic situation.

The other thing that needs to be established at this time is the primacy of the UN in this arena. The UN had already established itself to a great extent in this area in the past, not just in the Middle East but in the Balkans, Africa and various other locations throughout the world. It is important from the point of view of restoring the confidence the UN had in the past to give it the support it deserves to carry out the work that is currently needed. The inspiration to continue can only come from countries like Ireland and from Parliaments which have taken the decision this Parliament has taken. It is imperative at this stage that the Minister use his influence with the European Union to bring about a change in thinking so that the UN and EU's roles can be restored to the primacy they had previously. If that does not happen, there will be a further erosion of the confidence each country had in the UN and, laterally, in the EU. That can have nothing other than the most serious consequences for world peace. It will have much wider implications than anything we have witnessed or anticipated so far. Now is the time for this country to impose its influence in a positive and meaningful way on its colleagues in the UN and the European Union.

As we sit here tonight bombs are falling on Baghdad and other locations throughout Iraq. People are being killed, guns are being fired and the smell of death and destruction is everywhere. The least we can do is offer whatever sustenance we can by way of humanitarian aid and influence to try to bring about an end to the war as quickly as possible. The longer the war continues, the greater will become the need and degree of destruction. As this debate comes to an end, I hope that in some small way we have been able to influence the remainder of what is a truly tragic situation. At this stage all we can ask is that the Minister use his influence in the various locations to bring about an end to the war.

I convey the thanks of my party leader to each Member of the House who contributed to the debate and to the Government for facilitating unanimous acceptance of the motion.

Question put and agreed to.