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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2011

Vol. 728 No. 3

Priority Questions

Rapid Response Initiative

Michael McGrath


15 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures he is taking to support the rescue efforts in Japan. [5386/11]

Japan is currently responding to the largest emergency in its post-war history as it tackles not only the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami which struck the country on 11 March, but also a nuclear crisis. We have all been deeply shocked and saddened by these events and I join the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste in expressing our sympathies to the Japanese Government and people.

At magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, the earthquake was one of the biggest ever recorded, triggering a tsunami which washed away entire towns and villages. Thousands of people have been confirmed dead, with many thousands more missing. The Japanese Government is also dealing with the resulting crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

In the hours following the earthquake and tsunami, the Government placed the Irish Aid Rapid Response Corps on standby to deploy to the region. The corps is made up of highly-skilled individuals with the type of knowledge and experience that is most required during a humanitarian emergency. In addition, we informed the Japanese authorities we would make available our emergency stockpiles in Subang, Malaysia. These comprise emergency shelters, blankets and water and sanitation equipment and provide a basic infrastructure to those who have lost their homes.

Although Japan is probably the best equipped country in the world to deal with this kind of disaster, its response capacity has been pushed to the limit. Consequently, it appealed last week to the EU and its member states for help. The Government responded by providing €1 million to the Japanese Red Cross for relief to people left injured or homeless by the disaster. Through Irish Aid and our embassy in Tokyo, the Government is in close contact with the Japanese authorities, the EU and the United Nations, which is helping to co-ordinate the international relief effort. We will continue these efforts in the days and weeks ahead.

I welcome the Minister of State's response and the €1 million allocation for Red Cross operations in Japan. I also welcome the practical supplies provided through Irish Aid for the rescue and recovery mission. With regard to the efforts being co-ordinated at European level, have the relevant Ministers met to discuss a pan-European response to the crisis in Japan and examine any possible support that may be required? Is there any outstanding request from the Japanese that has not yet been attended to?

As the Deputy is aware, the response is primarily being co-ordinated by the United Nations. The rapid response corps is on standby and our supplies are available for provision through Malaysia. These efforts are being co-ordinated by the United Nations and supplies will be provided directly to the Japanese Red Cross. There have been ongoing discussions at EU level and particularly with the assistance of the embassy in Tokyo. As the Deputy is aware, the ambassador travelled to the north-east region of Japan. We are ready to provide whatever aid is requested, although there have been no further requests for aid either through the European Union or the United Nations.

With regard to the fallout from the nuclear plant at Fukushima, have the potential consequences of natural disasters for nuclear facilities in the European Union been considered? In our own case particular attention ought to be paid to facilities across the water in the United Kingdom.

The primary concern internationally has been been to stabilise the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, although other issues may be addressed at a later stage in various fora. At the weekend the nuclear plant was relatively quiet as action continued to be taken to gain control. However, the position is still very serious and there are issues to be resolved in the region close to the plant in particular, from which there have been evacuations. I presume there will be further discussions on the broader issues raised by the Deputy.

Middle East Peace Process

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn


16 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a number of States have recently recognised Palestine as an independent state; his plans to do the same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5414/11]

A number of countries, principally in Latin America, including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, have recently decided to recognise a Palestinian state. This is in addition to those states, mostly in Africa or the Islamic world, which have recognised Palestine for many years. Over 30 years ago Ireland, in a speech by my predecessor, the late Brian Lenihan, was the first EU member state to declare that the resolution of the Palestinian issue must involve the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is now the policy of the European Union and the international community. I share the commitment of successive Irish Governments to this policy and will be working towards its realisation. It would be premature to declare such recognition now in advance of actual control of the territory in question, a condition to which we in Ireland attach great importance. It is also important to recall that the Palestinian leadership, while clearly working towards the declaration of a state in the near future, has not yet done so. The timing of such a declaration will be an important decision for it to take and may involve potential negative consequences on the ground.

Separately, a number of EU partners, including Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom, have recently taken steps to upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegations in their countries, largely in recognition of the continuing progress being made by Prime Minister Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority in building the institutions of a future Palestinian state. By a decision of the previous Government in January, which I fully endorse, the Palestinian representative office in Ireland was upgraded to mission status, headed by an ambassador. I very much hope to be able to extend Irish recognition to an actual functioning Palestinian state during my time in office.

I am mindful of the fact that when we enter Leinster House, the 1916 Proclamation is one of the first documents we see. A few short years after the 1916 Rising and the reading of the Proclamation outside the GPO, the Irish people, by way of their vote for Sinn Féin in the 1918 election, voted in favour of their independence. We had the First Dáil and declared our independence to the world, with a programme for Government based on the 1916 Proclamation.

Does the Deputy have a question?

I will come to it very quickly, although the direction I wish to take is clear. At that time the world did not recognise our legitimate democratic right to freedom and there were dramatic consequences. In 1988 the Palestine Liberation Organization——

The Deputy should ask a question.

——in an extremely honourable compromise was willing to accept 22% of the territory based on the lines drawn in 1967. However, that has never been accepted and because of the failure of the Government, the European Union and the international community to give the Palestinians the validation required——

——there have been crises in Gaza and the continued repression and control of the Palestinian people. Will we take a stand through the Government and lead a charge in Europe to defend the rights of the Palestinian people or does the document at the front of this building amount to sheer hyprocrisy?

I hope to be able to extend recognition to a Palestinian state during my time in office. It is also clearly the case that the actions of the state of Israel, particularly as they affect Gaza and the settlements, are in breach of international law and involve injustice and humiliation for Palestinians. They constitute an obstacle to the achievement of a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East. I have also stated Ireland recently upgraded the status of diplomatic links between Ireland and Palestine, on which we hope to build.

I will repeat what was a very simple question. The Tánaiste is new to his position and this is a fresh start. Traditonally his party gave support to the Palestinian people. I ask him, therefore, to take a stand, with Cyprus, in the European Union in recognising the rights of the Palestinian people. That would have a significant and dramatic impact. Ireland is respected internationally for its involvement in peacekeeping and defending the rights of those who are downtrodden. We could take a significant step in this regard. I, therefore, implore the Tánaiste to recognise a Palestinian state as soon as possible to follow in the footsteps of Cyprus, one of our European partners, and a number of countries in Latin America. It would be a significant gesture.

The two-year Palestinian Authority plan to prepare for statehood is due to be completed in the autumn. The response of the European Union to such a declaration of statehood will be a key issue in discussions among EU foreign Ministers. I will be participating fully in those discussions and I am conscious of the necessity to contribute positively to them rather than to anticipate their outcome. My focus will be on advancing them in order that in this country we can provide recognition, I hope in conjunction with other European Union member states.

As I stated, the plan for statehood is due to be completed in the autumn.

Will Ireland lead the charge in that respect in the European Union?

The time for this question has expired.

Will the Minister answer my question, which is a simple one?

The Deputy need not have any doubts in that regard.

Foreign Conflicts

Joan Collins


17 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on recent statements by the USA, the EU and especially EU states like Britain and France, in relation to popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. [5445/11]

Popular unrest and demonstrations have in a very short time resounded across much of the Arab world. Entrenched authoritarian regimes have been confronted by demands of largely unorganised citizens for change. In a region dominated since independence by the same leaders or elites this has been justifiably titled the Arab spring. The common overwhelming demand has been for change and a more democratic system in which the citizenry as a whole participates in political life and decisions. There are also strong underlying economic grievances at work fuelling these demands. While these are very positive developments, they are also full of potential risk. The outcome so far has ranged from substantial but not yet complete success in Tunisia and Egypt to bloody repression in Libya, an issue I will address in more detail in reply to other questions.

There has been a very large number of statements by the European Union, individual EU member states, the United States and others on these critical issues covering a wide range of countries. Overall reaction, while perhaps understandably a little hesitant at first, has generally been very supportive of the demands for change in the Arab world. High Representative Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the European Union, has spoken often and consistently, urging leaderships to respond to the legitimate demands of their citizens and resist recourse to repression. On 11 March the European Council explicitly called on Colonel Gadaffi to step down.

My own view is that we should provide the countries in question with strong and generous support in their transition to democracy, while at the same time respecting their autonomy. This historic juncture presents many opportunities as well as challenges and we should not fear to grasp them.

The European Union has long had as a key objective the promotion of our values of democracy and the rule of law in our nearest neighbours. My first meetings with EU colleagues have been dominated by our continuing response to these events. The Union believes that, while it is for Arab nations to decide their future direction, we should adapt our engagement with and support for the countries in question so as to support and encourage the transition now taking place.

Does the Minister agree that there is a high level of hypocrisy in the stance taken by the western powers, especially the United States, Britain and France, and that a double standard is being applied? Will he join me in condemning the crimes against the civilian population committed not only by the Gadaffi regime but also by the regimes in Bahrain and Yemen? Will he condemn the Saudi intervention in Bahrain where pro-democracy protests have been repressed with considerable loss of life? Is it the case that different rules apply when it comes to the oil rich Saudi regime? Does the Minister agree that the denial of democratic rights and repression of dissent, including the arbitrary arrest and detention and disappearance of activists, have been systematic in all of the states in question for decades during which time they have been armed and supported by the United States, Britain and France?

Our approach to these issues is governed by the principles of respect for human rights and the rights of individuals, in particular civilians. In respect of Bahrain, about which the Deputy asked a specific question, I am very concerned about reports of serious violence on the streets of Bahrain and signs of increasing sectarian tension. Security forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, under the auspices of the Gulf Co-operation Council, have been deployed in Bahrain at the request of its government and there is a state of emergency. I fully support the statement made by High Representative Catherine Ashton on 15 March in which she urged restraint and stated dialogue was the only way to solve the crisis in Bahrain. I call on the authorities in Bahrain to begin immediately an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue aimed at agreeing necessary political and economic reforms.

Yemen, about which the Deputy also asked, is also experiencing significant unrest and popular protest which descended into widespread violence on 18 March when at least 39 pro-democracy protestors were shot dead by pro-government forces. On 21 March the Foreign Affairs Council strongly condemned the use of force against protestors and deeply deplored the injuries and loss of life caused.

Will the Minister make a statement on the position in Bahrain in which there has been horrendous loss of life and hospitals have been taken over by Saudi soldiers who entered the country to repress the pro-democracy movement? It is not good enough that the Minister did not issue a much stronger statement condemning the role of the Saudi military. Have these events been allowed to happen because Saudi Arabia is an oil rich country?

I do not have any hesitation in condemning attacks on civilians in Bahrain. I call on the authorities there to respect the right of unarmed protestors to assemble and express their views and to avoid any actions which would escalate and radicalise the situation.

Michael McGrath


18 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his policy in relation to assistance to opposition forces in Libya [5387/11]

The people of Libya deserve an agreed and democratic future. The regime of Colonel Gadaffi which has a long and vicious record of violence against those who oppose it has neither the agreement nor the democratic endorsement of the Libyan people. Colonel Gadaffi's abuse of power has been once again demonstrated in his violent suppression of opposition to his rule which has made no effort to spare civilians. He should order an immediate and genuine cessation of his military offensive. He and his family should surrender power and allow the Libyan people to peacefully determine their own shared future.

The Government welcomes the adoption by the United Nations Security Council of Resolution 1973 which demanded the immediate establishment of a ceasefire and a complete end to violence and all attacks against and abuse of civilians and decided to establish a no-fly zone over Libya to help protect civilians. We support the implementation of Resolution 1973 in a manner that is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties.

The Government which has released stocks of blankets and tents from Ireland's pre-positioned stocks in response to the United Nations' appeal seeking help for those fleeing the ongoing violence, as well as providing €250,000 in funding to help the International Organisation for Migration to transport migrants leaving Libya back to their home countries, stands ready to provide further humanitarian assistance in support of Libyans affected by the current violence.

In relation to opposition forces in Libya, the Interim Transitional National Council of Libya which was formally established in Benghazi on 5 March has emerged as the principal political representative of all those within Libya who are seeking to remove the Gadaffi regime and institute a process of democratic change there. Ireland's long-standing position has been to recognise states rather than governments. However, I obviously welcome the emergence of the ITNC as an important political interlocutor and representative of the Libyan people and would similarly encourage all others within Libya who are committed to helping transform the country into a constitutional state based on the rule of law. Political contacts with the ITNC are important and clearly to be distinguished from any formal act of recognition. I would be happy to meet any envoys of the ITNC should they ever visit Ireland. Officials from my Department have held a number of meetings with representatives of the Libyan community in Ireland to discuss events since the start of the current crisis.

I note the Minister's statement that the Government supports the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution "in a manner that is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties." Does he support the manner in which the resolution is being implemented? We are relying on media reports, including some which indicate there have been many civilian casualties. As the latter come from the Gadaffi regime, they are unconfirmed and somewhat dubious. I am interested in learning whether the Minister believes the manner in which the Security Council resolution is being implemented is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties.

The purpose of the resolution was to protect civilians from attacks upon them by the Gadaffi regime. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 makes it clear that necessary measures are only authorised in order to protect civilians and civilian populated areas in Libya that are under threat of attack or to enforce compliance with the no-fly zone.

I welcome the assurances provided that this is the sole purpose of the military operations now underway and that no actions will be contemplated which are not in strict accordance with the terms of resolution 1973. I repeat, Ireland can only support implementation of resolution 1973 in a manner that is proportionate, targeted and avoids civilian casualties.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. In response to an earlier question dealing with a number of countries, the Tánaiste said that the Government provided strong and generous support to those countries in their transition to democracy. I am interested to hear his response to the comments made yesterday by President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron in relation to Libya which made clear that the end game as far as they are concerned is regime change. While the security council resolution does not provide for regime change it appears that is the agenda for those two super powers. I am interested in hearing whether the Irish Government supports regime change and in what manner that support, if forthcoming, can be manifested.

The Deputy has raised two questions, the first of which relates to the transition to democracy in Libya. Clearly, the Government supports the transition and moves towards democracy in Libya. For this to happen, the Gadaffi regime will have to be replaced. However, UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is not based on regime change. It was adopted to protect the civilian population in Libya and, therefore, actions taken under resolution 1973 must be confined to the protection of the civilian population. They do not extend to regime change. In circumstances where there are no threats to the civilian population and the people in Libya are free to protest and agitate for change of the regime, Ireland supports that effort and the transition to democracy. It must be clearly stated that resolution 1973 did not comprehend regime change. It is confined to the protection of civilians, on which our support for implementation of that resolution is based.

Human Rights Issues

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn


19 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs his views regarding the treatment of a person (details supplied) who is being held by US authorities in conditions that Amnesty International has described as inhumane; if he will raise these concerns with the US authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5285/11]

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy and of the remarks made by Amnesty International. As the individual referred to is the subject of legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate for me to comment in this instance. I understand that President Obama has intervened on the issue.

It is the responsibility of every state to uphold the right to due process of all individuals detained in its jurisdiction, including to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It is also the responsibility of all states to ensure that persons deprived of their liberty are treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.

The Tánaiste referred to Amnesty International's concerns in this case. Is he aware that the detention of the individual in question appears to violate Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights dealing with the detention of prisoners and of the UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners? Is the Tánaiste further aware that Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, is to carry out an investigation into the detention of this individual?

Given, as I stated earlier, Ireland's well deserved reputation for defending human rights throughout the world, will Ireland take a stand on this issue? I, as much as anybody else in this Chamber, respect President Barrack Obama who made torture at Guantanamo Bay and so on one of the planks of his campaign. It is important to be consistent, in particular for a President who has given hope to so many of us in progressive politics.

The United States of America ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1992. Article 10 of that covenant requires that "All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person". I would expect no less from the US authorities than that they would ensure that Mr. Manning is held in conditions which are in accordance with their obligations as a state party to the ICCPR.

With regard to Guantanamo, Ireland has consistently called for the closure of the Guantanamo detention centre and for the bringing to trial or release of those detained there. We, along with our EU partners, are disappointed at recent developments and at the resumption of military trials of detainees. When I met last week with US Secretary of State Clinton, I expressed the Government's disappointment at the recent decision to maintain the Guantanamo detention facility and expressed the hope that all remaining inmates would be released or brought to trial.

I am sure the Tánaiste shares my concern for this individual who is being locked up for 23 hours a day in a 72 foot cell and who has been, at times, stripped naked. The Tánaiste may have read some of the recent news articles in Ireland on this issue which is causing a great deal of concern.

The programme for Government commits to ensuring rendition flights are not passing through Shannon. Will the Tánaiste assure us that there will be, at the very least, an investigation by his Department into what has happened to date and that Shannon is not being used as a thoroughfare for this type of activity? I refer again to our well deserved reputation in defending human rights internationally. There can be no room for grey areas.

I agree with the Deputy that Ireland has a well deserved reputation for defending human rights. We do not defend human rights on a selective basis. For this reason, it is our expectation that the United States authorities will ensure Mr. Manning is held in accordance with the terms of the convention to which it is a party.

With regard to Shannon, the Deputy may take it that Shannon will not be used as a means of rendition, facilitating torture or any other activity which violates human rights.

Will the Tánaiste have his Department carry out an investigation into what has happened to date?

I am aware that the Council of Europe has carried out an investigation. Clearly, any evidence brought to our attention will be investigated.