Around this time last year, four people were killed in an attack on a Jewish museum in Brussels, and other attacks have since taken place in Denmark and Australia. As other Teachtaí and the Taoiseach noted, it was the assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January last which caused the greatest outrage. Five people died in a subsequent attack on a Jewish food shop and a police officer was also shot and killed. Much of this played out on our television screens. The Dáil united and extended sympathy and solidarity to all the victims in Paris and the people of France, while the Taoiseach quite properly represented us at a demonstration in Paris.
Since then, other attacks have occurred and some have been foiled, while the situation in the Middle East has significantly worsened. Almost half of Syria is now controlled by Islamic State and millions of refugees are living in horrendous conditions of poverty in neighbouring states. Among the tens of thousands of desperate migrants trying to reach Europe in search of work and asylum, there are many thousands of Syrians fleeing a war that has taken hundreds of thousands of lives. The response of the European Union has been far from adequate. The operation to stop people smugglers, especially on the Mediterranean Sea, has concentrated on detaining migrants and placing them in camps. Furthermore, the agreement reached on a quota system for European Union member states was short-lived. After it was rejected outright by the British Government, France and Spain withdrew their support for the agreement in recent weeks and their lead has been followed by other countries. What role can Ireland play and what role should the European Union play in this regard?
I commend the work of the crew of the LE Eithne since it departed Cork only three weeks ago. In recent days, they have rescued almost 400 men, women and children and have taken a total of more than 1,000 migrants from the sea. This great work has been done as part of a good initiative by the Government.
The problem of refugees will not go away. The governments of Europe cannot hide from their responsibilities in this regard, particularly those created by some EU states and the United States through wars and military adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Instead of dealing with the problem as a human rights issue and humanitarian crisis, the European Union is reducing its policy to one of military action against people smugglers. This carries with it a significant risk that a boat or boats will be sunk with migrants on board.
It is against this background that attacks such as the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo occur. The latter resulted in millions of people in France and across the world taking part in public demonstrations and making a stand against fundamentalism. However, we must also get to grips with the core issues that have given rise to the growth of Islamic State and the violence it espouses. Whatever the colour of one's skin or whatever one's religion, race or gender, there can be no excuse for the actions that occurred in Paris and elsewhere. Wherever injustice, oppression, racism or attacks take place on religious minorities and wherever anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or sectarianism exist, they must be confronted and challenged. So too, however, must poverty, injustice, inequality, discrimination and racism.
The European Union must do more to help economic migrants and political refugees. Proactive participation and initiatives are required to end the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Middle East. This specifically means pushing harder for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What is the Government doing about this issue? We can ask such questions of the Taoiseach because he is in a position to take a leadership role on this issue. I have often argued that he should take leadership on this one issue during the Government's term. Given Ireland's history of colonialism, the success of our peace process and the general sense of goodwill towards it, we could play a much greater leadership role than the size of the country would indicate.
As reflected in the contributions of previous speakers, Prime Minister Netanyahu's repudiation of the two-state solution has given rise to great concern. His new deputy foreign minister, Ms Tzipi Hotovely, made clear her position on illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank when she cited the Bible to justify Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. She stated:
We expect as a matter of principle of the international community to recognise Israel's right to build homes for Jews in their homeland, everywhere.... This land is ours. All of it is ours. We did not come here to apologise for that.
The Government needs to have a strategy but I do not see one. Clearly, the Government has a position in support of the right of the Palestinian people to their own state. As such, why does it not move to formally and officially recognise the Palestinian state? It is that ongoing, deep-rooted and illegitimate occupation of Palestinian land that is at the centre and heart of what is happening elsewhere within the region. We could also consider the holding of a referendum as proposed by the Constitutional Convention on the removal of the blasphemy clause from the Constitution. Finally, will the Taoiseach bring proposals to the EU meeting shortly to tackle the migrant issue?
There are three points here. The first is our own policy as an Oireachtas and the Government's position on a two-state solution, which the Taoiseach has repeated here today. The second is a referendum as proposed by the Constitutional Convention on removing the blasphemy clause from the Constitution and the last one is whatever proposals the Taoiseach might want to share with the House and bring to the EU meeting on the issue of migrants.