Priority Questions

Brexit Issues

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

21. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts being made by his Department to demonstrate to his EU counterparts the special and unique position of Northern Ireland in relation to Brexit, particularly in view of the decision by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, not to appoint the Northern Irish Secretary of State to her Brexit committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31704/16]

I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to outline the efforts being made by his Department to demonstrate to our EU partners the special and unique position of Northern Ireland regarding Brexit, particularly in light of the decision by the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, not to appoint the Northern Ireland Secretary of State as a permanent member of her Brexit committee. We find that rather curious. Northern Ireland has 3% of the population of the United Kingdom. My grave concern is that the Prime Minister, by her actions, is showing that Northern Ireland will be peripheral and irrelevant in Britain's discussions. It behoves us and Deputy Charles Flanagan as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade for the Republic of Ireland to advocate on Northern Ireland's behalf.

The organisation and membership of UK cabinet committee structures for leaving the European Union is a matter solely for the UK Government. Our Government has made clear that the matter of Northern Ireland and the peace process is a top priority in our approach to the UK departure from the European Union. I and my Cabinet colleagues will be working with a range of stakeholders, including the Northern Ireland Executive, to ensure that the outcome of any EU-UK negotiations take account of the unique and particular circumstances of Northern Ireland. Our priorities in this area are to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement is protected following the UK's exit from the European Union and to maintain the open and effectively invisible Border. The wider economic impact for the all-island economy are also of concern, as is the potential consequence for EU support under peace and INTERREG programmes.

The Government and British Government have reaffirmed that the Good Friday Agreement is the indispensable foundation for all engagement on Northern Ireland. This provides much-needed reassurance for people and the political system in Northern Ireland, but we are under no illusions about the hard work needed to deliver it. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government is determined that the provisions of the Agreement are protected and reflected in any new relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The exit on the part of the UK from the European Union will be a lengthy and complex political negotiation over the next two years or more, involving all EU member states and EU institutions as appropriate. As Ireland is a committed EU member state, the Government will be playing an active role in those negotiations once they begin with a view to ensuring Ireland's interest and those of the wider European Union.

As part of our preparations for this process, I have carried out a round of contacts with all of my EU counterparts in order to make them aware of the need for specific arrangements to protect the key gains of the peace process on this island - a process to which the European Union has already made a key contribution.

The Taoiseach has met Chancellor Merkel, President Hollande, the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and other EU Heads of Government to convey Ireland's concerns. This is an ongoing process of engagement and the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and I recently met the Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Dublin.

Our embassy network across the European Union is being fully deployed in support of this process which will be assisted also by the allocation of additional resources to our permanent representation in Brussels and our embassies in Berlin, Paris and London.

I assure the House that the Government will continue to use its influence with our EU partners in the upcoming UK exit negotiations to highlight the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland and the consequences for North-South co-operation on the island as a whole, which must be factored into any new relationship between the European Union and the United Kingdom.

The Minister is correct in stating again that lengthy and complex political negotiations lie ahead for this country and our European partners. A balance needs to be struck and in no way, shape or form should we be used as a Trojan horse by the British Government. We have an opportunity to reaffirm our commitment as a strong and intrinsic part of the European Union, and a member that wants to continue and further strengthen its ties with the European Union while endeavouring to ensure that we are able to continue trading with the North of Ireland in particular and our neighbours in Britain for the good of both our peoples.

In light of the British Prime Minister's announcement, will the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade be watching very carefully her proposed "great" repeal Bill to ensure that areas within it do not contravene the Good Friday Agreement voted on by all the people on this island? What steps will the Minister take to ensure that does not happen? I was most concerned about Britain's unilateral decision to remove itself from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which, in my view, contravenes the Good Friday Agreement. What steps will the Minister take to ensure his Department watches that?

The Deputy makes a reasonable point. As I have said, the Government's priority is to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement are not in any way disturbed by the UK's exit from the European Union. Of course, we will make every effort to ensure the protection and maintenance of what is effectively an invisible Border between North and South.

The legal and political obligations of the Irish and British Governments under the Good Friday Agreement remain unchanged regardless of the status of the United Kingdom, either within the European Union or outside it. It is important to recall that the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, confirmed in their first discussion on 13 July and in their first meeting in Downing Street on 26 July that the Good Friday Agreement will continue to remain the basis of the two Governments' approach to Northern Ireland.

I have had similar discussions with the British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. David Davis, and the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Johnson, on the UK referendum result. I had a detailed discussion on the implications for Northern Ireland of the UK withdrawal from the European Union during my bilateral discussion with the British Secretary of State, Mr. Brokenshire, on 13 September. I reinforced the important point made by Deputy O'Brien.

I thank the Minister for his response. A multifaceted approach is required here. I am concerned not specifically with the Minister's interaction with his counterparts, but with the Government's preparation with regard to Brexit and the potential risks to our country, and most importantly to jobs and people's livelihoods here in Ireland. Does the Minister not believe it is time for the Government to appoint a Minister to deal specifically with Brexit? In his answer the Minister mentioned that the Taoiseach, Tánaiste, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, and other Ministers are in regular contact, which I welcome. My concern is that while everyone seems to be in charge, no one is in charge. Would the Minister agree that it is now appropriate to appoint a Minister for Brexit to deal with Ireland's relationship with Britain and just as, if not more, importantly our future relations with Europe to cement our place in the centre of the European Union so that we can show our colleagues in Europe that while we will rightly advocate for special status for Northern Ireland under the Good Friday Agreement, we will also ensure we are put back to the centre of European policy making?

Based on the discussion of issues raised by Deputy O'Brien over the past two minutes and indeed in the context of earlier questions to the Taoiseach, it can be seen that this is a major challenge for Ireland, the UK and the European Union. The Government will meet this challenge and is meeting this challenge. It is using its resources to the full.

Having a dedicated Minister fails to appreciate the width and breadth of this challenge. That is why the Government's response is being co-ordinated and chaired by the Taoiseach, himself, as Head of Government. Already we have had a number of meetings of the specially convened Brexit Cabinet committee, whose membership incorporates more Ministers than other members. Its most recent meeting took place last week and it will meet again in the next couple of weeks. In support of direct ministerial engagement across Government and with the Cabinet committee, work is also proceeding at official level on deepening the analysis across key issues and a range of sectors.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien also highlighted the Northern Ireland dimension. I was in Derry over the weekend and had an opportunity to engage with politicians. Of course, the North-South Ministerial Council is scheduled for 18 November and the civic dialogue will take place in Dublin next week on 2 November. I am sure the Deputy will be present.

It is not that I want to interrupt the Minister or the Deputy. We have to stick to time here and I want to move on. I thank the Minister and the Deputy for their co-operation.

Human Rights

Seán Crowe

Question:

22. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the fact that the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, has stated that she will seek to exclude the British army from the European Convention on Human Rights during future conflicts; his further views on the fact that this is just one step on the road to the British Government’s attempt to completely repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a so-called British Bill of Rights; his further views on whether this would be a violation of the Good Friday Agreement; and if he has discussed the issue with his British counterpart. [32023/16]

At the Conservative Party conference at the beginning of the month, the British Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, and the Defence Secretary, Mr. Michael Fallon, stated that they were planning to ensure that the British army would opt out, in other words be excluded, from the European Convention on Human Rights during future conflicts. This is a clear case of Britain waiving the rules. Does the Minister share my concern at these proposals? Does he view this as a first step on the road to the British Government's intent to completely repeal the Human Rights Act?

I share the Deputy's concern in so far as I acknowledge and reaffirm that the European Convention on Human Rights is a vital element of the peace process. The protection of human rights in Northern Ireland law, specifically incorporating the convention, is one of the key principles underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. The Agreement is clear that there is an obligation to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into Northern Ireland law. This is an ongoing legal obligation and it will continue to be in the context of the negotiations surrounding the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

As co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard its institutions and principles, including in the area of human rights.

On 7 September, the UK Secretary of State for Justice confirmed that the British Government is committed to remaining a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, while also pursuing its 2015 party manifesto plans to replace the UK Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights.

The Government has stressed to the British Government the importance of fully meeting its human rights obligations under the Good Friday Agreement.

Most recently, I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. James Brokenshire, MP, at our meeting on 13 September. He confirmed the British Government position that any changes to the UK Human Rights Act would be made in a way which would be fully consistent with the British Government’s obligations under the Good Friday Agreement. In this context I note that while a domestic Bill of Rights can complement incorporation of the convention, it does not replace it. The Government has noted the comments made by the UK Defence Secretary, Mr. Michael Fallon, MP, during the Conservative Party conference earlier this month. The proposal is for the UK to derogate from certain articles of the European Convention on Human Rights in future conflicts. It is important to note that derogations must be compatible with the requirements and limitations set out in the convention and this falls within the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

We will continue to work closely with the British Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that the protection of human rights remains at the heart of civic life, politics and ongoing societal change in Northern Ireland. This includes the continued incorporation of the European Convention on Human Rights in Northern Ireland law as provided for in the Good Friday Agreement.

It is clear from the comments from the Conservative Party conference that they are trying to reduce the human rights oversight of their actions. We know only too well the human rights abuses committed by British soldiers in the past conflict in Ireland. An opt-out for the British army of this part of the convention is reprehensible. I have listened to what the Minister has said with regard to human rights legalisation that would complement the convention, but the worry is that rather than complement it, in part it is trying to undermine, particularly, the foundations of the Good Friday Agreement. The Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights are cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreement. As co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government has to take its responsibility clearly in raising it. The Minister said that he has discussed this with the British Secretary of State who has given these assurances. Has the Taoiseach directly raised the issue with the Prime Minister, Theresa May? What is the Minister's view with regard to this legislation? Does he feel that one law can complement the other or does he share my view that it is going to undermine that human rights access?

I wish to make it clear to the Deputy that I have raised this specific issue in the context of my discussions with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Brokenshire, MP, and I am not discouraged by his reply. I am, however, aware that outside the question of the ECHR there have been concerns expressed across Northern Ireland about the status, post-Brexit, of those human rights provisions which are connected with EU membership, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The issue of human rights is something the Government will continue to monitor closely in the months ahead. We will encourage the British Government to offer clear reassurance in that area. I will continue to monitor the situation closely. I will be raising the proposed UK derogation from the convention in future conflicts and the proposed repeal of the UK Human Rights Act, in my next meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and with the UK Foreign Secretary. The Irish and British Governments have a clear and continuing obligation to uphold all of the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement. In the crucial area of human rights it is important that both Governments continue to do all they can to engender confidence by demonstrating an ongoing commitment to both the letter and spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. I will undertake to keep the House fully informed of this important issue.

They may say these things privately to the Minister but publicly they talk about the primacy of British law and so forth. That is the worry. The Minister may or may not have read the report compiled by the law firm Kevin Winters and Company on the potential effects of the repeal of the Human Rights Act. The report says that restricting the role and influence of the European Court in British law would have severe negative effects on human rights protection in the North. When the whole Good Friday Agreement was being put in place, human rights protection was a clear pillar so any chipping away or undermining of human rights legislation is clearly undermining the Good Friday Agreement. I welcome the fact that the Government is going to be proactive on this issue.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I confirm that it has been the subject matter of specific discussions in the context of my meetings, not only with the Northern Ireland Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, but also with other interlocutors. We will continue to monitor the situation and we will continue to raise this issue in the context of our deliberations and our discussions with members of the British Government.

Syrian Conflict

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

23. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions taken by the Government, the Minister and his Department with regard to the current situation in Syria and specifically in Aleppo; if the Minister has formally relayed to the Russian ambassador, the Russian Government, the Syrian authorities, the revulsion of the Irish people to their actions in Syria and especially in Aleppo; and if he will update the House on the situation. [31842/16]

I want to make clear my total condemnation of the bombardment of Aleppo. The attacks by the Assad regime and its allies, including Russia, against eastern Aleppo are clearly disproportionate and the deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure and the widespread civilian casualties may well amount to war crimes. Our concerns have been conveyed in the clearest possible terms to the Russian authorities. Ireland does not recognise the legitimacy of the 2014 Syrian Presidential elections and has ceased all diplomatic or political contacts with the Assad regime in Syria. The Government has provided unprecedented levels of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people since 2012, providing €62 million in support. I also spoke with UN special envoy Stafan de Mistura last week, underlining our continuing and strong support for his efforts to stem the destruction of Syria and her people. On Thursday last the Taoiseach, along with his colleagues at the European Council reviewed EU efforts to end this horrific violence in Aleppo and Syria. The US will continue to be a key actor in efforts to bring about a cessation of hostilities. In the coming days, I will have an opportunity to discuss the situation in Syria with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to make known Ireland’s concerns and to hear about his latest efforts, in the context of the appalling violence in Syria.

I will continue to press for accountability, both to provide the victims with the hope of redress and in the hope that it will deter those involved from even worse atrocities. This has been central to our interventions at the UN in New York and at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. We have resettled hundreds of Syrians across Ireland, including in my home town, some of them survivors of torture by the Assad regime, and we will accept thousands more. We remain engaged through the European Union in the International Syria Support Group and continue to support efforts to find a political resolution to the Syrian conflict.

I thank the Minister. I would like to know specifically if he has yet met with the Russian ambassador face to face to convey the views of the Irish people with regard to Russia's role in Syria and in Aleppo. I am acutely aware that there are other actors in that theatre of war. We have an opportunity to put it directly to the Russian ambassador and I believe the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should do so, and I hope he will. I am sure he will. In that context, will the Government support the Russian Government's bid to be a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council? What are the Minister's and the Government's views in restricting the veto of permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, which I believe has hamstrung the United Nations so far?

I have also condemned the actions of Russia with particular reference to its engagement on the United Nations Security Council. I am asked what Ireland can do in support of ending the conflict. Ireland supports the effort of the UN to renew political negotiations based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué. I have repeatedly made clear our full support for UN special envoy to Syria, Stafan de Mistura, with whom I spoke last week. I urge all parties to take steps to give effect to the most recent Geneva communiqué and their principles - an immediate end to all violence, the setting up of the traditional governing body with executive powers and control over the Syrian security forces and the implementation of a constitutional reform process which preserves the pluralistic character and nature of Syria. I directly relayed these concerns to the Russian ambassador, through my officials some weeks ago, and I have met with the Russian ambassador. I directly conveyed my views, the views of the Irish Government and the views of the Irish people on the human catastrophe that is unfolding in Syria and in particular in the city of Aleppo.

Prior to this meeting, my views were conveyed clearly on two occasions to the Russian ambassador by my senior officials at my specific direction which, as Deputy Darragh O'Brien knows, is the normal diplomatic channel and practice for Foreign Ministers. Subsequently, these concerns were conveyed again to the ambassador and a senior official in the Russian foreign ministry who recently visited Dublin.

I am glad that the Minister has conveyed his concerns directly. I am aware of the normal diplomatic protocol, but the situation in Syria, specifically in Aleppo, is such that it is important that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade meet the ambassador directly face to face. It is welcome that he has done this. Will the Government support the Russian Government's bid to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council? I asked this question during our debate last week. I am asking it again and hope I will get an answer to it this afternoon.

The Government does not have view on this decision, but I will continue, in all of my utterances at official level and directly, to convey my views to the Russian authorities through their ambassador in Dublin. I will continue to make my views known in the House. I will continue to work with my colleagues in ensuring every effort is made on the part of Ireland to do what we can to influence what is a very serious, tragic and most unacceptable situation. I have made my views known publicly in the House and at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg on Monday of last week where I worked with my colleagues in crafting a strong statement which was issued following its meeting. In the course of the meeting I participated in a lengthy discussion on the situation in Syria with the UN Secretary General's special envoy, Staffan de Mistura. There is no doubt - I say this for the purposes of providing clarity and reassurance for Members of the House - about Ireland's views on these matters. They are a matter of public record, including in the Oireachtas in the House and at committee level, in the European Union and at the United Nations.

Humanitarian Access

Seán Crowe

Question:

24. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his Department is assisting in efforts to open a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to reach the besieged civilians of eastern Aleppo and other besieged areas in Syria; and the efforts his Department is undertaking to help to establish a durable and lasting ceasefire in this conflict which is nearly six years old. [32024/16]

We had a long debate last Thursday on the situation in Syria, prior to which I had tabled this question. I am trying to find out the specific efforts in which Ireland is assisting to help to open humanitarian corridors in besieged areas of Syria. What specific initiatives are we supporting or involved in? I heard what the Minister said about the figure of €62 million. We give aid to refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Syria. It is about the specifics. I just get a sense that perhaps there is nothing we can do about it, but what specifically is Ireland doing differently with regard to the situation in Syria?

Last month, during my meeting in Dublin with the Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Mr. Stylianides, I discussed the European Union's new humanitarian initiative for Aleppo which was launched in rapid response to the recent and disturbing escalation of the conflict in Aleppo. This joint EU-UN initiative includes two main elements: first, to facilitate the urgent delivery of basic life saving assistance to civilians in eastern Aleppo and, second, to ensure the medical evacuations of the wounded and the sick, with a focus on women, children and the elderly. I also discussed this issue with my EU counterparts at last week’s Foreign Affairs Council. At that meeting it was agreed that "the EU will continue intensive humanitarian diplomacy and seek ways to improve access and protection as well as to promote humanitarian principles and local consensus on guidelines for the delivery of aid". I expect Ireland to provide additional support in the near future for people affected by the crisis.

It is clear that the Assad regime and its allies, including Russia, are determined to prevent humanitarian access from reaching civilian populations in opposition-held areas. While supporting the population in Aleppo is a critical priority, the attack by the Assad regime and its allies against a humanitarian convoy in September underlines the risks to humanitarian actors.

The Government has provided unprecedented humanitarian assistance, totalling €62 million, for the Syrian people since 2012. My EU colleagues and I spoke on Monday, 17 October, to UN Special Envoy de Mistura, underlining our continuing and strong support for his efforts to stem the destruction of Syria and her people. We remain engaged through the European Union in the International Syria Support Group and continue to support efforts to find political solutions to the appalling conflict in Syrian.

We all agree that this is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent times. From the debate, we all agree that we are appalled at the savage aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo by the Syrian and Russian armies and the bombing of Kurdish areas in northern Syria by the Turkish army. We all agree that all sides urgently need to establish a ceasefire and use their influence to broker a deal to end the conflict. We would all like to see another attempt being made to establish humanitarian corridors. Does the Minister know whether another attempt will be made to establish them? I listened to what he said about the UN convention and the communiqué, but I wonder whether initiatives are coming from other like-minded countries throughout the world which have been involved in peacekeeping and peace building. Have we had discussions with any of them on this issue? This is about trying to think outside the box. Is there a unique role we could play as a people and an independent actor, aside from the refugee support we are giving to the Syrian people? Is there anything the Minister believes we could do on top of working in the European Union and the United Nations?

Earlier I referred to the efforts made on the part of the United Nations to renew political negotiations based on the 2012 Geneva communiqué. This is something that was discussed at length last week with my foreign affairs colleagues and colleagues on the margins of the meeting. However, in the first instance, we need to do all we can to bring about an end to the hostilities and the conflict. That is why it is important that every effort be made to ensure a cessation. The pause we saw over the weekend, described in some reports as a humanitarian pause, needs to be extended. We need to allow humanitarian aid to enter the city of Aleppo in order that it can be administered to those most in need of it. That is why the bombing of the UN convoy a few weeks ago was an act of barbarism. The 13.5 million people who remain in Syria are in need of critical humanitarian assistance. Our sum of €62 million has gone directly towards providing aid in the region. It is channelled through a range of NGOs and support organisations, the United Nations, the International Red Cross and the Red Crescent. We will continue to monitor the situation closely. I am sure the generosity of the Irish people is such that further aid will be forthcoming in the event of it being required.

A key aspect on which we have not touched in dealing with the humanitarian crisis is the increase in the number of Syrian refugees relocating and resettling here. Today my colleague, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, organised a briefing in the AV room with the Irish Refugee Council which is concerned that Ireland is not doing enough to assist refugees. In the past two weeks we have debated the difficulties several times and that the system does not seem to be working in the case of refugees coming to Ireland. Will the Minister confirm that the target is still 4,000 and detail how the Government will rapidly increase the relocation of refugees to Ireland? I made the point today that it was important we were informed as public representatives and that the people we represented were informed of where the people in question would go, how they would be supported and how they would live and that they would not be stuck in direct provision centres for three, five or ten years, which is what some families have been put through. It is about looking outside the box to try to redouble our efforts to help the people concerned.

The House is aware that last September the Government agreed to accept the total sum of 4,000 asylum seekers and refugees.

We have now resettled 500 refugees under the Irish refugee protection programme. The target is 520 by the end of 2016 and I believe that figure will be reached. They have all come from Lebanon. The progress of the relocation has been slow, as it has been for all EU partners. To date, a total of 69 Syrians have come to Ireland from Greece and a further 41 are due to arrive this week. It is important that we continue to do all we can to ensure we meet the total of 4,000 at the earliest opportunity.

It is also important that Ireland play its part in humanitarian aid provision. The €62 million in assistance for Syria continues to be put to good use in alleviating the hardship and suffering for many of the people afflicted in Aleppo and saving lives. The funding underlines Ireland's commitment to responding to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighbouring countries faced by millions of the most vulnerable Syrians, including refugees internally displaced and their host communities. Irish Aid support for NGOs on the ground includes support for the protection, health and education of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, with a focus on gender-based violence a priority.

We had the opportunity to discuss the issue last week in the House and at a specially convened meeting of the foreign affairs committee. I would be happy to engage further with Members and the Business Committee as they consider appropriate.

I welcome the Minister's comprehensive reply detailing both the humanitarian response from Ireland's perspective and the multilateral political engagement at the United Nations. Ireland has, through its taxpayers, significantly invested in alleviating the humanitarian crisis since 2012. The Minister referenced the figure of €62 million committed so far. We had a debate on this issue last week and there was supposed to be a ceasefire last weekend. The United Nations had been hoping to use it to evacuate seriously wounded people and deliver aid, but that does not appear to have happened. Has the Minister given consideration to the fact that no aid has been delivered in Aleppo since 7 July? The UN Secretary General said food would run out, possibly by the end of this month. What is the Minister's view on this stark fact? What Srebrenica was to the 1990s, Aleppo is to the 2010s and the western world, in particular, the United States and others actors in the field, despite their best efforts from a humanitarian aid point of view, need to up their game in terms of political engagement

The United Nations continues to work hard to negotiate access to besieged areas, as referred to by the Deputy. I acknowledge his role while Minister of State in the past few years. He played an important role in ensuring the provision of humanitarian aid was always top of the political agenda in this country.

I strongly support the efforts of humanitarian aid co-ordinator, Mr. Jacob El Hillo, and Mr. Jan Egeland, the senior adviser to the UN special envoy in Syria with responsibility for humanitarian affairs. I share their profound disappointment that food convoys, including baby food, have been prevented by soldiers of the Assad regime from reaching besieged people. In addition to supporting UN efforts, Ireland provides support for a number of organisations which have played an important role alongside the United Nations in negotiating access for convoys to besieged areas. For example, Ireland provided a total of €1.75 million last year to support the work in Syria of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Syrian-Arab Red Crescent. It also provides significant support through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine for the World Food Programme, WFP, which has experimented with air drops, notably in the Deir ez-Zor area which is besieged by Daesh. Air drops are, however, slow and resource intensive. It took the WFP six weeks to drop in Deir ez-Zor the volume of food one road convoy could have delivered. That is why we totally condemn, as I am sure every right thinking person in this House and beyond will, an attack by terrorists on a UN food convoy. For all of these reasons, air drops are not the easiest of solutions. Humanitarian organisations continue to seek other ways of gaining access to besieged areas, but I assure the House that Ireland continues to play its part through its NGOs under the leadership of the United Nations to ensure our aid can reach those most in need of help in this tragic situation.

I implore the Minister to use his good offices and whatever influence he has through the EU External Affairs Service to encourage the Arab world in its response to this crisis from a purely humanitarian aid point of view because notwithstanding the efforts of the western world in the Middle East and everything that is going on there, there is a responsibility on the Arab world to meet the humanitarian needs of people within the region.

I very much agree. During the summer when I had the opportunity to meet the incoming Secretary General of the Arab League, I referred to the situation in Syria and the point raised by the Deputy. I have no doubt that the only viable and sustainable way forward remains a comprehensive end to the violence and a Syrian-led political resolution based on a real political transition process. That remains my objective and that of the European Union and it is reflected in the conclusions reached last Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg. Clearly, all available options must be on the table. As I informed the House in my address last week, it is a source of the gravest concern for me that a permanent member of the Security Council, with a duty to the United Nations to uphold international law and the principles of the UN Charter, could condone or engage in the bombardment of Aleppo which, in many respects, amounts to a war crime. I utterly condemn the actions in Aleppo of the Assad regime and its allies, including Russia, and demand the immediate end to the bombardment of that city, the ending of the siege of eastern Aleppo and the lifting of all restrictions on humanitarian assistance in Aleppo and across Syria.

I take it we have dealt with Question No. 25. We move on to Question No. 26.

Question No. 25 replied to with Written Answers.