The war and sanctions have turned what was once an independent and self-sufficient country into one heavily dependent on international aid. The sanctions have had a disastrous impact even on the functioning of the aid programme itself. A report commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which analysed the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, describes the US and EU measures as some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed. The licensing system is incredibly inefficient, with seemingly no co-ordination among EU governments as to what criteria should be applied when considering licence applications. EU sanctions and export controls prohibit the export into Syria of a range of dual-use items, so drilling equipment and pipes associated with water and sanitation projects are likely to require a specific EU licence. The related provisions of financing and brokering services in support of such exports are also prohibited by EU regulations.
Ireland has seen an increase in the value of licences for arms exports to countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel from €23 million to €132 million in the last six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017. Israel, when it is not busy carrying out the ritual of what is called "cutting the grass" and bombing women, children and other innocent civilians in Palestine, is busy arming and funding Syrian rebels and pouring more fuel on the fire of the Syrian war. Saudi Arabia, our special trade partner, not even when it openly and intentionally makes air strikes on civilians in Yemen at markets, weddings, funerals, schools, mosques and hospitals, cannot make this Government question our growing relationship with this massively destabilising force in the region. The Saudi-led coalition has launched more than 90,000 air strikes on Yemen in the last two years. Those who have not been killed by the US and UK-made bombs are now starting to die from starvation in what human rights organisations are predicting will be the worst humanitarian disaster we have seen in decades. Despite this, our Government has no problem trading with Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, UAE, which is also complicit in war crimes in Yemen.
The situation in regard to essential medicines in Syria is dire and the sanctions are making it worse, as a UN commission report highlights. Prior to the conflict, Syria was known for being relatively self-sufficient in domestically produced medicines. Today, the majority of pharmaceutical factories are reported as either non-operational or destroyed.
In the small number of instances where domestic production is still possible, major difficulties in procuring the raw materials required for local production of medicines have been reported. The resulting impact is a reliance on importing the necessary medical equipment, medicines and pharmaceutical products. That the US and EU would do so much in their power to block essential emergency assistance to dying people while the CIA, in its operation to train and arm rebels in Syria, has been directly shipping weapons to rebels at a cost of close to $1 billion per year will be a lasting scar on the history of the West and its laughable pretence that it has the moral authority to be the policeman of the world.
The official EU and US position is that the sanctions against Assad, his backers and the regime deprive these actors of resources that could be used to further the bloody campaign. Why is the US not held to the same standard? In July 2016, it carried out devastating air strikes on the city of Manbij, killing approximately 125 civilians in a single attack. It flattened the cities of Kobanî in Syria and Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq. According to Human Rights Watch, 140 civilians died of starvation in Fallujah while US-backed forces stopped aid from entering the city.
The simple fact of the matter is that the US Administration could not give a damn about how many women, children and innocents die for it to achieve its ends. The saddest aspect is that it could be argued that the never-ending war that has been waging for 16 years appears to be an end in itself. The US has sold $42 billion worth of arms to the rest of the world in 2017, up $10 billion on the previous year. Aerospace and defence industry shares have increased by more than 40% since 2016. More instability means more profits for a range of powerful actors connected to the arms trade. Whether it is the US threatening North Korea or the incendiary propaganda coming from Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US about the dangers of Iran in the Middle East, every threat of further instability and warfare is potentially worth trillions of dollars to these warmongers. The US defence budget is more than $600 billion per year. It has 50 million people at risk of poverty. Where is the sense of it all? This is not even to talk about the worldwide destruction that the US is causing. A group of physicians against nuclear armaments in America estimates that up to 2.1 million civilians who had nothing to do with any war effort have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, yet we talk about others causing destruction. When are we ever going to cop on?
Assad will not voluntarily stand down at the wish of the foreign powers who want him gone. The people of Syria have to determine who rules Syria. Assad is not in any way an exemplary democratic leader, but foreign interventions will not help. Our call for the sanctions to be lifted is not an argument for the continued reign of Assad, but for the will of the people of Syria to be respected, for the end of foreign meddling and profiteering in the region and for desperately needed medicines, medical devices and equipment, food, fuel, money and basic equipment that is essential to public infrastructure to be allowed into the country in order to save and improve lives. Sanctions in this kind of situation only hurt people who are already hurting and only kill those who need our help. The EU and the US are being merciless in their treatment of the people of Syria.
In the 1990s, the Clinton Administration pressured the UN Security Council to impose one of the most brutal sanctions regimes in the history of Iraq, supposedly to punish the former US puppet, Saddam Hussein, for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. A UN report found that, from 1991 to late 1995, more than 500,000 Iraqi children had died because of those harsh economic sanctions. In 1998, Mrs. Madeleine Albright, the then Secretary of State, was asked whether the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children had been worth it just to control the price of oil. She replied that, although it was a heavy price to pay, it was "worth it".
Deputy Clare Daly referred to Mr. Denis Halliday, who worked as a UN humanitarian co-ordinator for 34 years. He resigned in 1998 in protest at the sanctions, saying that they amounted to genocide in Iraq. He stated: "We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines." The EU and US will be responsible for similar war crimes in Syria for as long as the current sanctions stay in place. It is not rocket science. We are doing an incredible injustice to many innocent people. The Government can think what it likes about Assad, but older people, women and children usually suffer the most. They are the ones who are being hit most by sanctions.
Going to Syria was an amazing experience. We were there for five days and I can safely say that I have never met such beautiful people in all my life. I hated leaving the place. It was an incredible feeling. We met Shias, Sunnis, Alawites, Druze, Christians and Kurds. We did our utmost to ensure that we were not identified as being from anywhere or part of any group. We travelled around and met as many people as we could in various areas - on the streets, in bars, in restaurants and all sorts of places. We wanted to talk to and listen to the people. We wanted to hear what they had to say. It would do anyone good to go there. I challenge Members to find a greater people anywhere. They are amazing.
We went to Homs and to two schools where 50 children had been killed by suicide bombers. Thirty were killed outside one school and 20 outside the other on the same day. A suicide bomber arrived at 3 p.m. when the children were about to leave school. Does the Minister of State know what the main problem the bombers had with these schools? It was that Sunni, Shia, Christian, Alawite and Druze children were attending them together. They were a mix of peoples living together and in school together. Their parents were not fighting when they were dropping their children off at school.
One of Syria's major problems is that it has been a mosaic of the various groups. They have had their differences and problems for years, but they actually live together. The main instigators of the current war in Syria have been Saudi Arabia and Israel, two sectarian states that do not like the fact that Syria was not a sectarian state. They played on the groups' differences.
There is talk of the Free Syrian Army but, as the Americans found out, it was not able to fight. Instead, Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda did the fighting for them and were funded by them. These are the groups that Western forces ended up arming to do their fighting for them in Syria.
While we were in two sections of the suburbs of Damascus, mortar bombs dropped onto the city centre once every five minutes or so from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. and then again for a couple of hours in the evening. There are two opposition enclaves left. There is not a Syrian in either. They are Saudi and Chechen members of Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda. This is not the Syrians fighting the Syrians. This is outsiders coming in and creating havoc to destroy a civilisation.
We were in the town of Maaloula, which is predominantly Christian, and we stayed in people's houses while we were there and listened to what they had to say to us.
What we are hearing in the media here and across Europe about what is happening in Syria is not the true picture. We are following the US diktat. When are we ever going to stop it using Shannon Airport to drop bombs on people and create refugees?
We are great at saying that we are brilliant at bringing aid to people. Why do we not try to help to stop people becoming refugees in the first place? How can we still allow the US military to use Shannon Airport as a military base to cause untold destruction in other regions? For the life of me, I cannot understand it. The world is losing the plot.
The Americans are spending more than $600 billion on their defence budget. The arms industry is one of the most powerful industries in the world. Were the Americans to stop bombing people, they would lose jobs at home. The four industries which helped to elect the President of America are the arms, oil, coal and pharmaceutical industries. One gets nothing for nothing. There has to be payback. The big payback is that the arms industry has to be kept going and increased. The world is going mad. I ask the Minister of State to have a rethink about Syria.