With respect, if Deputy Brady's party had its way we would not even have an Israeli representative in Ireland. We would have no embassy in Israel. We would have no channels of communication to try to influence decisions that could be good for Palestinians. That is not the approach that I propose to take because I do not believe it will get the outcome we are seeking. It may get a headline for a few days in Ireland, but it will achieve little more than that.
We will continue to be proactive on this agenda to try to work with both Israel and Palestine. We will try to make sure that we use every opportunity, whether that is a change of US President or trying to change EU policy and attempting to get a more collective approach from the EU that can be more proactive, which is what we are working on all the time.
I do not think anybody could accuse me of not being direct, blunt and clear in my condemnation of expanding settlements in the West Bank. I refer to my commentary on the potential for annexation over the summer, my commentary last week on demolitions, which were both illegal and disgraceful, and my commentary on the existence and expansion of settlements in the West Bank. It is very clear. In truth, no matter what I say on the Middle East peace process, it is simply not enough for some people.
In terms of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, I will not be part of a Government that does something illegal. We have very clear advice on this. Deputy Brady knows that but he chooses to ignore if, as it was not there. In fact, many have tried to demonise the Attorney General, who gave very clear advice on the Bill. I have simply followed the advice of an Attorney General on this issue, no more and no less than that.
Deputy Brady and I agree on the outcome we want, but it is the approach on how we get there on which we disagree. Unfortunately, because of that change in approach, some parties seem to paint me and my party as not being committed to this cause. I completely reject that and my record shows it.
It is surprising that Deputy Brady would single out the US presence in Syria but not the presence of anybody else in terms of his criticism. Many would be critical of the US for not being more present in Syria to try to protect civilian populations.
Sometimes, therefore, it seems that the United States cannot do anything right in some people's eyes. Syria has been a humanitarian catastrophe. When history books are written, the global community, the UN Security Council and many state actors will be judged very harshly regarding what has been allowed to happen to a country and a population in respect of death, destruction, forced migration and millions of refugees in neighbouring countries. It is an absolute tragedy.
We must be a country that contributes to the debate about how we can be as constructive as possible in bringing about and protecting ceasefires where they exist and are under strain, and, of course, approach in a constructive way the political conversation, which is a difficult one, about how we begin the process of reconstruction in that country and continue to access vulnerable populations with essential internationally funded humanitarian aid, which is one of the things that has been a topic of important debate on the Security Council. There is only one crossing point into Syria left for humanitarian aid. It is really important for those of us advocating for it to remain open to make those arguments and build alliances and relationships that can ensure that is the case. We will not get this done by scolding people in the international press, waving banners or organising protests. The way to get powerful countries, superpowers in this case, to agree to an approach politically is by building relationships and winning arguments with them, and that is the approach we will try to take to protect civilian populations in Syria, some of which are in very vulnerable situations.
Turning to the issue of Turkey, we have been very worried about the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Turkey has played a role in that conflict, and so has Russia. For whatever reason, Turkey has decided to take a much more aggressive foreign policy approach towards the eastern Mediterranean, including becoming involved in Libya as well as in the tensions and conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan and taking a much more aggressive approach towards drilling in Greek and Cypriot waters. No matter what direction we look at it, there is the creation of tension coming from Turkey. That is very worrying because Turkey is a NATO member state, and I know that we are not, it is causing major tensions with other NATO states, and it is on the edge of Europe and of the European Union. In my view it needs to be and should be a partner of the European Union in a progressive way. What we are seeing at the moment is a lot of tension, which is moving in the wrong direction rather than the right direction.
With reference to the term, "the European Union silence is deafening", I have been in meetings for hours with EU colleagues talking about Turkey and how we approach its aggressive foreign policy and interventionist approaches, whether the right approach is sanctions, because that is a very blunt tool, or whether it is engagement. Again, often the easy answer when somebody is doing something wrong is to call for sanctions. If that breaks down relationships, however, in a way that actually entrenches divisions, then it is not the most intelligent strategy to adopt. In international politics, it is always a combination of engagement, of calling people out publicly, of having quiet diplomacy and, at times, having tough and hard sanctions too. The assumption that if we sanction somebody, we will get what we want is something that time and again we are reminded does not always work. The relationship between the EU and Turkey, therefore, is a very complicated one, but it is one that is under quite some strain at the moment.
There are interventions from Germany and France, in particular, in terms of intensive engagement, and from Cyprus and Greece, obviously, but from many others as well in trying to find a way of easing tensions but at the same time sending a clear signal to Turkey that the EU cannot ignore its actions, particularly deliberately targeting EU states. That is complicated even more in respect of the arrangements and agreements we have regarding refugees and migration. I know some people would be very critical of that aspect, but it is reality and it complicates the relationship even further. I do not think, by the way, that it compromises the positions that the EU will take, but it certainly complicates things. I think the Deputy and I are in agreement on many of the concerns regarding Turkey, and I hope to be able to visit that country, if it is possible to do it, before the end of the year to raise a number of these issues directly. I have had direct phone calls with the Turkish foreign minister raising some of these issues as well.
Moving on to the subject of Ethiopia, this is a worry. Let me refer to the official note because this is in many ways a developing crisis. Ireland is deeply concerned by the outbreak of armed conflict between the federal Government of Ethiopia and the regional authorities in Tigray. I visited that region when I was the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, because we have several funded projects there in agriculture and agricultural research and development. The Ethiopian Government has declared a state of emergency in Tigray for six months and has ordered a military offensive. There are reports of casualties, although it has not yet been possible to verify numbers. If not contained, this conflict could threaten the stability of Ethiopia and have serious regional implications for the wider Horn of Africa. I have urged all parties to cease hostilities, de-escalate tensions, demonstrate restraint and work for reconciliation. Ireland has been working in Tigray for many years and there is an Irish Aid office there with two staff. We are also aware of one Irish citizen in Tigray.
The EU is supporting regional efforts to engage with the parties, the UN Secretary General has also offered to support dialogue and our embassy in Addis Ababa is actively supporting these efforts. Tigray is home to many refugees, displaced persons and local communities which have been significantly impacted by Covid-19, flooding and invasions of desert locusts. Humanitarian issues, therefore, are central to Irish concerns as well. I do not want to overstate Ireland's influence on some of these conflicts, but we will watch the situation and try to play as constructive a role as we can. Ethiopia is a really important stabiliser for that part of Africa, given the countries that surround it. For this tension and conflict to spiral out of control could be a worrying regional event, as well as one for Ethiopia.
I will be shorter with my answers from now on. On human rights abuses and our role on the Security Council, accountability is our third big pillar. That means we want people who are responsible for human rights abuses to be held to account and to be called out by the Security Council. It should not be forgotten, however, that the use of the veto in the Security Council by the five permanent members has essentially prevented accountability in many cases, whether it has been the use of chemical weapons, human rights abuses in conflicts, the use of munitions in built-up populations and so on. We will be, I hope, an independent and courageous voice within the UN Security Council for calling out international events and atrocities if and when they occur and doing everything we can to try to apply international law and Security Council resolutions to the people and countries responsible. We live, however, in a world with so many conflicts that are ongoing and so many countries that perhaps do not apply the rules of international law as we would like them to that we are going to have to be selective and targeted in the areas where we really shine a light, I hope, so that we can be impactful in what we are trying to do.
As already stated, I am very happy to speak to colleagues and all parties about areas of concern on which we could have an impact when we are on the Security Council.
Senator Ardagh raised a few issues. I will try to ensure that we provide a rolling update on the topical issues so she can call me in if she wants to try to get more detail or more proactivity. I have raised the issue of Uyghur Muslims in China and I can outline our position on this. Ireland remains deeply concerned about the credible reports regarding restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, arbitrary detention, widespread surveillance, forced labour and forced sterilisation and birth control in Xinjiang. We supported an Opposition motion expressing real concern on this issue recently in the Seanad. Ireland was one of 39 states to sign a joint statement at the UN Third Committee on 6 October. We also raised this matter in our national statement to the UN Human Rights Council on 25 September. We have consistently called on China to allow unrestricted access to the region for independent observers, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We have also called on the latter to provide regular information about the situation to safeguard the rights and freedoms guaranteed under international law. Ireland fully supports the EU position of raising this matter in its engagement with Chinese authorities and we will continue to raise our concerns bilaterally and at multilateral fora.
Our relationship with China is important. It needs to be proactive and positive in many areas but it also needs to be honest in terms of calling out matters in respect of which we have real concerns. We have tried to do this in a firm and respectful way. If we are going to be effective in bringing about change in areas where we have concern, having a relationship that allows those conversations to take place in the first place is important, as opposed to reactions that break those relationships in a way that limits the capacity to bring about change.
In terms of my condemnation of actions and expanding settlements, I have referred to such settlements as effectively being a form of creeping annexation. Formal annexation is something different. Essentially, that is applying Israeli sovereignty to large tracts of land in the West Bank which, in my view, is completely illegal and totally unacceptable politically. This is why we have fought very hard to prevent that happening. Expanding existing settlements has a similar impact over time but is not the same as extending sovereignty legally to parts of the Palestinian territory because, effectively, they are seen as temporary settlements within occupied territory. It is still illegal.
Senator Ardagh also inquired about administrative detention. I have an note on Palestinian prisoners during the Covid crisis, which she might find interesting. There are well-founded concerns about the treatment of Palestinian prisoners and Ireland has repeatedly recalled to Israel the applicability of international human rights standards. I have also raised specific issues, including in respect of the detention of minors, during a visit to Israel. There have been worries globally about the vulnerability of prisoners to Covid 19 and Irish missions in the region continue to monitor this situation closely. I also wrote to my counterpart, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Ashkenazi, about a prisoner who was previously on hunger strike and who had been on hunger strike for 100 days. I expressed real concern about that case. Subsequently, it has been addressed but not because of my letter I am sure. The relationship is there that allowed me to send a pretty direct letter expressing concerns. We will continue to watch this and I take the points raised.
Senator Craughwell also asked for a rolling audit. With regard to Russian peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia would not be a country that contributes peacekeeping troops very often, just as the US does not. We are going to have to wait and see how this develops. The important thing is that the military offensive has stopped. A Russian-influenced ceasefire is holding for now and let us hope it can last. I know it has created huge tension politically, particularly in Armenia, and there has been a great deal of unrest as a result of this. This is a very delicate situation and Ireland needs to be very responsive in how we comment on it to ensure the ceasefire holds and we can move into the space of political dialogue again.
In terms of reopening an embassy in Teheran, the closing of our embassy there in 2012 was a decision based on the cuts to Government spending at the time. We maintain open relationships with Iran on a range of issues and Iran continues to have an embassy here in Dublin I am glad to say. The embassy of Ireland in Ankara is accredited on a non-residential basis to Iran. The ambassador in Ankara supports our engagement with Iran, including the development of political relations, trade relations and supporting Irish businesses operating or hoping to operate there. Ireland is also represented in Iran by an honorary consul. Honorary consuls are an important element of the State's global engagement and they provide consular services and assistance as well as supporting citizens. It is not, of course, the same as having a resident embassy and we are reviewing this issue. I am not in a position to say anything beyond that for now.
I have already commented on relations with China. China is far too big a country not to have structural relationships with it, and we have a very good relationship with the Chinese Embassy and the Chinese ambassador here. We speak to him on a regular basis about various things, from important consular cases to trade to concerns they have about some of the statements we make on human rights and Hong Kong. Again, we will try to maintain a relationship that maximises Ireland's influence on the issues we care about.
With regard to the World Health Organization, this year Ireland has been very vocal about supporting it and we have put a lot of money behind those statements. It is not just words. We are also aware of some of the other tensions. I do not want to make any comment on China and the World Health Organization without putting a bit more thought into that comment. It is something we are open to discussing.