I concur with the sympathies expressed by the Cathaoirleach to the family of Sir David Amess.
On Thursday evening, I called to my grandchildren - I know the Leader has young children - and the excitement in my six-year-old granddaughter’s eyes when she sat me down to tell me she was going to read me a story and, as she read me the story, the excitement in the four-year-old sat beside her, watching as her sister read, was something to behold. I missed a lot of that with my own kids, but it was really something else in this case.
Why I am bringing this up today? On 19 August, at the United Nations Security Council, Ireland and Mexico urged the Security Council to place the utmost priority on protecting and vindicating the rights of Afghan women and girls in all decisions and actions on Afghanistan’s future. They jointly outlined the actions that the council must take. They stated:
1. The Security Council must unite and express clearly its rejection of these assaults on the rights of women and girls.
2. The Council must as a matter of urgency call on all parties to respect and facilitate the emergency evacuation and safe and timely departure of Afghans, including human rights defenders, women leaders and those involved in public life, women’s rights activists, peacebuilders and journalists, who wish to leave the country.
3. The Council must continue to demand full, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access: this must include access for women humanitarians and frontline workers throughout the country to carry out their lifesaving work.
4. The Security Council must insist with all Afghan parties that the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in any new government is a non-negotiable condition of international engagement.
What does all this mean? They are all fine words, but no real impact has been made on the care for women and girls as a result of this statement. Ireland spent millions to win the seat in this talking shop, known as the United Nations Security Council, but the permanent members can literally veto anything they wish to defend their national interests, to uphold something in their foreign policy, or because of some issue of particular importance to their state. The use of the veto by Russia and China has risen considerably since 2012, with the conflict in Syria accounting for the bulk of these. Since 2011, Russia has cast 19 vetoes, 14 of which have been on Syria, two on the conflict in Ukraine, and one on Yemen. Eight of the nine vetoes taken by China during the period have been about Syria and one has been about Venezuela. The United States has cast three vetoes since 2011, all of them to do with Israel-Palestine issues.
Perhaps someone might tell me what is the purpose of having a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Why even bother with this bloody talking shop? I have pages upon pages of vetoes since 1946. In all, there were 220 vetoes between 1946 and 2004. From 2004 on they have stepped up the number of vetoes. Why are we participating in this talking shop? How has this talking shop helped the women of Afghanistan today who are prevented from what my granddaughter takes for granted? How do we get women participating in education? Can you even begin to imagine what it is like for a young girl who had three or four years' schooling not to have it now, or for a young woman who had been in university and maybe had one or two years' university education and suddenly it is gone? Talk is cheap and at the end of the day I see no practical steps being proposed by Ireland in any way. Our presidency of the United Nations Security Council is meaningless when you can have anything we say vetoed. I would love a debate on this in the near future.