Thursday, 12 February 2004

Questions (3, 4, 5)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


3 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 57 of 11 December 2003, the further action he intends to propose to his colleagues on the General Affairs and External Relations Council in relation to the wall currently being constructed by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank; his views on the success that European policy in this regard has had to date; his further views on whether the construction of the wall along its current route represents a breach of the human rights clause contained in Article 2 of the EU Association Agreement with Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4493/04]

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Oral answers (35 contributions) (Question to Minister for Foreign)

The question of the legal consequences of the construction of a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory was referred to the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 8 December 2003. In accordance with the rules of procedure of the court, member states of the United Nations were invited to make submissions which might be useful to the court in its deliberations.

After consultations among the member states, it was agreed that there would be a common EU submission and that individual member states might make national submissions based on established European Union positions. The common submission reflected the texts of Presidency statements to the UN General Assembly on 20 October and 8 December. The texts of these statements were annexed to the covering letter.

Essentially, the Union's position is that the building of the wall within the occupied Palestinian territories is in contradiction of international law, but that the General Assembly's request that the ICJ issue an advisory opinion will not help the efforts of the two parties to re-launch a political dialogue and is, therefore, inappropriate. However, contrary to some press reports, the EU has not asked the ICJ to refrain from issuing an advisory opinion. There would have been no consensus to adopt such a position.

In addition, the Government authorised me to submit a national statement. This statement, which is fully consistent with the EU Common Position, sets out the legal basis for Ireland's opinion that the construction of the wall in the occupied territories is in violation of international law.

Both statements were transmitted to the registrar of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on 30 January. The written submissions of all interested parties, including the Israelis and Palestinians, have now been received by the court. It is expected that oral submissions will commence on 23 February.

I am afraid that the rules of procedure of the International Court of Justice do not permit me to make the text of the Irish submission publicly available at this time, but I assure the House that it is firmly grounded in well-known Irish positions on the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupied Palestinian territories and the applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law in this case. It is clear that the consistent pressure of the European Union is among the factors which have caused the Government of Israel to reconsider the route and extent of the barrier.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

While any development which eases the dislocation for Palestinians caused by the building of the barrier is positive, the position of the EU and the UN General Assembly remains that the construction must still be stopped and reversed. Issues of international law are also factors in the case being brought before the Supreme Court of Israel by two human rights groups this week.

As regards the question of the consistency of the construction of the barrier with the obligations which Israel has assumed under its association agreement with the European Union, this would depend on the humanitarian impact of the barrier. This matter is being closely monitored by European Union diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Obviously the Minister is aware that hopes were raised that Ireland would play a leadership role in promoting a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the EU Presidency. The quartet is stalled and as the Minister admitted in his contribution in the Seanad last week, some of the reason for that is Israeli intransigence. The Minister will also be aware of the serious concerns about the EU's refusal to fully support the UN General Assembly's referral of the issue to the International Court of Justice.

The Minister said that the member states could not come up with a common position. Which member states are preventing a common position being adopted, and why is there some intransigence in the EU on this issue? Will the Minister request the Commission to examine the issue of the association agreement with Israel and propose that these association agreements be suspended under Articles 2 and 79, and that this be done at the next General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting on 23 February?

There is an EU common position. Such a position was established under the chairmanship of the Irish Presidency, one that was not available before the meeting began on that Monday but which, as a result of a focused and detailed discussion and further consultations in the following days, ensured that a common position was submitted to the court. People might argue to be in the common position but a common position was established under our Presidency. The important point also is that national statements were also made, including in this country. Ten of the 15 put in national statements, including the Presidency, but in our own capacity as a member state of the Union.

The position on the association agreements is that we continue to monitor these through our people in the territories. This matter is being closely monitored by the European Union diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian territories. We already see indications that consideration is being given by the Israeli Government to the prospect of re-routing aspects of the wall. Obviously we would rather not see it built but the Israeli Government claims it must protect the human rights of its citizens from suicide bombings. One must also take into account the human rights and humanitarian concerns of Palestinians who may be deprived of the basic requirements of daily life due to the line this wall is taking inside the occupied Palestinian territories and east Jerusalem.

On Ireland taking a leadership role, I assure the Deputy the Government is doing all it can, against a difficult background, to move the process forward. We had the first visit of Ahmed Qurei, the Palestinian Prime Minister, outside the territories since his appointment in November when he visited Dublin this week. I assure the Deputies that the meetings he had with the Taoiseach and later with me were detailed and focused and regarded as helpful as far as Palestinians were concerned. There was a frank exchange of views and an effort made to try to devise means by which we can move this matter forward. It is not a question of simply putting forward legitimate grievances people on both sides have in this spiralling conflict. It is a question of trying to focus on the realisable, realistic efforts that can be made now, which would be reciprocal on both sides, to try to stop this situation deteriorating.

I reported the outcome of those discussions to members of the quartet and I continue my efforts in the Presidency, working with others, including the Secretary General of the UN, to try to move the situation forward. The prospect of a ministerial meeting between the Palestinians and the Israelis is being worked on as we speak.

Gay Mitchell


4 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the assurances that he or other members of the Government were given, in particular through contact with the American or British Governments, on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to military action taken by America and Britain in the absence of a United Nations resolution authorising that action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4426/04]

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In the period prior to the invasion of Iraq, the US and UK Governments presented information and provided intelligence on the weapons of mass destruction programme of the Saddam Hussein regime to many foreign Governments. We were among the recipients of some of this material, and most of it is now available in the public domain. Both Governments also presented their views, both publicly and privately, on the threat to international peace and security posed by Iraq at that time.

I assure the House that the Government did not rely on US or UK foreign intelligence sources in its approach to the issue of whether there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the coalition action.

In arriving at a position on the threat posed by Iraq, the Government, like most Governments throughout the world, was guided by a number of factors: the hard evidence that Iraq had at one time been in possession of chemical weapons and had used them both in its war with Iran and against its own people; that it had sought to develop nuclear weapons capability; that it had persistently defied the demands of the Security Council that it verifiably dismantle its WMD capabilities; that it refused to co-operate fully with UN weapons inspectors; and that the UN weapons inspectors were not satisfied that Iraq had accounted for its stocks of weapons of mass destruction. The Government did not base its position on intelligence provided by either the United States or the United Kingdom.

The Government had due regard to a series of Security Council resolutions, going back to 1991, in which the Security Council stated that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. As regards verification of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, we relied on the reports of the UN weapons inspectors.

At the time when Security Council Resolution 1441 was unanimously adopted by the 15 members of the Security Council, the council was acting in the belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This belief was widely shared in the international community. The General Affairs Council of the European Union, at its meeting of 18 and 19 November 2002, stated three times in the clearest terms its belief that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was despite the fact that there was disagreement among many member states about how to deal with the situation.

In his report of 6 March to the Security Council, Dr. Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the arms inspection team mandated to investigate Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, said that many questions relating to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remained unanswered. The belief that Iraq retained WMD capability was therefore widespread, including in this House where different viewpoints were embraced.

Before turning to what Dr. Blix actually said, the Minister referred to widespread views within the European Union. The Austrian Government did not take the same view and certainly not in terms of making facilities available. The French and German Governments did not take that view, so I do not know where the widespread view in the European Union to which the Minister refers was. I will put on the record shortly some of the comments made by Dr. Hans Blix.

Will the Minister inform the House why he assured it on 23 October 2003 that there was no guarantee that Iraq no longer possessed these dreadful and illegal weapons and that, instead, there was good reason to suspect that it had continued to pursue this programme? He went on to say that——

It is not appropriate to quote during Question Time.

I am not quoting; I am referring. I did not say I would quote from any document. I am aware of the Standing Orders and I am operating within them. The Minister also told the House at that time that these weapons were a major threat to both regional and international security.

As far as I know we do not have an intelligence service of our own — the €500,000 in the secret service fund would not extend to that — but if the Minister did not rely on British and American assurances, on what assurances did he rely? Dr. Hans Blix informed the UN and the world that, had he been given time, he could have shown a critical path through which this matter could have been resolved and that a multilateral motion could have been passed by the UN to deal with Iraq had that country not let him finish his work, and he said it could have.

He recently accused the British Prime Minister and President Bush of behaving like insincere salesmen who exaggerated intelligence in an attempt to win support for the war. He also said that intelligence communities were too ready to believe the tales of defectors and that Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush, while not acting in bad faith, were too preoccupied with spin.

When he referred to weapons of mass destruction that could be deployed within 45 minutes, Dr. Blix insisted that the intention was to dramatise it, just as the vendors of some merchandise are trying to exaggerate the importance of what they have. Mr. Blix said: "From politicians or our leaders in the western world, I think we expect more than that, a bit more sincerity." That is what the EU fellow member states of the European Union did——

The Deputy is making a statement. I ask him——

In those circumstances, will the Minister tell the House what intelligence he relied upon if not the intelligence or the advice or the canvassing of the British and American Governments which have shown that multilateralism has been set aside and has set a woeful precedent for China, Russia or whomsoever——

Will the Deputy give way to the Minister, please?

The problem is that in preparing to put forward his supplementary question he did not listen to the primary answer. I explained precisely in my reply that upon which I rely. I made it very clear and I do not intend to repeat it as it is on the record. Quite apart from that, whether those weapons existed at the time, Iraq was in material breach of its disarmament obligations through its failure to co-operate fully with the arms inspectors in carrying out their mandate of verifying that Iraq no longer held weapons of mass destruction. I remind the Deputy that the Government was in favour of Mr. Blix taking whatever time he required to continue with the inspections regime. The United Nations Security Council unanimously determined in Resolution 1441 of November 2002 that: "Iraq's non-compliance with Council resolutions and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles" posed a threat to international peace and security.

I relied on the UN Security Council in deciding whether there was a threat to international peace and security. This resolution decided: "Iraq has been and remains in material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, in particular, through Iraq's failure to co-operate with UN inspectors and the IAEA and to complete the actions required of it under Resolution 687." The resolution mandated "an enhanced inspection regime with the aim of bringing to full and verifiable completion the disarmament process" established by several Security Council resolutions. The resolution instructed Iraq to comply, but Iraq did not do so. Why Saddam Hussein refused to co-operate fully with the United Nations and thereby avoid the possibility of conflict is a question I hope he will one day answer.

Question No. 5, please.

A Cheann Comhairle——

Sorry, Deputy, we have spent almost eight minutes on the question. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat. He spent almost four minutes asking a supplementary.

What was the content of Colin Powell's phone call?

The next question, please.

It is a very important matter. Many people are still dying.

Of course it is. I have called Question No. 5. We have spent almost eight minutes on this question.

In the past few days 100 people died in tragic circumstances.

I have called Question No. 5.

Who gave these assurances? What was the content of Colin Powell's phone call? We are entitled to know.

Will the Deputy resume his seat and allow the Minister to reply to Deputy Gormley's question?

John Gormley


5 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will clarify the statement the Taoiseach made in Brussels in December 2003 that he was always against the war in Iraq; if he will outline that opposition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1288/04]

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In his remarks of 11 December the Taoiseach confirmed that the Government had at all times striven to secure a peaceful resolution to the situation which arose from the refusal of the Saddam Hussein regime to meet the obligations imposed on it by the UN Security Council. Ireland made every effort while we were members of the Security Council and after to bring about a peaceful solution to the conflict. We did this through the UN, the EU and bilateral contacts with the US and others, including the countries of the region.

On 8 November 2002, the Security Council, of which Ireland was a member at that time, agreed unanimously to adopt Resolution 1441. This resolution found Iraq in material breach of successive UN resolutions and gave its regime a final opportunity to meet its disarmament obligations.

During the period leading up to the adoption of Resolution 1441, Ireland worked discreetly but effectively to encourage consensus in the council. We encouraged members to work from a single text and to refuse support for any course of action which looked likely to cause division in the council. The outcome was a vindication of our constructive approach.

The Government publicly and repeatedly stated it was for the Security Council to determine whether there existed a threat to the peace, and then to decide what was to be done to remove that threat, and to resolve what measures were to be taken if its decisions were not respected or implemented in full. In every public statement the Government made on this issue we emphasised our opposition to war and our commitment to the resolution of the issue through peaceful means. We repeatedly expressed our strong concern about the risks involved in military action; the loss of life and material destruction; the danger of further destabilising an already volatile region; the deepening of misunderstanding between the people of Islam and the rest of the world; and the negative consequences for the struggle against terrorism. We argued that any military action should receive the clear and undisputed authorisation of a further Security Council resolution. Our position was clear and we articulated it at every appropriate opportunity. War could have been avoided if Saddam Hussein had co-operated fully with the arms inspectors mandated by the UN Security Council. Saddam Hussein was manifestly unwilling to do this.

When the US and its allies launched their invasion of Iraq, the Taoiseach came to the House on 20 March and moved a motion on behalf of the Government. This motion reaffirmed Ireland's commitment to the United Nations as the guarantor of collective global security and as the appropriate forum for the resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security. The motion expressed regret that the coalition found it necessary to launch the campaign in the absence of agreement on a further resolution. Furthermore, it endorsed the decision of the Government that Ireland would not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq. At the same time, the Dáil expressed its support for the Government's decision to continue to offer overflight and landing facilities to US aircraft.

This morning the Minister for Defence told the House that the Taoiseach can hold diametrically opposed views at the same time and still be right. This is yet another example of it. Does the Minister realise we are approaching the anniversary of the biggest protest march in the history of the State where 100,000 people went out on the streets of this city and protested against the military use of Shannon by the Americans for their war effort? Does the Minister accept he blatantly ignored their wishes? Does he accept that no other neutral state in the European Union, and outside, allowed its airports to be used by the Americans for their war effort in Iraq? Given that the Taoiseach said in this House that war was justified because Saddam Hussein had not surrendered his weapons of mass destruction and given now that there are no weapons of mass destruction will the Minister accept he, the Taoiseach, George Bush and Tony Blair got it wrong and that the war was not justified?

In any democratic society, thankfully including this one, if not elsewhere in some other parts of the world, people have the right to peaceful protest and to express their views, and I welcome that. Decisions made by Government that require approval by Parliament are made in this House in the democratic fora of our State, not on the street. While I respect the right of people to voice their opinions regarding the resolution of conflict, and many did so for many different reasons, not totally as claimed by the Deputy for the purpose of their opposition to war, an opposition I share, the motion passed in this House provided the democratic basis for our decisions. It was legitimate. There was not unanimity in the House on this question in terms of how people perceived our interests but it was done overtly in this House in the proper and appropriate way.

I am not aware if the United Stated sought to reroute its planes travelling to the Middle East through Helsinki in Finland. I presume there was no such request as they were not going in that direction.

They knew what answer they would get.

I confirmed — I got majority support in the House — that our position on this matter was as I have set out in reply to earlier questions regarding our support for the United Nations, the guarantor of collective global security, that being the appropriate forum for resolution of disputes threatening international peace and security. We expressed our deep regret that the Security Council failed to reach agreement on how to address the question of Iraqi non-compliance. We recalled our statements as a member of the Security Council on the adoption of the resolution in the previous October that it would be for the Security Council to decide on any ensuing action in the event of further Iraqi non-compliance. Throughout the whole period this Government held to its consistent position. When we voted in this House, we also endorsed the decision that we would not participate in the coalition's proposed military action against Iraq. The continuing effort by the Deputy and others to suggest that overflight or landing facilities constitute participation in a war is fundamentally wrong in international law and is a charge the Deputy does not ascribe to other countries such as Germany and France, which provided such facilities.

Mr. Justice Kearns said in the High Court that it is not compatible with international law or neutrality. This is a load of bull from the Minister. It is what we get every time the Minister comes to the House.

Deputy, please. You are being disorderly and I ask you to resume your seat. We are moving on to Question No. 6

The Deputy's intemperate remarks do not make him more correct on international law. They prove instead the paucity of his remarks.

I have the arguments here. I have the record.

The Deputy makes it up as he goes along.

It is the Minister who makes it up as he goes along.

I do not want to spend all day dealing with Deputy Gormley's question.

The Minister got it wrong.