Overseas Development Aid Provision

Questions (33)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

33. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide further details on his Department’s recent pledge of €3 million in funding to mother and child nutrition; the person who will receive the funding; the way it will it be spent. [41156/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Maternal and child malnutrition is a scourge in our world. Under-nutrition causes the deaths of over 3 million children every year and 165 million children under five years of age suffer from stunting and lack the nutrients they need to develop their full potential. Combating global hunger and under-nutrition is a key pillar of our foreign policy and our overseas development assistance programme. Ireland was a founding supporter of the Scaling Up Nutrition or SUN movement, a global movement to tackle under-nutrition, especially maternal, infant and child under-nutrition.

At the SUN global gathering meeting held en marge of the UN General Assembly last week, I outlined Ireland’s continuing commitment to address maternal and child malnutrition. I announced €3 million in funding to increase vulnerable families’ access to nutritious foods, to boost agricultural productivity and to raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and good early nutrition. This funding will be directed to three programmes: a joint donor financing mechanism, established this year and managed by the international NGO, CARE International, to support Zambia’s national programme to prevent stunting in early childhood by targeting the first one thousand days of a child’s life from pregnancy to the age of two, a critical window for growth and development; the Alive and Thrive initiative to improve infant and young child nutrition by increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates for infants up to six months of age and by improving feeding practices; and the Global Agricultural Food Security Programme, managed by the World Bank, which aims to make lasting, transformative improvements in food security through increasing the agricultural productivity and incomes of poor farmers.

This support underlines our continuing commitment to improving the lives and futures of poor women and children in developing countries and will ensure that Ireland remains a leader in addressing world hunger and under-nutrition.

International Relations

Questions (34)

John Browne

Question:

34. Deputy John Browne asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the engagement he has had in efforts to improve relations between Iran and the United States; if he has any particular proposals in relation to progressing relations between the two states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41188/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I am strongly supportive of recent efforts by both sides to improve U.S.-Iran relations. President Obama has on a number of occasions made clear his willingness to open a new chapter in relations with Iran. And in recent weeks we have heard some measured and encouraging words from President Rouhani and other members of his new government. In this cautiously hopeful atmosphere, President Obama spoke by telephone with Iranian President Rouhani on 27 September, the first conversation between the two countries' leaders since 1979.I myself met with new Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on 26 September and, in a wide-ranging discussion, very much encouraged the new opening for more productive engagement between Iran and the international community. I have consistently emphasised that while the issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme are of serious international concern, progress in addressing these can only be achieved through diplomacy and negotiation.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also met with Foreign Minister Zarif at a Ministerial-level meeting of the E3+3 (Germany, France and the U.K. plus the U.S., China and Russia) on 26 September in the margins of the UN General Assembly session in New York. I welcome the fact that this meeting was a substantial and positive one. The Iran nuclear issue remains one of the biggest stumbling blocks to better relations between Iran and, not only the U.S., but also the EU and the wider international community. I fully support the statements of Secretary Kerry and EU High Representative Ashton following this meeting, which emphasised that the current political opening must be translated into a practical, time-bound framework that is implemented on the ground. Iran and the E3+3 and Iran have agreed an early date of 15 and 16 October for their next meeting, in Geneva. This will be an important test of Iran’s willingness to truly engage this time around.

The US, the E3+3 and other EU member states including Ireland fully acknowledge Iran’s right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. However, under the terms of the NPT, Iran must not engage in a nuclear weapons programme, and must cooperate fully with the safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a means of verifying the exclusively peaceful nature of its programme. Iran currently stands in breach of a succession of UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions concerning its nuclear programme. In its report of November 2011 on the implementation of IAEA Safeguards in Iran, the Agency concluded that there are strong grounds for serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme while also indicating that Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.

I very much hope that Iran will now be ready to address the many legitimate questions which the international community has asked regarding its nuclear programme and to address also the concerns about possible military dimensions to that programme without any further delay. There is no doubt that the Iranian people would be the main beneficiaries of the better economic and political relations with the wider international community, including the E.U. and the U.S., that would follow the prompt and peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue.

Human Rights Issues

Questions (35)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

35. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if his attention has been drawn to the continued widespread human rights abuses by the Bahraini regime; the recent announcement of an Arab Court of Human Rights to be based in Bahrain when it is established; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41159/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The overall human rights environment in Bahrain continues to be of serious concern. Ireland shares the concerns recently expressed by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the deep polarization of society in Bahrain and the harsh clampdown on human rights defenders and peaceful protesters. Such actions continue to make a durable political solution based on reconciliation and dialogue more difficult to secure.I have ensured that Ireland’s concerns on human rights issues in Bahrain have been conveyed regularly to the Bahraini authorities and I will continue to do so. Ireland was one of 47 member states who participated in a joint statement expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in Bahrain at the current session of the UN Human Rights Council on 9 September. In the statement, the signatories expressed their concern regarding the protection of human rights in Bahrain and called on the Government to expedite the implementation of the recommendations received from the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry in this regard. In June, the Secretary General of my Department met with senior officials in the Bahraini Ministry of Human Rights while visiting Manama, during which he urged the need for dialogue and reconciliation as well as full respect for human rights.

I am aware of the decision adopted by Arab League ministers meeting in Cairo on 1 September establishing an Arab Court of Human Rights and of Bahrain’s subsequent offer to host the court, once it is established. Details regarding the full remit of the court or how it will operate have not yet been made available.

I very much hope that any Arab Court of Human Rights that is eventually established will contribute to more effective promotion and protection of human rights in the region and in Bahrain in particular. It should be established in accordance with international standards and provide redress for all victims of human rights violations. It equally seems clear that any steps taken by Bahrain to fulfil its international human rights obligations could only enhance its suitability and credibility as a location for the court. Officials in my Department will continue to closely monitor its development.

Diplomatic Representation Issues

Question No. 37 answered with Question No.9.

Questions (36)

Micheál Martin

Question:

36. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on Israel’s accusation that European diplomats, including the deputy head of Ireland’s diplomatic mission in Ramallah, engaged in provocation following a confrontation between the diplomats and Israeli soldiers in the West Bank; the engagement he has had with his Israeli counterpart; if he is satisfied with the current relationship between Ireland and Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41203/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

On 20 September Israeli forces prevented an emergency delivery of international humanitarian aid to the Palestinian community of Makhul, whose homes had been demolished by Israeli authorities. The delivery was organised by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and was accompanied as observers by diplomats from Ireland, France, Sweden, Spain, UK, Greece, Australia, Brazil and the EU Delegation. The aid itself, including tents for temporary shelter, was confiscated, leaving the members of the community to spend a further night on the hillside with no shelter for themselves or their animals. I would emphasise that both the destruction of their homes, and the subsequent impeding of humanitarian assistance, are breaches of international humanitarian law. Unfortunately, such illegal actions have been carried out repeatedly, in order to clear Palestinians off the land.

Ireland subscribes fully to the EU statement issued by High Representative Ashton and Commissioner Georgieva on 21 September in which the EU deplored the confiscation of humanitarian assistance intended for the citizens of Khirbet al-Makhul and underlined the importance of unimpeded delivery of humanitarian assistance and the applicability of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory. The supply of humanitarian assistance to people who have been made homeless, and the presence of diplomats to observe that humanitarian action, cannot possibly be considered a provocation.

Ireland will continue to engage with our Israeli interlocutors at political and official level to support a more constructive and sensible approach, to encourage the many strands of Israeli opinion who also deplore such actions, and to build on those other areas where we enjoy good and productive relations.

Question No. 37 answered with Question No.9.

Syrian Conflict

Questions (38)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

38. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which it has been found possible, together with the international community, to convince the authorities in Syria to allow the various aid agencies provide the urgently required assistance to the civilian population who have been major victims in the conflicts there; if any progress has been made towards enforcement of no-fly corridors or safe havens whereby international relief organisations might be facilitated in their efforts to assist; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41126/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The conflict in Syria has resulted in a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale. Flagrant violations of International Humanitarian Law and widespread human rights abuses have tragically become the norm inside Syria, with the lack of protection afforded to civilians being of huge concern. The number of fatalities is now in excess of 100,000 and there are currently almost 7 million people in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, many of whom are children. Fear and uncertainty have forced more than 2.1 million Syrians to flee to neighbouring countries, with well in excess of 4 million people displaced from their homes within Syria’s borders. Ireland’s total support in response to this humanitarian crisis is now almost €11 million. This makes Ireland one of the most generous contributors in the world to the humanitarian response on a per capita basis.

As the Deputy is no doubt aware, inside Syria, excessive controls on aid agencies working in the country, the fragmentation of the armed opposition and the intensity of military confrontations have made the operating environment extremely volatile and insecure. Restrictions imposed by the Assad regime, combined with logistical constraints and increasing insecurity, have made it very difficult to reach many areas of Syria where large numbers of civilians are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. There are currently reports of more than half a million people trapped in rural Damascus in need of urgent assistance. Ireland reiterates the call of the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, in calling on all parties to agree to pauses in hostilities to allow humanitarian agencies immediate and unhindered access to evacuate the wounded and provide life-saving treatment and supplies in areas where fighting is ongoing, while civilians must be allowed to move to safer areas.

In this complex situation, it is highly unlikely that options such as humanitarian corridors would be effective. I share the caution of the United Nations’ humanitarian agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and many of our other partners in respect of the calls for military intervention in support of humanitarian action. Such intervention could have the result of placing extremely vulnerable civilians and aid workers at further risk. I believe that negotiated access remains the most effective approach.

Notwithstanding our reservations on the establishment of humanitarian corridors, there are other measures which, if implemented, could reduce the impediments to humanitarian access. Ireland fully supports the UN’s demands for the free passage of medical supplies, the demilitarisation of medical facilities; the prior notification to civilians/aid convoys of military offensives; the designation of priority humanitarian routes to allow safe passage of aid convoys; the use of humanitarian pauses in fighting to allow humanitarian access to people; and the use of cross-border operations, where appropriate.

Moreover, with the attention of the world now clearly focused on Syria, and positive developments underway in relation to removing the threat of chemical weapons and restarting the political dialogue process, Ireland wants to ensure that this window of opportunity is also used to address the most pressing humanitarian challenges related to humanitarian access.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (39)

Sandra McLellan

Question:

39. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide further details on his Department’s recent pledge of €2 million in emergency assistance for Sudan and South Sudan; the person who will receive the funding; and the way it will be spent. [41165/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

In July, I announced €2 million in funding to provide access to life-saving food, shelter, basic health care and water for very vulnerable conflict-affected communities in Sudan and South Sudan. Some 8.5 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance in both countries. Ongoing conflict has forced people to flee their homes and has denied them access to essential services, particularly in border areas between Sudan and South Sudan. This funding was channelled through the United Nations Common Humanitarian Funds (CHFs) for Sudan and South Sudan. Common Humanitarian Funds are country-based pooled funding mechanisms which provide early and predictable funding to NGOs and UN agencies in order to respond to critical humanitarian needs. CHFs enable Humanitarian Country Teams on the ground to swiftly allocate resources where they are most needed, and to fund priority life-saving projects as identified in a Consolidated Appeal Process or a similar humanitarian action plan. The Common Humanitarian Funds in Sudan and South Sudan have enabled UN agencies and NGOs to contribute to a timely and effective humanitarian response as well as to promote and facilitate durable solutions for affected populations.

In Sudan, the majority of the most vulnerable populations are in Darfur, where approximately 3.5 million people currently receive food aid, including some 1.4 million sheltered in camps for internally displaced persons. In South Kordofan and Blue Nile States, the United Nations estimates that there are currently over 300,000 people displaced or severely affected by the conflict. Already in 2013, the Common Humanitarian Fund has disbursed over $60 million to UN agencies and NGOs to provide basic services in the areas of shelter, water and sanitation, nutrition and education to these populations. Ireland’s donation to the Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund in July has brought our total contribution for 2013 to €2,500,000. Our funding is saving lives every day.

In South Sudan, violence-related incidents continue to drive humanitarian needs in 2013. Conflict intensified in Jonglei State and the tri-state areas of Lakes, Unity and Warrap. In Unity and Upper Nile States, new arrivals have pushed the number of refugees to over 190,000 and humanitarian organisations have had to establish new refugee camps in these two states. The South Sudan Common Humanitarian Fund has allocated some US$90 million towards access to food, health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and protection in highly vulnerable areas. In addition, the Fund has proven to be an invaluable mechanism for pre-positioning of emergency relief ahead of the rainy season. Ireland’s donation in July brought our total contribution for 2013 to €2,500,000 and is largely funding provision of emergency food assistance to conflict-affected populations.

International Agreements

Questions (40)

Mick Wallace

Question:

40. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will work at EU level to impose the Chemical Weapons Convention on the Middle East. [41176/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Ireland has always supported the universalisation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and we will continue to encourage the six states which have not ratified or acceded to it (Israel, Egypt, South Sudan, Angola, North Korea and Myanmar) to do so as quickly as possible. The EU, through its Strategy on Weapons of Mass Destruction endorsed by the Council of the European Union on 9 December 2003, has also given strong support to universal accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention and has provided substantial financial assistance to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to that end.

Humanitarian Aid

Questions (41)

John McGuinness

Question:

41. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the progress he has made in positioning Ireland, in particular Shannon Airport, to be established as an international hub for the storage and distribution of emergency humanitarian supplies; the actions he has taken to progress this aim; the further actions he will take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41210/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Programme for Government set out the Government’s desire to position Shannon Airport as an international hub for the storage and distribution of EU and UN emergency humanitarian supplies. Following consultations with the airport management and other local stakeholders, a full-scale feasibility study of the proposal was initiated in 2012, with the specific aim of providing an independent, evidence-based assessment of the viability and value-for-money of a possible humanitarian hub at the airport.

In November 2012, I met with the independent experts tasked with preparing this study. In presenting the results, they outlined that they had explored a number of options for Shannon Airport – including the prepositioning of relief items, the prepositioning of medical supplies, the possible development of a training facility at the airport and the establishment of a depot for civil protection assets. The study concluded that the various roles explored did not demonstrate sufficient economic viability in relation to the development of Shannon Airport in the manner which was envisaged under the Programme for Government. This conclusion was based on a cost-benefit analysis and is the result of consultation with a large number of international humanitarian organisations and agencies and potential end users of such a hub.

On the basis of the findings that there was no justifiable, economically viable rationale for advancing the plans to develop Shannon Airport in this manner, the decision was taken not to proceed. This decision, along with the feasibility study, has been publicly available on the Irish Aid website since December 2012.