Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Questions (9)

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide an update on the EU’s engagement in the Iraqi crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28223/14]

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Oral answers (12 contributions) (Question to Foreign)

Yesterday marked another very difficult day in Iraq when Sunnis and Kurds walked out of the first session of the Iraqi Parliament, which impeded the formation of a new government. I understand that following a recess there were not enough lawmakers present in the parliament to form a quorum and there has been charge and counter-charge. Is it likely that High Representative Ashton, on behalf of the European Union, will make efforts to talk to some of the main players on the need to form an inclusive government as quickly as possible? We must all be concerned at the terrible loss of life.

The dramatically deteriorating situation in Iraq is a matter of very serious concern, both for the Iraqi people and for the international community as a whole. The al-Qaeda linked Islamist militia known as ISIS, with allied Sunni groupings, has captured large parts of northern and western Iraq, including the major city of Mosul. It is also targeting key installations such as the country’s largest oil refinery. The Government has previously warned of failings and inattention on the part of the current Iraqi Government in actively promoting reconciliation with the minority Sunni community. These concerns have now been shown to be wholly justified. The ISIS advance has been concentrated in Sunni-dominated areas and has only been possible because disaffected local Sunni forces, many of whom had earlier fought al-Qaeda during the US-led surge in 2006, decided to joined forces with it. The Tánaiste discussed the crisis in Iraq with EU colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June. The Council agreed conclusions condemning the recent attacks by ISIS, and reports of horrific atrocities. The Council emphasised that a security solution alone cannot resolve the current crisis, but must be combined with a sustainable political solution through outreach by the Iraqi Government to local communities and Iraqi society as a whole. Following the elections on 30 April, the Council also called on Iraq’s political leaders to negotiate as soon as possible the formation of a government representative of all Iraqi communities in society. Similar messages were also set out in the joint declaration of EU and Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting in Athens on 11 June, which I attended.

The Foreign Affairs Council on 23 June also expressed its serious concern at the humanitarian situation amid a further massive civilian displacement of some 500,000 people arising from the current emergency. The EU has increased its humanitarian assistance to Iraq to a total of €12 million this year. Ireland, for its part, is sending an airlift, worth €220,000, to be distributed by GOAL, which recently also received €200,000 to support its emergency response in northern Iraq. A further allocation of €75,000 to another Irish Aid NGO partner, Christian Aid Ireland, brings the Government’s total humanitarian assistance to Iraq in 2014 to €655,000.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I welcome also the announcement in recent days by the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, of humanitarian assistance, which is badly needed. I hope the European Union can provide additional assistance, as well as the Government. It is frightening that the United Nations announced that June had been the deadliest month in Iraq for many years. The violent death toll in Iraq, excepting the Anbar province, was 2,417, which is four times higher than the number of casualties in May. Unfortunately, the crisis is escalating.

I am sure the Minister of State will take every opportunity at Foreign Affairs Council meetings to ensure the European Union engages on a consistent and constant basis with other major political blocs in trying to bring the message to the terrorists that terrorism must end, that an inclusive government is needed in Iraq, and that it must be formed as soon as possible.

I assure the Deputy that is the case. The Tánaiste, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, and I raise the situation in the Middle East at every opportunity. As the Deputy suggested, this is not just a crisis in Iraq; it has far wider consequences for the region. It touches directly on and in some cases originates from what is happening in Syria. The long-term consequences of the crisis that is now unfolding in Iraq are not confined within the borders of Iraq but would have profound consequences for elsewhere.

To directly answer the Deputy's earlier question, I have already outlined the humanitarian assistance the Government has provided, and will continue to provide during the year. Within the Foreign Affairs Council and in other fora that are available to us, the Government is prominent in calling for continued attention and focus on what is happening in the Middle East, Syria, in the peace talks to which the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade referred, and in calling for an inclusive government within Iraq that recognises the various communities and religions within the country.

The time for parliamentary questions has expired. As this is the last occasion on which the Tánaiste will take foreign affairs questions-----

How do you know that, a Cheann Comhairle?

According to rumour, that is the case. If it is, it has always been a pleasure to chair foreign affairs Question Time with the Tánaiste as the lead Minister. I wish him every success in whatever he does.

Thank you very much, a Cheann Comhairle.

Perhaps the Tánaiste will be back with us. Who am I to speculate? I just read the newspapers like everyone else.

Thank you very much.

I say that also as a constituency colleague.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.