I join Deputy Kenny in thanking the Government, the Labour Party and the other parties and Independent Deputies in the House for supporting this motion. It is appropriate that the House should not divide on an issue of this kind at this time.
I turn in my opening comments to a topic I have raised time out of number since this issue was first discussed in the House in October last, namely, the role of the United Nations in regard to the conflict in Iraq. I was surprised to see Members of this House, when it seemed that the United Nations might sanction a further resolution allowing action against Iraq following Resolution 1441, turn on the United Nations to say that they supported the United Nations, not this United Nations but another, reformed United Nations. Those Members put themselves in the exact position of the Americans and British who they had said they opposed, because the Americans and British are saying: "Not this United Nations. We have our own authority. We are going our own way."
The record of this House will show that certain Members have been totally inconsistent in what they have said about the United Nations over the years. It is central to the motion before the House that we ask the Government to do everything possible to get the UN back in the driving seat with regard to the delivery of humanitarian aid in Iraq as soon as is practicable.
We must not only be concerned for the humanitarian needs of Iraq, we must be seen to be concerned. We cannot allow the impression to go around that this is a Christian versus Muslim conflict, or a West versus Middle East conflict. We must do everything in our power to demonstrate our genuine concerns for innocent Iraqis. Similarly, we must be energetic at the European Union and the United Nations in making the case for humanitarian aid to be kept separate from military action. To quote Kofi Annan in relation to Kosovo and Serbia: "If these lines are blurred, there is a grave risk of irreparable damage to the principle of impartiality and humanitarian assistance."
Humanitarian non-governmental organisations will go into Iraq as soon as is practicable, but only bearing UN-led relief. Keeping the UN out of involvement with humanitarian aid is an enormous blunder. One NGO has already described the military campaign as using "hearts and minds" interventions as part of its integral plan. The same organisation has described the "hearts and minds" interventions to date as shambolic, with media images, which Deputy Kenny has mentioned, of soldiers throwing boxes of water off the backs of trucks.
Thankfully, there is capacity to deliver humanitarian aid when it is safe to do so. However, the lack of humanitarian space – the term given to the creation of conditions that allow for impartial and neutral humanitarian interventions in the midst of conflict – may be such that some NGOs will feel unable to intervene, or carry out their work, for fear of being identified as parties to the conflict with all the danger that brings. I ask the Minister, in his reply, to tell the House what steps the Government will take at the European Union and the United Nations to pro-actively campaign to get the UN back in the leadership of the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis facing Iraq is immense. It is worth looking at the assessment of the various aid agencies of the current situation in Iraq. According to Trócaire, the UN has estimated that 11 million people will need some sort of humanitarian aid and that may well be an understatement. It is said that at least 10,000 people will die in this conflict. It is not known how many have died to date although it seems to be in low numbers, but we do not know what may be unleashed in the immediate future.
The UN estimates that 900,000 Iraqis are likely to become refugees when the conflict reaches full scale; some 500,000 people will be left injured or sick as a result of poor water supplies and sewage which is not properly pumped away; some 3 million mothers and children will need food; some 2 million people will require shelter; and food sup plies will be disrupted affecting millions of people.
Trócaire estimates that 150,000 people are expected to flee from central and southern Iraq into the north and border areas with all of the implications that has for bordering countries. However, these people could fall prey to the land mines that litter the area and the Mines Advisory Group has already identified more than 2,000 mined areas.
Caritas Iraq claims that many of Basra's 1.5 million people have been forced to use river water for drinking and cooking. The river is polluted by waste water and sewage and up to 100,000 children under the age of five are at risk of disease. Only 40% of Basra's population has access to clean water. Some 700 families or 4,000 people in the village surrounding Mosul have fled their homes and sought refuge in Karakosh where Caritas has two centres. An entire family of parents and three children were killed in the A'Adhamiya residential area of Baghdad.
UNICEF states that, before the war, to improve the chances of survival of Iraqi children it had delivered therapeutic food for more than 400,000 children, but that there are still more than 1 million malnourished children. In recent weeks 1,000 metric tonnes of high-protein biscuits and therapeutic milk was delivered. Some 4 million children were vaccinated against polio in February. This shows what can be done when humanitarian NGOs are allowed to work in an area, particularly with the blessing of the United Nations. Back-up generators have been placed in water and sewage treatment plants to ensure that safe water will continue to flow, but only one third of Baghdad's water supply network has benefited in this way.
Maura Quinn, the executive director of UNICEF Ireland, said:
Children will die in this war. That's a fact. The question is how many we can protect. That has got to be a priority for all of us now.
The aid agency claims that reports from Baghdad confirm that children there are suffering obvious signs of trauma, such as continuous crying, fear of loud noises and nightmares. These problems are exacerbated by the closure of schools and the resultant ending of so-called normal life.
UNICEF is co-ordinating relief from Amman, in Jordan, but all it can do is keep a close eye on matters and be ready to respond. It is vital that Governments make it as easy as possible for UNICEF to respond, but it can only do so if the United Nations is back in the driving seat. UNICEF estimates that the funding it needs for the next six months is less than $166 million, a figure that contrasts with the $76 billion sought by the US President, George Bush, from Congress to help to continue the war. The moneys sought by UNICEF will go towards the provision of potable water and safe sanitation, care for unaccompanied and traumatised children and children living in institutions, child immunisation, the provision of safe birthing equipment for pregnant women, the feeding of malnourished children and pregnant women and the return of primary aged school children to school as soon as possible. These are not unimportant, fanciful concerns; they are issues of life and death.
Oxfam Ireland claims that the United Nations is the only body with the international legitimacy to act as the co-ordinator of a humanitarian response and as a guarantor of neutral transition to a new Government. It also states that a one-sided US occupation of Iraq is the development most likely to inflame the Middle East. It is vital, therefore, that those in the White House who do not see a role for the UN in a post-Saddam Iraq do not have their way. As a friend of the United States, the Government should use every avenue open to it to convey that view. We should not be afraid to express that opinion at every opportunity.
Amnesty International has stated that the possibility of Turkish troops flowing into northern Iraq, on foot of a motion passed by the Turkish Parliament on 20 March that allows for their deployment, could mean that refugees will be unable to cross the border. This is not a fanciful thought. A senior Turkish source said to me recently, in a matter of fact manner, that his country's troops will enter northern Iraq to a depth of 20 km. The implications of such a move for the region – let alone for Iraq and Turkey – are extraordinary. Iran has said it will be selective about who it allows to cross the border, indicating it will only allow those whose lives are in real danger to enter. Such a policy will create many difficulties for refugees and their families. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have closed their borders and Syria re-opened its borders only after intervention from UNHCR. I understand that refugee camps are being constructed there, which is a welcome development.
It is clear that we will face a humanitarian nightmare if Operation Iraqi Freedom drags on and there is a large displacement of people. The facilities and the political will to deal with such problems do not exist. In its document, Protection First, Amnesty International says:
In situations of mass influx, wealthier states have a responsibility to commit financial and other support to those neighbouring states receiving refugees. The protection of refugees' human rights is an international obligation, and cannot be left solely to states neighbouring Iraq, some of which already host hundreds of thousands of refugees.
This motion goes some way to meeting our responsibilities in that regard.
John O'Shea, of GOAL, has said that the crisis being faced in Iraq can be averted because, for once, some of the machinery to stave off the suffering is in place. Mr. O'Shea has argued that the world needs strong leadership from the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and he pointed out that the crisis in Iraq is different from crises in Somalia, Rwanda, Ethiopia and elsewhere, in which the poor have paid the ultimate price. He said that the television footage of the intervention in the Iraqi border town of Safwan provided a lesson in how not to deliver aid. If aid distributions are planned in such a poor manner, according to Mr. O'Shea, we can be sure that only the strongest will receive aid, and we are all demeaned when a few trucks are opened and a desperate crowd is allowed to fight for aid.
The developed world, which includes Ireland, has a chance to do what is right and moral. Ireland can make a difference, as a small and neutral nation, by championing the rights of the United Nations and the Iraqi people. If Kofi Annan is to provide the leadership that is needed at this time, he will need to be strengthened by the pro-active support of Parliaments, such as the Oireachtas, and Administrations, such as our Government. Every ounce of this country's influence – in the European Union, among the applicant states and with all friendly countries – should be used to champion this cause. Kofi Annan should be given the strength, support and pro-active encouragement he needs to stand up to those who would like to see humanitarian aid delivered by the military only. Such a form of delivery has many connotations for NGOs and for real humanitarian aid.
I am delighted the Government is supporting this motion and I welcome the support it has received from Members of the House. I hope there will be more disquisition than disquiet and that concern and discernment will be demonstrated in relation to Iraq's needs. A certain element in Irish politics has sought to get ahead of the crowd during the debate on Iraq. It has tried to discover what the crowd wants to hear and it has followed the crowd. Certain people have reversed their policy of supporting the United Nations, which they championed inside and outside this House for a long time. I hope this debate will represent an end to the undermining of the UN. We should ensure, in every way we can, that the UN is given the strength and support it needs to resume its leadership of the situation in Iraq, particularly in relation to humanitarian aid.
I would like to share the rest of my time with Deputy Coveney, with the agreement of the House.