Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 1 Apr 2003

Vol. 564 No. 1

Private Members' Business. - Humanitarian Aid for Iraq: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

– conscious of the growing concern regarding the humanitarian crisis that is evolving in Iraq and in light of the fact that aid agencies believe that:

– there will be an increase in acute malnutrition in children under five years of age from 4% to 30% as a result of critical food shortages and an increase in morbidity rates in children, particularly diarrhoeal disease, from the consumption of contaminated water;

– there are more than 1 million malnourished children in Iraq who, upon commencement of the military action, have been unable to receive much of the humanitarian aid they had previously been availing of;

– the risk of a measles outbreak among displaced populations is significant and there is an urgent need to immunise children aged six to 12 who may not have received immunisation against the disease, as children aged five and younger have, and who cannot access such immunisation in the present circumstances;

– 60% of Iraqi people are dependent on Government food subsidies;

– the long-term effects on the pyscho-social health of Iraqi children are likely to be a major problem in the aftermath of war;

– there are likely to be shortages of essential drugs, especially antibiotics, as rates of diarrhoeal disease and acute respiratory infections will increase significantly due to population displacements, contaminated water and shortages of heating fuels;

– as many as 5% of children from displaced or refugee populations might be separated from their families; and

– upon an end to the conflict, it is possible that schools will have been looted, will be bereft of materials and will suffer a teacher shortage due to unsafe conditions;

– calls on the Government to play a full role in the international relief effort in Iraq in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe;

– calls on the Government to work to ensure that the United Nations plays the lead co-ordinating role in the humanitarian relief effort;

– calls on the Government to vigorously pursue a commitment from our partners in the European Union and the United Nations, to provide the necessary funding to ensure the alleviation of hunger and disease amongst the Iraqi population; and

– calls on the Government to work to ensure that such funding should not come from existing moneys already allocated to help in the humanitarian needs of other regions.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Gay Mitchell and Coveney.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I would like the Dáil to unite behind this motion to address the humanitarian crisis facing Iraq. The Iraqi need is great and urgent. However, in the interests of justice, humanity and democracy, I will refer to what is fuelling the humanitarian crisis, namely, the war that is in its twelfth day, this war that will affect international politics and the way the people of the world will co-exist for years if not generations to come.

Regardless of how long the war lasts, two things are required. There must be respect for Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence, and the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own political future and to control their known natural resources, primarily oil, remains sacrosanct. This will only happen if the reconstruction of Iraq is directed by the United Nations. Installing the UN immediately and strategically in the humanitarian aid effort, must be step one of that process.

Fine Gael remains resolutely opposed to this war. That it is now on is no reason to accept or excuse it – far from it. This is a time for conviction, not convention and acquiescence. The truth is that every effort had not been exhausted to defuse the crisis by peaceful means, which means, under the rule of international law and order, this war is wrong, unjust and unnecessary. The choice is clear. We either believe in the international rule of law and order, the collective, unifying will of the many, or we believe in the international rule of force and the divisive will of the few. By invading Iraq, the United States has fractured the asset of global consensus after 11 September. It has split the UN, NATO and the European Union.

Fine Gael believes firmly in a unifying, collective will, and the growing civilian cost of this war, a version of which is beamed day and night into our sitting rooms, offices, banks, hospitals and public houses, confirms that belief by the hour. Almost two weeks into Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Dáil stands divided, as do the UN and the EU. However, as Kofi Annan put it to the UN, we have it within our power either to deepen those divisions or to begin to heal them. Fine Gael believes the mammoth humanitarian operation which must flow from this war is the best way to start.

In the meantime, there remain outstanding questions for the US. Raising them is neither anti-America nor anti-American. It is independent, centrist, thinking. America was and is a real friend to Ireland in trade, economics, family ties and political support. Our relationship, as I have said before, is warm and historic. It is precisely in that context that I ask on behalf of many people in this country: what next, or more critically, where next, or, as the Taoiseach put it on television, if the UN is to be sidelined, what happens in the next crisis and the one after that?

Saddam Hussein is a criminal and a brutal dictator, but we must remember that the gassing of the Kurds at Halabja in 1988, cited every day now as one of the key reasons for this "war of liberation", did not result in any international calls for a military strike at the time. Neither must we forget that the British Government was forced to admit to the Scott inquiry into arms for Iraq, that it had continued to grant licences to British companies to export materials that could be used to make biological weapons until 1996 at least.

I remain to be convinced by the talk of a new and soon-to-be-published road map for a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. This conflict is one of the root causes of the emerging deep antagonism between the East and the West in recent years. Previous inner-sanctum comments about the US subcontracting its foreign policy to others, namely, the UN Security Council, were not lost on us. The US has used its veto on many occasions over the past 58 years where the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned. This was referred to by Robin Cook recently in the House of Commons.

To note that the ongoing situation in Palestine is stoking Arab anger and inflaming the Arab sense of human, social and political injustice, is to state the blindingly obvious. I must say once again that the European and international institutions should, at the behest of this country and others like us, address the implications of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and now Iraq, for opinion and developments in the wider, Arab world. If we do not, our humanitarian programmes could, in time, extend well beyond the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers.

Meanwhile, Iraq bleeds. I thank the Government for its formal support for the motion in the name of Fine Gael on the issue of humanitarian aid. I also thank the Labour Party and a number of Independent Members who have also given their support. I would like to think that Ireland's politicians can speak with one voice on this fundamental issue and that moneys made available would be additional and new and not diverted from any funds destined for relief purposes elsewhere. If the Government wishes to allocate in excess of the €5 million already announced by the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, we will accept and support that.

The Government should do everything it can to make the arrival and distribution of humanitarian aid rapid and dramatic. It must also be planned, targeted and precise. Clearly, there is a desperate need for the kind of expert logistics of the UN and humanitarian aid agencies in this area. Witness the indiscriminate distribution of food by military personnel firing boxes of food from the backs of lorries. Where personnel are neither trained for nor expert in this work, it can lead to other chaos.

Clearly there is an urgent need for the creation of corridors of access for humanitarian aid so that it can be delivered to those who are identified by the relief agencies as needing it most. There is an equally urgent need that food, water and other assistance be delivered untainted by military involvement. This is essential in respect of the independence and integrity of all the humani tarian aid agencies involved in Iraq. UNICEF, the Red Cross and the Iraqi Red Crescent are already distributing aid in the country to an extent. The problem is getting in there. It is very difficult to do anything now with the war going on, and I understand that some of the local and native Iraqi relief workers have been instructed by the Government to stay at home. That obviously reduces contact with the international aid agencies and makes it that much more difficult.

According to UNICEF, at least 5,000 Iraqi children die every month due to sanctions. If war is added to that equation, the loss of life among children will surely be immeasurable, literally and metaphorically. The impact of such loss on the Iraqi psyche is unimaginable in its horror, just as the long-term psycho-social effects of the war on the Iraqi population and the military will be as diverse as they are difficult to quantify, especially when 5% of children displaced by the conflict could be separated from their families – families similar to ours. If one read the newspapers at the weekend, one will have seen the change in the attitudes of young men who have been exposed to the horror of this conflict.

The aid agencies believe that acute malnutrition in under fives will rocket from 4% to 30%, both as a result of critical food shortages and diarrhoeal disease from drinking contaminated water. Some 60% of the Iraqi population is dependent on Government food subsidies. All the indicators suggested that, once war was waged, the 1 million children who were already malnourished would no longer be unable to access the humanitarian aid to which they had had access. It is not the same as Chad, Ethiopia or other places in Africa. This is a population that should not be subject to this and it is not the same type of humanitarian crisis. The problem is in getting aid into the country and having it managed independently and with the integrity of the agencies. We heard a doctor from a village near Najaf talk to Sky News about the dire need for basic medical treatment and drugs such as antibiotics and pain killers.

I wish to make it crystal clear to the Minister of State, who I know has considerable experience in this area, that humanitarian aid should not be linked to military activity in any way and should not be a part of any propaganda machine. The sight of embedded journalists, as they are called, on various television channels "liberating" people with sweets and water is not the way to do business in a crisis that is not of the making of Iraqi civilians. Aid must be delivered by the aid agencies alone. It must not become a bit player in Operation Hearts and Minds. The aid agencies best know the need and it is they, not the military, who are the humanitarian relief experts. This aid is not a privilege but is the right of the innocent Iraqi people who are suffering so much in a war not of their making. It should not become a social anaesthetic delivered by any military agency while taken over areas are cleared.

The Irish Government must lead on this issue with other EU governments and must show example. We must lead on healing the rift and should show strength in line with Ireland's tradition of being generous, committed and caring to Christian and Muslim alike. We have been a shining example in this area and we must continue to concentrate on it. I urge the Minister to do this on my behalf and that of my party and the Irish people. While we may have differences on politics in this House, in this area we are absolutely united.

Hear, hear.

Humanitarian aid and our collective parliamentary concern is for the people – those like Dr. Tarek Taher, the surgeon on duty at the an-Noor Hospital in Baghdad the other day when another explosion ripped through a city market killing 52 people, children and teenagers among them. Asked if it would get worse, this doctor, a hardened veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, told Lara Marlowe of The Irish Times: “Yes. The Americans are still far away. When they come nearer, I am afraid, really afraid – for my own life, for other innocent people. You see, I am one of the innocent people.” Dr. Taher is one of the 24 million people who now depend for their lives and future in part on the aid generated through this House.

I thank the Government for its generous support for what is a non-contentious motion in respect of something this House has been very good at over the years: the issue of humanitarian aid. I commend the Minister for his efforts to date in this regard and ask him to keep up that effort. He has our full support in what he is doing.

I thank the Deputy.

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.

I thank my colleague, Deputy Gay Mitchell, for providing this opportunity to debate an issue about which my party feels strongly. I share that concern on a personal level, as do other Members of the House.

Up to now the debate on Iraq has been predominantly about military conflict, weapons of mass destruction, regime change and the rights and wrongs of the decision to go to war. The debate will move on soon, however, to reflect concerns about mass refugee movements, human rights abuses and the human impact and misery of war. We need to consider the complexities of reconstructing a broken nation after the sanctions and conflict have ended. We may have to consider these issues while the war rages in the coming weeks and months, as it does not look like it will end in the short-term. This House must ask itself how Ireland, as a European nation, can maximise its contribution, to assist millions of innocent people who find themselves caught up in this war and its consequences.

My party's motion calls on the Government to take action in four clear areas. It calls on it, first, "to play a full role in the international relief effort in Iraq in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe". The catastrophe will probably happen anyway, unfortunately. Second, the motion calls on the Government "to work to ensure that the United Nations plays the lead co-ordinating role in the humanitarian relief effort".

Third, the motion calls on the Government, "to vigorously pursue a commitment from our partners in the European Union and the United Nations to provide the necessary funding to ensure the alleviation of hunger and disease amongst the Iraqi population." Finally, the motion calls on the Government, "to work to ensure that such funding should not come from existing moneys already allocated to help in the humanitarian needs of other regions." I welcome the fact that the Government has decided to endorse this motion and I look forward to seeing the evidence of its support in the weeks ahead.

The Irish people underestimate the credibility and influence this country has within the United Nations and the European Union when it comes to issues of humanitarian aid. In October 2001, during the most intense bombing of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, I witnessed at first hand the influence and pressure this small country can exert. I witnessed also the level of our involvement in the United Nations humanitarian aid structure. I travelled to Chaman which borders Afghanistan and is the closest part of Pakistan to Kandahar which was undergoing heavy bombing at the time. Before journeying there, I visited the United Nations headquarters in Islamabad where I found that the chief adviser on humanitarian issues was Nora Hyland, a lady from Dublin. In Chaman, to my astonishment, I discovered that the man responsible for establishing the refugee camp for displaced families fleeing the bombing in Afghanistan was John Costello from Beare Island. He had a beard down to his waist and fitted in very well. He was central to the humanitarian aid effort on the ground where he constructed tents for the United Nations. At the time, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights was Mary Robinson and Ireland was a member of the United Nations Security Council under the guidance of our United Nations ambassador, Richard Ryan. Time and again, Ireland raised the issue of humanitarian aid in the Security Council and made a significant contribution to keeping the humanitarian issue centre stage during the awful conflict in Afghanistan.

Also influential were the Irish NGOs which worked at the coal face of the crisis as they always do. In Chaman I met representatives of Goal and Concern having travelled to the area under cover as a Concern worker. The organisations were waiting to get into Afghanistan and were campaigning to open safe corridors to avoid the sorts of problems emerging in Iraq where the soldiers who are waging the war are the same people giving out the aid. How confused must that population be as bombs drop on their homes and soldiers take cities while aid, food, water and medicine are provided. In a country that has been decimated by the sanctions of the last decade, it must be confusing to have westerners, who are unfortunately despised by the Iraqi population for the wrong reasons in many cases, giving out aid. In Pakistan, I witnessed the suffering of young, often fatherless families walking for up to 100 miles to reach the safety of a refugee camp. Many were unable to cross from Afghanistan which is a problem we may face in the Middle East where Iraq's neighbours have closed their borders to refugees.

We face the same crisis in Iraq as we faced in Afghanistan except there is a larger population involved. Ireland must play its part in ensuring the international aid effort is led by the United Nations. The aid programme cannot be a US-British military initiative which is used as a public relations campaign. I am not interested in discussing the pros and cons of war or whether the decision to take military action should have been made. I am interested in the role Ireland can play in the area where we have credibility. We have no credibility on the international stage to advise the US or British military on how best to undertake a military campaign in Iraq or to criticise their methods. We should concentrate on the issues in regard to which people listen to what we have to say. We should concentrate on humanitarian aid efforts where we can make a real impact and in which we have a proven capacity to make a serious contribution to far larger countries.

The most effective way to distribute aid in Iraq is to use Iraqis and other Arab personnel through UN aid agencies rather than through western personnel. Agencies like Concern and Goal have links with Islamic populations and organisations and they are the people who should be first in. Ireland should be fighting to ensure that the military provides aid corridors to allow them in, which is where we can be of benefit. Ireland must lobby intensively within the European Union and the United Nations to ensure that the crisis we see unfolding on our screens every evening is kept centre stage. That is how we can be of value. Reconstructing Afghanistan over the next ten years, which is how long it will take, will cost approximately $15 billion. Estimates suggest that the same process in Iraq will cost up to $100 billion. If there is anything left of Iraq's health system after the sanctions of the last 12 years, there will certainly not be anything after the current conflict.

Approximately 10 million people are in need of direct food assistance from aid agencies while hundreds of thousands of people are on the move as we speak. There will be more refugees when the war really hits Baghdad as soldiers reach the city. Iraq has a population of about 26 million, give or take 3 million or 4 million, as no one seems able to provide an accurate number. Of these, 50% are children under the age of 15 who spend their nights at home hoping they will survive this war. They are the people Ireland must now concentrate on helping instead of pontificating on the pros and cons of war. Let us try to make a real impact in Iraq by ensuring that as a small country but an effective international humanitarian aid lobbyist, we keep this issue at the centre of attention. We must do so at every European Union summit and at every United Nations meeting in which we participate.

Ireland's financial contribution should not be dismissed because we are a small country. The aid package of €5 million announced last week may seem like a miserable contribution in the context of the current crisis, but it is a start. However, I understand that this sum is to come from an annual €23 million fund for emergencies and unexpected crises. The current humanitarian crisis is man-made and we should look for extra funding. I understood that the €23 million fund was earmarked to alleviate the hunger Ethiopians and other Africans will suffer later on this year. We must provide extra funding to address the crisis in Iraq if for no other reason than to make a clear statement that the Irish people and the Irish Government are willing to suffer a financial cost to demonstrate our resolve to address the humanitarian cost of the war being waged.

Let us concentrate on what we can achieve rather than on what we can talk about. Let us now use all the influence we have within the UN to ensure that it takes centre-stage in relation to the humanitarian efforts in a co-ordinated international effort. Let us not accept what we see at the moment on our television screens whereby British and US soldiers are the ones handing out aid. Instead let us insist on those soldiers providing safe humanitarian aid corridors and let us have Arabs primarily, through humanitarian aid agencies, giving out food to people so that we can prevent the kind of hatred that is building up between westerners and Arabs in Iraq as we speak.

I propose to share my time with Deputies Carey and O'Connor.

I sincerely thank the leader of the Fine Gael Party, Deputy Kenny, and his colleagues for initiating this debate and the spirit in which they brought it to the floor of the House. On my own behalf and on behalf of my party I wish to say that we are pleased to support this motion which deserves our support. I agree with those who have affirmed that Ireland has a very long and proud tradition of supporting the United Nations, of supporting humanitarian relief efforts wherever they occur, and we have been a strong voice for the innocent victims of many conflicts such as the one we are now discussing. I also reiterate our strong respect for the many very effective NGOs that have worked so well with successive Governments.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the humanitarian situation in Iraq. It is clear that Iraq is potentially facing an enormous humanitarian crisis with millions of innocent civilians threatened by conflict, hunger and a lack of basic needs. As Minister responsible for development co-operation and human rights my focus remains on the protection and saving of human lives. This is a humanitarian imperative to which I am absolutely committed.

The present conflict in Iraq follows years of hardship and difficulty. Since 1991 the Iraqi people have seen a dramatic drop in their living standards. In the league table that measures quality of life – the human development index – HDI – Iraq fell from 96th place to 127th place in a little over ten years. No country has fallen so far so rapidly. This deterioration is translated at the basic human level into increased child deaths, malnutrition and high rates of disease. Iraqi children are facing extreme risks at this time, and we should be conscious of the fact that they constitute half of the population of Iraq.

Prior to the beginning of the current conflict 60% of the population – 16 million people – were dependent on rations delivered under the UN oil for food programme, OFFP, as their only food supply. The suspension of this programme on 17 March, when the Secretary General withdrew United Nations personnel from Iraq, has put even greater pressures on an already extremely vulnerable population.

I greatly welcome the unanimous decision of the Security Council, through Resolution 1472, authorising the Secretary General to administer the oil for food programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer. I hope that the resumption of the programme will mean that, despite the difficulties, basic food assistance can once again reach those who are most vulnerable. Estimates of the scale of the humanitarian crisis cannot easily be made at this point as the situation changes daily. Iraqis from various regions in the country have responded differently to the conflict. The latest indications are that the majority of people in the south have remained in their homes, rather than fleeing to safer areas either within the country or to neighbouring states. In the north there appears to be a larger displacement of people. The southern city of Basra is an area of particular concern. We are monitoring carefully the humanitarian situation in Iraq in order to gauge the precise needs of those directly affected by the conflict and to assess what we can do to address those needs.

The Government will play a strong role in bringing emergency relief to the innocent victims of this conflict. In response to the impending humanitarian crisis, on Tuesday last I held discussions with non-governmental organisations that have a proven track record in addressing emergency humanitarian needs throughout the world. I have also had meetings with a wide range of international agencies and organisations which have kept me briefed on their plans to assist the most vulnerable Iraqis.

Deputies will be aware that I have announced a special €5 million emergency assistance package for the people of Iraq, with a particular emphasis on women and children. These funds will be disbursed through non-governmental organisations and through international agencies such as UNICEF and the Red Cross. We will work with those agencies which are best equipped and which have the capacity and experience to respond effectively to this crisis.

I have already authorised initial disbursements from this emergency funding. Assistance amounting to €1.5 million will be provided to the Red Cross and Red Crescent family and to UNICEF. These agencies are present in Iraq and their staff, the great majority of whom are Iraqi, are providing assistance on a daily basis to those most in need.

Red Cross teams are providing medical and water assistance in Baghdad and Basra and, where possible, in other locations. They are also attempting to address the power situation in Basra. UNICEF is also continuing to implement emergency relief operations within Iraq, carried out by committed and experienced nationals. UNICEF is immunising children against measles and delivering food and medicines to orphanages and other institutions around Baghdad. UNICEF is co-ordinating closely with the Red Cross and other agencies and organisations.

I commend UNICEF and the Red Cross for the work that they are continuing to do inside Iraq in very difficult circumstances. My Department is currently appraising applications for emergency funding from Concern, Goal and Trócaire. These NGOs have a proven track record for delivering emergency assistance rapidly and effectively.

In my discussions with these NGOs and others I have stressed the need for effective co-ordination in order to maximise the value of our assistance. They will be working closely with partner organisations within Iraq and with the relevant UN agencies. We will, I hope, also be able to work with other NGOs such as Oxfam and World Vision.

Deputies may wish to note that I have already provided €500,000 in start-up costs to key Irish NGOs to enable them to become operational quickly at the onset of an emergency. These funds can be prioritised for Iraq if the NGOs so wish. While the delivery of essential relief to Iraq will be difficult, the challenges we face are not unique and with a concerted effort from the international community they can be met. We have garnered valuable experience and lessons from similar humanitarian situations, most recently in Afghanistan.

From the outset I have emphasised – and I agree with those who said so this evening, including Deputy Kenny – that the UN must play a lead role in any humanitarian relief operation. In our contacts with the UN we are emphasising this point and – in response to Deputies Mitchell and Coveney – I will be using every opportunity, with my EU colleagues, over the coming weeks to ensure that the UN takes and maintains the lead in the humanitarian effort. The UN has the international mandate to co-ordinate a humanitarian response and also has a substantial record of achievement in this area. I have recently returned from a visit to East Timor where I witnessed at first hand the successful outcome of a UN operation which has placed this newly independent country on the road to development and prosperity.

In 1999 the situation in East Timor seemed almost hopeless. Its infrastructure was destroyed and a large proportion of its population was displaced, yet today that new nation is looking to the future with determination and confidence. The UN played the key role in this transformation. The experience of East Timor clearly shows how strong a force for good the UN can be when its members act in a united manner.

A few days ago the United Nations issued a major international appeal for assistance in relation to the humanitarian situation in Iraq over the next six months. This assistance will be provided in strict adherence to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality that underpin the mandates of the United Nations and its emergency response agencies. The UN appeal has two components, food and non-food needs. It is estimated that the food needs of the Iraqi population will amount to 480,000 metric tonnes per month for at least a three-month period. Non-food needs include the provision of water, health, shelter, education, protection, de-mining and emergency repairs.

In any conflict the primary responsibility for the protection and welfare of the civilian population rests with the warring parties. In a case of foreign occupation, it is the occupying power that has the responsibility to ensure the provision of food and medical supplies to the civilian population.

Will the Minister give way for a moment?

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. Can he tell the House if, in his experience – of which he has a great deal – 480,000 metric tonnes of aid has been equalled or surpassed at any time in the past?

This is a very major need. It is even greater than in situations I have experienced in the past. It is a very substantial requirement.

A total of 100,000 tonnes is the largest ever, anywhere.

I thank the Minister for giving way.

In relation to this issue which has been raised in terms of the military and humanitarian roles, I emphasise that it is also the responsibility of the UN to respond immediately and effectively to save lives, to mitigate suffering and, even in these dark moments, to preserve hope for a peaceful future.

We will respond positively to the UN appeal through assisting our key UN partners such as UNICEF, UNHCR and the world food programme. The needs of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs will also be examined. Ireland has already provided almost €15 million to UNICEF and UNHCR in 2003 for their global operations including emergencies. These funds are not earmarked, thus providing these agencies with the necessary flexibility and the potential for fast delivery which can improve effectiveness and save lives.

The European Union and its member states are the largest donors of development assistance in the world. It is anticipated that the EU will spend approximately €100 million on an immediate response to the emergency in Iraq. The first tranche of €3 million is already being used to deliver assistance in Iraq by means of the International Red Cross. I welcome this rapid response and I will continue to use every opportunity to highlight the humanitarian needs of Iraq to my colleagues in the EU.

Irish funding of €5 million is being provided to save lives in Iraq. The funding provided by the Irish Government for development co-operation and the reduction of poverty in the developing world has never been at a higher level. The primary focus of our assistance remains sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest number of poor countries in the world are located. This focus will not change. However, there are many millions of poor people in other parts of the world and we regard it as our duty to respond to their needs as well. In relation to the emergency humanitarian budget I wish to assure Deputies that this budget, which currently stands at €23 million, is by its very nature designed to be flexible. It is not allocated to any particular region or emergency in advance, but is available to save lives and livelihoods in whatever region of the world there is greatest need.

We cannot predict the number or intensity of crises, therefore the funding must remain flexible. My priority is to address humanitarian needs wherever they arise. I have sufficient funding under the programme as a whole to deal with the full range of humanitarian needs and also to tackle the longer term development challenges in Africa and elsewhere. Funding for Iraq will not come from the moneys already allocated to help with humanitarian needs of other regions.

In 2002 the Government intervened to provide humanitarian assistance such as food, water, shelter and medicines on more than 120 occasions in over 30 countries, including Iraq, throughout the world. This is testament to our commitment to respond to the needs of the poor in times of crisis. It was the flexible and unallocated nature of our funds which allowed us to respond quickly to humanitarian needs as they arose. As the situation in Iraq unfolds, Ireland will work as part of a concerted international humanitarian effort involving the United Nations, the European Union and NGOs.

I remind Deputies that we live in a very imperfect world. I dearly wish this conflict could have been avoided. We worked very hard during our time as a member of the Security Council to alleviate the effects of economic sanctions on the innocent civilian population of Iraq. We lent our support to every effort to find a peaceful solution through diplomatic means. At this difficult time I will do everything in my power to address the dreadful humanitarian consequences of this conflict. I thank Deputy Kenny and his party for bringing this motion to the House. There is a significant sense of solidarity and unity emanating from this debate tonight. It is appropriate to have a debate in the House on this subject. It is right and proper that all Members unite in playing our part with the United Nations, NGOs and other countries to provide much needed assistance to the innocent civilians in Iraq who are suffering and are in urgent need.

I compliment Deputy Kenny and the Fine Gael Party for presenting the House with the opportunity to debate the appalling disaster in Iraq. To echo what Deputy Coveney said, I am not here to talk about the legitimacy or otherwise of the war. Those of us who are members of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs listened today to John O'Shea, Tom Arnold and their colleagues talk about the humanitarian aspects of this conflict and this is what I wish to focus on in my contribution.

I saw a film clip on the television news tonight which was virtually nauseating. Journalists who are embedded with the coalition forces, so-called independent journalists, had been brought in to see how coalition forces were distributing humanitarian aid. There are many losses in this war and one of the greatest is the link being made between military intervention and humanitarian aid. It is an appalling perversion to attempt that. The other great loser is undoubtedly the United Nations. A strong respected organisation has been virtually brought to its knees by the actions of members who could not convince their colleagues of their point of view. Like other speakers, I urge the Minister of State and his colleagues to do everything in their power to restore the pri macy of the United Nations as a determining force in the preservation of the rule of law, humanitarian assistance and regulation of world politics.

The famine in the Horn of Africa has been another loser. It does not have the same attraction for the media as the Playstation war being played out on television. We must help to restore the attention of the world to that famine.

John O'Shea outlined various scenarios to the committee this afternoon. We all want to see an end to this war very quickly but I wonder if that will happen. I note that the British soldiers were instructed to take off their helmets and mix with the local people and develop a bond with them. I am reminded of another time and place when the same soldiers made the same attempt to fraternise with the locals only to find that they had to admit 30 years later that their intervention was not capable of solving the problems of the North. Like Deputy Coveney, I hope it will not take as long for the world to extricate itself from this mess. I hope there will be fewer casualties in Iraq than I fear there may well be.

There is a need to restore water and food supplies. Humanitarian corridors must be established as a matter of urgency. We must ensure that the United Nations is regarded as the agent of the delivery of humanitarian aid to Iraq, otherwise there will be a replication of what was attempted in Kosovo and Afghanistan. There is a pattern emerging which links humanitarian aid with military intervention in order to win over the population. Tom Arnold from Concern made an interesting and frightening comment this afternoon. He said that the cost of the first 30 days of the military intervention was estimated at $62 billion. The allocation by the United States for reconstruction in Iraq is $1.7 billion and for humanitarian intervention it is $ 0.5 billion. This is the same as the request for additional funding for the FBI to enhance domestic counter-terrorism measures. The humanitarian budget is 3.5% of that for the prosecution of the conflict. I urge the Minister of State to work with his colleagues in the European Union to ensure Ireland works with its colleagues in the United Nations to use the people, about whom Deputy Coveney spoke, who have expertise and world respect in this area. There are at least three such people in this House, the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, Deputy O'Donnell and Deputy Michael D. Higgins, all of whom have contacts, expertise and a level of respect which will help contribute to the resolution of this conflict.

I hope the House will unite tomorrow night around the Fine Gael motion, which is comprehensive, all-embracing and will attract the support of the Irish people by way of a response that probably has not been seen before, but which will be necessary. If the small number of us who are here talking about this particular issue do nothing else other than mobilise the Irish humanitarian will behind the need to support the people in Iraq, it will have been a couple of hours well spent.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, for allowing me to share time with him and Deputy Carey because I am anxious to contribute to the debate. I compliment Deputy Gay Mitchell, Deputy Kenny and other members of the Fine Gael Party for giving us an opportunity to speak on this important matter.

A number of phrases struck me today. Some people take the notion that certain members of certain parties have different attitudes to war and attempts are made to paint us as some sort of pro-war advocates, which we are not. I come from a generation which was opposed to war. My father was a member of the Irish Guards and saw action in the war. As I grew up, I had very clear views on war and what it meant. It upsets me as a public representative that politicians like me are being targeted by anti-war groups. Some 12 people turned up at my clinic in Old Bawn the other day chanting and screaming, trying to intimidate and upset people who had come to my clinic. These people try to prevent politicians from providing a service, which is what we do at advice centres.

There is nothing wrong with peaceful protests.

It is not the way to behave. If I were protesting I would not threaten to throw paint, bang on windows, kick doors or push posters in the faces of elderly vulnerable people. I have no problem with protests because I have often been involved in them. It is how I learned my political trade. However, this is not the way to behave. Apart from intimidating people seeking help from politicians, it creates the impression that all politicians are somehow involved in this situation. I am clearly stating that I oppose war. There should be a more effective way to deal with world problems other than bombing poor people.

I am struck by the images I see on television and in the media. Years ago, when we saw war pictures they were all done in a sort of ra-ra way, which seemed harmless. Now television, particularly Sky News, is bringing war and killing into our homes. We see civilians and children being killed, which is very upsetting. Two phrases struck me particularly today; I listened to a young person being interviewed on "Five Seven Live" who said that "war is never the answer" which is correct. The Taoiseach also said today that an enormous tragedy is unfolding. There is no question about that. It typifies the way we all feel about it. It is correct to call on the Government to deal with the humanitarian fall-out which is happening.

While I am not a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, I compliment my colleagues who arranged the meeting today. I watched the entire meeting and I was very impressed by Concern and GOAL's presentations. John O'Shea articulated a sense of what we all feel. It is important to put on record a couple of the important remarks. He said the Irish Government should support efforts by the UN to make the aid operation in Iraq a UN-led operation. I hope we all agree to that. He also said that the Irish Government must assist all the NGOs 100% once they become operational. He made the point that no one should be testing these organisations; now is the time to help them deliver. He stated in his document that the Irish Government should not be in any great rush to pledge huge sums to the problem because the area is awash with money. It is important to understand the challenge NGOs face. One of the things that came across to me, which has been mentioned in this debate, is that the food shortages and droughts in Southern Africa, for example, have not gone away. John O'Shea made the point that the fact we do not read about the problem in the newspapers and hear about it on our TV screens does not mean it has gone away. That is what Iraq is doing because there is nothing else on the news.

Perhaps now is the time for all of us to put our money where our mouth is and assist these organisations. I hope the Irish people will be generous in their response to them, as they always have been. We should lead the way in that regard. I hope the different political parties, through all their representatives, will find a way to do that.

We must support the Government in its efforts. I was pleased last week when the Government was one of the first countries to respond to the situation by donating €5 million. It is important that the Minister of State understands that what he is attempting to achieve has widespread support. He certainly has my support. It is important that we all unite on the issue before us tonight because we can see the difficulties of the Iraqi people and the terrible deeds which are being carried out by the international community. It upsets me that it is presumed that people on different sides of the House, who belong to different political parties, do not have a strong desire for peace. It is not just talk. I am saying to the Government – I know other colleagues will do likewise – that it must do everything possible in this regard. I was pleased when I listened last night to the Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, on "Questions and Answers" who calmly and responsibly dealt with the issues. It is an emotive issue, as Deputy Finian McGrath demonstrated. To some extent, we should all unite behind it. I am not a warmonger and anyone who thinks I am is off his head as far as I am concerned. We should show solidarity with the UN and the people of Iraq. We should say this is wrong and there should be a different way to deal with the issue.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Burton.

The first point I want to make is that there has always been unanimity in this House in regard to development aid, which is to be welcomed. As Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, I am pleased to support this motion. I echo Deputy Kenny's statement that the war is illegal; it has no legal authority. Our participation in this debate should not be a substitute for a deeper debate, which I hope will be provided in Government time, on some fundamentals regarding the causes of this war, its implications and the possibility of bringing it to a halt. I urge the Minister of State to ask his colleague, the Chief Whip, to arrange that debate as speedily as possible. It must consider such issues as the legality or otherwise of the actions taking place, the serious consequences of pre-emption being accepted as a principle in international policy and the fundamental issue as to where, if in any resolution or any aspect of international law, the suggestion that regime change can be a project of one government directed against another. The United Nations Charter makes no provision for this.

We cannot avoid these issues. It is not that we can choose to avoid them. As signatories to the United Nations Charter we have an obligation to consider them. Our consideration of the humanitarian dimension cannot ever be a substitute for our consideration of the fundamental principles of foreign policy, except at a moral cost. The Fine Gael Party leader adverted to this aspect when he moved the motion. He has my support. Those of us who have spent all our lives urging the importance of development aid and its expansion, and applauded its significant achievements under people such as Deputy O'Donnell, never saw it as a substitute for foreign policy, nor can it ever be.

Turning to the specifics of the motion, it is important that we draw some distinctions. There appears to be general agreement in the House that the militarisation of aid would be a disaster. Before we get to that point it is important to understand the situation in Iraq. According to the human development index, it has fallen from 96th place to 127th. The country is perhaps the most important world centre in terms of the development of human civilisation. In the mouth of the two great rivers, the Tigres and Euphrates, we have the origins of most of the world's civilisations, all the major religions, the origins of the first written code of law, the code of Hammurabi, the city of Uhr and the origins of the Syrian civilisation. We are concerned with a people who have been engaged in thousands of years of the development of culture before western civilisation, as we like to describe it, developed.

I have had the advantages and the sorrow of visiting Iraq on three occasions, in 1990, 2001 and some weeks ago. Between 1991 and 2001, the country had been humiliated by the sanctions. A proud country had been brought to its knees, its children put at risk and the civilian population made the target of initiatives that were directed allegedly against the consequences and the actions of a regime which was rightly criticised.

In 1988 in this House I criticised Alaja. I can speak about it in detail. It arose because of a war between Iran and Iraq, but also because of immediate engagement between the two countries. Contrary to what many say, my information in 1988, which has remained unchanged, was that the chemical capacity was supplied to Iran by western powers. Iraq used mustard gas. It does not matter. The Kurds were the victims and at the time not much attention was focused on what happened. People went on not only to sell weapons of destruction to both sides, but they tried to sell beef and more. They also tried to buy oil. They were not interested in dealing with the position of the Kurdish people. Later, the Shiite people would be abandoned in the south.

The Minister of State said that United Nations Resolution 1472 authorises the Secretary General to administer the oil for food programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer. That is somewhat abstracted. While the resolution was passed, we must be clear about a number of aspects that people do not seem to understand.

The oil for food programme was offered to Iraq in 1991. I recall the debate around it. It was accepted by Iraq in 1996. Resolution 687 introduced the sanctions. Paragraph 22 provided that if Iraq eliminated its weapons of mass destruction the sanctions would end. It was arbitrarily ended by the then United States Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, who dropped the offer of the ending of the sanctions for compliance by Iraq. In 1997, his successor, Madeline Albright, confirmed this position. Tragically, those who wanted a war in Iraq and prepared a project for it, started their preparations in the early 1990s. I will return to this in the substantive debate.

When the oil for food programme commenced, it was not an alternative to normal economic production. It was accepted in 1996 and changed in 1999 when Iraq was allowed to produce as much oil as it wished. The programme would then be implemented in a certain way. Some 25% of oil revenue was directed to the reparation fund while between 3% and 5% was directed to the United Nations administration costs. At one stage the Iraqi people were using their oil to pay for bombs being dropped on them in the no fly zone. They also paid for the inspectors. Resolution 1441 was succeeding. The inspectors could have worked under it and could have succeeded in the elimination of weapons of mass destruction. Much of their efforts were funded by Iraqi oil production.

Since 1996, €61 billion has been generated by oil production. Of that, $26 billion has been spent on humanitarian supplies, while six months ago – the last occasion I checked the figures – $10 billion was held up in production and delivery pipeline systems. Under the oil for food programme, Iraq could produce oil. Some of the revenue was directed to the reparation fund and administration while the remainder was directed to purchasing food. Hitherto, in the three Kurdish governorships in the north of the country, the food was administered directly by United Nations officials who have since gone. Some local people remain, but who will now undertake this task?

In the south and centre of the country, which includes Baghdad, 46% of the population are under the age of 15 years while 72% live in cities. This will produce a high ratio of civilian casualties should there be urban warfare. Food is distributed to 48,352 distribution centres. It arrives in the south and is sent to regional warehouses from where it goes to the distribution centres.

When I visited Baghdad I was told that the population had been instructed by the Ba'ath Party to stay in their homes. They have now been told by the newspapers and a scandalous media, one that has prostituted itself in the case of Sky Television, that they will face a siege. How will they access the food distribution points, many of which contain members of the Ba'ath Party? If every member of the Ba'ath Party is to be regarded as a potential member of the Fedayeen to be removed, what structure will be put in place?

According to my estimates, approximately 500,000 tonnes of food have been distributed in the south and centre of the country. The Minister of State mentioned 480,000 tonnes. The difference is not significant, but it is significant that the largest amount of food moved in the world was between Pakistan and Afghanistan. That amounted to 100,000 tonnes per month. The food distribution structure is now to be removed, which means that people will no longer be able to access the distribution centres and collect their allowance, made up of a daily amount of 2,250 kilocalories 40 grams of protein, etc. That system, akin to a ration card approach, was in existence before the oil for food programme. It means that a food programme paid for by Iraqi oil and distributed by the Iraqi Government will be removed.

What, then, is suggested by Resolution 1472? Is it suggested that the Iraqi Government should agree to the production of the oil for distribution by the United States and the United Kingdom? How is the food to arrive in the country and make its way to the warehouses and distribution centres and how is it to get to the people? That is the size of the problem.

In regard to the health requirement, there is no provision for a figure of about 3.5 million people, particularly those at immediate risk such as pregnant women and lactating mothers. The militarisation of aid is not a slogan. What is happening is that a national government-administered food programme is being taken out without any humanitarian substitute being put in its place. The suggestion is that we have either a US military person step in or that we negotiate with some Iraqi officials.

The reality in regard to Basra and other cities is that UNICEF has 160 Iraqi nationals working for the organisation. They are enormously valuable but the people in charge of the contingency plans for the distribution in Baghdad, whom I met and spoke to, were the people who were first removed and then withdrawn. The people with the contingency plan are gone. Therefore, the best way of looking after the humanitarian relief is to end the war. That means taking initiatives at the Security Council to get like minded groups of nations to intervene, even at this stage, to stop this civilian catastrophe that will take place and that will cause such damage to the people of Iraq, to the region and to the entire Muslim world. We are not just left wing people who are against the war. What about the Muslim populations of Indonesia and Malaysia and those across the world? It is this madness that is creating this war and its enormous consequences.

About three months ago when I was in Baghdad, one of the most valuable meetings I had was with six international medical people who produced a report which they handed over to me and which has been distributed, I understand, to many Members of this House. The report was entitled Our Common Responsibility – The Impact of a New War on Iraqi Children. This report gave all the figures that anybody might want. It draws on UNICEF figures showing that 24% of the children under five are malnourished and it refers to the people I mentioned already, those immediately in need.

There is another side to this. How can a people with 9,000 years of civilisation behind them accept the suggestion that they must have $62 billion worth of destruction rained down on top of their houses, their institutions, their infrastructure, their electricity network and so on and then have someone come along and say they are willing to invite them to democracy with $500 million of expenditure? That is an obscenity. The depictions we are getting of all of this on our television screens lower us. I feel demeaned by the totally unregulated images I have to see on television.

Before I give time to my colleague, Deputy Burton, I want to propose something practical we can do. The Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians and children states that the destruction of infrastructure required for "the protection and sustenance of children" is illegal. Of course that was a crime in 1991 but it happened then and 50,000 children under the age of five died for one reason or another. If we are to avoid that happening again we must exercise the capacity of the Fourth Geneva Convention which suggests, under Articles 52, 53, 132 and 149, that a body of inquiry, an independent commission, be established to look at compliance with the Geneva Convention. That is what we should be seeking. We should be at the Security Council working night and day with like minded nations to stop this war. We should be seeking the implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. We should be objecting, as I am sure all Members do, to the militarisation of aid. We should also seek to enter into dialogue on a regional basis with all of the parties involved.

I would not like to have it on my hands that I introduced the concept of a suicide bomber to some Palestinians neglected by the international community since 1947. Now this concept is in Iraq and we wait and wait for somebody else like Donald Rumsfeld to say Iran might be next or Syria is not to be trusted.

Remember the people who started this war and those who sustain it. They are talking about a war fought with other people's children. That itself is scandalous. Youngsters from Britain and the United States will die in an unnecessary and disgraceful war.

There are two issues that raise questions for the Irish Government tonight about the role that Ireland will play in humanitarian relief in Iraq. Will our aid budget for emergencies in Africa and other desperately poor parts of the world be raided to divert funds to offer short-term relief to those wounded or displaced by the war machine? Will the poorest in Africa, or AIDS victims, have to suffer more and wait longer in order to finance the relief of war suffering. Will we rob the starving and the sick of Africa to heal the war wounds of Iraq? The second issue raises the question: What is the view of our Government of the current scenes of aid distribution in Iraq?

Our television screens are currently showing disgraceful and shameful images of fit, young Iraqi men in their early 20s fighting and scrambling to catch the aid, bottles of water and small packets of food, from other fit young men, British and American soldiers. These scenes are either a staged photographic show or the distribution of the assistance is entirely haphazard and unplanned. Either way, the chances are that the young men receiving the assistance will probably go on to sell it on the black market.

As a former development worker in Tanzania, and as a former Minister of State with responsibility for development aid from 1995-97, I have been in many refugee camps and have witnessed many distributions. I was shocked to see these able bodied young men being the recipients of humanitarian aid rather than women and children or vulnerable older people of both sexes.

All wars and conflict situations produce those who aim to make money out of the extremes of human suffering and out of the aid business. Realists know that to prevent humanitarian aid being ripped off by the fittest, as we saw this week, it has to be well organised, with the vulnerable coming first. Reputable international and Irish agencies have worked out "rules of the game" to try to prevent abuse. Armies, unless trained to do the job, are not the appropriate mechanism for the delivery of aid.

If the Irish Government wants to make sure that the €5 million we are donating is not abused, as we have seen, it better exert what influence it has to ensure that UN organisations such as UNDP and UNICEF, as well as our own internationally recognised NGOs, such as Trócaire, Concern and GOAL, are centrally involved in the distribution of humanitarian assistance.

I witnessed the attempted re-colonisation of Rwanda by hundreds of different aid agencies and NGOs, all fighting for shares of the aid dollars post the horrible genocide. I do not want to see a repetition of that situation in Iraq or to see our Government sanctioning that.

I remember as the war in Afghanistan raged that many world leaders promised a war on disease and poverty. A new international social order would be born to arrest the drift of the world's poorest to Islamic terrorists. It was a false dawn. The first priority of American aid, such as it is, in Afghanistan after the war was not a hospital or a school or a clinic, the biggest single project is a five star hotel in Kabul.

The US has become the master dodger of humanitarian obligations. It wants Europe to mop up after the bombs and missiles, while the cronies and paymasters of Cheney and Rumsfeld carpet bag their way to the plunder of Iraq's fabulous wealth.

We need re-assurances from our Government that Irish aid to Iraq is additional to the humanitarian budget already agreed. Given the inherent wealth and capacity of Iraq, Ireland will assist the victims of the war in Iraq best by continuously and strenuously opposing the war, helping it to a conclusion as quickly as possible.

Debate adjourned.