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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 5

Journalists in Conflicts across the World: Statements

At the outset, I thank Deputies for this important and timely debate. While the television cameras and eyes of the world most recently focused on the killings of journalists in Ukraine and the occupied Palestinian territory, we cannot afford to overlook attacks on journalists anywhere. Across the world, attacks against journalists occur against the background of growing authoritarianism, with associated restrictions on press freedom, increased cyber-surveillance and growth in disinformation.

In too many countries, attacks on journalists occur in tandem with a broader pushback against human rights in general and against civil and political rights in particular.

The promotion and protection of all human rights remains a key foreign policy priority for Ireland. It is central to our commitment to a rules-based multilateral order, with the United Nations at its core. We unequivocally condemn impunity and demand protection for journalists, whether in situations of conflict or otherwise. I will speak later about our work on the UN Security Council, which actively reflects that commitment, both through our focus on ensuring accountability and our efforts to mainstream human rights across all areas of the Security Council agenda. It is also evident in our work as an active observer at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is the primary international forum responsible for advancing respect for human rights. Our previous membership in the council, from 2013 to 2015, enabled us to contribute substantively to the promotion and protection of all human rights. In order to continue this work, Ireland will seek our next term on the Human Rights Council for the period 2027 to 2029.

As Deputies will be aware, Ireland also last week assumed the six-month Presidency of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe, the Continent’s leading human rights organisation, for the seventh time. Much has changed since Ireland joined the Council of Europe as one of ten founding members in 1949. However, the council’s work on the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law is more vital than ever. This includes the independence of the media and safety of journalists across the 46 member states, including Ukraine.

The most recent figures from Reporters without Borders provide a grim background for today’s debate. Some 939 journalists and media workers were killed across the globe during the ten years from 2011 to 2020. Last year alone, 50 journalists were killed and 302 were imprisoned. Every killing of a journalist represents an assault on democracy, is an attack on media freedom and demonstrates contempt for the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

While the protection of journalists is a global issue, it also resonates deeply with people across this island. I am proud that Ireland ranks sixth of the 180 countries in the latest World Press Freedom Index. However, our history reminds us that we cannot take press freedom for granted ever. We remember in particular the despicable killings in Northern Ireland of widely respected journalists Lyra McKee and Martin O’Hagan at the hands of paramilitary organisations. Likewise, the memory of the brutal murder of Veronica Guerin reminds us of the threat from organised crime networks. We also remember the two Irish camera operators killed while working overseas, Simon Cumbers, and more recently, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed with his Ukrainian colleague on 14 March when their vehicle came under fire in Ukraine. I am also well aware that an increasing number of journalists, including Irish citizens, have faced expulsion or have been denied work permits to undertake media assignments abroad.

The right to freedom of opinion and expression is defined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, as exercised by journalists and media, is fundamental to the protection and promotion of democracy, the rule of law and upholding all human rights. Having free, independent and pluralistic media, both online and offline, is crucial to any democratic society. It allows citizens and communities to make informed decisions and to hold governments accountable. Being able to work in safety allows journalists to fulfil their essential role in providing objective and unbiased information.

Journalists play an indispensable role in conflict-affected countries. They ensure that we know what is happening in some of the world’s most dangerous and inaccessible places. They report and document the realities and impacts of conflict and corruption. They uncover evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and human rights violations and abuses. They are often the first witnesses to report a conflict and its impact on the everyday lives of civilians. Their work can underpin steps towards accountability, justice and ultimately, peace.

International humanitarian law is clear. Journalists working in conflict zones must be afforded the same protections as civilians. Too often, though, they face violence and intimidation. Tragically, in some cases it is the "Press" logo emblazoned on their vests or armbands and intended to guarantee protection which leads instead to their being deliberately targeted. In too many cases, threats of killing and attacks against journalists go uninvestigated, allowing the perpetrators to act with impunity. This has a further chilling effect on the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

Women journalists are particularly at risk of marginalisation and are targeted disproportionately by harassment and violence. Offline, and increasingly online, we are now seeing an increase in the targeting of women journalists, including in situations where gender intersects with other forms of discrimination, including race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

During our term on the UN Security Council, Ireland is prioritising human rights and international humanitarian law. We have frequently called attention to attacks on media workers and have demanded accountability. We have condemned abductions and disappearances of journalists in Libya, called for an end to violence against media workers in Myanmar and spoken out against attacks on freedom of expression in Afghanistan. Last week at UN headquarters in New York, we called for a thorough, impartial and independent investigation into the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, who I expect will be the focus of many people's contributions today.

In 2015, the Security Council adopted a dedicated resolution on the protection of journalists and we are determined to keep this issue on the agenda. Today, Ireland is hosting a meeting of Security Council members in New York that will focus specifically on the protection of journalists. We have called this meeting in response to recent cases where media workers have been killed. We have invited a number of experts to brief at the meeting, including Jon Williams of RTÉ, a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Irene Khan, the UN special rapporteur for freedom of expression and opinion, as well as representatives from Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera. We will examine what more the Security Council and UN missions can do to protect journalists. We will highlight the vital need to address impunity and call on the UN Security Council to do everything possible to ensure accountability for crimes against media workers.

Let me focus for a moment on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May. I have already strongly condemned her killing, which took place while she was engaged in her work as a journalist. Today, I would like to restate my condolences to her family, friends and colleagues. Ms Abu Akleh was a successful and very well-respected journalist. Her reporting has been rightly praised for its tenacity and humanity.

We have all seen the shocking footage of Ms Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem on 13 May. I condemn the disgraceful actions of the Israeli police, including the totally unacceptable use of excessive force. These appalling events compound the trauma of those grieving, increase already heightened tension, particularly in Jerusalem, and show a complete disrespect for the dead. These actions were offensive to every sense of decency and have no place in any modern society. I welcome the widespread condemnation of Ms Abu Akleh’s killing from the international community, including the EU and UN. The EU issued a statement calling for a thorough and independent investigation and stressed the importance of supporting journalists, particularly those covering conflicts. High Representative Josep Borrell also highlighted the disproportionate use of force by the Israeli police at the funeral.

I echo the words of the UN special coordinator, Tor Wennesland, who said that an investigation must be immediate and thorough. The UN Secretary General also issued a statement urging an independent and transparent investigation and accountability for those responsible for Ms Abu Akleh's death. The Israeli Government must take definitive steps now to ensure swift accountability. It should not and cannot ignore these calls. A full independent, effective and transparent investigation into Ms Abu Akleh’s death is not only required, but demanded by the international community. The Israeli Government must now outline how it intends to achieve this in a credible way. Any delays make it more difficult to gather evidence and to hold those responsible to account.

The killing and the events afterwards at the funeral also sit within a broader context of heightened tensions throughout Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, particularly in Jerusalem. I have been clear that the Israeli authorities must take concrete actions to de-escalate the situation. There is a real risk of further destabilisation, violence and the deaths of more innocent people. The events at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan have focused attention again on the holy sites.

There are potentially significant flash points in the coming weeks, including the flag parade due to take place on 29 May. The Israeli authorities must act to avoid escalation.

On 13 May, my Department and 13 other EU foreign ministries issued a statement expressing deep concern regarding the large number of new settlements approved for construction by the Israeli Higher Planning Council, and urging the Israeli authorities to reverse the decision. We also stated our opposition to the planned demolitions and evictions at Masafer Yatta. These decisions cannot be seen in isolation from the wider rise in tensions across Israel and Palestine.

The impressive work of journalists, such as Shireen Abu Akleh, contributes to a greater understanding of the conflict. They work to ensure that this important issue continues to receive the international attention it deserves, that this long-running conflict is not forgotten and that the international community is reminded of its responsibility to strive for a lasting peace.

Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy. The work of journalists, such as Shireen, is critical to ensuring accountability. Without their witness, the suffering of people under occupation would be less visible. I call on the Israeli authorities to show that they take the fundamental democratic principle of accountability seriously; and that they are committed to ensuring there is no impunity for those guilty of wrongdoing.

I would also like to take the opportunity to address the decision by the Israeli authorities over the weekend to refuse entry to the Chair of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with Palestine as well as the decision to deny entry to Gaza to the members of this delegation, which included two Irish MEPs.

I echo the concerns raised on this issue, including the comments of the European Parliament's President, Ms Roberta Metsola. As Ms Metsola has said, respect for MEPs and the European Parliament is essential for relations between the EU and Israel, now and in the future. I understand that Ms Metsola is currently in Israel on a separate visit and will raise this issue directly with the Israeli authorities. So she should.

On Ukraine, Ireland has unequivocally condemned Russia's brutal and ruthless aggression in Ukraine. The loss of life as a direct result of Russia's actions is deplorable. Again, I strongly condemn the killing of all those journalists who have been working bravely to shine a light on the plight of Ukraine since the outbreak of hostilities.

UN-appointed independent human rights experts, including the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, have warned that journalists in Ukraine have been deliberately targeted and continue to face unprecedented dangers while carrying out their work. At one point, we have seen some of that live on television. They have cited numerous reports indicating that journalists have been "targeted, tortured, kidnapped, attacked and killed, or refused safe passage" from cities and regions under siege.

I have witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of Russia's indiscriminate behaviour and disregard for civilian lives, including journalists, in Ukraine. At least nine media workers have lost their lives in Ukraine since 24 February and more have been seriously wounded. This includes, as I mentioned earlier, an Irish citizen and journalist and his fellow Ukrainian journalist. They were killed on 14 March by Russian forces. I would like, again, to offer my deepest condolences to their families.

Ireland stands firmly with Ukraine and we stand firmly with all those journalists working to report on the barbarity being inflicted on Ukrainian people at this time. In April, Ireland contributed €20,000 to the International Federation of Journalists to provide emergency support to journalists in Ukraine. This funding provides front-line assistance and equipment, including helmets and flak jackets, secure communication tools, medical supplies and safety training and enables journalists to carry out their indispensable work on the front line.

Russia's deliberate campaign of disinformation in relation to the war in Ukraine continues. It is thanks to the tireless work of journalists that the true nature of this conflict continues to be understood. This year, the journalists of Ukraine were collectively awarded the Pulitzer special citation for their courage, endurance and commitment to truthful reporting during Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Across Ukraine, we have seen Russian forces using indiscriminate explosive weapons, including prohibited cluster munitions, in populated areas and against civilian infrastructure. The toll of destruction of homes, hospitals and schools is testament to that. It speaks to an utter disregard by Russian forces for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.

The value of free and impartial journalism in Ukraine is to shed a light on the truth and facts of Russia's war of aggression and to hold those responsible to account.

We will continue to work closely with our partners to combat harmful Russian disinformation narratives. Together with the European Union and its member states, Ireland has introduced a series of sanctions which target state-owned media services responsible for Russian state propaganda. We will continue to work together to combat Russian disinformation and increase our resilience against such hybrid threats.

Russia has repeatedly sought to mask the human cost of its unprovoked war on Ukraine with baseless and unfounded claims against Ukraine and the United States. At the Security Council, we have called out Russian attempts to distort reality, particularly in relation to the illegal attack on the hospital in Mariupol and their false claims of Ukrainian chemical and biological weapons programmes.

Since Russia's full-scale onslaught in Ukraine on 24 February, Russian police have systematically and often violently repressed opposition to the war within Russia. More than 15,000 peaceful protesters have so far been arrested.

The Russian Parliament has introduced a series of legal provisions whereby anyone questioning the so-called "special military operation", may be subject to prosecution and jail, in some cases up to 15 years imprisonment. Dissent and opposition are the hallmark of our sustainable democratic model, and its criminalisation is of deep concern.

As a result, much of Russia's independent media have suspended activities, resulting in a state monopoly on information. At least 150 journalists have fled Russia since 24 February. Worryingly, independent journalists who remain have been labelled by the Russian authorities as "foreign agents" and may be held liable, prosecuted and imprisoned should they be critical of Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Ireland calls on the Russian Government to meet and respect fully its international human rights obligations, including by ensuring the safety and welfare of independent media, journalists and civil society actors and promoting access to a free, diverse and pluralistic media.

We will continue to use our membership of the UN Security Council to hold Russia accountable and to urge it to end its war of aggression in Ukraine as soon as possible. Ireland stands ready to support any initiative which can deliver peace and we will continue to demand accountability for violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

There are many other countries where journalists and press freedom are under attack. I know that Deputies have a close interest in this issue, not only in Ukraine and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also in relation to many other countries across virtually every region of the world.

Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge and thank the many Oireachtas Members who, through overseas visits and international meetings, are actively engaged in raising issues of press freedom with their interlocutors when they travel. Our place on the Security Council, our Presidency of the Council of Europe and our membership of the European Union have been central to our efforts to protect media freedom. If, in due course, we are elected to the Human Rights Council for the 2027 – 2029 period, we will build further on our work in support of media freedom, protecting journalists covering conflicts and calling for accountability for crimes against journalists. I look forward to the outcome of our discussions here today so that we can redouble our efforts on behalf of journalists and press freedom around the world.

Deputy Brady is sharing with a number of colleagues.

It is important that we acknowledge here today that at a time when the world is being assailed with campaigns of misinformation, where technology has been appropriated as a tool of hybrid warfare, that the role of journalism has never been more important. It is this role, which often provides the sole counterpoint to the increasing instances of fabricated self-serving narratives of powerful leaders and states corrupted with ambition, which provides an intrinsic defence of justice itself. With the weaponisation of narrative, those who seek to illuminate the truth to project it for a global audience become the target of autocrats and criminals.

Between 1992 and 2022, 923 journalists have been reported as murdered across the globe as a result of their work. Last year alone witnessed the deaths of at least 50 journalists, with 302 imprisoned, including Mr. Julian Assange. Since Russia launched its bloody invasion of Ukraine in February, at least 23 journalists have been killed there, including the Irish journalist, Mr. Pierre Zakrzewski. We remember Pierre and the other journalists who have died, including Irish journalists Lyra McKee and Martin O'Hagan here in Ireland. I also want to mention the courage and the bravery of those journalists who remain on the ground in the war zone in Ukraine, working tirelessly to uncover the truth of what is being visited upon ordinary people, often amidst dangerous and horrific conditions.

On 11 May, just short of two weeks ago, Israeli forces carried out the execution of the veteran American-Palestinian journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. Shireen was shot in the face by an Israeli military sniper, despite the fact that she was wearing a blue vest, clearly identifying her as a member of the press. Her colleague, who was wounded in the attack, remained under sustained gunfire from Israeli forces for some time after the death of Shireen. Shireen was shot to silence her voice, a voice that fearlessly reported on the oppression and harassment visited upon the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation authorities.

The motivation behind the attack on Shireen is similar to the motivation behind the decision by the Israeli authorities to designate the six internationally respected Palestinian human rights non-government organisations, NGOs, as terror entities last year. Earlier this week, we witnessed the Israeli apartheid regime refuse entry to an EU delegation to the occupied Palestinian territories. This delegation also consisted of two Irish MEPs, one of which is my party colleague, Mr. Chris MacManus. Israel also consistently refuses to allow the entry of the UN special rapporteur or UN human rights committee members into the occupied Palestinian territories. Israel wants to silence the civic voice of Palestine. It wants to suppress the truth of its apartheid policies. It does not want the world to hear of its crimes and it wants to continue with its campaign of the illegal annexation of Palestinian territories.

The Israeli High Court has just ruled that the largest expulsion and forced transfer of Palestinians to take place since the beginning of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine in 1967 can go ahead. That could commence any day now. If allowed to go ahead, this would mean the forced eviction of over 1,000 Palestinians, including 500 children. The UN and international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organisations have called this another grave violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a possible war crime.

I take this opportunity to echo the calls of the Palestinian Authority for the International Criminal Court to conduct an investigation into the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh as a war crime. I ask that the Government and the Minister would actively support and move on this demand. Furthermore, the Government and the Minister should use Ireland’s position on the UN Security Council and in the EU to call for Israel to be held accountable for Shireen's murder. For far too long the international community has been allowed off the hook and it has been allowed to look the other way while these crimes continue. There is a moral onus on global leaders and governments to act once and for all and to hold Israel to account for its inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people.

The failure to act to date has merely emboldened the Israeli state, leading to greater and greater levels of oppression to the point where it now feels confident enough to murder an internationally renowned journalist in cold blood in front of cameras. I found it remarkable, albeit predictable, to listen to the Israeli response in the immediate aftermath of the murder. I could almost hear the voice of General Mike Jackson, the former head of the British army, and the chief and first apologist on the ground for the parachute regiment of the British army in the immediate aftermath of the Ballymurphy massacre and Bloody Sunday. The disgraceful attempt by the Israelis to hijack and obscure the truth, to introduce doubt and confusion, though reprehensible, was entirely predictable. The truth, however, is not that easily concealed.

The Israelis took another page out of the British doctrine on counter-insurgency in Ireland when they attacked the funeral of Shireen, beating mourners mercilessly as they attempted to seize the Palestinian flag from the coffin. This is a picture that was all too common in the North during the 1980s as the British state sought through its agents in the Royal Ulster Constabulary to terrorise the nationalist population into defeat. It did not work in the North and it certainly will not work in Palestine. If international law is to mean anything, and it must, there absolutely needs to be a full and independent investigation into the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh.

I will end with a question to the Government. What is this Government going to do to hold this brutal, apartheid regime to account for its continual flouting of international law? Words are welcome but actions mean everything.

The response of the Israeli state after the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh was consistent with its response to all sorts of similar events over the years. We have seen the imagery of the young man in the white t-shirt showing heroism under gunfire from Israeli snipers in rescuing her body. Those images do not lie and it is very clear what happened here. There must be an independent investigation and I agree with my colleague, Deputy Brady, that the International Criminal Court will have to look at it. It has all the hallmarks of an appalling war crime.

If that was not bad enough, the imagery from the funeral horrified people across the world. Even in death, they could not allow her dignity or her mourners dignity to bury her in peace. It was absolutely disgusting. This is typical of a regime that is unchallenged and allowed to do as it wants by the international community, including our Government. We cannot even pass a resolution banning the products of illegal settlements, which are defined as war crimes under international law. We do commerce with people involved with war crimes. We cannot even pass legislation on that. We cannot recognise the state of Palestine, despite both Houses asking that we do so.

This has led to the actions of the Israeli police force. It is unchallenged internationally and feels it can do anything it wants. Of course, there is also imagery of illegal settlers taking possession of a building in Hebron as the mourners were at the funeral. I do not know what more we can say. I have stood here so many times, as have my colleagues, to speak after witnessing such actions from the Israeli state. B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the UN rapporteur have defined what goes on as apartheid and repugnant to international law but the Government cannot even describe it as apartheid because it is hamstrung with an utterly failed European Union policy.

We must speak for ourselves, as we did when South Africa was engaged in apartheid. We took a stand proudly against that regime in the 1980s but will we do it again? Will we have an independent foreign policy that stands up to horrific actions such as those we have seen? The Minister should reflect on that and do the right thing.

Over the past few decades we have seen the crucial role played by journalists in conflict zones.

They constantly put themselves in harm's way to report the facts on the ground. They do not merely accept the narrative put out in a military or government press release but seek the truth at source to broadcast to the world. In Nicaragua and El Salvador in the 1980s, journalists helped to expose the worst crimes of government death squads. There are countless examples from Vietnam, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Ukraine where brave committed and outspoken journalists have exposed the brutality of war at great personal risk. These are journalists such as Pierre Zakrzewski, a talented war zone photographer who reported on conflicts from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Ukraine. He was brutally murdered by Russian shelling not far from the capital of Ukraine.

Two weeks ago, Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was executed by the Israeli occupation forces. Her assassination was clear and deliberate. It is getting more and more frustrating that almost weekly we hear members of various political parties expressing their condemnation of Israeli terror and land grabs. We have condemnation after condemnation but no consequences. This is a huge issue. It is a flaw in the Government's policy. There are never consequences for Israeli crimes. If the Minister were walking down Kildare Street and saw an individual being beaten to death, he would intervene and there would be consequences for the person carrying out that brutal assault. An international equivalent of this is that Israel is beating Palestine to death. It is robbing its land. It is stealing the land and the Minister knows this. He has seen it first-hand.

We are trying to change it.

Yes, but there are no consequences.

But we do it by building collective engagement internationally and not isolating ourselves.

There are no consequences for Israel. It can commit whatever terror it likes. It executed Shireen. What were the consequences for this? Nothing. There are no consequences because the Government is not willing to stand up to Europe and the Israelis and face them down and state we will pass the occupied territories Bill. There have to be consequences for Israeli terror. This is not what the Government is about. The Government is about appeasing Israel. This is something we have to address. When will the Government go beyond condemnation and ensure there are consequences for Israel? Will it outline what consequences there are for Israel for executing people, stealing land and arresting people and detaining them on administrative detention? Will the Minister tell me what are the consequences because I can see none.

The murder of reporter Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military must be condemned in the strongest terms and called out for what it is, namely, cold-blooded murder. Her murder was barbaric and there are no other words for it. She was present at a raid by Israeli forces at a Palestinian refugee camp wearing a clearly visible blue flak jacket that identified her as a journalist when she was brutally murdered. She was shot in the face and another journalist was shot in the back. Israeli forces claim they came under attack but journalists who were present have said this is categorically not true. The whole world knows this and that Israeli forces were shooting journalists to kill.

The scenes at her funeral were outrageous and disgusting and should never have been allowed to happen. Israeli forces are so brazen that they attacked the pall-bearers at the funeral, in full view of the world, in the full knowledge they would never be held to account for this act or any other act of violence against Palestinian people. Their blatant lies about the circumstances of her death and the attacks at her funeral were reminiscent of how the RUC treated republicans in the North. We have left that behind us, thankfully, but this barbarism continues in Palestine in 2022. The Israeli state carried out this murder as part of its ongoing efforts to eradicate all reporting of its human rights abuses against the Palestinian people. We all know about its propaganda machine. Truly, it is something else. Preventing reporting of its actions in Palestine is part of this, even if it means cold-blooded murder. Civilised nations should never accept this.

The question needs to be asked why world leaders turn a blind eye. It is because Israel is bankrolled and supported by the United States. The Irish Government should use our position on the UN Security Council and our position in the EU to demand that the international community take action to bring an end to the outrageous human rights abuses Israel continues to perpetrate against the Palestinian people. As my colleagues have said, what happened to Shireen Abu Akleh needs to be investigated by the International Criminal Court as a potential war crime. What is the point of our seat on the UN Security Council if we are not going to speak up and request that real action be taken this time and hold states such as Israel to account? The policy of forced displacement of Palestinians continues to this day. Israel’s disregard for international law continues and the rest of the world gives it a free hand to do so. It is time world leaders and the international community took action against Israel and its terrorist acts.

George Orwell famously said that in times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. I was reminded of this when I saw the cold-blooded murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. The European Union said in a statement that it strongly condemns the killing, occurring as it did just days after world press freedom day. This was an absolute travesty. It reminds me of another ongoing travesty, which is Julian Assange's continued imprisonment in Belmarsh prison. The UN special rapporteur on torture described his treatment as prolonged exposure to psychological torture, including extreme stress, chronic anxiety and intense psychological trauma. Shireen and Julian were two revolutionary truth tellers who spoke truth to power. Those in positions of power, whether the Israeli forces or their US counterparts, cannot allow this to continue.

From all sides of the House I have rightly heard criticism of the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. We are united in our horror at Israel's actions. We must now be united in our holding of apartheid Israel to account for its actions. Israel is ignoring our cries and it is now on us to do everything in our power to mount international pressure on Israel so it can no longer ignore international condemnation. The late great war correspondent Robert Fisk once said the job of journalists is to be witnesses to history, not to worry about themselves and to try to get as near as possible in an imperfect world to the truth and get the truth out. We must stand with them.

The Palestinian Authority has described the murder of Shireen as an execution and it is difficult to argue with this conclusion. She was one of four journalists in a car, each clearly wearing a blue flak jacket and helmet identifying them as journalists. They were fired upon by Israeli forces without the slightest provocation. This attack is part of an ongoing attempt by the Israelis to obscure the truth and reality of its occupation of the Palestinian territories. This is a war crime and it should be investigated as such. I join the Minister today in condemnation of the attack but condemnation without consequence is absolutely futile. The Russian violence towards Ukraine has led to sanctions being imposed, but on the other hand Israel acts with impunity. The eyes of the world were on Shireen's funeral but Israeli forces still attacked it. Why was that? It was because Israel knew there would be no consequences for its actions. This has to change.

In 2019, when I was mayor of South Dublin County Council I opened a book of condolences for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee. I remember how deeply her senseless murder affected me. Lyra will be remembered as an exceptionally talented journalist, an advocate with a deep sense of social justice and a campaigner for equal rights. Those who brutally took her life are in complete contrast to how Lyra lived. As a nation we strive for a peaceful future that has no place for violence. Those who took Lyra's life have no place in our society.

I want to use this opportunity to express my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Pierre Zakrzewski on his awful killing in Ukraine. I want to reference the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in Palestine. The murder of Shireen makes me fearful.

Whatever Israel gets away with, it always goes further. The Minister referred to the recent attempt by a European Parliament delegation to enter Israel and Palestine. In 2014, following the most recent bombardment of the Gaza Strip at that time, I was part of a European Parliament delegation that sought access into Gaza, access which was denied by Israel. Of course, further bombardments and worse atrocities followed. This week, we saw that Israel now feels it has the authority and ability to essentially deny an entire official European Parliament delegation access to Palestine. That speaks to what happens when Israel gets away with something; it always goes further. Therefore, I am very fearful of what is in store for the Palestinian people. It is getting to the point when people rightly ask how much further these guys can go. Israel has now, in front of the world's media, murdered a journalist in cold blood.

I want to put on the record my appreciation of the strong language the Minister used today and has used on a number of occasions in respect of Israel. I again relay my own experience in the European Parliament. I know his use of the language to describe the actions of Israel is among a minority among EU foreign ministers. It is something I deeply regret. In many European states, the Israeli lobby and the misguided policy of appeasing Israel is the order of the day. We cannot allow that majority, as it may be, within EU foreign ministers to prevent us from speaking on behalf of the majority of humanity across the world. The Minister's words must be followed by strong actions on behalf of the Irish people and I urge him to heed the calls heard today.

I am truly happy to have the opportunity to speak on a very important debate on the role of journalists in conflict. The saying that truth is the first casualty of war has always reflected reality. Winning the propaganda war is generally considered almost as important as progress on the battlefield in any conflict. That is particularly true of holding on to home support for the actions of government and agents of government.

Let us look no further than the narrative of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, which is peddled daily by Putin and his echo chambers across the world, that there is no war, just a special military operation, and no imperial ambition of conquest, just a campaign to denazify. Joseph Goebbels said that the bigger the lie, the more it will be believed. I am afraid there is more than just a semblance of truth to that statement. At a time when news is instant and even visual evidence can be easily manufactured, the importance of the impartial voice and eye is critical to our understanding, causes and outcome of conflict.

Free journalists with free access are our best shield against the big lie. One journalist with such an eye and voice was Shireen Abu Akleh. A Palestinian witness to truth, respected across the journalistic world, Shireen was a household name throughout the Arab world as she reflected the daily life and experiences of Palestinians under Israeli rule, for her network Al Jazeera. Shireen Abu Akleh was shot in the head on 11 May as she did her work as a journalist, reporting on a raid of the West Bank city of Jenin by Israeli defence forces. Her employer, the much respected Al Jazeera network, called it a blatant murder, a heinous crime that intends to prevent the media from conducting its duty. There must be an independent thorough investigation of this shocking and disgraceful act. No civilised nation should seek to impede full accountability for this obvious public act of violence.

The disgraceful scenes at Shireen's funeral, when Israeli military personnel attacked the funeral procession, kicking and hitting mourners with batons, was the final act of disrespect, as well as an act that clearly showed they believed they acted with complete impunity. A journalist doing her job, clearly wearing a helmet, wearing body armour with the word "PRESS", was shot dead. It was an assault on all journalists and all who try, in the most difficult of places and the most difficult of places, to ensure the truth is made known to the world. It falls to us to take up Shireen Abu Akleh's mission by ensuring that her final story is told truthfully and that those responsible for her death are brought to justice. As an aside, I hope the Proceeds of Crime (Gross Human Rights Abuses) Bill, which will pertain in this jurisdiction to those in any way associated with acts of human rights violation, will be enacted by the Oireachtas in this session.

Various different versions of what is said to have happened have come out since 11 May, provided by many spokespersons for the Israeli defence forces. That must end. Investigators who are clearly impartial must be allowed to bring the truth into the public domain with rigorous and impartial analysis of the facts. They must now be allowed to set about this work. Journalists in every conflict zone put their lives at risk so that the rest of us might get the real picture of unfolding events. Democratic governments and parliaments must afford those journalists doing that job the best protection they can in carrying out this most difficult task.

I began by saying that the truth is often the first casualty of war. The capacity to disseminate information was never greater than it is today. Every person with a mobile phone is a potential publisher, film maker and film distributor. In a potential and actual sea of information and data, how do we as individuals and communities determine what is true and what is not? The responsibility of social media platforms to be accountable for the content they distribute is a matter that is under debate in this Parliament, the European Parliament and across the free world. Democratic nations should not franchise this responsibility to commercial actors. The recent debate about the purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk and his view of providing an unregulated, or at least a loosely regulated, media platform brings additional focus on this matter. It is not acceptable that such an important function could be given to an individual who has simply amassed sufficient wealth to buy a hugely impactive mechanism for communication. I know individual nations are limited in what they can do to control such matters.

The notion that in the final instance it would be a matter for any wealthy individual to determine what is presented to the world as truth is clearly unacceptable. Most people now turn to trusted sources, and ultimately, to trusted journalists, as the only way of ensuring the information they access is accurate, true and fair. Many previous speakers have instanced the work of journalists and Irish journalists, and their support teams, including cameramen and sound people who travel with them. They have not only put themselves in harm's way, but have actually died bringing us the truth. They need our protection and support. When there is a blatant assault on a journalist, we need to be united and clear in our condemnation of that, but we must have some international mechanism to bring authorities who commit or permit such atrocities to account.

I welcome the very strong series of statements made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in this House today. However, we need to go beyond that, and have a mechanism where the civilised world can act in unison against acts that undermine the capacity of all of us to hear and see the truth. I recall, many years ago, reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Solzhenitsyn was an individual who suffered greatly. He was sent to the Soviet Gulags. He was fixated by the truth, and how the truth was perverted in Soviet Russia. Unfortunately, the truth is still being undermined and perverted in the current Russia. He said: "The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie". Our job is to ensure we do not condone the lie, accept it, or allow it to remain on the record.

Ireland has responded in an open and generous way to the people fleeing the war in Ukraine. In three months, the State has provided accommodation to 23,000 people fleeing the war. Private citizens have accommodated thousands more, and communities across the country have stepped up to the plate in welcoming Ukrainians and helping them to settle in. We would not have had this response were it not for the work of journalists who have communicated the horror of the war so effectively. They are journalists who, on a daily basis, put their lives at risk for the sake of truth.

The initiation of war in any context is immoral, unjustified and reckless, but this is especially true in the case of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The UN has estimated that almost 4,000 civilians have been killed to date. Over nine journalists have lost their lives. I want to pay tribute to all journalists who put their lives at risk to let the world know what is happening in this war. Today, I want to mention, in particular, our own Pierre Zakrzewski. Pierre and his colleague, Oleksandra Kuvshynova, lost their lives in March 2022, when their team and others came under fire outside Kyiv. Pierre has done a particular service to the cause of truth, with a distinguished career covering war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

Today, I also acknowledge the work of another journalist working in a conflict zone, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead earlier this month while wearing a blue vest with "PRESS" written on it as she covered a raid by the Israeli defence forces on a refugee camp in Jenin in occupied Palestinian territory. Shireen Abu Akleh was one of the most prominent Palestinian journalists, if not the most prominent. Over 25 years, she covered the injustice of the occupation so effectively and gave the ordinary Palestinian a voice. The circumstances of her death demand an immediate, impartial, independent and effective investigation. We also saw the circumstances surrounding her funeral. It is impossible not to take it out of the context of the occupation. We must ask ourselves what kind of circumstances allow a police force to charge and beat the mourners at a funeral, to the point where the pallbearers lose their grip on the coffin. The circumstances are, of course, unusual. They are the circumstances of a cruel, prolonged and stifling occupation, where the Israeli defence forces, the police force and the Israeli Government have for too long operated in an environment of impunity.

I lived and worked in occupied Palestinian territory for three months as a human rights observer. With the movement restrictions; the permit system; the layers of security at checkpoints; the random arrest and torture of people, sometimes children; the demolition of homes; the growth in illegal settlements; the administrative detention in prison; the random beatings; the humiliations; the unlawful killings; and the unlawful killings with no hint of an investigation or a consequence, it is one of the most elaborate and cruel systems of oppression in operation in the world today. It is people like Shireen Abu Akleh who did and do they best they can to portray the reality, inhumanity and cruelty of the occupation.

Many organisations working on the ground in occupied Palestinian territory are also trying to bring the truth to the world. In March 2022 I returned to the West Bank because NGOs working on the ground are finding it an increasingly difficult space to operate in. The documentation and challenging of the range of human rights abuses is increasingly coming under pressure from the Israeli Government. Last October, Israel unjustifiably designated six such NGOs as terrorist organisations. Two of these organisations are supported, and continue to be supported, by the Irish Government. I was glad to meet with representatives of the organisations in Palestine and to publicly offer my support for their work. I wish to take this opportunity to call on the EU to reinstate the funding of the six organisations after it was withdrawn following the Israeli designation.

I want to briefly refer to the work of the two organisations in question, which are supported by the Irish Government. Al-Haq is a leading Palestinian human rights organisation that focuses on the documentation of human rights and international humanitarian law violations and, via the publication of studies and reports, undertakes advocacy work at local and international levels. Addameer documents human rights violations, conducts regular prison visits, offers counselling and guidance and engages in advocacy to oppose torture and arbitrary detention, particularly at an international level. Special attention is paid to women and child prisoners. Indeed, Ireland’s human rights and democracy programme in the region is offering crucial support to a number of other NGOs working on the ground in Palestine that are challenging and bringing to light the unacceptable human rights situation and promoting democracy. I commend the work of all NGOs that document and highlight the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories and particularly commend the groundbreaking work of B’Tselem and Amnesty International.

To conclude, the role of journalists in conflict zones is crucial one. We must do everything we can to protect journalists. Part of this is ensuring and pressing for accountability when they are restricted from doing their job or killed.

I think it is entirely appropriate that every so often, as parliamentarians in a democracy, we set aside time to consider the role of journalists in wars and conflicts across the world, and to remember those journalists, reporters, cameramen and all those involved in the media who have been killed in circumstances related to their work. As we know, the first casualty of war is the truth. We rely on the bravery of journalists, often risking their lives, to tell us the truth about what is actually happening on the ground. It is reported that this year alone, some 27 journalists have been killed. Some have died in war zones. Others have been killed, kidnapped, tortured or imprisoned because they have reported on the activities of the ruling authoritarian regimes, while others have been caught up in the warring factions in failed states. Like others, today I would like to remember some of the journalists who have paid the ultimate price.

Shireen Abu Akleh was a Palestinian journalist who was shot in the head by Israeli forces in the West Bank. Aged 51, she regularly exposed herself to danger in order to report on the issues of concern to Palestinians. When she was shot, it was clear that she was a journalist, in that she had the word "PRESS" displayed on her jacket and helmet. The circumstances of her death need to be independently investigated. I fully support the calls by the EU and the UN Security Council for this to be done. There are indications that Israel is targeting Palestinian journalists working in the occupied Palestinian territories. This cannot be tolerated by the international community. The incidents which took place at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, where Israeli police baton-charged the mourners carrying her coffin, were shocking and deeply offensive to decent people everywhere.

We also remember Pierre Zakrzewski, the French-Irish citizen, who worked as a cameraman for Fox News and died with his colleague when his car was hit by Russian shelling outside Kyiv on 14 March last. We salute his bravery and that of the other journalists killed in Ukraine and thank them and their families and friends for the service they have given to democracy.

I also draw attention to the plight of political prisoners jailed by the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, some of whom have died in captivity due to their ill-treatment. I also refer to the violation by the Moroccan authorities of the rights of pro-independence Sahrawi activists, including journalists, in Western Sahara.

We can never be complacent about the survival of democracy and the threat posed by autocratic regimes. Media pluralism and freedom of the press are so important for our democracy in the context of the rule of law. They need to be safeguarded and protected.

It is entirely appropriate that we have this debate here as we need to remember these brave journalists. We have only had the opportunity to mention a few but they are representative of the profession in general. We cannot be complacent about our democracy. Journalists play a crucial role in that. Even within the European Union, the rule of law must be upheld. I have no doubt that member states will ensure that is done in the weeks, months and years ahead.

I join my colleague in welcoming this discussion on the vital role of journalists in conflicts across the world. At the outset I pay tribute to the many very brave journalists and photojournalists who report and inform us from the many dangerous conflict zones around the globe. They carry out an indispensable and invaluable role. It is important that we stand in solidarity with journalists and continue to support their fundamental work. We must never take for granted the crucial role played by journalists, media workers and the free and independent media.

At least seven journalists covering the war in Ukraine have been killed. There are ongoing investigations into the deaths of seven other journalists to determine if their deaths were work-related. One of those lost was Pierre Zakrzewski from Leopardstown in south Dublin. Most recently, on 11 May, there was the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin which must also be condemned. I welcome the Government’s call for a swift, thorough, and independent investigation. Her death and the subsequent appalling scenes at her funeral were disgraceful and cannot be ignored by the international community.

I understand An Garda Síochána is assisting its French colleagues in an investigation into the death in Ukraine of journalist Pierre Zakrzewski. Mr. Zakrzewski, who was 55 years of age and from Leopardstown, was killed when the car he was travelling in was hit by Russian shelling outside Kyiv on 14 March. He was working as a cameraman for the American channel Fox News. Two of his colleagues were also killed and injured. Mr. Zakrzewski held both Irish and French citizenship. The investigation into his death is being led by the French authorities with An Garda Síochána providing a supporting role. For now, this support is likely to be confined to the sharing of documents, including those related to the post mortem. Unlike in Ireland, French authorities have the power to investigate and prosecute the deaths of its citizens abroad. The French investigation is being led by the national counterterrorism prosecutor’s office, known as PNAT, and the central office for the fight against crimes against humanity, genocides and war crimes, which is a division of the French national police. Mr. Zakrzewski was born to a French mother and a Polish father and grew up in south Dublin, where he attended St. Conleth’s College and UCD. He was married to Michelle, a former BBC journalist, and covered conflicts in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. I wish to offer my condolences to Michelle and the extended Zakrzewski family.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, which is an independent, non-profit organisation that promotes press freedom worldwide, at least seven journalists covering the war in Ukraine have been killed. The CPJ is investigating the deaths of seven other journalists. Scores more have faced shelling, shooting and detention as they work to provide vital information about the invasion. It should also be noted that Russian journalists have been detained and threatened during Moscow’s crackdown on independent Russian media and many have fled the country. All states, not just Russia, must uphold basic standards to protect the standards of journalism and the safety of journalists while they carry out their work.

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression are raised regularly with me by constituents. On that note, I welcome students from Cabinteely Community School and their teacher, Mr. David Traynor, to the Dáil today. It should be noted that Ireland has been ranked sixth in a new press freedom index published by Reporters without Borders. While this is welcome, it is important that we redouble our efforts here in Ireland and use our influence abroad to continue to support the work of journalists and photojournalists.

I would like to express my condolences to the family and colleagues of Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed in the Israeli-occupied West Bank earlier this month. She was shot in the face by an Israeli soldier because of the job she was doing in shining a spotlight on the genocidal actions of Israel. The Israeli spin machine started immediately. Israel’s Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, has lied. Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, has lied and the Israeli army has lied. Bennett said that the Palestinians did it. Lapid said that Israel wants to help the Palestinians get to the truth. The same Lapid once said:

We need to get the Palestinians out of our lives. What we have to do is build a high wall and get them out of our sight.

The Israeli army said its soldiers do not target journalists. Apparently, the 16 Palestinian journalists who have perished over the last 30 years were unlucky. We need to remember that they were not targets but were unfortunate. We saw the disgraceful behaviour by the Israeli army at Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral. It was reminiscent of the North of Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s. It was behaviour designed to remind the Palestinian people of their place. Surely Israel can see that its actions are provoking a violent reaction.

I would also like to express my condolences to the families of Irish cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski and his Ukrainian colleague Oleksandra Kuvshynova who were killed in Kyiv in March. Journalists are often referred to as the fourth estate. They help us to see through the propaganda of war and to see the actions of warmongering nations. The international community continues to talk out of both sides of its mouth. One person’s aggressor is another’s friendly nation. Most ordinary people see through this. There must be an independent investigation.

The Israeli Government’s attitude is in total contrast to that of the Ukrainian Government, which yesterday sentenced a Russian soldier to life for the murder of a civilian. The message we should be sending to rogue states is that there must be consequences. Instead, we have the likes of Israel and Britain, whose soldiers act with impunity. I refer to soldiers like lance corporal David James Cleary, better known as soldier F, who is accused of murdering civilians on Bloody Sunday. The families of these civilians are waiting over 50 years for justice. Britain must have used up the alphabet at this stage with soldiers hiding behind letters. It is almost four years since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and still there is no justice for his family. There must be consequences, it must happen, and the truth must be protected.

I want first to offer my sincere condolences to the families, friends and co-workers of Shireen Abu Akleh. We know in this House that the Israeli Government and its so-called defence forces are no strangers to hiding the truth of the cruel and inhumane crimes that they perpetrate upon the Palestinian people on a daily basis. They have executed a Palestinian reporter for Al Jazeera for factually reporting news of a raid by Israeli forces on the Jenin refugee camp. It is simply wrong. This level of aggression towards a clearly identified journalist who was travelling together with other journalists - they were wearing the internationally known blue helmets and flak jackets - is simply a war crime. The international community must call on Israel to be held to account for its actions.

Shireen Abu Akleh was shot execution-style with a single bullet to the face which Al Jazeera claims was fired by an Israeli sniper. Given the circumstances, this is hard to argue against. This was not an unfortunate journalist who died while reporting from a war zone and was tragically killed in the crossfire from both sides of a conflict. It was murder at the hands of the Israeli regime. She was clearly identifiable and identified as a journalist. Yet again, Israel has shown its oppressive nature and its disregard for human life. Action must be taken and taken now. The people of Palestine and indeed those in other areas of the world suffering through occupation and war must wish those oppressing them were treated in the same manner as the Russian people and its government in the war in Ukraine.

The Government must use its position on the UN Security Council to bring about sanctions on the Israeli defence force, IDF. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, needs to offer more than empty rhetoric.

George Orwell is said to have written, "In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." Shireen Abu Akleh was murdered by the forces of the Israeli state precisely because she committed her life to sharing the horrific truths of Israel's cruel treatment of the Palestinian people. She was wearing a bright blue vest marked "Press" and was standing with other journalists when she was killed. Journalists present on the scene have since reported that as Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleagues were gathering to report on the operations of the Israeli forces, there were no Palestinian militants or fighters present and no skirmishes ongoing at that time. As she was felled by the accurate bullet of an Israeli sniper, Shireen Abu Akleh became the 16th Palestinian journalist to have been targeted by the Israeli forces in this manner since 1992.

To compound the killing of a person who was a danger to their forces only in her attempt to tell the truth, the Israeli army and Government then initiated a lie, namely, that Shireen was killed by the wayward bullet of a Palestinian militant. When this was proven to be a lie, in no small part due to the testimony of other journalists, one of whom also was targeted that day, and the work of the Israeli human rights organisations that traced video evidence, the Israeli Government asserted that it does not target journalists. Sixteen dead Palestinian journalists and the fact the same army bombed the media offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press in Gaza only last year make this statement very hard to believe.

In our discussion today, it is appropriate that we acknowledge and condemn the deliberate and targeted killing of journalists throughout the world, wherever it occurs. So far in 2022, 28 journalists have been killed while carrying out their work, the highest number of whom, nine, were killed in Mexico. An increasing number are being viciously targeted by the forces of Vladimir Putin in Ukraine. It would be untrue to suggest that Irish people did not look with particular revulsion at the slaying of Ms Abu Akleh, and the subsequent assault on those who carried her coffin in the days that followed, and ask what we can do to hold those responsible for this atrocity to account. We simply must end the cycle of impunity for those who target journalists for seeking to tell the truth.

Last week, when Opposition Members sought this debate to condemn the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Taoiseach rightfully proposed including the slaying of all journalists in conflict zones and made specific reference to the Irish journalist, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed while reporting on the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Taoiseach was right to make this inclusion but, in doing so, he highlighted the hypocrisy in the response by Ireland and the European Union to such atrocities when applied to the state of Israel as opposed to the response to the horrors of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. In the case of the latter, we very swiftly engaged in a system of boycotts of Russia, issued sanctions and divested Russian investments. The Palestinian people would be right in asking why they are not afforded the same standards.

Ireland, Europe and some quarters of the United States undoubtedly have condemned the deplorable killing of Ms Abu Akleh and the immoral actions of the Israeli forces in baton-charging mourners at her funeral. Time and again, however, we have witnessed that the Israeli Government and army care not one iota for our condemnation. The time is surely arriving to turn our backs on the actions of a state that meets all the criteria under international law for inflicting a system of apartheid on the people of Palestine.

There simply must be consequences for those who target journalists, whether in conflict zones or elsewhere. Scott Griffen, deputy director of the International Press Institute, wrote yesterday that the most important thing that can be done in cases targeting media in violent acts is accountability. He went on to say:

It sounds very simple but it isn't - we know that in at least 90% of cases in which journalists are murdered, those responsible are not held to account. The failure to respond quickly to attacks on journalists and to hold those responsible for the initial attacks creates what we call a cycle of violence, a cycle of impunity where those responsible feel that they can act without consequences, and we see it as an open invitation to attack journalists.

Someone who attacked a building last year may go on to attack a journalist 12 months later. Mr. Griffen's colleague, Pauline Adès-Mével, agreed that ending impunity is crucial to ending the killing of journalists. She said: "If there is no judicial response, the number of killings will continue to grow and grow and grow."

In his previous contribution, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, outlined the steps he thinks the Israeli authorities must take to bring those responsible for the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh to justice. What does he intend to do if the Government's call once again falls upon deaf ears? Do we simply add the deliberate killing and targeting of journalists to the list of injustices inflicted upon the Palestinian people that we are willing to condemn but not to act upon? In this Chamber today, we are paying honour to those who lost their lives in order to speak the truth. In doing so, I implore the Minister to pay the fullest honour to them and to describe the actions of the Israeli state as what they are, in the most truthful terms, that is, as constituting the crime of apartheid. Whether something is apartheid is not about phraseology; its definition is enshrined in international law and Israel is meeting the relevant conditions. The most truthful thing we can do is call that out. Apartheid has no place in the world. States that choose to make allowances for Israel will find themselves on the wrong side of history.

I turn briefly to the issues being faced by journalists in Western Sahara. The Moroccan authorities continue to violate the rights of pro-independence Sahrawi activists through ill treatment, arrests and harassment. Amnesty International reported that in May 2020, Sahrawi journalist and human rights activist, Ibrahim Amrikli, was arrested in Laâyoune, Western Sahara, and detained for more than two days. Three security officers interrogated him about his work for the Sahrawi human rights organisation, the Nushatta Foundation, and repeatedly beat and assaulted him. They forced him to sign a confession to trumped-up charges of throwing stones at police officers in April that year. Two days later, he was charged with breaking orders relating to the health emergency status and to offending public officials under Article 263 of the country's penal code. His trial opened on 18 November but was postponed to an unknown date, as reported in the Amnesty International Report of 2020-21: The State of the World's Human Rights.

Amnesty International also reported that in May 2021, the authorities arrested Essabi Yahdih, a Sahrawi journalist and director of an online media company, Algargarat Media, at his workplace in Western Sahara. They interrogated him about his journalistic work and accused him of filming military barracks in Dakhla, a city in Western Sahara. On 29 July, he was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine. In prison in Dakhla, he was denied medical attention for pre-existing hearing and sight conditions, as reported in the Amnesty International report to which I referred. Human Rights Watch has reported harassment of journalists such as Nazha El-Khalidi, who was arrested twice simply for reporting on Sahrawi protests against Moroccan human rights abuses. Morocco has been using the Israeli spyware, Pegaus, to spy on journalists. These abuses against journalists are part of a wider pattern of human rights abuses and repression by Morocco directed against Sahrawi activists, such as the treatment of Sultana Khaya who, Front Line Defenders report, has been repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted by the authorities.

The United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, is in place in occupied Western Sahara but it does not currently have a human rights observation mandate. While the political solutions for the referendum on self-determination remain deadlocked, it is essential that MINURSO be given that mandate. Until recently, the Irish Army provided two officers to MINURSO but they have since been withdrawn. It is a pity this was done at a time when we could use our UN Security Council seat to implore MINURSO to protect human rights in the Western Sahara region. When the MINURSO mandate comes before the Security Council in October, it is essential that we use our voice on the council to push for a human rights observation element to be included.

I am grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate. Journalists working in conflict situations risk their lives every day. They do so in the name of truth, accuracy, transparency and fair reporting. Sadly, they sometimes pay with the ultimate sacrifice, that is, with their lives. Today, I particularly remember Irish journalist, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed when his car was hit by Russian shelling outside Kyiv on 14 March, and Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed by Israeli forces while on assignment in the occupied West Bank on 11 May. Pierre and Shireen join a long and shameful list of journalists murdered while doing their job. Across the world, there is a growing threat to press freedom and it must be addressed at all costs.

Today, as we all know, marks three months since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. An article in The Wall Street Journal yesterday puts the civilian death toll at 4,600, including 232 children. These figures do not include deaths in Russian-occupied territories because we simply do not yet know what horrors have occurred there. We can observe from satellite images and, indeed, continued media coverage that the situation in these occupied areas is catastrophic. In addition, we do not know the number of soldiers and military personnel who have been killed, a large number of whom were civilians a few short months ago.

However, we know that at least 23 journalists have died during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That number is, sadly, likely only to grow in the coming months, at a time when quality journalism has never been more important.

It has often been remarked upon that this war on European soil is unlike others before it. Never before have the media allowed us such a window into a conflict zone, to see and hear from political leaders, community workers and civilians doing their utmost to survive and shed some light on the hell through which they are living. None of this would be possible without the journalists working day in and day out to uncover the truth of what is happening in Ukraine against a backdrop of Russian fake news and disinformation, which continues to be fact-checked, called out and discredited. That is what we need our quality journalists to do. Journalists who remain on the ground are risking their lives and I am very grateful for that.

As we know, women journalists are at particular risk, as the Minister remarked earlier. The murders of Lyra McKee and Veronica Guerin highlight the risks that women journalists face on our own shores. They face a disproportionate level of attack and abuse and are especially vulnerable targets when it comes to conflicts, both offline and online. The attacks by Israeli forces at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh are a prime example of this. Not even in death was Ms Abu Akleh shown the respect she deserved - respect befitting a world-renowned journalist. I urge the Minister, in every way possible, to ensure the Israeli forces are held accountable for their actions, justice is served and Ireland continues to pull its weight on the world stage in upholding the importance of press protection and freedom.

Before I was elected to this House, I had the opportunity to travel to some conflict zones. I got a very small taste of some of the fear, intimidation and threats that others receive. I found myself in Fiji during a military coup. I was in Kosovo while it built up a brand-new democracy and I was in Palestine during conflict. I stood in the West Bank in places such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah. I crossed the border at Qalandiya and I went through the checkpoint there alone, in the darkness of night. I stood in Hebron during Passover when hundreds of heavily-armed Israeli soldiers burst out of a military zone and took over a Palestinian town. I watched helplessly as those Israeli soldiers banged on the doors of Palestinian homes, forced their way in and illegally occupied these homes to get to their rooftops in order that their snipers could police what was going on below. All of this was simply to watch over a group of tourists visiting a holy site in that town. I counted approximately eight Israeli soldiers for every one of those tourists. I recall standing on a side street in Hebron under a caged roof that was burned through in places by acid thrown down into the settlement. I stood there with my cousin, who worked for an NGO in Palestine at the time and is currently in Syria. We counted seven snipers who were aiming weapons at us, no matter where we walked. The difference between those Israeli soldiers and soldiers I have come across elsewhere in the world is that I knew instinctively they were not there to protect me or the people around me, or to keep the peace.

Seeing the real-life experiences in other countries ingrained in me a deep respect for our democracy, as well as a deep respect for and admiration of the journalists who fight to protect and uphold it. I welcome that we will continue to use our voice in the EU and on the Security Council, the Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe to strongly condemn and call for actions necessary to protect journalists at home and abroad. In a time when news is instant and freedom of speech is threatened on a daily basis, winning the propaganda war has become almost as important as winning the ground war in a conflict. Significant press freedom and responsibility are tied up in the responsibility of social media platforms and their duty to monitor their platforms' content because these go hand in hand.

Globally, we are sadly failing to uphold the reputation of quality journalism by allowing an avalanche of disinformation and harmful opinions to be passed off as freedom of speech or citizen journalism. Social media platforms are, by and large, failing in that way. The recent moves by billionaire, Elon Musk, to acquire Twitter and allow absolute freedom of speech, as he calls it, do not fill me with hope for the future or the future of regulating social media and protecting quality journalism. I am grateful to the many journalists and media personnel who risk their lives in conflicts every day and for the bravery, conviction and advocacy of NGO workers such as my cousin, Brona Higgins, who are on the ground in war zones. Their sacrifice should never be overlooked and the importance of their work should never be underestimated.

It is vital that we are here to speak about the issue of journalists in conflict zones throughout the world. The recent shooting in the face of a woman journalist in Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh, has focused our attention on the danger that a great many journalists and others face while being a voice for the voiceless and often exposing the terrible atrocities that happen in many parts of the world. I remember watching film clips from conflicts in different places many years ago. I especially remember the image from Vietnam of a naked child running as he burned with napalm and how that changed America's attitude toward that war. There are many other instances and examples of journalists, cameramen and people at the site of an atrocity being able to bring the message out to the world that it was wrong and things had to change. Thankfully, in some instances, it did change.

We have all heard and are very much aware of issues such as the examples given by the previous speaker of what she experienced in Palestine, yet how we deal with those examples and the reality for the people who live in Palestine and how we deal with other conflict zones are very different. There is certainly something for the European Union to do in that context. We have to recognise that people who are suffering considerably as a consequence of terror and aggression, be they in Ukraine, Palestine or anywhere else in the world, deserve to have our voice heard strongly for them and to have us stand witness for them. That is what many of these journalists do but we have to back them and be there for them.

The efforts made by many in this House to try to pursue that sense of dignity and respect for people who find themselves in those circumstances have been found to be singing in the dark, which is unfortunate. Many Deputies, especially on the Opposition benches, have been speaking about issues in Palestine, which does not get the attention it deserves. We know what has been happening in Ukraine, as we can see it very clearly. It is being reported very well, which is excellent and wonderful. We all stand four-square behind the efforts to ensure that Russia's aggression there comes to an end but aggression everywhere has to come to an end. We have to be equally strong in our voice in terms of how we can bring that aggression to an end everywhere.

As Deputy Kenny said, the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh as she covered an Israeli raid in the West Bank was a serious violation of international law and potentially a war crime. She was clearly identified as a journalist. She was wearing press insignia but she was targeted by sustained sniper fire, as Members have said. The attempt by the Israeli regime to muddy the waters and claim she had been killed by a Palestinian is typical of its refusal to treat the Palestinian people with dignity and respect. The obscene and violent actions of the Israelis at her funeral are only further testimony to this. This is far from the first time that journalists covering the occupation of Palestine, or other conflicts, have been targeted.

The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is one of the worst the world has ever seen due to the war waged by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Journalists in Yemen have been detained to stifle coverage of the war and its fallout. Many reports come from Ukraine of journalists being attacked and denied safe passage. A Dublin-based photojournalist was killed when trying to carry out his job in that country. Journalists such as Shireen Abu Akleh are often the only independent observers on the ground in conflict zones besides NGO volunteers. In the absence of the ability to report without fear or favour, the valuable insight into conflict, abuses and dire humanitarian conditions is hidden from us and we are forced to rely on the often biased reports of the belligerents in the conflict. According to the UN Secretary General, "The fundamental role of journalists in ensuring access to reliable information is essential to achieving durable peace, sustainable development and human rights."

Journalism can be a dangerous profession, not just in far-off conflict zones but even in their home countries. Veronica Guerin, Martin O'Hagan and Lyra McKee all lost their lives in Ireland. The safety of journalists is not an abstract concept but a core principle of international law and it should be respected as such. Campaigns of disinformation have never been as effective or as dangerous as in the modern world. Social media has left us more vulnerable to an information war than ever before. Our best defence is a free press and that is what we should work towards.

On 14 March, Pierre Zakrzewski, an Irish-Ukrainian journalist, was murdered by Putin's murderous forces in his savage war on Ukraine. In the last week or so, we have seen Shireen Abu Akleh, the Palestinian journalist who spoke out fearlessly for 25 years to try to get across the truth of what is being done to the Palestinian people by the apartheid state of Israel, be murdered in a premeditated fashion. We have seen the utterly shameful scenes of Israeli forces attacking the pallbearers and mourners at her funeral in a premeditated way. Something that has not been mentioned is that they raided the deceased journalist's house a short time after word spread that she had been executed to seize Palestinian flags. It went beyond disrespect for the person they had just executed.

Journalists are murdered by brutal regimes because they want to hide the truth of the crimes those regimes commit, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, oppression, persecution of their enemies and so on, and to silence the truth and criticism. Between 2011 and 2020, 900 journalists were killed worldwide, including 50 last year. It is shameful. We must condemn it as criminal and hold to account those who carry out these crimes against people who are doing us all a service by trying to bring us the truth about war, conflict and the abuse of people by brutal regimes.

Why is the response different? It is so blatant. When war crimes are committed and journalists are murdered by Putin's regime, it elicits an instantaneous response from the European Union, the United States and our Government, demanding and imposing sanctions, cutting off trade links, arming those who resist Putin's invasion and doing everything else they can. They understandably and legitimately say that it is not acceptable and they must act. However, when a Palestinian journalist, who is the latest in a long line of Palestinian journalists killed, wounded, injured and beaten by the apartheid rogue state of Israel, we get condemnation but no action. Is the life of a Palestinian journalist worth less than the life of a journalist elsewhere? Are the Palestinian people any less deserving of accountability, justice, truth and a response from the international community, our Government and the European Union to a regime that commits crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Palestinian people? They are not, yet the difference is clear. The Government condemned Shireen Abu Akleh's execution and the barbaric scenes at her funeral, but there was no response.

The Government will not call Israel an apartheid regime. There is no talk of sanctions. Even though the condemnation has been quite strong, it is not anything like the sort of condemnation and action that followed the actions of Putin's bloody regime. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that when the state that commits the war crimes, murder and execution is an ally of members of the European Union or the United States, we take a different attitude. The war crimes committed by our so-called allies or the allies of our allies, whether the United States or the European Union, are somehow less deserving of a response, including the sanctions and accountability that should follow for those crimes. It is plain that this is the case.

One would not even feel the need to underline that so much, except what they did to Shireen is part of a systematic campaign of attacking journalists. Some 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israel since 1992. They were beaten, shot, tear-gassed and so on. Since 1992, 19 journalists have been killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of whom 16 were Palestinians. During the Gaza assault by Israel last year, Israel targeted and destroyed a building containing Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. This is a systematic campaign by the state of Israel to kill, execute, beat and silence journalists who are trying to expose the truth of the apartheid regime, yet we refuse to impose sanctions. When will the Government impose sanctions on Israel for its murder of journalists, brutal war crimes and crimes against humanity and the Palestinian people?

Journalism is an art form. Many of us admire the great journalists who have exposed the brutality of some terrible regimes. It is a skill in itself. It is a skill of telling the truth to us all. Those words could summarise Shireen Abu Akleh. She was a journalist who enjoyed great trustworthiness and respect across not only the Middle East but the whole world. Two weeks ago, Israel murdered her in cold blood. She was just one of many journalists targeted by the Israel Defense Forces over the past 20 years. Believe it or not, the Israel Defense Forces have a systematic policy of targeting Palestinian journalists because journalists expose the brutality of the Israeli system. To make matters worse, the Israel Defense Forces stated over the weekend that they will not investigate Shireen's murder. Criminals such as the state of Israel do not have a great track record of investigating themselves. That says everything about Israel.

What is happening is incredible not only with regard to journalists but also the citizens of Palestine.

Israel does not even recognise the International Criminal Court in respect of extrajudicial murders which Israel carries out. My question to the Minister is very simple. We have said this many times in the Chamber. Why is there no sanction against Israel? Why are there no consequences for Israel's actions? The Government pays lip service to what Israel does but there are no consequences. There could be simple things done. One is expelling the Israeli ambassador. There are a number of other things, particularly economic sanctions. There seems to be a lack of guile in how we treat Israel. We must recognise what it is. Israel is an apartheid state. If the Government does not recognise that, there is an issue. It is not just us saying it. Many NGOs such as Amnesty International, B'Tselem and others are exposing Israel for what it is. It is an apartheid, racist state. Why will the Minister not recognise that it is an apartheid state? Most importantly, why are there no sanctions against Israel not only from Ireland but from the European Union?

I am sharing time with Deputy Niamh Smyth. I am happy to be given the opportunity to speak in this debate. In this House of our peaceful democracy, we weave in and out of the corridors intermingling with journalists working freely to report and analyse, to critique and reflect to those outside in an honest way, and to report faithfully on the facts in front of them. We are privileged to live in such a society. It is a great responsibility for journalists too, to report faithfully and to acknowledge errors if and where they occur. Surely that is everyone’s responsibility but especially those in whom faith is placed to report accurately.

Because of that privilege we all share, we must take time as we are doing today to reflect on those less fortunate, those living and working in war and in particular those who try to report faithfully the honest truth to the outside. The role of journalists, and their support teams, camera people, producers and editors is so important to those of us who it is to be hoped will never experience conflict in ways we have seen in the likes of Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Israel, Iraq and so many other places. If the work of journalists in general is fundamental to the democratic state, it is even more important in situations of conflict to tell the individual stories of war. I acknowledge the sheer bravery of these people to go willingly into such dangerous situations, to tell us the stories of conflict so that we are not ignorant to the struggles faced by so many across the world.

An academic study published in Media, War & Conflict journal in 2009 highlighted the increasingly common violence against journalists over the previous two decades, a trend that has not abated since. From it, we learn that the Committee on the Protection of Journalists, which is a press protection movement that advocates for and aids detained journalists, reported that two journalists were killed during the First World War and 66 journalists were killed in the Vietnam conflict. In more recent conflicts, from Bosnia to Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, multiple instances of insurgents deliberately targeting journalists have been reported. The trend is even more disturbing in Iraq. Since the war in Iraq began in March 2003, up to 2008, more than 127 journalists and 50 media workers have been killed while on assignment. Those figures from the 2009 study are now clearly out of date.

Reporters without Borders tells us that between 300 and 700 journalists have been killed in air strikes or executed since 2011 in Syria. It is not possible to confirm an exact number due to many reasons, including lack of record-keeping and lack of transparency. Such a high number shocked me in the course of preparing for these statements. We do not hear enough about this generally across the world. Those figures do not even include the number of journalists arrested or abducted and now missing in the course of their work.

The increased demand for on-the-ground news coverage of war has made journalists a target for increased attacks. The blurring of lines between war and terrorism has led to previous international conventions on the protection of journalists to be ignored, resulting in increased endangerment. The Committee on the Protection of Journalists has reported that those journalists murdered in war are often killed in acts of reprisal or to prevent them from successfully reporting on the conflict, because of the key role journalists play.

There are three journalists who have died recently whom I wish to highlight today and then I would like to speak about the day-to-day realities of reporting in conflict. The death last week of Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank is the most recent, tragic death in a long list of journalists who have given their lives for their work. She was a brilliant and effective journalist killed in the course of her work. I would also like to mention another journalist, Ali Al Samoud, who was wounded in the attack that killed Ms Abu Akleh.

In my own constituency earlier this year, we had the profound loss of Pierre Zakrzewski, a cameraman who had covered conflict across the Middle East, Asia and Africa before his untimely death in Ukraine. It was very early on in Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, where once again we were entirely reliant on journalists for hourly updates and on-the-ground first-hand accounts of the cruelty and devastation.

At home here in Ireland, two journalists have been killed due to and in the course of their work. Just three years ago, we saw the tragic death of Lyra McKee, who was murdered while observing riots in Northern Ireland. It is a stark reminder of how hard we need to work to maintain peace on this island. Of course, we cannot speak on this subject in this House without remembering the death of Veronica Guerin in 1996, and her work reporting on drug and gang related crimes in Ireland. It is not directly within the terms of this debate but her bravery was no different from those mentioned before.

There are so many journalists who have been killed. The world saw this so acutely in 2002 when The Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl, investigating al-Qaeda, was captured and beheaded in Pakistan. There are so many others who can be mentioned. The House will note I have tried to focus on the journalists themselves and the course of their work without trying to attribute blame in any particular way. I simply acknowledge the difficulty of the work they are doing. It is very important to focus on their work, not just their deaths. Work today is ongoing in Ukraine in particular that is beyond brave.

On the day that Ukraine was invaded, 24 February, I had a Topical Issue matter in the Dáil with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, on the invasion of Ukraine and what we as a country could do to be supportive. It was my privilege to be able to welcome my friend, a Ukrainian, and her family, into the Gallery and to meet the Minister following the debate. This lady’s brother is Vitaly Sych, chief editor of The New Voice of Ukraine, a leading newspaper. On that day three months ago, she did not know whether he would survive the conflict. She was worried he would be particularly targeted due to his work as a journalist. A decade earlier, a friend of theirs, also a journalist, had been killed by Russians. In spite of that fear, Vitaly has continued to speak out and be extremely vocal on the Russian invasion. He is still there. Just two days ago he was speaking to CNN following his return to Kyiv from Lviv, describing the state of the streets, the remnants and damage caused by street fighting in the main city. He spoke of people returning to their homes to find them broken into and looted. I would like to read an extract from his blog from Ukraine, which is on atlanticcouncil.org, describing the reality of what he is doing on a day-to-day basis:

When my wife hurriedly woke me up in the early hours of February 24 and I first looked out of the window, I could not believe my eyes. The familiar panoramic view from our apartment on the twentieth floor overlooking the Dnipro River was now dotted with huge columns of black smoke. Our entire building was shaking from explosions as missiles rained down on the outskirts of Kyiv. The unthinkable had happened. Even though we all knew Russia had amassed a huge army on the Ukrainian border, I remained convinced until the very last moment that it was all a geopolitical bluff. Like so many Ukrainians, I could not believe anyone would launch a full-scale military invasion in the center of Europe. Such things simply did not happen anymore. Not in 2022. I grabbed my phone and was immediately confronted by footage of Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaiming the start of a “special military operation” in Ukraine. His speech was completely unhinged and full of wild historical distortions. “This is war,” I said to my wife. For weeks I had downplayed her concerns about a possible war, often while gently teasing her and making sarcastic remarks. Despite my apparent confidence, my wife had remained unconvinced. She kept the tank of the car full, evening purchasing and filling an extra petrol canister. She packed changes of clothes and personal documents for all the family and bought lots of dry food. I thought this was over the top and said so. Sadly, she turned out to be right.

The day had barely begun, but it was already time to get our eight-year-old twins Peter and Anna out of the city. We had read numerous reports from the British and US intelligence services describing in detail how Russian security forces had compiled kill lists of Ukrainian journalists, activists, and politicians hostile to Moscow who were to be rounded up and executed during the initial stages of the occupation. My wife and I knew my name must be somewhere on those lists. A brief look at my Facebook profile or a glance through the magazine I manage would be enough to get me into trouble with the Russians. My magazine’s last cover page before we were forced to suspend publication due to the war had featured Putin alongside senile Russian dictators Lenin and Stalin. All three were portrayed in wheelchairs styled to invoke a well-known Soviet photo of Lenin’s last days. The headline read “Kremlin Madhouse.” This was entirely in keeping with the spirit of the publication. It was clearly unwise for us to stay in Kyiv.

After more than three days of almost non-stop driving that felt like three weeks, we finally reached the border. Our farewells were mercifully short. As we kissed and hugged our goodbyes, I had no idea if I would ever see my family again. They crossed into Slovakia and were finally safe. A week later, The Irish Times would publish an article about my family's escape headlined "Now we have a chance to cry."

Until recently, the two children, Peter and Anna, were in school in Dundrum. I believe they now have to return to Ukraine because the Ukrainian Government has decided that state employees have to return to work or else forfeit their positions. These are the incredibly difficult decisions that journalists, but also their families, have to make on a day-to-day basis. These are the realities of conflict.

Vitaly remained on the Ukrainian side of the border, entirely alone. Like everyone else there, he was facing a future of uncertainty. He returned to Lviv and his wartime life began. In Lviv, he was living in an apartment with his magazine partner. He got a text message asking if he was still alive. He said he immediately understood that the noise that had woken him up was the sound of Russian ballistic missiles. He states:

I peered out of my window and saw smoke rising from somewhere in the downtown area of Lviv. Five Russian missiles had hit the city, leaving seven dead and dozens wounded.

[…]

This was the third Russian airstrike on Lviv, a city close to the EU border that is generally regarded as safe. "Are we still going to do our radio show today?" I asked Serhiy. "Why not?" he replied. So we did. Since settling in Lviv during the early days of the war, we have already broadcast more than 40 episodes of the show. We go on air every day, always around lunchtime.

Vitaly also talks about the location problem he has in respect of living and doing his work. He observes that location is the most important feature, as with all real estate, but that in his case it is definitely a problem. The apartment they are renting is close to a huge military base and on the top floor. He states:

The threat of Russian airstrikes is no longer hyperthetical. Indeed, the ambassador of Kazakhstan was living just a few blocks away until recently but was advised by his security team to move out of the neighborhood. This apparent danger is a source of amusement to locals. When they find out where we live, they joke that our landlord should actually be paying us. To make matters worse, the apartment is on the top floor of the building.

Several deadly Russian missile attacks have killed dozens of Ukrainian soldiers in the area. Sirens go off in the city and everybody knows how to react now. Vitaly has now moved back to Kyiv with his family. I just wanted to highlight what he is doing as an example of the role of journalists in conflicts and the challenges they face from day to day. It is such an important matter to reflect upon but it is important to do so not just in respect of Ukraine, Israel and Iraq but also elsewhere around the world. The same challenges are faced in conflict zones by all journalists and we have to commend them for their bravery today.

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this really important debate on the importance of journalism in conflict zones. Even in peacetime, we all appreciate in the Chamber the important role that journalists play. First, they keep the public informed. Second, they act as a counterweight to much of the disinformation on social media. Third, and perhaps most important, they keep the government and, indeed, the opposition in check, hold them accountable and prevent the accumulation of absolute power. Therefore, even from a peacetime perspective, the role of journalism is really important.

Journalism is doubly important in times of conflict all across the world. Journalists keep the public informed as to what is happening on the front line but also keep decision-makers informed. They pass a lot of information from the very front line back to key decision-makers and pile on much pressure for peace talks in the end. Owing to journalists' excellent testimony and reporting, they actually act as a deterrent against war. They assist in holding people to account in the end because of their documentary evidence, videography and photography. They act as a deterrent and promote human rights.

If we think of all the conflicts over recent centuries, we realise journalists provide an historical record. In some cases, they record excellent examples of bravery and, in other cases, the brutality. In all cases, they remind us conflict is absolutely unnecessary. This is a very important lesson that we should remember.

As a teenager in the 1990s, I remember listening to the testimony of Orla Guerin when she was reporting from the western Balkans during the break-up of former Yugoslavia. Teenagers, as we all know, are not easily impressed but I recall being very impressed by the quality of her reporting, the unbiased nature of what she was saying and how she was completely disregarding her personal safety. It left a lasting impression on me. The new generation certainly identifies with Donie O'Sullivan, the Irish CNN reporter who reported so well on the insurrection last year in Washington and who continues to report from there. When working in Syria with the UN some years ago, I was sharing a hostel with Tim Marshall from Sky News. I was very impressed by the quality of his reporting and his absolute commitment to providing a truthful account and ensuring the story was not only recorded accurately but also reported to the people who needed to hear it. We should always remember that when journalists enter conflict zones, they are completely unarmed. They are armed only with their microphones, video cameras and notebooks. That takes a completely different type of courage, a completely different type of brave, and we should certainly recognise and respect that.

The services journalists provide are not provided for free per se; their profession costs them a lot. The website of Reporters Without Borders shows reporters have suffered severe casualties, even in the past few months. It is only May in 2022 but already 48 media workers have been killed while doing nothing other than their job. The vast majority have been journalists. On top of that, about 500 journalists and media workers are incarcerated all across the world, again for the same reason, which is for doing nothing other than their jobs.

It is appropriate now to consider and remember Pierre Zakrzewski, the Irish citizen who was killed in Ukraine with his Ukrainian colleague back in March, and also Shireen Abu Akleh, who was murdered in the occupied Palestinian territories only a couple of weeks ago. On the latter case, I echo the comments made by some of my colleagues today on the excessive use of force by the police. I welcome the fact that there is an investigation taking place. Prosecutions and accountability must come as soon as possible thereafter. We must also remember journalists who are fortunate enough to survive. They do not suffer only from physical scars because post-traumatic stress, separation from family, the estrangement of children and substance abuse can follow afterwards.

What can we do more as a country, society, Legislature and Parliament to support the excellent work that journalists do? We know where the journalists are being held. We have diplomatic relations with some of the countries in question and should not be afraid to use all the leverage we have, particularly from a trade perspective, to ensure the journalists are released, particularly those who are held without charge completely arbitrarily and who have in some cases been abducted and incarcerated for no reason other than providing good journalism.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, said the State is providing funding to provide some equipment for journalists across the country. Items of equipment such as body armour and helmets are a necessity in conflict zones. When looking at the current video footage, I am always concerned when I see soft-skin vehicles being driven by journalists. There are up-armoured Toyota Land Cruisers available that provide considerable protection from small-arms fire. Every responsible media outlet should be providing that equipment for its employees, particularly those it is sending to conflict zones.

The Minister also mentioned training. We should certainly consider this. There was a three-day hostile-environment awareness training, HEAT, course run in the Curragh for journalists going to conflict zones. It was run until the pandemic but was then stopped. It could be resuscitated, provided the military gets the appropriate resources to run it. We also need to regulate big-tech companies more to combat false information and fake news on social media.

The last requirement, education, is the most important. From a transition-year student's point of view, we need to do more to inform the younger generation and give them the skills to discern what advertising, fake news, opinion journalism, propaganda and quality journalism are. We have a bit of work to do in this regard.

I fully appreciate, recognise and respect the role of journalists in conflicts. They provide a great service to democracies. It is now up to democracies to provide a better service to journalists and support them in their work.

I apologise to my Sinn Féin colleagues. I skipped ahead by accident. Next is Deputy Cronin followed by Deputy Ó Murchú.

The Israeli security forces shot journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in cold blood when she was out doing the most ordinary of things, namely, her job. It is another name and another atrocity in the face of international tolerance of extrajudicial killings, imprisonment, demolition, displacement, illegal settlements, the harassment of children, the destruction and desecration of sacred olive groves and the murder of young children for the crime of playing football on a beach. I could go on. One might ask what is the shooting of a single journalist in that litany of depravity, but it is a lot. Killing her and knowing they would get away with it meant killing her witness and her power to bring the truth about the treatment of Palestinian people into international focus.

Her funeral was its own witness. No objective person could be unmoved by the scenes. Murder was not enough; degradation and dehumanisation followed. I give particular attention to the pall-bearers, especially one gentleman who, despite being repeatedly beaten to the ground and kicked, rose like a hero to prevent what he saw as the ultimate degradation of Shireen's remains and her coffin hitting the ground. While others run from bombs and gunfire, Shireen and other war reporters run towards the front to bring us the news as it happens.

An Irishman, Pierre Zakrzewski, was killed by Russian forces in Ukraine while doing his job. We owe Pierre a huge debt of gratitude and I underline to his family and friends the high regard in which he is held by all of us here. He will not be forgotten in Ireland. In Ireland, we owe war journalists and photojournalists so much because, without Gilles Peress in Derry, we would not have the iconic photographs of human rights protesters under fire and the white flag held by Father Edward Daly. Bloody Sunday would have been buried as the British Government tried to bury the Ballymurphy massacre that took place a few months earlier. Gilles Peress told the Saville inquiry how amazed his bureau chief in Paris was that he got a picture of an unarmed man shot dead by British forces. We are lucky he was there to capture those moments and that he is still here to remind us what is at stake and at risk through the intransigence, pride and recklessness of some.

Today we remember all journalists who have lost their lives in the job of telling truth to power. We remember and thank them. Ar dheis Dé go raibh siad.

We are dealing at the moment with attacks on democracy and truth and the necessity for real journalism. Many have mentioned the issue of the social media giants, the working of their algorithms and how they, at times, facilitate the telling of mistruths. We have a duty of care and protection for the vital work, particularly in conflict situations, carried out by journalists. In our country, we remember the courageous work carried out by Veronica Guerin, Lyra McKee and Martin O'Hagan. Unfortunately, these people paid with their lives.

When we talk about modern-day conflicts, we think of Irish citizen Pierre Zakrzewski, who died in Ukraine, and we cannot but think of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was executed or assassinated - use what term you want - by the so-called Israel Defense Forces. We have all called out the actions of Vladimir Putin and his regime in Ukraine. A huge number of sanctions have been imposed, and rightfully so, but the problem is we are dealing with an Israel that is willing to execute journalists and to carry out the heinous act of attacking a funeral. We have seen that happen before in Ireland and South Africa, and it is generally by regimes that have nothing to offer and that are failing and trying to oppress a community. They generally fail. That is the only good news we have at this point. Israel is a rogue state that has executed journalists, engages in the annexation of land and operates apartheid policies.

We would like to see action across Europe. We do not necessarily want to see unilateral action but sometimes there is no choice. Sometimes the majority does not have the right to be wrong and we have to take action. I call on the Government to call out Israel. Beyond that, we have to look at sanctions. Then we can go beyond Ireland at that stage.

Deputies Richmond and Bruton are sharing time.

I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this timely and welcome debate. All of us will speak from a personal and collective point of view of the importance of reporting by the media from conflict zones around the world in a brave manner that stands to all of humanity. It is important to ensure there is clarity, the exposition of crimes and a living, unchallengeable record of this. In the emerging age of social media and the use of disinformation and misinformation as a form of hybrid warfare, the role of independent, verifiable journalism during times of conflict has never been more important.

I will speak on the murder of Pierre Zakrzewski in March by a Russian bomb in Ukraine. Being a joint Irish-French national, he was known to many in his Chamber, or at least many in this Chamber have been able to tell his story. He grew up in Leopardstown in my constituency. The family was gratefully appreciative of the assistance given by the Department of Foreign Affairs in the repatriation of his remains, of the compassion shown and of the presence of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, at his funeral in Foxrock.

I spoke to a number of his friends and acquaintances from the area, who asked me to relay a couple of points about the scenes he saw over a lengthy career as a photojournalist around the world in many conflict zones, not just recently in Ukraine. They mention that on what may have been his last day alive, Pierre found a two-month-old baby, alone, injured, on the ground, among rubble and ruins. His first reaction was not to take a picture or to report it. It was the first reaction any human being would have: to bring that baby to safety and find it a safe family and support. While he managed to bring the baby to receive medical attention, sadly that baby was killed. Pierre himself was killed the very next day.

It shows the reality of what journalists face in conflict zones and the effects that remain with them long after they leave. I am told that, when visiting various war and conflict zones over his career, Pierre told friends and family he rarely felt scared. He was confident in the internal protections of journalists and felt relatively safe with his team and their journalistic credentials. However, he told those close to him that the war in Ukraine was completely different and everyone was a target. The rules of respect for journalists and safe zones were disregarded by the Russians and Pierre ultimately fell victim to this, as did the many medics and humanitarians who have been killed in this vicious war. It is clear from everything I have heard about Pierre that he died doing what he loved. This was his passion and vocation.

Today and every day when we watch the news or open Twitter and see videos and photos from these war zones, we need to remind ourselves of the sacrifices made to bring this footage to us. I commend the recent change in editorial policy of RTÉ such that when acknowledging reports from conflict zones, they do not just acknowledge the on-screen reporter or journalist but also the camera and production crew with them. That is extremely important. We cannot sit idly by and allow this to continue, in Ukraine or any other war zone. Pierre's friends told me he often said when speaking of his time reporting on war zones that when you think you have seen the worst excesses of man's inhumanity to man, you realise the strength of the human spirit. We are seeing in Ukraine an horrendous conflict that will have an impact on our society and homes for many years. The sooner the conflict comes to an end and the people of Ukraine can be liberated and protected, the better for everyone across this Continent and planet, not just those directly affected.

It is all well and good having statements but statements have to come with protections and with the legislative will and political desire to ensure the protection of journalists as they report from conflict zones and from extremely difficult situations domestically.

We must ensure they have that freedom of integrity and are covered properly by modern defamation laws that allow them to report the truth and not be muzzled by the financial arm of criminal or political movements that wish to silence their truth. The debt we in this State owe to the bravery of so many domestic investigative journalists in the fields of crime, conflict zones, politics or elsewhere is one that we in this Chamber may not appreciate as great. That gratitude, however, needs to be shown in the form of proper professional protections. Deputy Berry rightly mentioned the extreme conditions training at the Curragh that used to be made available to all journalists and members of the National Union of Journalists. That is absolutely something that should be brought up. Only last week, I spoke to a British friend of mine who works for a British newspaper and is doing exactly that sort of training because he is about to be posted to Ukraine for four weeks. That is the sort of protection we need to give to journalists.

Like other Members, I am delighted to have the opportunity to say a few words on this important issue. The killings of Shireen Abu Akleh, Lyra McKee, Pierre Zakrzewski and many others remind us just how important journalism is to the freedoms that we are fortunate enough to have in our society. The safety of journalists is one of the cornerstones of freedom of expression. The killings of those journalists remind us of the extraordinary risks that people reporting from conflict zones have to face daily. Many journalists have paid the ultimate price for seeking to bring us the news so that we can a form proper understanding of what is happening in these conflicts.

On average, 90 journalists each year are killed in conflict situations and many more are imprisoned as a result of their work. An appalling figure is that 60% of those killed were targeted. They were not accidentally caught in crossfire. There is systematic targeting of people who seek to provide objective reporting of what is happening, and 87% of those crimes are not solved. Journalists are in a highly dangerous game of roulette as they seek to bring us information that is fair and objective.

The tragedy is that the power of the digital age has made doing so even more risky. While preparing for these statements, I read a report that detailed how three quarters of women operating in conflict zones had reported online violence. This was systematic intimidation and threats online against journalists who were being targeted. One in four of those cases turned into offline violence. The targeting online was the precursor to exposing people to that sort of violent attack. All present have seen the power of social media to whip up a storm of anger against individuals. We have to be extraordinarily careful in that regard.

It was good to hear the remarks of the Minister on what is being sought and pursued within the UN. We need to uphold stronger principles to protect journalists in these situations and find protocols that get more international acceptance that this is something we treasure. We have to uphold the right of journalists to have the freedom to express their point of view and not to be taken off air. The Minister stated that more than 150 journalists have had to leave Russia because they could no longer continue to operate their trade.

What is particularly worrying is that there is no objective and independent investigation into these killings. In the case of the death of Shireen Abu Akleh last week, there have been two ostensible investigations with completely different results but still no opportunity for an independent investigation.

We must also consider the online platforms and their responsibilities in cases where they are being used in conflict situations to target journalists who are trying to speak the truth.

The second dimension of this debate is the extreme difficulty in reporting in conflict situations anyway. It is said that the first casualty of war is truth and that is undoubtedly the case. Any glimpses we get into the reporting within Russia of this war highlight clearly how diametrically different is the reporting and presentation of the war that is being presented to ordinary Russian people who believe it is about protecting their safety and position.

We need to try to create an environment where journalists can operate more freely and be heard. Not only do they risk their safety daily, but they also take risks in the context of protecting their sources and communications, as well as validating claims that are being made to them. They are often caught between a frightened population, overbearing patriotism, a well-honed war machine with its spinners, and the demands of a hungry 24-hour media that wants to be first. Those pressures are extraordinary on the journalists who are trying to carry them. Martin Bell spoke of the pressures of being in that position. He described the role of those who fund journalism, stating:

They aim to be first and fastest with the news. Their nature, too often, is to be fearful, feverish, frenzied, frantic, frail, false and fallible.

Those are the words of probably one of the foremost journalists in recent times.

Journalists take on an extraordinarily difficult role but when democracy and freedom of expression is under sustained threat, as it is at present in many parts of the world, it is vital that we support the importance of journalism in trying to make sense for us of these extraordinary conflicts. While we try manfully to bring forward change at UN level and in other international forums, we have to strive to ensure that when the conflict ends there is no impunity for those who struck down journalists in the midst of the conflict. That is the most important thing we can do to ensure that people will continue take those risks to bring a fair and balanced picture to those who need to make sense of extraordinarily difficult conflicts. If we cannot make sense of these conflicts, there is little chance that we can resolve them.

Journalists are our eyes and ears when it comes to the many conflicts across the world. They have an important role not just in reporting what is going on in these conflicts, but also in dissecting the cause of the hatred or economic opportunity that prompts or prolongs conflict, or examining how certain conflicts are used for purely economic gain, bigotry or discrimination. Many regimes see that as a threat to their purpose. The work of journalists is seen by some of these governments as putting an unwelcome focus on the true purpose of the ambitions of the regime and the lengths to which it will go to realise those ambitions.

That is just one more danger faced by journalists who already put themselves in danger to report the truth. We have seen this in the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera journalist who was murdered - not killed, as some others say - by Israeli forces as they conducted a military raid near the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was murdered despite being clearly identifiable as a journalist, as were three others who were fired upon as attempts were made by the military to disguise the truth of what is happening in the ongoing occupation of the Palestinian territories.

We have seen the great work being done by journalists to shed light on the devastation and atrocities being carried out by Russian forces, the Government of which insists to this day that it is a special operation. We need those journalists to break through that propaganda. They are achieving that, but it has already come at a grave cost to a high number of them.

Journalists in conflict areas face another obstacle in their work and that results from the inaction of governments elsewhere to address the injustices the journalists expose. As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. Apart from that saying being gender exclusive, it is a message that holds true.

Governments throughout the world have watched on as the Saudi Arabian assault of Yemen continues. Since the war started in 2015 it is estimated that 370,000 people have died. Meanwhile so-called allied countries have been selling weapons to the Saudi Arabian regime openly, adding to the horror and grief in Yemen. Journalists who put themselves in the way of harm have to contend with the willingness of members of the international community to turn away from conflicts because of the financial arrangements they have in place with the dominant power.

These journalists and the people whose plight they are reporting on deserve more than the self-serving attitude that is adopted by countries across the world which do not want to affect the status quo. We have seen it in our own country and other areas around the world. Journalists in conflict zones must be thanked for their work and commitment. They deserve to be listened to and for the injustices on which they shed light to be addressed by those powers that watch on and maybe, just maybe, governments might take action.

It has been well observed that truth is the first casualty of war. It has been equally well observed that the only antidote to propaganda purported in a time of conflict is the truth. In areas of conflict journalism has a vital role. When covering war or conflict professional journalists do not just circulate facts and information. They also frame and promote deliberation and debate. By supplying credible information the media also has a vital role to play in promoting democratic principles. As we have seen the global reporting of atrocities being committed can be a significant contributory factor in bringing parties to the peace table.

However, conflict reporting has been a risky occupation and attacks on the press take many forms. Kidnapping, threats, arrest, imprisonment, harassment - with women in particular being targeted – are becoming all too common. Between 2010 and 2019 almost 900 journalists were killed while doing their job. In November 2020 the UN Secretary General stated that the fundamental role of journalists in ensuring access to reliable information is essential to achieving durable peace, sustainable development and human rights, and recalled that all civilians, including journalists engaged in professional missions, must be respected and protected under international humanitarian law. Although many have lost their lives covering conflicts, far more are also murdered for investigating issues such as corruption, trafficking, political wrongdoing, human rights violations and environmental issues.

Ultimately the reason we are having this discussion today is because of the brutal and senseless murder of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. When covering an Israeli military raid on a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, she was shot dead. Eyewitnesses who were present at the scene said she was killed by Israeli forces. This killing has rightly attracted global condemnation as did the shameful events at her funeral. There can be no double standards here. There can be no box ticking masquerading as accountability particularly in a week where we have seen another soldier, in another conflict, sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a civilian. This action needs accountability and Israel needs to be held to account for the actions and the murder of that veteran journalist.

The extraordinary courage of journalists and media workers reporting from conflict areas in Ukraine and other parts of the world reminds us once again how crucial their work is in providing timely, trusted and fact-based information to the public. This debate should serve as an opportunity to celebrate their vital contribution and draw attention to the increasing pressures, threats and attacks they face while also calling for the protection of all journalists by ensuring they are supported to ensure freedom, independence and pluralism of the media generally. The death of nine journalists and media workers in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion underscores for us all the level of danger to which those covering conflict are exposed. To maintain freedom of the press, which is essential for democracy, journalists must be able to complete their jobs safely. Yet, media workers are increasingly facing danger and even death particularly in conflict zones and in some countries around the world.

In 2021, the European Federation of Journalists reported six assassinations of journalists in Europe. Journalists have also been violently attacked when covering demonstrations or investigating allegations of corruption, organised crime and environmental malpractice. In 2021, according to the International Press Institute, 45 journalists were killed while undertaking their jobs throughout the world. So far this year that figure sits at the unfortunate figure of 28 journalists killed in the line of duty. The most important thing that can be done in cases targeting media in violent acts is accountability, according to the International Press Institute. In fact the institute data shows that in at least 90% of cases in which journalists are murdered those responsible are not held to account. This creates a cycle of impunity where those responsible feel that they can act without consequences and see it as an open invitation to attack journalists. This points to an urgent need to ensure a meaningful judicial response. Otherwise the number of killings will continue to grow. Additionally journalists are also routinely targeted with online threats and hate speech. Female journalists in particular face vicious, sexualised and malicious online attacks.

Independent journalism is imperilled by increasing crackdowns on press freedom, targeted surveillance and judicial harassment of journalists, high levels of impunity for crimes against journalists, editorial capture by political or business interests and mounting financial difficulties for many news outlets.

I am glad to be able to speak on these timely statements on the situation regarding brave journalists. The death of nine journalists and media workers in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion underscores for us all the level of danger to which those covering conflict are exposed. Today we remember Irish cameraman, Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed in Ukraine when his vehicle was hit by Russian shelling on 14 March. He was working for the US network, Fox News, in Horenka. Mr. Zakrzewski was a brave veteran warzone photographer who had covered multiple conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. Unfortunately the killing of journalists is not limited to conflict situations. Furthermore the recent shooting of the reporter in the West Bank is among the numerous killings of media workers worldwide. Last year, 2021, a large number, I think it was 40 journalists, were killed under attack. It is just unbelievable. We have to protect and salute those brave journalists who go out to work.

I remember as a young person I listened to the brave Robert Fisk reporting from Beirut. Little did I think years later I would be visiting him. He was the first person who I remember reporting from war zones. It is important to remember that as well as in war zones, there are issues in this country that have not been reported on and are not allowed to be reported on. There were 51 lives lost in Whiddy Island, Bantry, in 1979 and we have not had any proper inquiries. That was whitewashed. We lost two young men off Helvick Head 15 years ago this week, John O’Brien and his friend Pat Esmonde, and we have failed to get a proper investigation. None of the board members of our Marine Casualty Investigation Board has seagoing experience. I am not trying to diminish anything that is happening with the Russian war in Ukraine, or any other war zone, but we have to wash all our dirty linen, including our own. It is our duty to expose what is happening. There are many other situations in this country that have not had proper investigations. The case of Fr. Niall Molloy in County Offaly had one cover-up after another. It is not all confined to war zones.

I really appreciate this opportunity to speak on this because the role of journalists in reporting from places of conflict is so important. For example in the Ukraine war, we will all be expecting and hoping that people will be brought to justice for the criminal acts that are taking place. The killing of the Irish cameraman, Pierre Zakrzewski, was so upsetting not just to his own family but it was a tragedy for the professionalism of journalism and camera people in this country and throughout the world. To think that nine journalists have lost their lives since the start of this war, this illegal invasion of peaceful people, and the fact that 28 journalists have lost their lives since the start of 2022 quite simply because they are guilty of doing their job. It is a respectable job, the operation of reporting on what is happening and letting us see. Nine journalists died in Mexico obviously because of the serious drug problem there and the fact that the drug cartels believe they can do whatever they wish. The authorities in Mexico seem completely incapable or worse, unwilling, to do anything about this.

To those good people who have lost their lives and their families, it is a tragedy beyond belief to think that they could not go about their duties. The role that journalists are playing and the evidence that they are gathering and giving to the rest of world may prove important during war tribunals that will happen, please God, sooner rather than later, when these people will be brought to justice for the criminal acts they are perpetrating.

These people deserve our support because of their courage and bravery. They are putting themselves in harm's way to make sure we are informed fully and for that we should be eternally grateful.

Journalists must be commended on their courage and bravery in tackling many of the issues in conflict zones around the world. I believe 28 journalists have been killed so far in 2022. I offer my condolences to their families and friends. It is sad that so many journalists are targeted with online bullying, threats and hate speech. I understand that female journalists are attacked even more viciously on a regular basis, both online and offline.

Many of our news outlets are harassed in the courts when they challenge controversial issues, particularly around business interests. Media coverage gives an uncovered issue visibility and, unlike some social media, the accountability is where the individual journalist is willing to put his or her name to the story. One of the most famous journalism partnerships was Bernstein and Woodward, when they uncovered the Watergate scandal.

The most famous investigative journalist in Ireland will always be foremost in our thoughts, namely the late Veronica Guerin, who targeted underworld crime and gave her life to protect us. I offer my condolences to her family also.

My final tribute is to Charlie Bird, who has given a lifetime to his work as a journalist, and is on yet another mission to get answers.

In Ukraine, we have seen journalists go out and put their lives on the line to give us the true story of what is happening. They have to be commended on the bravery that they have shown and be respected for what they are doing - leaving their families to give us news.

We can see on social media that within two minutes false news comes up but there is no accountability. At least with journalists, they put their names to their stories. They do not always get it right but at least their name is there. They are doing their best and they are willing to put their name on the line for it. Journalists need to be commended on that.

The Minister, Deputy Catherine Martin, is sharing her time with Deputy Leddin.

Fáiltím roimh an deis ráiteas a dhéanamh anseo inniu faoin ról ríthábhachtach atá ag iriseoirí i dtuairisciú limistéir choimhlinte ar fud an domhain. Time after time, journalists confront the worst that is happening around the world. They are determined, sometimes at great risk to themselves, to report honestly and truthfully not only on difficult and dangerous conflicts, but also on corruption and the violation of human rights. The fundamental purpose of journalism - the pursuit of the truth – is absolutely vital to us as citizens. Without it we would be left in the dark, at risk of being overwhelmed by disinformation, biased commentary and conspiracy theories.

It is important to stress at the outset that risks to journalists fundamentally emanate not from the vocation of journalism, but from threats to journalists from states and criminal and paramilitary groups. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, reports that over 1,523 journalists have been killed since 1993 in the course of doing their jobs. This is a stark and troubling number. To echo the words of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, earlier, we are no strangers to such attacks on our own island. Let us recall the terrible killings of Lyra McKee, Martin O’Hagan and Veronica Guerin. They were each courageous and respected journalists.

I have also been struck by the courage of Irish journalists and camera operators, along with all the support staff, who provide us with essential reports from conflict zones around the globe. This is particularly evident in the continuing conflict in Ukraine. The death of Pierre Zakrzewski, an Irish camera operator, alongside 24-year-old Ukrainian journalist and producer Oleksandra Kuvshynova in Ukraine, demonstrates this courage. Pierre's funeral was held in Ireland in March. He grew up in my own constituency in Leopardstown. Pierre was an inspiration; he was larger than life, according to some of his friends and colleagues. It was through his journeys around Europe in his teens, and later in Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Pierre's fondness for photography and politics developed into freelance journalism. It was relayed at his funeral that "his qualities were endless ... he lived his life for the benefit of others". It was also conveyed that Pierre was full of vision, innovative in his work and in the world, a truth teller, full of empathy and what many referred to as "a humanitarian". Journalists working in war zones often share some of these attributes, but the dangers they face can be great.

In a separate but no less terrible incident, the shooting of Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank earlier this month is a stark reminder of the dangers journalists face in conflict zones. Equally, I condemn the actions of Israeli police at the funeral of Ms Abu Akleh. These were horrific scenes of police brutality at a very sensitive event. The Palestinian-American was a household name across the Arabic-speaking world. I, too, am backing the international calls for an independent investigation into her killing.

I also note that a delegation for relations with Palestine, which included two Irish MEPs, was recently informed by Israeli authorities that it would not be allowed to visit the Gaza region "as a delegation". The delegation of six MEPs, including the Green Party South MEP, Ms Grace O'Sullivan, and the Sinn Féin Midlands North-West MEP, Mr. Chris MacManus, were due to arrive in Israel over the weekend en route to Palestine via Tel Aviv. However, at the last minute, the group was informed that the mission would not be able to go ahead. The President of the European Parliament, Ms Roberta Metsola, is currently visiting Israel and has pledged to raise this issue. I echo the concerns raised by my party colleague, Grace O’Sullivan MEP, as well as by the European Parliament President.

All threats to journalists, whether in the form of physical or online attacks, represent a threat to media freedom and the freedom of the press. We know that a free, independent and pluralistic media is a vital component in holding a state and powerful institutions to account.

It has been said before that the first casualty of war is truth, and we have witnessed that in recent times. The steps taken by the Russian state against its own independent media represent a clear demonstration that it fears the truth about Russian aggression in Ukraine being shown and explained to Russian citizens and is evading responsibility for what is being done by Russian forces in Ukraine.

The framework for supporting an independent media includes a robust legislative and constitutional foundation for press freedom and an overarching framework for the regulation of the media that protects press freedom and promotes media plurality. As Minister with responsibility for media, I am keenly aware of the responsibility I and the Government have in providing the necessary legislative safeguards that promote a strong and independent media sector. The Government recognises that journalists and other media actors play a central role in enabling the full enjoyment of freedom of expression and are critical to the healthy functioning of our democracy.

We must reinforce the protections afforded to journalists and other media actors engaged in work that is instrumental for the healthy operation of democracy. Media freedom is a core European value that is given expression in the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and is a cornerstone of democracy. Without freedom of the press, a well-informed citizenry cannot exist. Without a well-informed citizenry, democracy cannot function in any meaningful sense of the word. Journalists are a central component in our civil society, and a free media has been a powerful force for positive change and democratic transformation everywhere. All forms of attacks on journalists and other media actors must be regarded as attacks on democracy and strongly condemned.

As we know from our own experience on this island, threats to journalists are not confined to countries that would traditionally be classified as zones of ongoing conflict.

In recognition of the growing number of threats to journalists across the EU, in September 2021 the European Commission published a recommendation on the safety of journalists. The recommendation calls on member states to vigorously investigate and prosecute all criminal acts, making full use of existing national and European legislation.

To support the recommendation, first announced in the European democracy action plan, the European Commission has also indicated that it will propose a European media freedom Act in response to growing concerns regarding diminishing media plurality, which can have a chilling effect on independent journalism. The Commission has indicated that the European media freedom Act will seek to ensure that the EU media market functions better by improving legal certainty and will set out a mechanism to increase the transparency, independence and accountability of actions affecting media markets, freedom and pluralism within the EU. I support collaboration between member states in order to safeguard media freedoms across the EU and look forward to working with the Commission and other member states when that Act is published.

As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, has indicated, Ireland assumed the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe last week. The Council of Europe has played an importance role in promoting the independence of the media and security of journalists. The work of the steering committee on media and information society of the Council of Europe has been particularly important. Last June, I attended the conference of Ministers responsible for media and information society, which adopted a resolution on the safety of journalists, setting out the importance of protecting journalists and an enabling environment for media freedom. This steering committee on media and information society is holding its 21st plenary session next week, at which the topic of journalist safety will be further considered, particularly in light of the conflict in Ukraine.

All states have a duty to respect, protect and promote human rights, and it is crucial that journalists and other media actors as part of civil society have the space in which to do their jobs free from violence and intimidation. A free and independent media is indispensable for democracy. I absolutely condemn any threats or attacks on individual journalists or on the foundations of the sector as a whole. We must treat these attacks with the utmost seriousness. Tá sé ríthábhachtach do struchtúr ár sochaí go leanaimid ar aghaidh ag déanamh gach iarracht chun tacú le preas daonlathach agus saor agus chun sábháilteacht iriseoirí a chosaint, anseo in Éirinn agus thar lear.

I am thankful for the opportunity to speak. Much too often we take for granted this opportunity to voice our ideas and opinions freely and without repercussions. It is not a luxury afforded to politicians in many other countries around the world and it is even less likely that the people reporting on the business of politics, state affairs and international conflicts would be given the same assurances.

Our discourse in this House can be biased, ideological and charged but the message of a journalist is not a personal story or subjective thought. Instead, journalists act as conduits, narrating a story based on their observations and discoveries. Being objective in the face of traditional state-run propaganda is more than just a challenge to reporters; it is very often a question of life and death.

In our collective memory, there are numerous records of the enormous sacrifices made by journalists reporting on the Troubles. This is not something of the past. Lyra McKee was shot dead just three years ago. She was a woman and someone's partner and child. She was a reporter of truth and hers was a life forever lost to a cowardly hand that could not tolerate the truth.

Trustworthy news contributes to the protection of civilians and brings the reality of conflict to the attention of the international community while exposing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. As I am speaking, we are witnessing the Russian state propaganda machine broadcasting the successes of the "special military operation" in Ukraine while Ukrainian and western media rightly call the invasion a war. A few weeks after Putin's invasion of Ukraine began, a law was enacted in Russia making it a criminal offence to publicly transmit, including by means of social networks, any "deliberately false information about the deployment of the military forces of the Russian Federation". That includes reporting on casualty figures that depart from officially approved numbers and using the word "war".

Misinformation and propaganda are no longer the domain of the traditional media in totalitarian regimes. There is now an even greater threat of misinformation and manipulation masquerading as first-hand information and independent reporting through social media platforms. Most of it is never subject to any form of scrutiny and far removed from what is objective reporting.

In 1990, the International Federation of Journalists published its first list of journalists killed. In the 30 years since, a further 2,658 journalists have been killed, with approximately two journalists or media workers dying every week. As colleagues mentioned, most journalists are murdered in reprisal for what they write as opposed to being killed by the hazards of reporting from combat zones. According to the International Federation of Journalists, nearly 75% of journalists killed around the world did not step on a landmine, get shot in crossfire or die in a suicide bombing but were instead murdered outright, such as being killed by a gunman escaping on the back of a motorcycle, being shot or stabbed to death near their home or office or being found dead having been abducted and tortured.

Daniel Pearl, Anna Politkovskya, Pavel Sheremet, Daphne Caruana Galizia, Lyra McKee, Pierre Zakrzewski and Shireen Abu Akleh are the names we might recognise of too many who have died while working as journalists in the past 20 years. However, the risk to local journalists, whose names do not resonate in the media, have an impact beyond incidents. This sends a signal to countless others that they or members of their family could be next. These names are more than that; they are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and colleagues. They have dedicated their lives and paid the ultimate price for their work as journalists for exercising freedom of expression and holding governments and groups to account. It is not enough simply to remember them and speak in their honour. Their murderers must be brought to justice.

There are journalists reporting from around the world today and providing the public with accurate and timely information. We must provide a safe and enabling environment for freedom of expression and guarantee freedom of the media to ensure these people can effectively perform their professional duties, especially in times of crisis.

I appreciate the opportunity to take part in this discussion on journalists in conflict zones around the world. I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, for his detailed speech and confirmation that the promotion and protection of all human rights remains a key foreign policy priority for Ireland. We will hold him to account in that regard, particularly in respect of the many countries not promoting human rights, including Israel.

I note we have assumed the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, as the Minister clarified. We became a member of the Council of Europe in 1949, the year we became a republic. I could not put it any better than the Minister so it is important to repeat what he said. He indicated the most recent figures from Reporters Without Borders provide a "grim" background to today's debate, with 939 journalists and media workers killed across the globe during the ten years from 2011 to 2020. Last year alone, 50 journalists were killed and 302 were imprisoned. Many people have paid tribute to Lyra McKee, Martin O'Hagan and Veronica Guerin, which is right, along with Simon Cumbers and Pierre Zakrzewski, who was killed with a colleague on 14 March.

The figures are grim, as has been said, so what is our role, as an actively neutral country, in the promotion of peace and the protection of journalists, who are an absolutely essential part of a vibrant democracy? We cannot have a democracy without courageous independent journalists. We have seen the work of Orla Guerin, John Pilger and Robert Fisk, who died recently. It is really important we understand the role of independent journalists is vital. We can compare it to the role of journalists who have allowed themselves to be embedded at different points in different wars - Iraq comes to mind - and we realise the importance of protecting independent journalism.

Journalists operate under constant threat and in constant fear of their lives. They lose their lives. It is important that the narrative from any dominant power is questioned, and that is what they do. We do not have narratives just from the bad guys.

There are narratives that are self-serving for all powers and at all times they must be questioned. We fail to do so at our peril as it endangers our democracy. If we look at what is and is not covered as a story, the abominable illegal invasion of Ukraine has to be covered without a doubt but the focus has been taken off many other wars. I know it is difficult but if we determine our foreign policy and neutrality by what is nearest to us and geographical proximity, which is the most human thing to do and it is right to give humanitarian aid, then we are in danger of losing the respect we have. This is one of the main reasons we got a seat on the Security Council.

A number of conflicts are not receiving attention at present. There are many reasons for this, one being they are not top of the list of journalists' priorities. I say this only to highlight it. There has been an appalling loss of life in Yemen and it is ongoing. The figures mean so little at this point because they are so high. This war is backed fully by Saudi Arabia, with which we are friends. Then we have Tigray, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Congo and Somalia. I ask that we bear in mind always that we have a very important role as one of three remaining neutral countries to use our voice at all times to question. Part of this questioning has to be done by investigative journalism. The other part has to be done by democratically elected Deputies in the Dáil and parliamentarians elsewhere. The protection of journalists has been recognised for a very long time. We can go to the Hague Convention and declarations as far back as 1899.

In Ukraine we have lost seven journalists since the invasion. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has been mentioned, is investigating the deaths of seven others. In addition, 14 journalists have been jailed in Russia, which is proceeding to introduce the most draconian legislation to silence journalists even further. Again, there is a role for us as a parliament to support good journalists in Russia and the people on the ground who do not want this war. They want the war to stop. We need to hear their voices also. We need to stand with them in stopping the war because it has to stop at some stage and the sooner the better. There is a role for all of us in this.

On 11 May, as has been mentioned and it cannot be mentioned often enough, Ms Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. She had been a journalist with Al Jazeera for 25 years. She was known for her courage in documenting the hardship of Palestinian life under Israeli rule. Words cannot cover what happened to her in life and death. It brings into acute focus the impunity with which the Israeli Government operates, and I distinguish the Israeli Government from the Israeli people. I know there are courageous people in Israel who have spoken out repeatedly about the apartheid regime - the words of Amnesty International, not mine - operating there. The government there acts with impunity. We have a report from Amnesty and the Government is still analysing it. We are still waiting for a response from the Government. I read the report. I never expected a busy Minister to read it in the first few days after it came out but it has been weeks since it was published and we have no response to it.

The failure by the Israeli establishment to carry out an independent investigation into Ms Abu Akleh's killing is nothing short of shocking and appalling. It has come back and said it was an active combat situation. I do not know how we are not calling this out for what it is. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, has certainly issued very strong words. What is the next step? Last week, we heard IDA Ireland has a liaison person on the ground in Israel to bring us closer in terms of trade. The comment on this was that it is nothing unusual. Unusual or not, it is most unacceptable that we would tighten our links in this manner while this is going on. We are letting it happen in our name.

I want to mention Malta, which is another neutral country. A journalist was killed there, right on our doorstep. She was 53 when she was killed in a bomb in October 2017. She had spent 30 years as a journalist uncovering networks of corruption in Malta and abroad. Her car exploded. There is finally a public inquiry but it was precipitated by a resolution passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which shows how important that organisation is. It found the state was responsible for her death. I know there are processes in place at present. A 437-page report found the state had created an atmosphere of impunity generated by the highest echelons.

I want to mention Julian Assange, whom this and all previous Governments have utterly ignored. In 2010, this extremely courageous man published almost 500,000 documents from Chelsea Manning. Included was a video in which two US soldiers in an Apache helicopter gunned down a group of unarmed civilians. There is any number of examples of what this man did. The UK Supreme Court is stating he can be extradited. We are awaiting an announcement from the relevant minister. This man is being extradited while at the same time the UK Prime Minister is addressing Russia, and rightly so, on journalists. He is completely ignoring what is happening with Julian Assange and what he is doing in this regard.

I also want to mention Jamal Khashoggi and what happened to him in 2018. We have let this go by also without any action following our condemnation of the role of Saudi Arabia in this, while we tighten up our relationship with that country. We divide the world on the basis of who is and is not our friend. It is them and us. That is an extremely dangerous foreign policy.

Gabhaim buíochas leis na Teachtaí uilig as an díospóireacht chuimsitheach inniu maidir le hiriseoirí in áiteanna ina bhfuil coimhlint iontu timpeall an domhain. I add my condolences to the families of Shireen Abu Akleh and Pierre Zakrzewski and his colleague Oleksandra Kuvshynova. They are three of the most well-known journalists who have been killed in conflict recently. I send sympathies to their families and to the families of the other journalists killed in the Ukraine conflict this year.

This is a timely debate, not only because it follows the murders of journalists but this evening Ireland has called an informal Security Council meeting focusing specifically on the protection of journalists. In addition to our work at the UN and EU, earlier this year Ireland joined the Media Freedom Coalition. This is a cross-regional collaboration of 52 countries that co-ordinate to promote the safety of media workers and to hold to account those who seek to harm them. This complements Ireland's work as a founding member of the Freedom Online Coalition, which, since 2011, has protected the right to freedom of opinion and expression online.

Many areas of conflict and many journalists have been mentioned. I do not think we should categorise them with "but something else" as some speakers have during the debate. I will mention many of the circumstances and journalists who have been mentioned. In Afghanistan, press freedom has been severely curtailed since the Taliban's seized power last August. Human Rights Watch has found that 70% of media outlets have closed. Reporters without Borders has recorded 80 cases of detained media workers and at least two journalists have been killed. In Afghanistan, of course, women are very disproportionately affected. Ireland has consistently used its voice at the Security Council on human rights in Afghanistan, including the rights of journalists. We will do so again in today in New York with other Security Council members. Deputies are aware that journalists and their families are among the almost 500 Afghan refugees now safely in Ireland under the refugee protection programme.

There are also a number of Ukrainian journalists here as part of that programme.

In Myanmar, there have also been attacks on civilians, including reporters. The military has closed independent outlets, interfered with access to the Internet, blocked social media platforms and proposed a cybersecurity law that would empower the state with greater surveillance capabilities. Through multilateral organisations, of which we are a member, Ireland has called on the military to release those arbitrarily detained and cease violence. We also want full accountability.

In Hong Kong, which I believe was not mentioned in this debate, since the closure of Apple Daily last year, there has been a raid on the offices of Stand News and the arrest of its staff and the self-closure of Citizen News. The national security laws have been followed by the targeting and suppression of independent media, thereby eroding protected rights and freedoms under the Basic Law. We have spoken out in support of media freedom and free speech in Hong Kong.

Mexico is apparently the most dangerous country in which to be a journalist in 2021, according to NGOs. We are working closely with the European Union and others to protect journalist, condemn killings and call people to account. The Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, headed a United Nations NGO round-table meeting which discussed security issues for journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico.

Deputies mentioned countries in Africa, including Eritrea and Somalia. We are also working to ensure a vibrant media space can exist. The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the Simon Cumbers Media Fund. Simon was a journalist from Meath who was killed approximately 20 years ago in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia. We have an Irish Aid programme that enables journalists to report on stories of contemporary life in developing countries that would otherwise not be told. More than 400 assignments have been funded by the Department under this fund.

I note, in particular, the strong statements, rightly so, on the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. Her killing, which ended her professional witness to the situation in occupied Palestinian territory, led to justifiable outrage and anger in Palestine, in the Dáil and globally. It is vital that journalists are protected to report on the effects of conflict on the lives of ordinary Palestinian citizens. Israel must immediately comply with calls from the international community to hold a thorough and transparent investigation into the killing of Ms Abu Akleh. It is vital that this case is addressed in the appropriate multilateral fora.

Ireland was actively involved in agreeing a statement at the UN Security Council condemning the killing of Ms Abu Akleh. This was the first statement by the Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since May 2021. It was a very significant statement which Ireland was actively involved in and we will continue to highlight this case. Ms Abu Akleh's family deserves justice and to see those responsible held to account. Additionally, at this time of heightened tensions, the authorities must do everything possible to ensure there is no further escalation of violence, particularly at potential flashpoints in the coming weeks.

Ireland has condemned in the strongest possible terms Russia's illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, as well as Belarus's part in it. We stand in unwavering solidarity with the people of Ukraine and media workers, a number of whom have been killed, including Pierre Zakrzewski, who was Irish. They work tirelessly to provide accurate and truthful accounts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Ireland will make its voice heard to ensure that those responsible will be held to account and brought to justice.

As the Minister and Opposition Deputies mentioned, Ireland's role in the UN Security Council provides enhanced influence, as does our Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. My first engagement with the UN Security Council, which was via a virtual meeting in January 2021, was on media freedom in Belarus, another very important issue. Our role on the Security Council, in the European Union and through the Presidency of the Council of Europe amplify our voice. If Ireland is elected to the Human Rights Council, I am sure we will be well placed to continue to protect all human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and press freedom.

It is clear from this debate that the Oireachtas stands four-square behind and in unwavering solidarity with all those who seek to protect journalists and promote media freedom. At the General Affairs Council, the issue of the protection of journalists within the European Union is of concern. Deputy Connolly mentioned the case of a journalist in Malta. There have also been reports on the murder of a journalist during an attack in Slovakia. The Slovakian Government is very concerned about that. There have been other cases, including in Ireland. We must ensure that journalists are protected. By giving us accurate information, they protect us.

We very much appreciate Deputies' contributions today and assure them of the Government's continued determination to use all avenues available to protect journalists and press freedom, both in conflicts and elsewhere.

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