The international community is trying but it has limited leverage with the Taliban, to tell the truth. Of course, we want to advocate for a more inclusive government, and we are doing so. We want to advocate for women's rights and particularly the rights of girls in terms of education and employment and so on, and we are doing so. However, are we being successful in protecting women's rights in Afghanistan? Only to a very limited extent. There are many anecdotal stories that, unfortunately, are very depressing and worrying. We will have to wait and see how that relationship develops, but the international community does need to use all the leverage it has to try to ensure the Taliban is held to account in terms of adherence to international law and human rights standards. We have also got to get enormous volumes of aid into the country, otherwise there will be mass movement of people, starvation and the collapse of an economy that is already collapsing, in truth, because there is no functioning financial or banking system.
As regards Palestinian elections, there are local elections planned across Palestinian territories next year. There are elections within the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO, as well. Of course, we would like to see the setting out of a roadmap to elections to the Palestinian Authority and presidential elections at some point. Whether it makes sense to have an interim government in the meantime or a continuation of the current Palestinian Authority structures is something that is under debate within Palestinian politics right now.
On the issue of the Israeli Government, the truth is that it is a Government with eight coalition partners that have very different perspectives on the Middle East peace process. Some are Israeli Arab parties, while others are parties that, in effect, represent the interests of settler communities. It is not an easy thing for that Government to agree on a pathway forward on a peace settlement, or even the conditions to start peace negotiations with the Palestinian leadership. That said, there are people in that Government who would like to do a lot more in that direction, while there are others who have a very different perspective to that shared by those in this room. We will have to wait and see. It is early days. The Israeli Government has only just passed its budget. Many people predicted it would not get the budget passed but it has passed a budget not only for one year, but for two years. I think this Israeli Government will be in place for some time. At an EU level and on a bilateral level, it makes sense to develop a relationship based on straight talking in an effort to try to encourage a peace dialogue with Palestinian leaders.
As regards Ethiopia and humanitarian access, the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia is dire. At the moment, it is not safe to get humanitarian aid in and there are blockages to that aid. The situation is changing literally by the day. Members may well see Tigrayan forces and other troops with whom they are working actually opening up new supply routes into Tigray and other parts of northern Ethiopia, but that obviously has to be discussed and negotiated with the international community in terms of how that would be done. Those are the kinds of conversations that are taking place right now. It is a country with approximately 115 million people and there really needs to be an international focus to ensure it does not collapse and splinter into different tribal perspectives, which would be a disaster for the Horn of Africa.
As regards China and the Uighurs, Ireland has been quite vocal on this issue not only in our Parliament, particularly the Seanad, but we have also spoken at the UN Human Rights Council on this issue. We have raised these issues on several occasions along with our partners in the EU and the wider international community, including, most recently, at the 48th UN Human Rights Council in September and at the UN Third Committee on human rights in October.
I take Senator Joe O'Reilly's point regarding the pragmatism of business leaders in Northern Ireland, who now just want to accept a protocol that works with the maximum flexibility possible. That is something towards which I hope we can work.
Senator Craughwell raised the issue of Iran. First of all, we have agreed to open an embassy in Iran but I needed to get a person on the ground quickly because Ireland has a responsibility in that regard as facilitator for the resolution which is the basis for the joint comprehensive plan of action, JCPOA. As such, I needed to have a senior diplomat on the ground. We have a chargé d'affaires, Mr. Justin Ryan, in place there. He is experienced and good at what he does. We agreed to partner with the German Embassy to get a team on the ground quickly. That was the pragmatic thing to do. If we had sought to open an embassy, we would still be messing around trying to find the right location. As the Chairman will know having previously been in my role, it takes many months to get an embassy secured legally and from a communication point of view and all the rest of it. We got a team on the ground quickly by working in partnership with a really good EU partner that has a big presence there. Actually, we share information with it, which gives us a really good insight because the German foreign office has deep roots around the world. On the issue of China and it being time to get tough with China on Richard O'Halloran, all I can say is that my only motivation in this regard is to get Richard O'Halloran home. We are pursuing a strategy to do that and it is about maximising his chances of getting home. I do not believe China responds to strong-arming or pressure. My objective is getting a result, not getting profile out of this case or getting column inches on it or anything else.
I have spoken to Richard O'Halloran's wife many times. I feel a personal responsibility to get him home. That is what we are focusing on and I believe we will succeed, but I cannot give an exact timeline as to when.
On the UN Security Council, from my experience, I am aware of the perceptions about the UN Security Council because the veto is used often in an irresponsible way that prevents the Security Council intervening at times when it should. Just because that happens - and it should not - it does not mean the Security Council still does not do extraordinarily valuable work, which I have seen since we became a member of the council, in terms of interventions and applying pressure at the right time. Sometimes the Security Council fails in a shocking way to intervene to prevent conflict, but it has successes too. It is effectively one of the few legitimate multilateral fora that can intervene on war and peace issues in a way that is consistent with international law. While it is not perfect, and I would like to see it reformed, what we are trying to do on the Security Council is to work in a streetwise manner to get as much done as we possibly can on new resolutions. I can share the resolution on peace transitions with the Deputy. I assure members that it is a practical resolution. It requires the Secretary General of the UN to produce a report on how we move from peacekeeping missions, of which there are many around the world, and how we transition into peace support over time. Peacekeeping missions should not have a permanent presence. Unfortunately, they have become that in many parts of the world that rely on peacekeeping missions to keep the peace. We should be able to invest in diplomacy and in capacity building within states to safely make the transition from peacekeeping to peace support to peace building over time. Our resolution requires the Secretary General to put a roadmap in place in terms of how that can be done, and to tailor that to individual peacekeeping missions and the mandates around them. It is very pragmatic and comes from a country that has much experience in peacekeeping - that is to say Ireland - and has worked with many other countries that do as well. I am happy to share the resolution with the Deputy, who has an interest in and much knowledge of peacekeeping.
I will give an example of the UN Security Council functioning despite tension and politics. We spent six months working with countries in the council, particularly the five permanent members, P5, trying to protect a mandate to get humanitarian assistance into Idlib, in north-western Syria, to support a population of close to 3 million people who are almost entirely reliant on the cross-border aid programme that is transparent and delivered through UN organisations. That came to a head in midsummer, but we managed to get it across the line by helping to broker an agreement between the United States, Russia and Turkey. As a result, that aid continues to flow. If it had not been for the Security Council, there would be no such resolution and no such border crossing supporting vulnerable populations. It can therefore work. It is not always easy. Believe me: the Security Council has its flaws. It is predominately a force for good most of the time.
I refer to Deputy Gannon's questions on the mission to Western Sahara and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. I did not recognise the acronym used; I bow to the Deputy's expertise on that one. On the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO, I know a bit about Western Sahara from my time in the European Parliament. In July, the Defence Forces withdrew two personnel from MINURSO. The decision arose from the need to consolidate operational deployments in the context of recent significant additional commitments to arrange a peace keeping operations, including the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali, MINUSMA, the European Union Training Mission in Mali, EUTM Mali, in addition to maintaining the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL. The withdrawal does not represent a reduction in our commitment to the mission's mandates and we have spoken on that mandate quite strongly in the Security Council. Our long standing position is one of full support for MINURSO, the UN lead process and the Secretary General's efforts to bring about a definitive and mutually acceptable political settle on this issue. What is happening in Western Sahara continues to be tragic. Just because we do not have peacekeepers in a mission, it does not mean we are not completely committed to the mandate. Sometimes we have to make practical decisions on where we deploy personnel in order to make a maximum and positive impact. We made a practical decision on the advice of the Defence Forces in regard to that, and it does not undermine our political commitment at all.
On the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, legislation to allow for ratification of the optional protocol is currently being drafted and will be brought to Government shortly, subject to approval of the Dáil and Government. This legislation will create a new office of inspector of places of detention. We are committed to it. I am not sure if I will be responsible for debating it in the Dáil. I suspect the Department of Justice will be. This legislation is on the way.
I refer to the Chairman's comments on Lebanon. I was in Lebanon a number of months ago and I hope to return before Christmas. This is a country that should be a wealthy country but is virtually bankrupt because of very bad politics. The EU had been pushing for the formation of a new Government, which has now happened. We are unlikely to see EU sanctions being used now. The sanctions were there as a tool to force the formation of a government that could actually make decisions on the reform agenda that needs to be progressed. The EU does not want to sanction Lebanon; it wants to be help it. This country has survived in this extraordinary environment - domestically and in terms of the countries that surround it. There has been a political class in Lebanon that has not brought about the reform needed and, as a result, we have effectively seen this country move into national bankruptcy, or close to it. That is one of the reasons that over the summer we insisted on amending and changing the UNIFIL mandate to allow UNIFIL to play a more pragmatic assistance role to the Lebanese Armed Forces, LAF, which is one of the strong stabilising forces within Lebanon and has the respect of the population there. UNIFIL can now, in a practical way, assist the LAF in a way it would not have been able to before, with things like basic supplies and fuel, etc. There were real financial problems in funding the Lebanese Armed Forces to work with UNIFIL to keep the peace in southern Lebanon, particularly in the context of tension with Hezbollah. It was an important change and was led by Ireland.
We need to watch Lebanon closely. When we decided to set up an embassy in Jordan, in Amman, it was a toss-up between opening in Beirut or Amman. In some ways, due to our presence in UNIFIL for so long, it would have made sense to set up an embassy in Beirut because at present it is served from Egypt which is a long distance away. We felt we were developing a strong and positive relationship with Jordan at the time. Jordan is a central player in the context of the Middle East peace process, particularly on the holy sites in Jerusalem. We also believed there were real trade opportunities there as well. We will be looking at Lebanon in the future, in terms of increasing our representation there, and hopefully we will have much more political and economic stability by the time we do that.
I have expressed my concern about the forced deportation of Syrian refugees. Refugees should not be forced back into areas of conflict where they are not safe, despite the extraordinary pressures Lebanon is under in regard to the enormous population of refugees. It is a bit like Jordan. Some 30% of its population are refugees, between Palestinians and Syrians. That puts extraordinary pressure on the system, particularly at a time when public money is not there.
That is obviously not a justification for returning refugees in a way that is not safe.
I do not think we are moving towards recognition of the Assad regime in Syria. I will give the official position on that in the context of normalisation and reconstruction. The conflict in Syria is far from over even though it has now been ongoing for over 11 years. The EU remains resolute and continues to demand an end to repression, the release of detainees and that the Syrian regime and its allies engage meaningfully in the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2254. Given the failure of the Syrian authorities to engage in a meaningful way on the provisions set out in Resolution 2254, it is premature, in our view, to have any normalisation of political relations with the regime. We have to continue to support humanitarian assistance and the vital infrastructure within Syria. It is difficult to get the balance right. I think the international contribution to humanitarian support in Syria is between $5 billion and $6 billion a year. We do that with no recognition from and no relationship with the Assad regime. We have to ask ourselves if that is sustainable indefinitely but we also have to ensure that we hold people to account for war crimes and for the treatment of their own people.
Regarding Australia, I am familiar with the Irish diaspora in Perth. One of them is my brother. He is a doctor there, like many other young Irish people and their families. The Department is assessing where the next phase of expansion will go. We have opened many new representations in the last years, from Chile to Colombia, from Toronto to Auckland, with a range in the United States, Manchester, Cardiff, Frankfurt, Lyon, Kyiv, Rabat and Liberia. It is a long list. We are trying to finalise the next phase of areas where we think enhancing Ireland's footprint makes sense politically, economically and with regard to the diaspora. We need to think about Western Australia. I do not want to pre-announce anything. A recommendation will come to me and we will take it from there. It might be interesting to come back to the committee and get members' views on those choices. I would certainly welcome a broadening of perspective.
Have I answered the Chair's question on Afghanistan?