I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to debate the situation unfolding in Iraq. It is timely we should do so because we have responsibilities we must face up to. We must creep out from some of the hypocritical rhetoric being promulgated in the name of the Irish people.
I am not a warmonger, do not advocate war at all costs and support pursuing every possible avenue to ensure that UN Resolution 1441 is implemented. Military action should be a last resort. As a nation, we have contributed greatly to trying to create a stable peace in the Middle East. We should congratulate our Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána who have contributed to that peace and played an active role.
The events now unfolding are not only a test of our individual character, but the character of the nation as a whole. In debating this subject, we should not be so quick to dismiss into memory the events of 11 September 2001 – a terrorist attack which was a chilling wake-up call for more to come. I have no difficulty in the use of Shannon for the build-up of troops in the Gulf if that show of force and flag-flying prevents a war. In that case we would have done a good day's work, in accordance with UN mandates.
I was appalled at Senator Norris's comments about driving to Shannon with a hatchet in the back of his car. That is the irresponsible type of leadership that should not be forthcoming from any elected public representative. Do we stand idly by or learn from our mistakes? Those who advocate inaction and non co-operation are the same people who would have advocated the same inaction in the face of Hitler, Milosevic and others. We would have had ethnic cleansing at will by so-called leaders. Our choice is whether we support a western-style democracy based on tolerance, freedom, openness and opportunity, respecting the rights of individuals within civil society, or we identify with the opposing model – a violent, political and ideological fundamentalist one that tolerates no opposition and accommodates no diversity.
With the advent of global media coverage of events as they unfold, the terrorists' market has widened. Not only can an atrocity affect their target, their victims and the wider community, but those removed by location can be terrorised by viewing these events as they happen.
President Bush referred to the first war of the 21st century in the wake of the 11 September attacks and vowed to rid the world of this evil. Countries lined up offering support – some were more willing than others and others backed down from initial carte blanche support to conditional support. Western democracies were in turmoil as the task in front of them unfolded. We should look at the area of terrorism in the context of the new world order. People are too quick to sweep this under the carpet.
What is a terrorist? In biblical times, Jewish dagger men, who were violently opposed to the Roman occupation of Judea, concealed weapons under their cloaks and mingled in crowds to assassinate supporters of the Roman empire. Terrorism is therefore nothing new. Until the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington, terrorism, in terms of the number of people killed, was on the decline. However, more people were probably killed on 11 September than in the previous 20 years worldwide.
Who are these people that killed thousands and thousands of civilians they had never met? Where do they come from? They are mostly young males but they have little else in common. Today's terrorists are as diverse as the nations from which they come. They can be highly educated, working class or at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Their goals range from the narrow political desire of the Real IRA to drive Britain out of Ireland to the wide-ranging desire of al-Qaeda to halt the spread of western culture and promiscuity.
Sometimes different terrorist groups work together. There have been numerous summit meetings of terrorist groups but, more recently, radical Islamic groups have excluded non-Islamic groups from their summits. One must remember that terrorist organisations have infiltrated the western world, some of which are active and some of which have sleepers lying in wait for their day. In the interim they become part of the community they are about to terrorise. This could be for one month, one year or even longer. When one's neighbour unexpectedly turns out to be a suicide bomber or terrorist, it is the ultimate weapon. It is not only these terrorists we should fear but all the mutually supporting groups and organisations also. They may have different goals and objectives but they have a common bond – the desire to inflict terror to achieve their aims.
Terrorist organisations breed off each other. That is their strength. No individual organisation could survive without the finance, weaponry, technology and training that it acquires from another. That they all help each other is their lifeline and what makes them the force that they are. They trade in a currency of terror. Greed among business people allows them make financial investments or buy the equipment or expertise they require. Tolerance of terrorists' causes, turning a blind eye or supporting them, if only in a tacit way, by subscribing to one of their shadowy umbrellas for relief does not make for pleasant co-operation among states. States should face up to their responsibilities in facing down the regimes within their own countries.
One might ask the reason I have spoken about terrorists. I firmly believe the public and many politicians grossly underestimate the dangers associated with them. The public must be educated about the actions of terrorists and the ever-increasing network of organisations working throughout the world. We must also examine our consciences and make a serious effort to address the wrongs in our society and the injustices that lead to the formation of terrorist organisations, not them all but the majority. We have to look at root causes such as previous wars, religious differences, poverty and famine. Foreign policy should address these issues.
Consider terrorist networks and the root networks that support them. While terrorist networks might be evil, the root networks are not. They comprise people who live with oppression, repression, poverty, hunger, despair and hopelessness. They are desperate to survive and experience terrible suffering. Hatred feeds the network of terrorism. President Bush says he has declared a war on the perpetrators of the attacks of 11 September 2001 but the war was declared years ago by Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The attacks were merely the latest and most terrible escalation of this ongoing war.
Certain Islamic leaders see themselves as the new fundamentalists of the world. They see it as their duty to expand by conquest the portion of the world ruled by Islam until all the world will be under the rule of Islamic law. The attacks in New York and Washington are, therefore, no more than a warning to the United States and the countries of the western world meant to terrorise them so much that they will not stand in the way of fundamentalist organisations as they expand their sphere of control.
I have listened in recent weeks to the rhetoric of the Green Party and Sinn Féin on the question of Iraq and the use Shannon Airport. I have heard of the greening of Sinn Féin but I am now, for the first time, hearing of the "Sinn Féining" of the Greens on recent radio performances. I will take no moral lectures from Sinn Féin about people in uniforms or carrying weapons or about this democracy and the Government being in breach of the Constitution and the Defence Act. An organisation which supports its own private army and which has for 30 years put paramilitaries carrying weapons on the streets is in no position to do so.
The question of neutrality is not black and white and never can be. I am a supporter of our position on neutrality but if I was asked if I was neutral in the face of genocide and mass murder, I would say I was not. As a human being and a Christian, I have based my opinions not on ideas formed in my armchair but from my experiences of having served in the Middle East as a peacekeeper and seen the atrocities and their aftermath. As a parent and an Irishman, I will not stand up and say I am willing to turn a blind eye to such atrocities.
We need to know where we stand and where we want to stand as a society. We need to revisit our Christian values and stand firm. We are facing one of the greatest dangers ever to have faced the world. We should not blink or hide under the covers but stand up and take our rightful place as a nation and stand firm in the face of terror. This country has a leading role to play. We have a proven track record in UN operations in the international field and a growing reputation, particularly because of the manner in which we conducted our business in recent years on the Security Council. We have no option but to accept the fate that has befallen us and play our part.
I have posed many questions, questions that many sovereign governments are now trying to consider. As they do so, each individual should use this period of reflection to answer some of the same questions. We are all in this together. The ball is firmly in Saddam Hussein's court and it is his decision. We should continue to use every diplomatic effort to bring about a peaceful solution to the problem. However, if the occasion arises, when hard decisions have to be made, we should not be found wanting and hide behind the rhetoric of those supposedly speaking in the name of the people. We are a more mature nation than that.