I propose to take Questions Nos. 166, 173, 194, 198, 214, 235 and 365 together.
The crisis in Darfur is at the top of the agenda for Ireland, the European Union and, as we heard from Secretary General, Kofi Annan, last week, the United Nations. The immediate priority is to address the vulnerability of those at greatest risk. They need security and humanitarian assistance. One without the other is not enough.
Considerable progress has been made in addressing the need for humanitarian aid, but more needs to be done. There are still areas where food supplies are not getting through. Reports of malnourishment persist. The loss of the planting season means that the reliance on external assistance will not improve for the next 12 months. The UN world food programme has provided food to about 1.3 million people in September. These are enormous needs, especially in the rainy season and in an insecure environment.
The international community has responded generously. Irish NGOs, supported by the Government and the private donations of the Irish people, have played a noteworthy part in this effort. For its part, the Government has provided almost €10 million in funding to Sudan in 2004. Sudan is the largest recipient of Ireland's emergency and recovery aid programmes. Some €6 million has been provided in emergency life saving assistance to meet the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable populations in Darfur. However, as Kofi Annan has reminded us, more is required. Ireland will not be found wanting in the face of this appeal.
On the security front, conditions have improved, but not by nearly enough. Communities continue to live in fear of attack, particularly women and girls who are preyed upon by armed militias. Unfortunately, the current insecurity in Darfur derives from a military conflict between the Sudanese Government and local rebel groups. While separate from the larger conflict which has crippled Sudan for decades, the Darfur conflict also runs along the fault line between Arab and Islamic Africa and sub-Saharan Christian or animist Africa. An end to the present crisis requires not only an immediate humanitarian and security response, but a settlement of the political conflict in Darfur. Without peace there can be no long-term security.
The United Nations has given the African Union the lead role in terms of military intervention by the international community. The African Union, an organisation which embodies the determination of Africans to meet the challenges facing their continent, has sought this lead role. It looks to the international community for support, but it is determined to lead. It has rejected any foreign intervention by any country in what it regards as a purely African issue.
The African Union is active through both its ceasefire monitoring mission and its mediation of the peace talks between the government and the rebels in Abuja. Ireland and the EU welcome the AU's plans to strengthen its mandate and substantially expand the size of its mission in Darfur to about 4,500 troops by the end of next month. The EU has already provided substantial support to the existing mission, including an allocation of €12 million from the African peace facility established under the Irish Presidency. The EU is also contributing a number of observers to the mission, including an officer from the Irish Defence Forces. The EU has recently reaffirmed its commitment to assist the AU with the planning and implementation of this expanded mission and is examining ways in which to do so.
It is hoped that this expanded mission can help to improve the security situation on the ground and to create suitable conditions for the safe and voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced persons. However, the area covered is so vast that no such mission can hope to provide blanket security. The Sudanese Government must continue to bear primary responsibility for security and the protection of its own citizens. The international community must therefore continue to maintain pressure on the Sudanese Government to meet its obligations and support all efforts to put an end to the conflict between the Government and local rebel groups.
For its part, the Irish Government has been active both in the European Union and at the United Nations in seeking to address the situation in Darfur. As regards the UN, we have been vocal in pressing for action by the Security Council. We welcome the adoption of Resolution 1564 and the fact that sanctions have been signalled as an option if the Sudanese Government fails to meet its obligations under that resolution.
The Government particularly welcomes the Secretary General's decision, taken at the request of the Security Council, to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur and determine whether acts of genocide have occurred. Ireland is ready to co-operate fully with the commission and hopes that it will complete its work as soon as possible.
Darfur was discussed at last week's meetings in Dublin with Secretary General Annan, who, in particular, highlighted the need for the wider international community to assist the efforts of the AU. Last month, my predecessor made a forceful intervention on Darfur in his address to the General Assembly. He appealed to the international community to support the humanitarian effort. He criticised the Sudanese Government for its failure to protect its citizens and demanded that it disarm the Janjaweed. He also expressed frustration at the failure of some members of the Security Council to support Resolution 1564 and urged that the Security Council unite behind the implementation of that resolution. While in New York, the Minister met the Sudanese Foreign Minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, and urged him to ensure that the Sudanese Government meet the obligations imposed upon it by the Security Council.
In the EU, Ireland has been active on Darfur, both during our Presidency and since. The External Relations Council reviews the situation at every meeting and continues to speak out strongly. At its meeting on 11 October 2004, the Council warned that if no tangible progress is achieved, the EU will take appropriate measures, including sanctions, against the government of Sudan and all other appropriate parties, in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 1556 and 1564. On 13 October, an EU ministerial Troika mission visited Sudan to stress to the Government the need for further concrete progress in protecting civilians, neutralising and disarming the Janjaweed, fostering progress in the peace talks and bringing to justice perpetrators of human rights violations and crimes against civilians.
The former Minister of State, Deputy Kitt, visited Sudan, including Darfur, in July. He used the visit to view the situation at first hand. He met and spoke to humanitarian workers from NGOs and UN agencies, including the many Irish working for NGOs such as GOAL, Concern and Trócaire and the UN agencies, to whom I pay tribute. The Minister of State also met members of the African Union's ceasefire monitoring mission and the Sudanese authorities, including Foreign Minister Osman. Among the points he stressed to the latter were the need for free and unrestricted access for humanitarian workers, the removal of other bureaucratic barriers to effective emergency action and the disarming of the Janjaweed militia.
On 6 August, as part of our ongoing dialogue with the NGO community on the Darfur crisis, the former Minister of State met Irish NGOs operating in Darfur. This meeting provided a valuable opportunity to brief our NGO partners on the Government's actions and allowed the NGOs to highlight the ongoing challenges they face and to update the Government on developments on the ground. We remain in ongoing contact with NGOs partners on developments in Darfur.
Ireland's ambassador to Sudan, who is resident in Egypt, visited Darfur last month. He met representatives of the Sudanese authorities, EU partners and Irish NGOs. He also received updates from representatives of the UN, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Another team from my Department will visit Darfur towards the end of November. It will carry out a fresh appraisal of needs in order to ascertain the best way to complement and add value to the ongoing humanitarian effort. Based on this assessment and contacts with NGO partners, I will be able to determine the best way to deliver additional assistance.
Resolution of the Darfur crisis will remain an absolute priority for the Government. Sudan has suffered terribly from war. There are great hopes that the wider peace process between the north and south may come to a successful conclusion. Preparations are under way for a major programme of recovery and reconstruction if the peace process is completed. However, the Darfur conflict must also be brought to an end. Deputies should rest assured that the Government will be to the fore in efforts to assist not just Dafur, but Sudan as a whole, both now and into the future.