I propose to take Questions Nos. 136, 145 to 147, inclusive, and 149 together.
I am extremely concerned by the recent increase in violence in Syria, and in particular the vicious siege of Eastern Ghouta, which has cost the lives of hundreds of civilians in recent days. The barbarity of the attacks by the Syrian regime on its own people, the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, including homes, hospitals and schools, and the refusal of the Assad regime to allow humanitarian aid in, or injured civilians to leave, has been shocking, even by the standards of the Syria conflict to date.
I can only imagine how terrifying this is for the people there, who have no way to protect themselves or their children, and no way to leave.
On numerous occasions in this House, I have condemned the violence in Syria and I reiterate that condemnation in the strongest terms today.
I attended a UN Security Council briefing on this issue in New York last week, where UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres appealed for an immediate suspension of violence in Eastern Ghouta to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid, and for evacuations. Ireland strongly endorsed this call, and welcomed the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution on Saturday that called for an immediate ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian access. However, the bombardment of Eastern Ghouta has continued in defiance of this resolution. The international community must redouble its efforts to press for a full and immediate ceasefire, and unhindered humanitarian access to besieged populations in Syria.
The brutal repression of dissent by the Assad regime since March 2011 has cost the lives of almost half a million people so far. Over 13 million people require humanitarian assistance, including close to 3 million people trapped in besieged and hard-to-reach areas. In addition, 5.5 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries and the region.
The Assad regime and its allies have repeatedly targeted civilians, including through use of “starve or surrender” techniques, forced displacement under the guise of truces, denial of humanitarian assistance and deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure such as schools, markets and hospitals.
Clearly an end to the conflict, and to Assad’s barbarous rule, is urgently needed. Ireland fully supports the UN-led political negotiations to end the conflict based on the 2012 Geneva Communique and UN Security Council resolution 2254, which call for an end to violence; full humanitarian access, a democratic political transition and accountability and transitional justice.
Ireland has consistently supported EU sanctions targeting the regime and its supporters, and will continue to do so as long as the situation on the ground justifies these measures.
EU Foreign Ministers discussed the situation in Syria at their informal meeting on 15 February and again at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 26 February. Ireland added its voice to calls for the immediate and full implementation of the ceasefire demanded by the UN Security Council.
The EU provides direct assistance to the UN-brokered talks in Geneva and has launched, in coordination with the UN, an initiative to develop political dialogue with key actors from the region to identify common ground. The EU and its Member States have to date mobilised more than €10.4 billion for humanitarian, stabilisation and resilience assistance inside Syria and in neighbouring countries, making the EU the largest single donor to the effort. The EU hosted a donors’ conference for Syria in April 2017 at which pledges totalling €5.6 billion were made, and will host another donors’ conference for Syria in April 2018.
Since 2012, Ireland has contributed over €90 million to the humanitarian effort in response to the conflict in Syria, including €25 million in 2017 alone. Through our annual contributions to EU Institutions, Ireland also supports the EU’s humanitarian response to the Syria crisis. Ireland also supports a broad range of efforts to ensure full legal accountability for all war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Syria.