Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Deaths of Irish Citizens in Tunisia: Expressions of Sympathy.
Apologies have been received from a number of members who are unable to be with us this morning. Deputy Bernard Durkan is on European affairs business, Deputy Seán Crowe is ill-disposed and Senators Walsh and Norris are also unable to attend.
Before we start it is important that we remember, with great sadness, the tragic loss of life in Tunisia. I have decided to place it on the agenda of this morning's meeting to afford members of the joint committee an opportunity to offer their condolences and sympathies to the families of Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes. They were brutally, cold-bloodedly murdered on holiday in Tunisia and we can say nothing else. It is sad this committee is discussing the loss of life of Irish citizens abroad and the brutal manner in which this hideous crime was perpetrated. Our condolences also go to the families of the west Cork drowning tragedy. I extend my sympathy to the families of Lorna, Larry and Martina and to the other parents, both here and overseas, affected by this needless and senseless gun attack.
I also extend our sympathy to the Government and people of Tunisia and we might write to the Tunisian ambassador in London to express the sympathy of this committee to the Tunisian people on this great loss, which will have a devastating effect on tourism and the economy in Tunisia. During the Arab spring we watched events in Tunisia and the transmission to democracy there was excellent. Foreign tourists were also killed there at a museum earlier this year and last week's atrocity was dreadful. Its geographical location and its close proximity to Libya make it very vulnerable to ISIL and ISIS members so we should give whatever support we can give to the Tunisian people and Parliament.
I thank the Chairman. Like everyone else in this room the horror of what happened in Tunisia brings home to us in a very graphic way the horror that is happening every day in that part of the world. Some lessons have to be learned from the triumphalism of the West, which thought it could rush in with a ballot paper and a 300-year history of democracy, with all its faults, and impose it on regimes that were carved artificially out of the sands by the Versailles treaty irrespective of the nations affected, the religious groups and the composition and location of Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims.
It is a very complex and very difficult situation for the West and Ireland is very much part of the West, irrespective of what individual political opinions might be on the point. The adventure of Tony Blair and George Bush into Iraq has destabilised that country and this has led to a contagion which is very consciously targeting pro-Western, modern countries like Tunisia. There has been a systematic attack, first on the Bardo museum and subsequently on Tunisia's tourist industry which employs an enormous number of Tunisian people. If one destroys the economies of those fragile, semi-developed countries, one inevitably precipitates an exodus of refugees desperately trying to get to the northern shores of the Mediterranean.
This was not an isolated incident from a madman who ran amok. It was planned and he was part of the cell that previously protected the attackers in the Bardo museum. There was a wonderful legacy of Roman and pre-Roman remains along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, and Tunisia has a lot of them. The tourist industry related both to that and the Mediterranean. They attacked a large hotel and a museum of what is part of Europe's old civilisation, targeted deliberately to drive these people into a place of chaos and fear which is landing daily on the shores of southern Europe. The overall view, which I have just presented in a succinct way and which other members may add to, has been brought home very specifically to us, both in County Meath and in Athlone.
Naturally, our sympathies go out to those Irish families who have been bereaved, but they have been attacked as people who represent a civilisation and culture that is now the target of an irrational Islamic extremism that has got nothing to do with the tenets of the second largest, soon to be the largest, religion in the world that stretches from Morocco right across to the far side of Indonesia and embraces all aspects of that religious culture and tradition. We must make very clear that we do not associate mainstream Islam and Muslims, many of whom live in this country, with that outrageous attack, no more than we associated the murders of the IRA in Northern Ireland of people whose sole sin was that they happened to be Protestant workers, as being representative of the people of Ireland.
I join you, Chairman, and Deputy Quinn in extending our sincere sympathies to the families of Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes. What was witnessed on the beach in Tunisia last Friday was an absolute massacre, an appalling murder by fundamentalists who targeted people at will. A total of 39 innocent people were murdered in a mindless way. It is very important that Europe and the civilised world act collectively and urgently to deal with the malignancy that is being inflicted on people. The atrocities carried out by ISIS and other extreme groups and their infiltration of communities is a dangerous position with which the world needs to deal. It is an issue that requires urgent attention. Today, our sympathies are with the families who have suffered so much – the three innocent Irish people murdered while they relaxed on an annual holiday, and the many people who lost their lives from our neighbouring island, some of them with Irish connections and to a GAA club in Birmingham. It shows the relationship between our two islands as well.
I also take the opportunity to compliment the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and Ambassador Dave Cooney and his staff on the efforts they have made to try to work with the families in dealing with an extremely difficult situation, and trying to repatriate the bodies back home as soon as possible. Ar dheis Dé go raibh said.
I also extend my sympathies to the families of the Irish people who died and all of the other tourists. I acknowledge the solidarity shown by so many Tunisian people at the atrocity and massacre. It struck me that so many of the people who were murdered were of a certain age. They were older people who probably had reared their families and were enjoying a holiday. It really brings home the fragility of life.
There is no doubt the irreparable damage that has been done by Western powers with the invasion of Iraq and other countries. When one thinks back to 2003, thousands of people marched in Dublin against the pending invasion, and in other places throughout the Western world at that time, but nobody was listening to the voice of the people. It was a democratic protest against what was happening. For all their faults, there were other ways to deal with the Saddam Husseins and Gadaffis. We see the damage that has been done in those countries now.
It is difficult to get my head around the extent of the hatred people can have within the one religion – Sunni and Shia – and within certain Muslim people against what they call the infidel. That brings we me back to the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa, AWEPA. We had funding to bring over parliamentarians from the North African countries at the time of one of our Constitutional Convention meetings. We had parliamentarians from Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. There was such great positivity and joy on the part of the Tunisian delegation. They had just drawn up their new constitution, which was very inclusive and was very respectful of difference, and they were looking forward to going ahead into the new Tunisia that would respect people’s rights. The recent atrocity is a terrible blow to those people.
I wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy. There are no words to describe the atrocity and the hurt to the families of the bereaved on their holidays. As was said, they are people of an age with which I can identify. I do not know how their families must feel now. In some cases the families bought them the holiday and sent them off for a well-earned rest and that is what happened to them.
As Deputy Quinn said, this is not a case of an isolated one-off madman running amok; this is the new form of terrorism. It is as effective as 9/11. It has pretty much destroyed the Tunisian economy. It is not an accident that Tunisia was targeted. Tunisia is one of the countries that was involved in the Arab spring and it was a success. The government there was building a secular economy, country and society. The country was targeted precisely because of its success. I do not know how we fight such terrorism, apart from vigilance, but the solution will have to come from within Islam, notwithstanding our own responsibility for what happened in Iraq and Syria. The solution to the problem is to be found within Islam if it is to be found in our time, and to be honest, I have my doubts about that.
I join colleagues in expressing our deepest condolences to the relatives of all those people who lost their lives in this horrendous act of terrorism in Tunisia. We think in particular of the Irish people, Lorna Carty and Larry and Martina Hayes from Athlone who have family connections in my town of Ballinasloe, so it very much brings home to us the awful event that happened in what should have been a lovely, peaceful setting for people who were enjoying a break, and in some cases recovering from illness.
The atrocity was deeply disturbing. The terrorist act has its origins in bad political decisions made by super powers down through the years. At this stage we need to stand in solidarity with the people of Tunisia, whose economy will be seriously damaged and dented in the coming years. As a country and as members of the European Union, we must do everything possible to stick together and help them through this difficult time.
International terrorism is a difficult challenge to address. We probably need to have a longer discussion on the issue at a future meeting but today we remember those who have lost their lives and we remember the people of Tunisia who are facing a very uncertain future.