Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Defence

Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine: Discussion

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I have received apologies from Deputies Brady and Clarke and Senator Joe O'Reilly because of competing interests in both the Dáil and Seanad.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to welcome in person here today Ms Jane-Ann McKenna, CEO of Dóchas; Mr. Dominic McSorley, CEO of Concern Worldwide; Mr. Liam O'Dwyer, secretary general of the Irish Red Cross; and Ms Caoimhe de Barra, CEO of Trócaire. Joining virtually from Kraków, Poland is Mr. Ros O'Sullivan, head of emergency operations at Concern Worldwide, and from London, Mr. Matthew Morris, head of communication and spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross. All of our witnesses are very welcome to discuss the ongoing and worsening humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

All of the witnesses are very welcome. I know they are all particularly busy at this time of crisis. This committee, on a number of occasions in recent times, has the opportunity to discuss the political situation in Ukraine and the region. We, therefore, very much look forward this afternoon to discussing with the witnesses the humanitarian assistance requirements in Ukraine and countries in the region but particularly in respect of the people of Ukraine, both internally and internationally displaced, by what really is an horrendous, illegal and unacceptable invasion. Just a few short weeks ago when we were preparing our work programme for the year little did we think that the first quarter of the year would be dominated by war in Europe.

The format of our meeting is that we will hear opening statements followed by a discussion with questions and answers from members of the committee. I ask members, some of whom are with us in person and others of whom are joining us from their offices, to be concise with their questions to allow members an opportunity of full participation.

I ask witnesses, members and those in the Public Gallery to ensure their mobile phones are switched off or that airplane mode is engaged as often times the signal can cause a difficulty for sound and for the recording of proceedings by the Debates Office.

I remind witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make that person or entity identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of a person or entity. Therefore, if statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, witnesses will be directed to discontinue their remarks and it is imperative than any such direction be complied with, although I must say that any such direction is not expected.

For witnesses attending remotely outside the Leinster House complex, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they might not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present in the room does.

I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against any person outside the House or an official, either by name or in a way that makes that person identifiable. I remind members, some of whom I can see on the screen, that they may only participate remotely in the meeting if they are physically located within the Leinster House complex.

I welcome the ambassador of Poland, Ms Anna Sochaska, to the Public Gallery this afternoon. The ambassador is very welcome as always.

I invite Ms McKenna to introduce her colleagues and make her opening statement. Again, I want to express my deep appreciation, and that of our committee members, to them for making time available to share with us their views and perceptions this afternoon.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I thank the Chairman. I am joined here today by Mr. Liam O’Dwyer, Irish Red Cross; Mr. Dominic McSorley, CEO, Concern Worldwide; and Ms Caoimhe de Barra, CEO, Trócaire. Both Mr. Ros O'Sullivan and Mr. Matthew Morris are on the line. They will speak to the situation at the moment in the Ukraine from the perspective of both Concern and the Red Cross.

I thank the Chairman, Deputies and Senators for the invitation to meet again so soon. Little did we realise just six weeks ago the devastation and horror that millions of Ukrainians would face today. Almost a month since the start of the conflict more than 3.5 million people have fled the country, the majority of whom are women and children. Millions more have fled their homes and are displaced in Ukraine, and as fighting continues they will likely be displaced multiple times. That figure will only serve to increase in the coming weeks and months.

Irish people have responded to this horrific conflict with immense generosity, solidarity and kindness. Dóchas members, including those here today, have seen this support in action with donations and offers of accommodation to those in need from thousands of supporters around the country.

Before I hand over to our speakers who have joined us virtually, I would like to share a snapshot of some of the key issues that face us in terms of the crisis in Ukraine. As the situation evolves the humanitarian needs become more and more critical, and reaching those in need is becoming more difficult. We have seen this play out in Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan where some ordinary people, civilians, are trapped in besieged cities and towns, living in constant fear of indiscriminate attacks. Food, water, fuel, hygiene items and medical supplies are desperately needed.

Dóchas demands that all parties to the conflict fulfil their legal obligations and uphold international humanitarian law. Civilians must be spared from military operations. Concrete agreements to allow safe passage for people fleeing the fighting need to be implemented and well communicated. All parties are obligated, under international humanitarian law, to ensure safe unimpeded access to all areas to deliver aid and reach vulnerable citizens who are trapped without services. Civilians, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure should never be a target.

More than 6.5 million people are displaced within Ukraine. Until recently people have passed through collection centres located in central and western Ukraine and received support before heading towards border areas. However, more recently, we have seen that situation change somewhat. Cross-border movements are slowing with numbers down to 45,000 per day, from originally 100,000 per day. Centres inside Ukraine are becoming more permanent in nature requiring support and assistance. Very often it is the most vulnerable who do not have the means to move. They are fully dependent on available support and are staying behind. This includes those who are elderly or people living with disabilities. Supporting local organisations and civil society movements inside Ukraine is essential. They are often the first and closest responders.

Many of the people who fled the country in recent weeks had the resources or connections to do so. As the conflict evolves, those who flee the country to neighbouring countries will have fewer resources and very different, and enhanced, humanitarian needs. Major resources will need to be mobilised to assist EU member countries that take in those who seek safety.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the impact of this crisis goes far beyond Ukraine and will have an impact on those who are already dependent on humanitarian assistance, and those who struggle in extreme poverty and hunger across the world. The conflict will have consequences on food security and food import dependent countries, particularly in Africa. As many as 23 African countries are dependent on Russia and the Ukraine for more than half the imports of one of their staple goods. The World Food Programme gets half of the wheat it supplies and distributes in humanitarian crises from Ukraine. The programme will need to find other suppliers and the costs of responding to other crises such as Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen will increase. Everything must be done to avert a catastrophic hunger crisis and the collapse of a global food system.

I will now hand over to Mr. Matthew Morris of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and then to Mr. Ros O’Sullivan, who is leading Concern’s humanitarian response in Ukraine. First, we ask that the members of this committee support these following vital asks. A peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine must be the top priority. All sides to the conflict must protect civilians and civilian infrastructure under international humanitarian law both for those who choose to leave and those who choose remain. Safe passage for those willing and able to escape should be urgently assured across war affected areas inside Ukraine.

This should not be dependent on the existence of humanitarian corridors or ceasefires that may temporarily be in place. It is vital that such opportunities for civilians to leave from areas of violent warfare are not once-off or time-limited.

Ireland should use its seat on the UN Security Council to work with its international partners to ensure any and all violations of international humanitarian law are investigated and immediately condemned, and the dignity and rights of civilians are protected. Ireland must step up and meet its pledge to fully fund all current humanitarian appeals and avert a catastrophic hunger crisis. I will now hand over to Mr. Morris, who is joining us from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Mr. Matthew Morris:

I thank the committee for asking us to participate in the session this afternoon. Across Ukraine, people are in a truly desperate and often horrifying situation. So many people are in danger. They are in hiding or they are on the road, which means they are facing impossible choices on whether to stay or to leave. My colleague referred to some of the numbers, which are truly staggering. The United Nations estimates that 10 million people are on the move, 3.5 million of them outside the country.

The level of need varies across the country. We were talking in recent weeks to our colleagues in Mariupol in the south east of the country who described the situation there as apocalyptic. Our colleagues do not use words like that lightly. That was two weeks ago, and the situation has got much worse since then. They were telling us about having to use melted snow for water, going to streams to get water to drink or even having to drain radiators for water. That gives some indication of how desperate the situation was, with constant shelling all around them.

We have seen significant numbers of people on the move and significant levels of destruction. What we are seeing with urban warfare is neighbourhoods turned into battle zones. We know from our experience across the world in many other conflicts that when heavy weaponry like this is used in densely populated areas the results can be catastrophic for civilians.

Ukraine is classified as an international armed conflict. That means the Geneva Conventions and their First Additional Protocol apply. This is in keeping with international humanitarian law, IHL, and the laws of war, which aim to protect civilians and those not taking part in hostilities, as well as governing the conduct of hostilities. It is also important to note that any attacks carried out with new technologies or any cyber means are also subject to international humanitarian law, which must be respected.

The ICRC has been in Ukraine for eight years. At the start of the conflict, we had approximately 600 staff and we have added approximately 140 to that so far. Flexibility and adaptability are key, as we move the focus of our operations as events dictate. We work closely with our partners in the Ukrainian Red Cross. They have approximately 3,000 staff and volunteers, with 3,000 more volunteers signing up in recent weeks. They are working at scale. We are also working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, our national society of Red Cross partners in the region and the Irish Red Cross, which the committee will hear from shortly.

Some moments of positive intervention that we have been able to do include, for example, helping to evacuate some civilians from the town of Sumy on two occasions. We have helped to distribute approximately 200 tonnes of medical and relief supplies, which has been sent to various locations in the country. It has not all gone to places in need. We are working around the clock to do that in a number of places. I mention these couple of examples as a drop in the ocean. They are not going to meet the staggering needs. As humanitarians, we need much more protected humanitarian space. There is talk of humanitarian corridors and anything like that is welcome, but we need to be able to allow people to leave from areas where there is fighting, whether there is a corridor or not, and we need to be able to get aid in at all times. That comes down to international humanitarian law.

The ICRC is engaging with the parties to this conflict on a confidential and bilateral basis. That is what we do to our remind them of their IHL obligations. We remind them publicly and privately. The president of the ICRC was in Kyiv last week to meet with senior government officials there and he will be in Moscow this week to hopefully do the same.

I will conclude by making three brief points. First, I thank the Irish Government and people of Ireland for their generous donations of €5 million towards our work in Ukraine, plus €1 million for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. That will support our vital work.

We encourage members to continue to promote the respect of international humanitarian law, as the people caught up in this conflict must be supported and protected.

Third, when it comes to sanctions, we would also encourage members to support our request to the EU for a humanitarian carve out, by which I mean some exemptions from sanctions so that we can carry on our crucial work unhindered.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I thank Mr. Morris very much for that. I will now hand over to Mr. O'Sullivan, who is joining us from Warsaw.

Mr. Ros O'Sullivan:

I am in Krakow at the moment, not Warsaw, because not unlike the conflict we are also moving around quite a bit, this being such a fast-moving situation and crisis.

It is now a month since the crisis has escalated and the ensuing conflict has set back the country of Ukraine, economically, socially and infrastructurally by at least 20 years, according to UN estimates. The Government of Ukraine has stated that so far, the most recent estimate of the conflict is that it has caused more than $100 billion in damages. As earlier speakers mentioned, nearly one quarter of the population of Ukraine is on the move, mainly women and children. Currently, upwards of 3.5 million have left the country and crossed over into neighbouring countries and beyond to near countries and those much further afield, including Ireland. An estimated 6.5 million internally displaced persons, IDPs, are on the move inside the country. The International Organization for Migration, IOM, estimates that the number of people on the move inside Ukraine will have increased to more than 8 million by the end of this month alone. We are talking about twice the population of Ireland on the move inside or outside Ukraine. That is how astronomical this conflict is.

As has been mentioned, there is a distinct slowing down in the movement of people crossing borders from inside Ukraine right now. Roughly, only 50% of those that were crossing the borders two weeks and one week ago are currently heading for the borders, which strongly suggests that the first wave of those who are trying to leave the country has already left. The majority of the people who have come out of Ukraine so far have some resources. They have connections either in a neighbouring country or in countries close by, but this will not be the same with any subsequent waves of people departing Ukraine. If there is a spike in numbers or if the conflict continues to escalate and drives people further west, through the central west and into the far west, if these people have to cross out of Ukraine they will have little or no resources to look after themselves. They will have no travel documents whatsoever. They will likely never have been out of their region let alone the country before. Typically, they will be much older in profile, and they will not want to travel far from the border that they cross. This will bring significant hardship and stress on the receiving country's capacity to facilitate them, to house them, feed them and take care of them. Especially in the neighbouring European Union countries of Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia, the EU will have to mobilise major resources to assist these member countries in coping with a very different type of Ukrainian, as the people leaving the country will have very different and enhanced needs. Moldova is a special case and will have to be supported as well by the EU.

To date, all neighbouring countries receiving refugees have done so in an incredible spirit of camaraderie, solidarity, humanity, co-operation and kinship.

However, they are working around the clock and are supported by both state apparatus, whether civil defence, police, fire brigade, medical teams and so on, as well as civil society and a volunteer corps drawn from the public, local businesses, churches, schools and universities. This can be maintained and sustained for only a short while, as long as there are no major spikes in the numbers, which would easily overwhelm a system that is being held together by sheer good will and affinity. Inside Ukraine, people on the move are supported through local civil and administrative efforts at town and city level. Hundreds of collective centres have been established throughout central and western Ukraine and offer respite and assistance to people on the move from east to west. These people have no families to go to. The collective centres are located in community halls, kindergarten schools, primary schools, clinics and warehouses, and in many cases, they are not fit for purpose. They can accommodate anything from 20 people up to 500.

Host families are also housing people on the move but, so far, very few data are known about how many people are being hosted. It is clear that up to recent weeks, internally displaced persons have been passing through these collective centres en route to somewhere else, spending no more than a night or two, but this is changing. Fewer Ukrainians are currently crossing borders or heading to border areas and are more inclined to stop and take refuge where they can in the hope they will not have to go any further west, given they want to return to the east as soon as is practically possible. As such, these collective centres are taking on a less transient role and becoming less temporary and more permanent in nature. They require significant support and assistance in the short and medium terms. Up to now, the collective centres have been relying on the generosity of local businesses, volunteers and locally arranged self-help groups, which are poorly resourced, poorly organised and poorly co-ordinated and comprise volunteers in their entirety, so it is difficult to see how this can be sustained and maintained in its present guise. These self-help groups need training and support to form them into proper civil society groups with more capacity, reach, scale and, most important, more training, especially in regard to organisation, co-ordination, humanitarian principles and practice.

Authorities in Ukraine, whether local, regional or national, require training and sensitisation in regard to humanitarian principles and practice, especially with regard to the significant risk of diversion of humanitarian aid, given Ukraine is on a full war footing under martial law. There is a considerable need for increased and robust civil and military co-ordination in Ukraine, led and facilitated by the United Nations humanitarian agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at civil-military co-ordination function. NGO and lobby groups have warned that Ukrainian citizens fleeing the conflict in their country about the acute risk of exploitation by human traffickers and this risk requires mitigation and protection measures at all host borders and in all host countries, including the central registration and vetting of all civilian volunteer first-line responders.

The Ukraine crisis is dynamic, uncertain and fast moving, and humanitarian operations and funding need to be flexible and agile to be able to shift operations to different activities, sectors and geographic areas within Ukraine as well as into the EU and Moldova as needed.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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That was a harrowing presentation and we thank Mr. O'Sullivan for giving it. Matters are, undoubtedly, deteriorating on an ongoing basis and it is fair to say they will become much worse. There have been reports of up to 10 million people already having been displaced.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I thank our guests for their presentation, which was sobering and terrifying. What is the vaccination status of the refugees who are congregating? Such a large number of people congregating will, inevitably, create significant risks. I am about to make a statement in the Dáil regarding the upcoming European Council meeting. Is there anything we can push in that regard?

Global food supply is a disaster that is no longer around the corner but is on top of us, and it is just that we have not yet seen the images. What can we do in that regard, both domestically and from a European Union perspective?

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

Mr. McSorley might wish to comment on these questions.

Mr. Dominic McSorley:

I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue of global food security. As he will be aware, this crisis has been happening for some time and has been propelled by the Covid pandemic. A total of 13 million people are struggling severely with acute food insecurity in the Horn of Africa alone, not to mention in Afghanistan. There is talk in Brussels of the doubling of the militarisation budget but we are not hearing anything about doubling the humanitarian budget for Ukraine. The flash appeal that was launched by the UN not long ago was for €1.14 billion and it has been only 37% funded. In the case of most food security appeals, they tend to be less than 50% funded.

Cash assistance is critical and we will use it in Ukraine. Mr. O'Sullivan outlined that in Ukraine, it will be critical to get larger sums than we would normally use in other contexts to cover rent and to keep people alive. We have seen the evolution of cash in places such as Somalia. It is very easy to distribute and target, particularly in conflict zones. It must be Ukraine as well as, not instead of, all the other crises.

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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I welcome our guests. I am at a loss for words, as many of us are, when I hear about the circumstances in Ukraine. I have met some people who have come here from Ukraine and they are worried about their families at home. The trauma they have gone through and are suffering is intense. We have our own response in Ireland with respect to the people who come here and how they will be looked after and housed. GP services, school services and education are issues Mr. O'Dwyer might speak to. I am concerned about those issues in the context of trying to normalise the lives of the children and young people who come here. I heard what was said recently with respect to doubling the humanitarian budget and that will be crucial. My concern relates to this crisis escalating further. If weapons that have never been used except for in Syria are used, that will make the scenario even worse, if that is possible. I refer to chemical weapons, biological weapons or, God forbid, nuclear weapons. Mr. Morris described the conflict as apocalyptic and that is certainly true. The ripple effects into other countries we have been talking about in recent times, such as in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, as well as in Yemen and other places, will be extraordinary and we cannot forget that either.

In the past, there has been resistance in countries in Europe where refugees were to be accommodated. The Chairman and I had experience of that in this country in our former roles. I ask the witnesses to comment on that. We have to prepare the people here and in Europe to welcome refugees so that does not become an issue.

Vaccination status is something that must be looked at as well. Statistics show that 80% of adults in Ukraine are vaccinated, although I stand to be corrected on that.

Words fail me, and I am sure they fail my colleagues as well, when I see what is going on in Ukraine. I have met women and children who have come here whose husbands and fathers are battling and fighting. They are at risk and may die. What is going on is just awful. In cities, children are being trafficked. There is talk of children being taken into Russia and people being taken into camps in Russia from Mariupol. If that is true, it goes back to what happened in the Second World War. There is not much more I can say. We must do all we can to support the people going through this horrendous suffering and argue for a peaceful solution at every forum, including the UN Security Council.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Ms McKenna, Mr. Morris and Mr. O'Sullivan for their contributions. I also join with the Chairman in welcoming the Polish ambassador to the meeting. I commend the Polish people on the tremendous efforts they have made to accommodate those fleeing this horrific war in Ukraine. I also pay tribute to Romania, Moldova and other countries. We read about this every day and see it on television. There are witnesses on the ground telling us 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine to date and 6.5 million are displaced within Ukraine. As Mr. O'Sullivan said, that figure is expected to go up to 8 million in the next week or so. It is a horrific situation.

Ms McKenna mentioned that the World Food Programme gets half of the wheat it distributes in humanitarian crises from Ukraine. That is a very serious statement. She said the programme needs to find other sources of supplies. Horrific and all as the war in Ukraine and the humanitarian crisis there are, there are still huge humanitarian difficulties in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Where does the World Food Programme hope to source this wheat now? We feel Ireland is self-sufficient when it comes to food, yet the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Minister are trying to incentivise farmers to grow wheat here for ourselves. It is devastating to hear that half of the wheat upon which we depend to feed people in these other countries came from Ukraine. I would be interested to know where the witnesses intend sourcing that from now.

I agree with the calls for the humanitarian budget to be increased. As a committee, we would be very glad to do whatever we can to encourage not only our Government but our European partners to do that. Any advice for us in that regard would be very welcome and we would like to hear from the witnesses on it.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

There were a number of questions there. I will come back to some of them if we do not answer them in the first instance. I will hand over to Ms de Barra to talk about funding and food security. I am not sure we have an answer as to how the WFP will replenish its supplies but it is certain that it will become more expensive to do so. Funding and food security are very much interlinked.

Ms Caoimhe de Barra:

That is precisely it. They are incredibly closely interlinked. In any major crisis such as this, food supply is not usually the problem. The problem is accessibility and the fact that people cannot afford to buy the food that is available. Both Russia and Ukraine are huge grain suppliers and supply sunflower seeds and oil as well. The immediate impact of the Ukraine crisis will be to increase the cost of procuring food for the WFP very significantly. That will be the immediate impact on the UN's responses to existing hunger crises. What will happen at a more general level with generalised food price increases, which are also in part caused by fuel price increases, is that the price of food for the ordinary person will increase. For people on low incomes, a huge proportion of their income is spent on food and transport, that is, bus fares to their place of work or education. The third piece is the cost of rent if they are in rented accommodation. Food prices and fuel prices will increase so we are going to see huge spikes in poverty among people, even people who are not living in conflict-affected countries.

As Mr. McSorley said, there is a food security crisis across east Africa and in many other countries that is almost unparalleled. The UN has said that 274 million people were in immediate need of humanitarian assistance prior to the Ukraine crisis and that is almost double the figure from two years ago. We are already facing a huge humanitarian crisis across the world. One of the most effective things we can do is take early action. Many of the crises we are dealing with can be anticipated. Ukraine is one of the exceptions because nobody saw it coming. We know when harvests are due and we know when they are not going to come. A colleague of mine came home from Zimbabwe yesterday. The harvest there is supposed to happen in April and driving through central Zimbabwe, he saw 80% of the crops wilted in the fields. That is a country that was not even on the radar a couple of months ago. The level of food insecurity and hunger is huge.

Our group would fully support a recommendation to the Government not only to protect its entire aid budget but to increase it. The Government has committed to 0.7% so now is the time for it to look at front-loading that commitment by increasing the aid budget by a disproportionately high percentage in the forthcoming budget. In the interim, it should ensure the pledges that are being made are not displacing humanitarian funding to other crises but are additional. Unfortunately, expenditure on support to refugees in host countries such as Ireland can now technically be considered official development assistance, ODA, under the OECD Development Assistance Committee, DAC, rules. This is something we entirely disagree with. It does not align with Ireland's values or principles. The Government should make a point of ensuring that expenditure on support to Ukrainian refugees in Ireland does not come from ODA, and should make that a strong point internationally.

We are incredibly concerned about the protection of vulnerable people who are displaced, and people displaced over borders in particular. Trócaire works with Caritas Internationalis, which has already supported 250,000 people in Ukraine and Poland. I again recognise the presence of the ambassador of Poland and the incredible work the Government of Poland has been doing with civil society in this response.

As more vulnerable people come to the borders, the more people there are who are incredibly vulnerable to being trafficked. One in four people in Europe trafficked into forms of modern slavery are children. Unfortunately, in Ireland we will not be immune to this. The risk at the border is extremely high. The provision of support to typically underfunded services such as the protection services and the safeguarding trafficking services in all of those border countries is incredibly important.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

There were a number of questions primarily around the integration of Ukrainian refugees into Irish communities and access to services, which I will ask Mr. O'Dwyer to address.

Mr. Liam O'Dwyer:

On the issues Deputy Stanton spoke about with respect to integration, the response in Ireland currently is phenomenal. It is coming from the ground up but, to be fair, it is being led from a Government side as well. A practical example of it is the Irish Red Cross pledging database which, to date, has received 21,000 pledges of accommodation. That is astonishing. During the time of the Syrian crisis, we received under 1,000 pledges. This is a huge outpouring of concern and empathy from Irish people. This is evident also in the amounts of money that has been donated in terms of cash and by people from all walks of life, including the business community, individuals and groups. That is really welcome.

In terms of the integration side, we are noticing that communities are coming together looking to bring refugees into their community. That is something we have not really witnessed at this level before. We have seen it with the community sponsorship programme to some degree, but this is at a different level. The communities want the refugees in their community and are already identifying education and work resources to enable the refugees to settle in the community. At the same time, given the number that have come to date, which is somewhere in the region of 9,500, clearly the emergency accommodation and reception centres are increasingly under pressure. For that reason, we need to be able to deliver on the pledges, particularly the vacant properties, and we are currently following up on those with the assistance of the Defence Forces and State agents. On top of that, there is the shared accommodation which, when the Syrian refugees came here, was hugely popular and successful. It was a wonderful way for the younger men in particular to integrate into Irish society. On this occasion, the Government has rightly taken the decision that given the number of women and children to be housed, child protection has to be upfront and dealt with, with all of the shared accommodation. We are starting to move on that in conjunction with the Garda National Vetting Bureau, which has committed to reducing to seven days from a much more extensive period the timeframe within which it will come back to us with Garda vetting.

Members will have seen the various other supports at the ports and airports. Besides the Red Cross, there are others there in welcome, transport and support roles. The use of the hub in Dublin Airport, the new hubs in the city centre and the other co-ordination that is happening in Rosslare, Dublin, Cork and Shannon are working quite well. It is good to see the State and our sector coming together to deliver for the Ukrainian people coming here. Our members are coming to us looking to know how they can support. They are supporting with direct intervention in terms of donations of cash and, mainly, vouchers to enable people to settle in.

It should be said that the manner in which the protection directive has been implemented in Ireland deserves great credit. It really does. It means that people are able to come here knowing that the system that is available to all of our citizens is open and accessible to them, which will enable settling and integration.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank Mr. O'Dwyer. Would Senator Ardagh like to come in?

Photo of Catherine ArdaghCatherine Ardagh (Fianna Fail)
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I will be brief. I have been listening in to the discussion. I thank all of the contributors today. I want to particularly thank the Polish ambassador. Poland has led the way in terms of opening its doors to Ukrainian refugees. In the first few days of the war, we watched as many Ukrainian people were welcome into Poland. In terms of Poland's attitude to that of our neighbours, the UK, Poland has to be commended. I would like to think Ireland followed suit from a distance. We are doing all we can. I work with a Polish colleague from Lublin, a city that is close to the Ukrainian border. Polish people living in Ireland are really proud of their home country and all of the support it is giving to the Ukrainian people.

In regard to all of the other contributors, it is great to hear from the Red Cross that Garda vetting is to the fore. In the past, we have made mistakes in regard to Garda vetting. It is important we do not repeat those mistakes in regard to these vulnerable people. It is reported in today's newspapers that over 2,400 children have been taken out of the jurisdiction of the Ukraine and transferred to Russia. What is going on? It is an anecdotal news report, but it is terrifying what is happening to vulnerable people and children. From an Irish perspective, what more can we do? What can anyone do? We have all expressed how angry, sad and terrified we are for all of the vulnerable people in the Ukraine. I will leave it at that because other Deputies and Senators have already raised many of the questions and points I had intended to raise.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I would like to address a couple of issues to Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Morris. In terms of this discussion, we have meandered somewhat from within the Ukraine to the neighbourhood, to Ireland and back. On the situation in Ukraine, the humanitarian situation is dire and there is need for safe and protected humanitarian corridors. That works both ways. It allows people to leave areas that are adversely affected but it also, importantly, allows aid in. I ask Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Morris to expand a little on the situation within Ukraine, including how the absence of humanitarian corridors is making a bad situation worse. In terms of what we are seeing on our television screens and reading in reports with regard to the city of Mariupol, what is the hospital situation there? What medical teams are on the ground there? It seems to be bordering on total devastation, with an inability on the part of aid workers to enter and work. In terms of the special emphasis that Mr. O'Sullivan has placed on children and unaccompanied minors, we note, for example, that more than 1.5 million children have now fled. It seems that many of these are separated. Is there a special programme designed to meet the needs of minors who have been separated from their parents and families?

Is there a form of urgent attention for those in the neighbourhood?

As regards the assistance coming from neighbouring countries and Ireland, and acknowledging what Mr. O'Dwyer and others have said in respect of the generosity of the Irish people, there is movement of goods and cash. Obviously, the emphasis has been on cash donations because there are potential issues of a logistical nature with the distribution of many goods. The message of our guests to may be that cash donations are the priority. It seems from the report of Mr. O'Sullivan, however, that in the context of human personnel, the situation within Ukraine may be somewhat overwhelmed in the short term. Is there a role for international personnel to assist in that regard? I refer emergency workers such as police officers, fire brigade personnel or Civil Defence members or other volunteers or workers who might be called upon to assist.

The issue of forced deportation was not addressed in the presentation by Mr. O'Sullivan but it has been the subject of reports. We have seen people fleeing to the west and the south but there are reports of forced deportations in eastern Ukraine and people being taken to Russia by bus, possibly against their will. Is there a role for or engagement by humanitarian aid personnel in that regard on the Russian side? Is there evidence of camps or accommodation centres on the Russian side that may require humanitarian aid but are not allowed to access it?

I ask Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Morris to address the situation in countries adjoining Ukraine. We have acknowledged the Trojan work of the Polish people and the Government of Poland by way of leadership in the region. Obviously, the situation in Moldova is critical having regard to the poor state of infrastructure there. It may not have the level of expertise that other countries in the region have. Ireland has indicated acceptance of 500 refugees who have departed Ukraine for Moldova. How is that co-ordinated through the agencies?

As regards co-ordination, obviously there is need to ensure there is not an overlapping of work in the context of a crisis. I ask Ms de Barra to outline how that is monitored or done. In Ireland, for example, we have had not only the coming together of various groups under Dóchas but also, more recently, the Irish Emergency Alliance, which has seven members, including Trócaire. Is that a welcome co-ordination of expertise and experience in a way that ensures moneys and aid can be best put to use, notwithstanding the emergency nature of the situation?

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I thank the Chairman. I will pass over to Mr. O'Sullivan to address, in particular, the questions regarding assistance in neighbouring countries and the movements of goods and cash and, specifically, to provide any information he may have in respect of events on the Russian side and the movement of people in that direction. I will ask Mr. Morris to comment on the humanitarian corridors or lack thereof and the impact that is having on places such as Mariupol.

Mr. Ros O'Sullivan:

Frankly, we just do not know what may be happening in east Ukraine and in the context of Russia. To the best of my understanding, there is little or no appetite or tolerance for international humanitarian organisations there. We have probably a far greater opportunity to getting information through diplomatic or United Nations channels than through civil society, which is very heavily controlled in that part of the world, to the best of my understanding. We have little or no visibility. We have been hearing the same things as the Chairman. We are largely relying on the media for that information. Mr. Morris may have greater visibility on that from an ICRC perspective, as well as understanding and knowledge of what is going on there. From the perspective of international humanitarian organisations, we know little about what is going from the eastern side of the country or further east. It is not on our radar.

I will say a little about humanitarian corridors. I am referring specifically to what I consider to be informal or non-formalised humanitarian corridors. A couple of weeks ago, we spent several days in border areas of Romania and Moldova. It is really about cross-border relationships. To give it an Irish perspective, it is a bit like folk living in Border counties here crossing over to work in Fermanagh, Antrim or Derry and then going home again in the evening. That was going on pre conflict. For example, the large city of Chernivsti, with approximately 500,000 inhabitants, is about 40 km north of Romania. Before the Second World War, it was part of Romania. People there speak as much Romanian as they do Ukrainian. The officials and authorities in Chernivsti and on the Romanian side are in touch with each other every day. We met the authorities in Sighetu and Siret, two of the big border towns in Romania. They told us they get phone calls every day from the people in Chernivsti who tell them what they need. The Romanian authorities then mobilise it and send it in as best they can and support them in that way. These humanitarian corridors do exist and that is because the conflict has not travelled that far west. Long may that continue.

From the perspective of international humanitarian organisations working in Ukraine and accessing Ukraine, there is regular and relatively easy access in from Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and several areas of Poland. I travelled from Poland into the western part of Ukraine last week. I will travel back there later this week. We have seen no issues or problems in terms of getting back and forth across the border. There are constantly trucks carrying goods crossing the border from Romania into Ukraine and back again. It is the same in Poland. The borders are relatively open in the areas that are accessible but it must be said that there is so much uncertainty regarding what will happen next that it affects the flow of aid and the flow into the friendly neighbouring countries. We just do not know what will happen next.

If I understood the Chairman correctly, he asked whether there were enough humanitarian workers in Ukraine supporting the large flows of people. At this moment, there are plenty of humanitarian agencies accessing western and central Ukraine. The programmes of assistance and support, which have largely been done to date with volunteer and local self-help groups, are starting to get significant support from international humanitarian organisations. The Government of Ukraine has made it very clear that it welcomes people who are coming to help Ukraine. It has waived all registration and other requirements, at least for now. We are working in and accessing Ukraine in a way that is relatively free. That said, what will happen next week or next month is uncertain.

I referred to collection centres, where people travelling from east to west had been taking respite for some days until recently but are now doing so more permanently. The centres are starting to get a great deal of attention from international organisations, which are supporting local authorities and local self-help groups in ensuring that local first responders are able to do their work in a more responsible way. There are volunteers doing their best with very little. We need a little organisation, co-ordination and structure to this. We also need sensitisation and awareness around humanitarian principles and the protection of children and women in particular so that we can ensure that the dignity these people are being afforded outside Ukraine in countries like Ireland are also afforded to them inside Ukraine while they are on the move, at their most traumatised and fearful about where they have come from and where they are going next.

I apologise if I have missed a question or two. Mr. Morris might wish to add something.

Mr. Matthew Morris:

Regarding humanitarian corridors, Mariupol has been a particular focus for the ICRC within Ukraine. I echo the point about some informal corridors. In that context, people have been able to see some respite in the hostilities and make their own convoys to get out. Last week, our team, which had basically been taking shelter for days on end, led one of those unofficial convoys. Many of our colleagues with families and children decided to leave Mariupol. There was a moment for them to do that. Many of us would have done the same.

In terms of corridors, we have been repeating the message loudly and clearly that we welcome any opportunity for a respite from the fighting, a chance for people to get out and a chance for aid to get in, but we have not seen enough of that in Mariupol. This boils down to the fact that there has not been a concrete agreement between the parties to the conflict. We are often asked about when the corridor will open and what we are doing, but we cannot police it. We can be there as a presence and oversee and facilitate it, but a concrete agreement needs to be made. In Mariupol, that has not happened. It is also the case with corridors that there must never be any impression that anything goes outside a corridor or that time. Far from it. We remind everyone that civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected at all times.

Regarding the hospital situation in Mariupol, it is difficult to get information now. Our colleagues were able to provide supplies in the early days of the conflict, but that access was limited. We have medical supplies pre-positioned in various places, such as Dnipro, and we want to get them into Mariupol as soon as we can. I am sad to say that is not happening at the moment, though.

A question was asked about separated children. This is a critical matter. Perhaps I should have mentioned in my submission that an area of focus for the Red Cross movement across the world is where families are separated. All too often, we see families getting separated in conflicts like this. At this meeting, we have discussed the statistics of people displaced within and outside the country. In conflicts around the world, we see people being displaced multiple times within their countries. We are approaching four weeks of this conflict and that is a fear. We have discussed the west of the country. We hope that people will move to safety and not have to flee multiple times.

The psychosocial support provided by Red Cross staff and volunteers in neighbouring countries and within Ukraine is critical. Of the hidden consequences, the toll on people's mental health can be astronomical. This is something of which we are aware. We have experts. At this meeting, we have mentioned Red Cross societies such as the Polish Red Cross society, whose staff and volunteers are doing fantastic work. They have experts in this regard.

As to the question of whether to send goods, cash or workers, the ICRC sticks strictly to neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian actions. I mentioned our 600 plus 140 staff. It is crucial for us that our staff, working with the staff and volunteers of the Ukrainian Red Cross within the country, do this work because they have expertise. As an example, we have weapons experts who have been working in the east of the country for eight years. They have been working in communities where we have had to protect schools – bomb shelters and sandbags at the windows – on both sides of what was the line of contact in the Donbas. We have more weapons experts going into the country to do that kind of thing. The risk that unexploded ordnance poses to the civilian population almost does not bear thinking about, but it is what we think about and our experts try to work with communities, local authorities and other humanitarian organisations try to help people in this regard.

The generosity of the people of Ireland has been amazing and we are grateful for it. If people ask us, we ask for cash donations so that we can try to find our way. Getting supplies into Ukraine, where to send them within Ukraine and how to get them to different parts of the country where roads have come under attack involves a complicated mapped system.

A question was asked about forced displacement. It is not something on which we have any first-hand information, but it is clear that people, when they leave, must be able to leave voluntarily. As one of my colleagues has mentioned, it is important that focus is given to the vulnerable – the elderly, the sick, the injured and people with disabilities, who will not easily be able to move.

We have been working on both sides of the line of contact in Ukraine for eight years. I know from our updates that our partners at the Russian Red Cross have been working tirelessly because people have been misplaced in that direction. There are something like 94 points of distribution for humanitarian aid and many children have had to be moved into different communities, perhaps to relatives there. As well as the fantastic work of our Red Cross colleagues on the western side of Ukraine, we also pay tribute to our colleagues in Russia.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I will hand over to Ms de Barra regarding the co-ordination element on the ground and within the Irish Emergency Alliance, IEA.

Ms Caoimhe de Barra:

I thank the Chairman for his question on the IEA, which is a relatively young organisation but one that is based on a model that exists in many other countries and has operated extremely effectively for many years. The principle it is based on is that, in any humanitarian emergency, we need to act quickly to co-ordinate all of the disparate actors that are working to support the people affected by the crisis within the affected country but also outside it. The IEA is made up of seven Irish humanitarian and development NGOs, including Trócaire.

We are responding collectively to both fundraise and support the co-ordination and sharing of information on our operations in and around Ukraine. This has already proved extremely useful and fruitful. We have a three-week long co-ordinated fundraising campaign which reduces the cost to each individual agency, for example, of buying media time, and it gives the public an additional port of call. It is effective in terms of giving the public a simpler set of choices. However, what we are also able to identify as seven agencies working locally is that we have better scale and impact through co-ordinated action. I mentioned earlier that Trócaire, through Caritas, has already reached 250,000 people in Ukraine and Poland. Adding the other six agencies and their scale and reach and the way we are able to co-ordinate and share information and distribute analysis among ourselves mean that the impact is much stronger across the seven agencies.

In other countries where these mechanisms have existed for a longer period than here in Ireland, typically the agencies get support from the government in terms of match funding. In the UK, Netherlands, Japan, Switzerland and many other countries, often the government will match funding, possibly up to a certain level, and provide that to the co-ordinated alliance model. That works very effectively.

Co-ordination within the country is also extremely important. Mr. O'Sullivan may have mentioned it a little earlier. The situation in Ukraine is not always parallel to other situations where we are in that the institutions in Ukraine work. It is a country with well-established governance, administrative institutions and a very strong and active civil society, so it is no accident that there are over 100 collective centres established very quickly. Many of those are based on units that already existed. Caritas Ukraine had 70 centres in operation any day of the week across the country prior to the crisis, so there is an opportunity to work with and to strengthen the local civil society and civil authority systems. The last thing we should do is undermine it by imposing external models. That is not what is needed.

As Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Morris have said, there is a system there that we must lean into and support, and that is in terms of funding, the cash for what people locally know is needed, and the technical expertise which they may be missing, although there are high levels of skills and capacity locally. It is important to note that over the past month, as inevitably happens in any humanitarian response, local people volunteer. They put their own lives on hold and volunteer to respond. However, a volunteer-led response can only last so long. All those people need to somehow create their livelihoods again. As a result, we must enable, in a solid manner, as Mr. O'Sullivan said, those local organisations to expand, to have more staff employed and to have the skills and technical expertise they need to mount a long-term response. Unfortunately, this response is going to last a long time, and it is the local institutions that will be there long after this has disappeared from the media headlines.

We know that local co-ordination is working very well. For example, the cash working group, which is an essential part of the humanitarian system, is working very well. It is working very well with government, identifying what the obstacles are and moving them on. Integrating the cash with the social protection system is very important. Again, administrative systems exist, and we must support and build on them. That is just a note on local co-ordination.

The final thing I will mention is the corridors. This is absolutely crucial. Our experience is that in certain areas of the country there is reasonably good mobility, but in areas of conflict humanitarian convoys are being shelled. We are having to shift from using something that might be identifiable as a humanitarian convoy to smaller vehicles that are operating in a more informal way. That immediately reduces the volume of goods that one can move from one place to another. It reinforces and underscores the importance of diplomacy and the importance of putting pressure for a negotiated ceasefire. One thing that has not come up is the almost complete absence, from what we know, of women's voices in any negotiations that are happening. Ireland has an incredibly strong record on ensuring that women are involved in an equal, meaningful and participative way in peace negotiations. If women are not at the table, the whole community will regret that for many years down the line. Something that the Irish Government could do in its international diplomacy and its work at the UN Security Council is ensure that the advocacy and diplomacy include ensuring the full, equal and meaningful participation of women in the negotiations on a lasting peace.

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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I thank the contributors. I had a number of questions, but time is short and they have answered many of them. In terms of the confluence of crises that are happening at present, the huge levels of displacement, war, a global pandemic and food shortages, are we even conscious of what is upon us at both national and European level? The witnesses work in humanitarian organisations and must be seeing this. Should we be terrified, and what is the response?

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I will hand that one to Mr. McSorley.

Mr. Dominic McSorley:

The truth is that we have seen an erosion of news media coverage of many of the crisis countries. Afghanistan is not on the agenda any more, and it was top of the news everywhere while there was an evacuation. It is not talked about, and there are simple solutions. We need to talk about what we need to do. Some $7 billion of Afghanistan's reserves remain frozen, largely by the US federal authorities, as well as the $2 billion that is frozen by European banks, including those in Germany. It must be released. There is a campaign to try to get that money moved rapidly back into where it should be, even if it is set up through a trust fund if it is not going directly into the authorities.

Every crisis is unique. It is unique in terms of its complexity and its scale, but often crises involve similar characteristics. We need only look back 11 years to Syria. Ukraine is in danger of becoming the next Syria. If we look back and ask what we would have done differently, we would have ramped up diplomacy much more in the early days. There was much more talk about politicisation, militarisation and ending the war. Ireland is already playing a unique role. Ms Geraldine Byrne Nason, the Irish ambassador, has been a strong and compelling voice working within a structure that we know is hampered, but has managed to reach out to the member states and to push beyond the confines of the UN Security Council. That is critical. I believe there is an opportunity. The last time we saw the scale of response in this regard was either Haiti or the tsunami, because people relate. There is extraordinary generosity from the public from the neighbouring countries, such as Poland, and we have to capitalise on that. There is extraordinary solidarity, with Ukrainian flags being flown everywhere across this country. That has to be matched very clearly through the EU. I do not believe the EU is taking a strong enough stance with regard to negotiations and being at the table. It is being left to the US, and it is becoming more partisan.

To return to the Deputy's point, there are some initiatives happening. We are now seeing that the appetite of people to listen to what is happening on the ground has never diminished. Human response and empathy for what people are witnessing have not diminished. However, the political will to end these appears to be the real challenge. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, was before the committee. The four or five steps that he laid out are exactly the ones that Ireland should take. Ireland has a roadmap, it just has to push it and really focus on Brussels.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I do not see any other members who are with us online indicating that they have questions. Before bringing matters to a conclusion, I propose to invite the witnesses to offer a final word on their priority message to us, as parliamentarians and politicians. Tomorrow, the committee will have an opportunity, kindly arranged by our ambassador to Poland, to engage directly with our colleagues on the Polish foreign affairs committee.

On Friday I will have an opportunity of engaging with fellow committee chairs across the EU, again primarily organised by Poland, where we will have an opportunity for parliamentarians to exchange views. Perhaps the witnesses will leave us with their priority messages. On behalf of committee members and on my own behalf, I thank the witnesses for taking the time to be with us today on what is a shocking and horrific crisis within Europe.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I thank the Chairman. Before I hand over to my colleagues I want to reiterate what Ms de Barra said earlier about the issue of funding. It is not just unique to Concern, Trócaire or the Red Cross. It is universal for all of our members in Dóchas. It is clear there is a need for humanitarian assistance and funding in Ukraine right now, and for that response for Ukrainian refugees and those displaced within the country. That cannot come at the expense of other humanitarian crises around the world. We know and we anticipate that responding to those crises is going to become more expensive. In light of Ukraine, where we can see not only the need for humanitarian assistance but also the impact it can have on individuals on the ground, and we as organisations working on the ground in Afghanistan, in Syria and in other conflict areas see the impact of that aid, we would ask that the Government continues to work on the roadmap towards the 0.7% target and ensure the additional support that is provided to Ukraine is just that: additional to other commitments to humanitarian funding for other crises around the world.

Mr. Liam O'Dwyer:

I have a very simple message, which is the importance of the co-ordination of Government and civil society in responding to the refugees who are coming here. We saw it with the Syrian situation and the refugees coming here when a task force was set up. That type of co-ordination is critical in making sure the refugees who come here are welcomed, integrated and supported and that they are given an opportunity to add to Irish society, which I believe they will do.

The other point is the importance of international humanitarian law and that this would continually be a strong message from the Government into the various structures.

Mr. Dominic McSorley:

I will just restate what I said earlier. Ireland needs to try to get the EU and other large institutions to redouble diplomacy efforts. In particular, we have heard about humanitarian corridors, but this is probably the lower form. It is about pushing for a ceasefire. We cannot be satisfied with allowing people to flee for assistance when many more will be waiting inside for aid to go in. Mariupol is a failure. It is a failure to intervene. That must be pushed up, and it is not easy. It must be pushed at on all levels. We must push for donor funding to be proportionate, and especially in relation to the escalating humanitarian needs. We also have to watch very closely the neighbouring countries, as Mr. O'Sullivan referred to. This situation is changing rapidly and we cannot say that "Poland has done a really good job, well done Poland", when actually the crisis is still unfolding. I welcome the fact the committee asked for this meeting today. The committee should repeat these meetings regularly because the situation is changing fast. I appreciate the comments and recognition that Ukraine is not a stand-alone crisis. It is potentially creating a new hunger pandemic. We are a nation that has a very strong reputation for placing a priority on ending conflict and hunger. Now is our opportunity to bring some of that to the policy influence.

Ms Caoimhe de Barra:

I can only underscore a couple of the points made by my colleagues, one of which is around the funding. I will add to Ms McKenna's point about the volume of funding, and I will speak to the nature of funding. Funding is very valuable where it is co-ordinated, flexible and prioritises local actors. Again, I underscore that this is a long-term crisis. We need to make sure funding supports local actors in Ukraine and in the neighbouring environments. We need to make sure it supports co-ordinated mechanisms such as the Irish Emergency Alliance and other co-ordinated mechanisms. We need to make sure it is flexible. As to the point my colleague has just made, this is a rapidly changing environment. If funding is tied up in rules that mean we cannot move it towards where it is needed most when it is needed most, then it becomes a burden. Funding needs to be flexible, co-ordinated and local.

My final point is we need to treat this as a gendered crisis. No crisis is not gendered. Women and children are at the forefront and disproportionately suffering from this crisis. We need to start speaking of it as a gendered crisis.

Mr. Ros O'Sullivan:

I thank all of the committee members and colleagues for their contributions. With regard to Ms de Barra's points, I was about to mention also the extent to which the crisis is so dynamic, uncertain and fast moving, and that we need to be agile and flexible with the funding and how we work. I thank Ms de Barra for mentioning that.

From my perspective, the message I would like to leave with the Chairman and the other esteemed members here today is that the focus so far, in the context of Europe and the international community, has been on those who have crossed borders. We now need to double down on how we support those people inside Ukraine on the move, to ensure the dignity we have afforded to people who have left the country and have arrived in countries like Ireland can be afforded to those who remained inside Ukraine, who are on the move, and who are living in a far more uncertain environment than those who have been fortunate enough to date, to get out. That is my message. It is about helping those inside Ukraine and those people on the move. For every person who has left the country there are currently three on the move, which will be four on the move by the end of this month. That is a staggering number of people by any count.

Mr. Matthew Morris:

I would encourage Ireland to continue playing the key role as a strong supporter and promoter of international humanitarian law in whichever forums Ireland is working or talking with contacts. That is a critical role that will potentially benefit the people caught up in the conflict.

Reference was made to the rules. I repeat the request for Ireland to support our request to the EU for humanitarian exemptions in relation to sanctions. It is such a complicated and difficult response that requires an agile turnaround. It could potentially be made harder by the impact of some of the decisions. Support on that front would be potentially invaluable.

Ms Jane-Ann McKenna:

I thank Mr. Morris. I thank the Chairman also for his time today.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank Ms McKenna and colleagues. The witnesses have put their opening statements in writing, which makes for grim reading. Committee members will have an opportunity to share that and to share our experience of the past couple of hours with Members of both Houses over the next day or so.

It would seem to me there are three alternatives for what might happen next: a protracted war, a peace deal or regime change in Russia. Of the three, it would appear that the most likely is a protracted war. In that regard, I acknowledge the great work Ms McKenna and all of her colleagues are doing from a humanitarian point of view.

Having heard the witnesses' submissions, I trust that we would like to have a further opportunity of direct engagement should matters not lead to a peace deal as early as we all would wish.

I thank the witnesses for being with us and for dealing with members' questions and observations. I ask members to hold on as we have some private business to get through.

The joint committee went into private session at 4.51 p.m. and adjourned at 4.57 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Thursday, 31 March 2022.