Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the other Ministers for their very helpful statements and commend them on the amount of work that has gone into this area over recent weeks. It is pertinent that we are having this debate a couple of weeks on from the situation in Afghanistan being the headline issue of the time. The time since has given us a chance to reflect on what has happened and to see how other countries around the world are starting to see the real impact on the global community as it starts to seep out. It is in many ways a sad indictment of international news that this is not the constant headline story, but that is the world we live in and we are all used to that in this vocation in which we have all found ourselves. I will briefly touch on three areas that are all related.
First, I join others in welcoming the announcement made yesterday and the further detail given by the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on Ireland's commitment to the Afghan refugees. That is very welcome, but I think we all agree we can be more ambitious. However, ambition itself is not enough because there are practical economic and real-world difficulties in ensuring that this is maximised, not just in terms of taking in refugees but also looking at migrants and our Afghan community here, as Deputy Carroll MacNeill so eloquently spoke of, to ensure that that family reunification can happen speedily. I note it is not just one part of Afghan society that is at risk at the moment; all of Afghanistan is at risk from this absolutely barbaric new regime that has found itself in power in Kabul.
I wish to take a moment to reflect on the absolute heroism we saw, or read of, on display from not just members of the Army Ranger Wing but also the diplomats who volunteered to travel to Afghanistan to stay in the airport, right up until the explosion came, to do their part for Irish citizens. You would think you would only see it in a movie. I do not know what the equivalent of the Scott medal is for the diplomatic corps, but those diplomats who so selflessly sent themselves into harm's way to bring Irish citizens out deserve everything they are entitled to, as do the members of the Army Ranger Wing who simply do this day in, day out. They need to be respected, and I have no doubt but that Deputy Berry will speak to that in a little more detail. It provides us food for thought in terms of the extraction capabilities of our Defence Forces, and indeed of the State as a whole, and our reliance and co-ordinated efforts not just with our partners in the European Union - and we should make special mention of the assistance given by the Finnish Government - but also with our nearest neighbours in the United Kingdom. We can all talk about things that are going on and parallel events, but when the UK's assistance has been needed it has never been found lacking in helping Irish citizens abroad and co-operating with our diplomatic corps, those Irish people working in aid agencies and within our military.
We have to reflect back, and many people will make comments about how western forces found themselves in Afghanistan and, in due course, how so many Irish people found themselves there working for aid agencies post the conflict. We remember why the US decided to go in. We can question the moral justice of their decision and the moral justice of what happened in Afghanistan; we cannot question the bravery of those who served, many of them Irish men and women under the flags of other armies. My friend, Tom Tugendhat, the British MP, spoke so eloquently in the House of Commons about his time in Afghanistan and the people he worked with. We remember those people who worked with Irish citizens in Afghanistan - those interpreters, those drivers and everyone else - whose lives are at risk and how we are duty-bound to ensure that anyone who worked with an Irish agency or a related body is brought home.
Let us be frank. We remember the original reason the US decided to enter Afghanistan. It was in direct response to the terror attacks 20 years ago, 9-11 in New York. It brings a serious risk to the world that once again we find Afghanistan being run by a barbaric regime that has no problem providing quarter to international terrorist organisations that are a threat to every single person in this world, particularly in western Europe. We have to be frank and honest that Ireland will never be immune to any security threat and that when we talk about security co-operation and engagement with European partners, it cannot just be piecemeal or warm words that will contribute nothing but when we need our partners we will come asking. We truly have to reflect on what our role in Europe is as the world sees so many developing threats, be they in the cybersphere - we have been victims of that in recent months and we know there are consequences of it - or be they all the discussions that are ongoing and the fact that we will have a wave of migrants and refugees increasing, not just from Afghanistan but from the entire region. We have to work with European partners and near neighbour partners to ensure we can ensure that our neighbourhood is maintained safe. I think that is the big lesson in the medium term, and I have no doubt but that the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in both his portfolios is the best man to lead that response.