Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Afghanistan Crisis: Statements


7:12 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent) | Oireachtas source

When the United States and NATO turned to rebuilding the failed state of Afghanistan in the 1980s, they attempted a western-style democracy. They sent billions of dollars to try to reconstruct a desperately poor country already torn apart by two decades of war – first during the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and then in the civil war. There were early successes. New schools, hospitals and public facilities were built, and thousands of girls barred from education under Taliban rule attended school. Women went to college, joined the workforce and served in a parliamentary capacity and in government. Independent news media emerged, which is important for all democracy. Corruption was rampant, however, with hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for construction stolen and embezzled. The Afghan Government proved unable to meet the most basic needs of its citizens. The country, despite its slight progression, has gone full circle. Can we in Ireland just shrug our shoulders? I do not believe so. We have played a massive part in this by ignoring our neutrality when it suited us.

During the entire occupation of Afghanistan by the United States and its allies, Shannon Airport has facilitated a steady flow of military personnel and arms. We are neutral. Admittedly, money makes the world go around but we facilitated the passage of US troops through Shannon and continued do so even when they pulled out of Afghanistan. Around the world, it is thought that Ireland is a neutral place. Ireland is regarded for its humanitarian efforts to help other countries. The Irish are the most giving people in the world. My concern is for the safety of Ireland and the people here. I hope none of our actions in facilitating the US in Shannon will put anyone in this country in harm's way because Ireland is a neutral country.

The fact is that one in four members of the US Army travelling through Shannon to Afghanistan never returned home. Included were mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and cousins, and we are neutral. I would like to give 30 seconds of my remaining time for silence in this House to remember everyone who has died in an atrocity in Afghanistan.

People might say I am loud and very interested in my area but, as I have said before, it turns my stomach that people have died over our facilitation of people's passage to Afghanistan. My only worry is that despite our good nature in this country and willingness to help people, it will be held against us. As I said before, we are neutral but it seems that we are bouncing in and out of neutrality. I hope that after the US pulls out of Afghanistan, we will not be regarded as having been facilitators. For the protection of our own families and everyone here in Ireland, we must now examine our neutrality, how best to protect our country and people, and also how best to protect people in Third World countries, as we have done for decades through our goodwill and humanitarian efforts. I commend anyone who leaves these shores to help, as they have done in Afghanistan. I commend everyone who has left these shores on humanitarian and Defence Forces grounds. They have gone out to help. They have left these shores with no body armour to help other countries. I hope that, based on the part we played in respect of Afghanistan, we will not be held accountable and will not be considered part of what happened there.


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