Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
The Minister should not worry as I am not going down a particular avenue but I just want to refer to the vote of confidence in him two weeks ago. When I spoke on the motion of confidence in him, I meant, with full, heartfelt sincerity, that he had gone the extra miles during the Afghan crisis, particularly in respect of a family who live just 100 m from my home. I refer to his taking calls by night and text messages. It was not just for this reason, although it was a reason, that, on the night in question, I felt, with heartfelt sincerity, he was doing a good job in his Department. That is where I want to begin my contribution.
To wind back the clock a little, in June of this year a neighbour, Tahmina Hashemi, who lives just 100 m from my home, got a phone call from her mother — one of many in the same week — to say she was feeling very unwell in Kabul and did not know how much longer she would be around for. Tahmina hummed and hawed. Kabul was a relatively peaceful city at the time so she decided, with the blessing of her husband, to leave County Clare and board a flight. I do not know how she got there but, through various connecting routes, she made her way to Kabul, Afghanistan, with her two daughters and son. She stayed there by her mother's side for a number of weeks, and then all hell broke loose in Kabul.
I have to hand a picture of Husna Hashemi. She is her mother's daughter. She is a two-year-old Irish citizen who twice was held in her mother's arms as Taliban fighters thrashed them with whips and fists on the way to Kabul airport. Twice they tried to get to the airport and twice they did not get there. I articulated all that to the Minister. I appreciate all his engagement at the time. Husna's older sister, Sana, should have started preschool with my own daughter two weeks ago. It breaks my heart each morning as I walk my daughter to school — my wife does the same — that there is a coat hook without a coat on it and a bag place without a bag that would belong to little Sana, who is also an Irish citizen. She is an Irish girl; she does not belong in a war-torn country with bombs and bullets flying overhead and a corrupt and horrible regime thrashing women, children and everything between.
I have been in touch with the Minister's Department. The family is still in Afghanistan. Last week they got a text message from the embassy asking them to make their way to a certain hotel in Kabul and that they would be taken from there.
When they went to the hotel, there were Taliban fighters at the door corrupting the system that the Irish Government had put in place. They said that the family's paperwork was inaccurate. In the crowds behind them, some people were passing Afghan currency over their heads and, without any documentation, making their way through the barriers. On this third occasion, Husna, Tahima, Sana and Younis yet again did not get out. They are Irish people who belong in Ireland and who should be in preschool, primary school and secondary school. It is so wrong.
Political accountability has to start somewhere. The Minister did everything he could but the embassy staff in Abu Dhabi dropped the ball several times. I emailed and phoned several times and gave all of the details, PPS numbers, passport numbers, etc. I then saw a press release a month ago which stated that we got as many Irish citizens out as we could but that 60 people presented in the previous 24 hours. That is complete rubbish. The embassy had the details of these girls for many weeks and had failed to act. I do not have much time left. I am not keeping a full eye on the clock and I ask the Ceann Comhairle to forgive me.
There are also four staff members working for an Irish headquartered company. That company is located just half a mile from Dáil Éireann. For their entire working lives, they have been on phone calls, emails and chats over and back to Dublin. They are in a war-torn country. I received a WhatsApp audio message from one of them the other evening which I would love to play the Chamber. It is full of the sound of gunfire going off in her street. These people are petrified and we owe it to them to get them home.
Finally, forgive me again, a Cheann Comhairle, if I have gone beyond my time.