Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Afghanistan Crisis: Statements


7:22 pm

Photo of Brian LeddinBrian Leddin (Limerick City, Green Party) | Oireachtas source

The situation in Afghanistan is stark, as Deputy Cathal Crowe and many other speakers have noted. Despite promises that there would be inclusive governance in Afghanistan, there is a new cabinet whose members are all male and all Taliban. Protests have been banned, press freedom has been severely restricted and the Taliban has announced that the country will be ruled along Sharia law principles, which may exclude women from the workforce and other areas of public life.

I know that Ireland will use its Presidency of the UN Security Council to raise these issues. I hope that Ireland, working with the international community, can also pressure the Taliban to respect international law and human rights through all other possible means. In any approach to the Taliban, we must ensure that we do not harm the people of Afghanistan. Some 80% of the country’s budget has been covered by international funds for the past 20 years. We must ensure that any funding given to the country goes towards creating proper employment and economic development, rather than being expropriated by the Taliban.

I recognise the response of this Government and, in particular, the announcement yesterday of the special admission programme for Afghan nationals. I know that there are many Ministers involved in this but we should consider being flexible about some of the provisions in the programme, including the overall family size limits and protection of other groups like ethnic minorities.

The Minister, Deputy O’Gorman, referred to Doras, a brilliant organisation that provides support and advocacy for people from a migrant background in Ireland. Doras has prepared a response to some of the matters to which Deputy Gannon referred. I encourage the Ministers to engage with Doras. This organisation is telling me that it has received more than 2,000 phone calls last month from people seeking information about bringing family members from Afghanistan into Ireland.

I want to expand on a point made by the Minister about the community sponsorship programme. As he mentioned, there is a regional support organisation for the programme. It has been working with people who come together as friends and neighbours or as clubs or community groups and who want to welcome refugee families to their communities and help them settle in to their lives in those communities. I thank the Minister for his support for this programme. It is an expression of who we are as a nation that we are willing to welcome those people fleeing hardship into our communities and that Ireland is a place of kindness, of inclusion and of understanding.

As we are in our decade of centenaries, I can think of no better expression of the Irish nation than of Irish people being supported to give a warm supportive welcome to those fleeing Afghanistan. Our values are important and how we express them to the world is also important. The work that the Minister is doing in integration is vital as an expression of our values as a nation. In essence, we define ourselves in part by how we treat others. It takes much work and effort to ensure that the famous Irish welcome is not just a cliche but something actively practised throughout our society.

I pay tribute to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, for ensuring that those values that we espouse are effectively communicated and practised on the international stage. Through the structures of the Security Council, the Minister has been very clear that Ireland's values are to lead on humanitarian relief, on the important space of Ireland’s experience of placing priority on women’s involvement in the processes that shape their future and on the welcoming of refugees.

As others have done, I also want to acknowledge the truly incredible efforts the Minister and his staff made in these recent months and to also acknowledge the members of the Irish Defence Forces who worked hard to save the lives of Irish and non-Irish citizens who were stranded in Afghanistan. Amidst the chaos and disorder that is the reality in Afghanistan right now, it might seem trite to refer to the challenge of climate change but the effects of climate change are continuing, with warnings that a severe famine is imminent in Afghanistan. A particularly harsh winter, as well as drought, has made this more likely. Most Afghan households depend on agriculture for income and a famine would be devastating for the country. The prospect of an increased frequency of droughts would be a terrible vista.

The people of Afghanistan are not causing climate change. The average person living there causes 40 times less greenhouse gas emissions than the average person in Ireland. We can and we must dramatically reduce our emissions to play our part in making the future safer for people in countries like Afghanistan. We could point to our size and say that our contribution to climate change does not matter. We could also do this for issues like welcoming refugees and humanitarian relief. As a small country, Ireland can always try to opt out because the magnitude of the difference that we can make is not big but values matter. Irish values matter and what Ireland does to protect and support people in poorer countries is not a nice-to-have extra but is a fundamental expression of who we are.


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