Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
It is good this matter is on the agenda and we are getting an opportunity to discuss it. I thank the Minister, his Department and the other two Departments for their work on the ground. My office has been touch with the Minister, as have those of all the other Deputies. I thank him personally for that.
I will outline some of the concerns the Irish Refugee Council has put to us, before moving on to the general to discuss the shame of Shannon Airport. The council's concerns have been clearly articulated but I will just run through them again quickly. There are about ten. What does a "close family member" mean? That needs to be addressed. The phrase "by December" needs to be brought forward; there is no urgency as it is. The number of places is up to 500 but that is the least we can do. Let us recall our role with our friend the US in causing what has happened with the Taliban. The Minister stated previously, when we had discussions in the House on neutrality, that we have to look after our friends and know who they are, an issue I will return to.
The limit is 500 places with up to four close family members. As someone who comes from a large family, I can see the immediate difficulties with that. There is a right to have a prioritisation, and the Minister set it out, but there are ethnic minorities. There are married women who are in serious trouble and other groups who are possibly excluded. Stamp 4 is not at the same level as refugee status and there are problems with evidentiary issues in regard to passports and so on. In the case of one of the families for whom I made representations, the man is in Galway and the wife is in Kabul with no passport because it is elsewhere. A question was asked about electronic processing and whether visa fees and documentation requirements can be waived. Canada has shown the way in that regard. The final issue relates to the financial conditions as set out in the family reunification policy.
I welcome yesterday's announcement and what we are doing. I have outlined my concerns but they have been set out much more articulately by the Irish Refugee Council. We must ask what has happened. I tend to read the news rather than look at television, but the images from the newspaper are still embedded in me and I ask what has happened. Our friend the US - they are the terms and we have to be nice to our friends and recognise them - invaded a country in 2001 for its own purposes, ostensibly to get rid of the Taliban, but 20 years later, it is almost stronger than ever. The US invaded for its own purposes and it was a fraudulent war, in my opinion and that of John Pilger and many other well-respected journalists and commentators.
History has gone out the door because of how bad the Taliban is. I do not have the words to describe the Taliban. There is, however, a history to Afghanistan. It elected a government in 1978. I will read what The Washington Post reported at the time. It stated, "Afghan loyalty to the government [which was democratically elected; not loyalty to the Taliban] can scarcely be questioned." Secular, modernist and, to a considerable degree, socialist, the government declared a programme of visionary reforms that included equal rights for women and minorities. Political prisoners were freed and police files publicly burned. That was in 1978. The problem was the US did not like that because the Soviet Union was backing Afghanistan at that point. There had been no invasion of Afghanistan at that point. It had a government democratically elected. So it went on, with the Soviet Union versus the US, and Afghanistan caught in the middle. More than 50% of university students at that point, and throughout the 1980s, were female. The US decided it could not let this happen.
There was the invasion by Russia and, subsequently, the invasion by America. We cannot discuss that in two or three minutes, but I can say that we must use our seat on the Security Council for peace. We cannot be a party to ongoing wars led by America and other countries for their industrial power. We cannot keep doing that. I was trying to get the exact figure for the Deputy but 2 to 3 million American soldiers have gone through Shannon Airport. I have no idea what UN resolution, and I have a little experience, supports 3 million soldiers going through our airspace on their way to wars, rendition flights and all sorts of questionable practices, to put it mildly. It is in our name because we are now part of that. Please point out the UN resolution that allows us to do that. There is shame involved. The shame is on successive Governments that have utterly disgraced us by allowing this to happen in our name. I appeal to the Minister to use his seat on the Security Council as a voice for peace in the world and a voice that says we cannot keep wars like this going. Certainly, as a woman, I consider it intolerable and I will have no part of it.