Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Priority Questions

Military Neutrality.

3:00 pm

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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Question 3: To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, the Government will reconsider its decision to allow the US military to use Shannon Airport; his views on whether the war in Iraq has destabilised the country and been counterproductive and that the coalition forces should set a deadline for withdrawal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39807/06]

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Government has no plans to reconsider the long-standing policy of successive Governments to extend landing and overflight facilities to US military aircraft. The policy was endorsed by the House, following an extensive debate, on 20 March 2003. US military aircraft have been landing in and overflying Ireland for more than 50 years. I recall the Taoiseach's statement to the Dáil on 20 March 2003, that "the withdrawal of such facilities at this time could not but be seen, by any objective observer, as a radical and far-reaching change in our foreign policy".

The reality is that the international forces serving in Iraq are operating at the explicit request of the Iraqi Government and under UN mandate. The presence of the multinational force was authorised initially by the UN Security Council under Resolution 1511 of October 2003, which urged member states to contribute assistance under the UN mandate. That mandate has since been renewed twice. All three of these resolutions were adopted unanimously by the Security Council, including Muslim and Arab states. The current mandate expires at the end of December. The Iraqi Government has asked the Security Council to further extend it, and this will be considered by the Council in the coming weeks.

The Government shares the widespread concern at the extremely difficult situation in Iraq. Developments have been dominated by the continuing deterioration in the security situation, and in particular the terrible consequences of the spiralling cycle of sectarian violence. There is currently no sign that the insurgency and the inter-communal violence across the country are being brought under control. It is clear they are effectively blocking the political and reconstruction efforts of Iraq's first fully sovereign and democratic government and parliament. The worst violence has been between Shia and Sunni groups in Baghdad and central Iraq, but there has also been an increase in violence in the south of the country. The Kurdish area in the north has largely been unaffected by the violence, although there are dangerous signs of ethnic tensions in the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

As Deputies will be aware, there is a major policy debate under way regionally and internationally on how the terrible violence in Iraq can be ended and stability and prosperity established. It is clear there are no easy solutions. The question of the withdrawal of international forces naturally arises as one option. We look forward to the day when Iraq can provide for its own security needs. I have no doubt this is also the firm objective of Iraq's political leaders, and indeed of the countries providing troops to the multinational force. Until now the Iraqi Government has made it very clear that it believes it still needs this support, and that an early withdrawal could lead to a further deterioration in the political and security situation across the country.

There is an onus on the international community as a whole, whatever the differences over the invasion of Iraq in 2003, to work together to do what is possible to help provide a better future for the Iraqi people. A secure and peaceful Iraq can be assured through the maintenance of its territorial integrity, the development of shared political and other institutions, and strong links with all the countries of the neighbouring region.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Minister started by trotting out the usual rubbish about this being long-standing policy. It is not a long-standing policy. I remind him that in the Horgan case, Mr. John Rogers, SC, made it very clear that between 1945 and 1991 successive Irish Governments imposed very strict limitations on the use of Irish territory, even in peacetime. It allowed US troops transit on Irish territory only if they were unarmed, not engaged in war and not even engaged in military operations. I remind the Minister that a document from the security policy section of his Department, dated 16 December 2002, revealed that what was occurring at Shannon was not, in fact, normal, but rather "entirely exceptional". The text noted quite explicitly that on an exceptional basis a decision was taken to provide landing and refuelling facilities, pursuant to the State's obligation under a UN Security Council resolution. That is what it says, so for the Minister to say this is normal practice is nonsense. The fact is the Minister continues to kow-tow to George W. Bush. He and others who have supported the war in Iraq have been proven completely wrong. As I said in the question, the war has proven to be entirely counterproductive.

The Minister mentioned various UN resolutions. When he reads Resolution 1546, which refers to meeting the needs of the Iraqi people for security and stability, humanitarian and reconstruction assistance, will he agree that what exists is not stability? I should like the Minister to look at the facts on the ground, where 100,000 Iraqis are leaving each month, where the US central command in a classified briefing paper in mid-October said the situation was close to chaos, which the CIA confirmed, and where successive opinion polls in Iraq show that the US troops should get out if there is to be stability. Why does the Minister completely ignore all the facts and continue with a policy which the Irish people opposes? Some 100,000 people came out on the streets of Dublin to say they did not want this war.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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They do not want the Government to hand over our airports to the US for a war that is entirely counterproductive and which has sown the seeds for further terrorism. Does the Minister agree the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld presents an opportunity to reassess this failed policy?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is somewhat ironic that Deputy Gormley, when discussing Question No. 2, was advocating the sending of UN-mandated forces to Darfur to stop a conflict in that region considering that he is now suggesting that we oppose a UN-mandated presence in Iraq.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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It is not working.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Leaving aside the sharp differences of opinion on whether the invasion of Iraq should have taken place, the fact of the matter is——

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Government supported it.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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No, we did not. In 2003, the Dáil voted in favour of participating in the granting of access to Shannon Airport. Under the resolutions, which have been passed unanimously——

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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By Government majority.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Allen may intervene but I am not sure where the Labour Party, Green Party and Fine Gael stand on this matter. Fine Gael said quite clearly that troops should continue to use Shannon Airport. Deputy Rabbitte of the Labour Party said at a recent conference that he did not envisage troops not using the airport, although this was contrary to a remark made by Deputy Broughan.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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This is a Green Party question.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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We know where the Green Party stands but the reality is that all three parties are on different wavelengths.

Photo of Michael D HigginsMichael D Higgins (Galway West, Labour)
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Not at all.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is easy to believe that sitting where they are sitting. If they are ever on this side of the House——

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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We will be.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Will they? If so, it will be very interesting to see what they will do about Shannon Airport.

Photo of Conor LenihanConor Lenihan (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South West, Fianna Fail)
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Will Deputy Sargent be coming with Deputy Gormley?

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Government is adhering to a UN mandate, which has been extended unanimously until the end of this year and which the Iraqi Government has asked to be renewed. Is Deputy Gormley suggesting that the international forces, including US troops, be removed from Iraq, thus making circumstances in that country worse than they are today?

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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The Government should set a deadline.

Deputies:

The time for the question has expired.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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On a point of order, the Minister did not answer my question on the so-called long-standing agreement.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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It is a long-standing agreement.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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There is no long-standing agreement.

Deputies:

That is not a point of order.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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I have outlined my reason. There is no long-standing agreement.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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Shannon has been used for 50 years during many world conflicts.

Photo of John GormleyJohn Gormley (Dublin South East, Green Party)
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That is complete rubbish and I have outlined why.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs; Louth, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy should check his history.