Wednesday, 23 November 2016
21. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the specific proposals or contributions Ireland is making to the Foreign Affairs Council to ensure the EU strategy to address the Syrian conflict and the refugee crisis is effective and is respectful of international humanitarianlLaw and the EU humanitarian commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36373/16]
Ireland and its EU partners are committed to ending the suffering of the Syrian people. A political solution is required to address comprehensively the humanitarian, human rights and refugee crises that are the consequences of the conflict. Ireland and the European Union remain committed to supporting the United Nations' efforts to achieve an end to violence, the formation of an inclusive administrative structure with full executive powers and a constitutional reform process, as set out in the 2012 Geneva communiqué. This framework has been endorsed by the United Nations under Security Council Resolution 2254.
I discussed the Syrian conflict with my EU colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council on 17 October. We were joined by the UN special envoy, Mr. Staffan de Mistura. The Council adopted conclusions condemning atrocities in Syria, particularly in Aleppo; calling for an immediate end to the bombardment of Aleppo and the protection of civilian populations across Syria; calling for an end to restrictions on the provision of humanitarian assistance and the lifting of all sieges; reaffirming the European Union's support for a political resolution to the conflict in Syria; condemning the illegal use of chemical weapons by the regime and Daesh; calling for accountability through referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court; and condemning in the clearest possible terms the unacceptable actions of Daesh.
The Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, participated in the November meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council which discussed the Syrian crisis and strengthening the European Union's diplomatic engagement with the regional states, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as other key stakeholders, with a view to creating the conditions for a renewal of political negotiations. The Council was briefed by the EU High Representative on the implementation of the European Union's humanitarian response to the crisis in Aleppo.
Last Monday I met the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dr. Peter Maurer, in Dublin. We discussed the humanitarian crisis in Syria, particularly in Aleppo, and the importance of demonstrating full respect for international humanitarian law.
I specifically asked about Ireland's role in upholding the rights of refugees and migrants. We cannot separate the conflict in Syria from the refugee crisis. My party and I have consistently raised concerns about the EU-Turkey migration deal, about which we have major reservations and which has been widely criticised as undermining refugee and migrant rights. As part of the Turkish Government's crackdown post the failed coup, more than 90 journalists have been arrested, 2,500 civil servants have been sacked, while opposition MPs have been imprisoned. In the light of this, can Ireland, as an EU member state, really designate Turkey as a safe country to which to send people who are fleeing the conflict in Syria and beyond? Does the Minister not see the paradox in supporting the EU-Turkey migration deal while calling for countries to abide by humanitarian laws and ensure refugees' rights are upheld?
The Deputy raises an important issue in so far as Turkey is concerned. The European Union and its member states, including Ireland, are keeping the situation in Turkey under close review in the light of negative trends in that country. As a candidate country for membership of the European Union, I expect, as do my international colleagues, Turkey to adhere to essential democratic norms and respect what we might describe as the core values of the Union. A regression from these norms and values would cause me great concern. I have raised this issue a number of times at international fora. With our European colleagues, Ireland is considering how best to influence Turkey and encourage a commitment to return to respecting fundamental freedoms and core human rights.
I appreciate the Minister's response, but is he, on behalf of the Government and the people, happy to continue supporting the EU-Turkey migration deal in the light of the recent events in Turkey? He has stated there are negative trends in Turkey. They have been evident for some time if one considers the actions of the Turkish army in northern Syria and the crackdown on the opposition and the free press. Representatives of the National Union of Journalists have appeared before the foreign affairs committee, on which Deputy Seán Crowe and I sit. This is a serious matter. The idea of Turkey even aspiring at this time to accede to membership of the European Union is ridiculous. The best message the Government can send is that it should extricate itself from the EU-Turkey migration deal. These third country arrangements are not good because they undermine the rights of refugees and migrants. Turkey is not providing a safe haven for people in need.
A unilateral withdrawal from the EU-Turkey deal would not be in migrants' best interests. The deal is far from perfect, but since it was agreed to, there has been an alleviation of the plight of the many hundreds of thousands of migrants in the region.
I assure the Deputy that Ireland will continue to play an important role in the debate on Turkey, its relationship with the European Union and its possible status as an accession state. It is important that we send a clear and united signal to it on our concerns which I had the opportunity to make on behalf of the Government and the people and those of the European Union. However, I invite the Deputy to agree with me on the importance of keeping open channels of communication with Turkey in order to establish a framework so as to ensure the best interests of the and those of the European Union and migrants are kept to the fore.