Tuesday, 29 January 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
43. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will lobby for a full trade boycott and embargo on arms sales to Saudi Arabia in view of the fact that Saudi Arabia has been deliberately and systematically using starvation as a weapon of war in Yemen since the beginning of its assault on that country in 2015. [3970/19]
49. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has had communications with his counterparts in the European countries that continue to sell arms and provide support to the coalition that is bombing Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4119/19]
52. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the assessment he has made of the extent to which arms supplied by Saudi Arabia are reaching terrorist groups in Yemen; the steps he is taking to assist the humanitarian response in Yemen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4134/19]
We know that Saudi Arabia has been committing war crimes in Yemen since the start of its assault on that country. It has consistently and deliberately bombed civilian targets. Just as significant is the fact that Saudi Arabia has systemically used starvation as a weapon of war in Yemen, a tactic worthy of the Third Reich and one which it employed. Given that Ireland is exporting beef and baby formula to Saudi Arabia, a country that is enacting its own hunger plan on Yemen and actively and deliberately engaging in mass murder through the systemic starvation of a population, is it not about time that we called a halt and imposed a full trade and arms embargo?
After nearly four years of conflict in this extremely poor country, the lives of millions of people in Yemen are in danger and have been for many months now. In addition to the hazards of war, many have difficulties in accessing food and healthcare due to insecurity and poor humanitarian access. Millions of others are unable to pay for food and medical care even when it is available due to the collapse of the economy under the strains of conflict. This crisis in Yemen is a matter of grave concern and a solution is urgently required.
The United Nations plays an absolutely critical role in working towards a political solution to this conflict. Ireland and the EU regard the appointment of Special Envoy Martin Griffiths in March 2018 as a very positive move. Mr. Griffiths has worked tirelessly to bring the parties together, with EU support. At the very end of 2018, his efforts bore some fruit with the holding of talks in Stockholm between the Yemeni parties. This meeting was the first time in two and a half years that both the Government of Yemen and the Houthi leaders came together to promote the interests of the Yemeni people. However, this is only the beginning of what may prove to be a long and painstaking process. It is expected that the next round of talks will take place in the region. Their success will be dependent on progress made since December and in that regard implementation of the agreements reached in Stockholm will be crucial. In December agreement was reached on the basis for a ceasefire and troop redeployment in the port city of Hudaydah, the key point of entry in Yemen for the majority of food, medicine and aid. The ceasefire is fragile and both sides have accused the other of breaches but notwithstanding that, it is holding for the most part.
What is needed now is time to allow the agreements to be implemented and space to allow the UN sponsored talks to continue. However, that does not mean that we sit back and do nothing. The UN Secretary General has urged the international community to sustain pressure on both parties as they work together to implement the Stockholm agreement. Careful diplomacy is required to ensure we achieve the best end result for the people of Yemen.
We discussed the situation in Yemen at the EU Foreign Affairs Council last week. The UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has thanked the EU for its support, saying it would not have been possible to reach agreement in Stockholm without it, including reaching out to Iran. However, as my Swedish colleague confirmed to me, what was agreed at Stockholm is fragile and needs EU support to move forward. Therefore, despite these hopeful steps, we should be under no illusion as to the gravity of the situation. After almost four years of conflict, the humanitarian situation on the ground remains dire, with a devastated economy and an almost complete collapse in basic public services exacerbating the crisis.
The UN has a crucial role to play in co-ordinating the delivery of assistance. The UN reports that the gravity of the humanitarian situation in Yemen is exacerbated by the underlying poverty of the country. Even when there is food in shops, people are often unable to afford it. Humanitarian access is also a critical issue and access across Yemen deteriorated significantly in 2018, both in Government and Houthi-controlled areas. Security issues, bureaucratic impediments and delays to humanitarian movements continue to interfere with humanitarian responses.
In terms of humanitarian funding, Ireland has provided almost €17.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Yemen since 2015. This includes a contribution of €5 million to the UN Yemen humanitarian fund in 2018, which provides assistance in areas such as education, logistics, food security, nutrition and health. We plan to make a similar €5 million contribution to the humanitarian fund in 2019. The majority of Ireland’s direct assistance in 2018 was channelled through the UN humanitarian fund for Yemen.
Ireland and Saudi Arabia have a significant economic relationship but our trade partnership does not prevent us from raising human rights concerns through the most appropriate and effective channels. Ireland’s foreign policy has always been based, above all, on the resolution of conflict by dialogue. In many cases, continuing our trading relationships and building on our close ties allows us greater access to key interlocutors who can be influential on foreign policy decisions.
On the question of an arms embargo, I am aware that some EU member states which have arms industries have decided to halt arms exports for the present to countries involved in the conflict in Yemen. A decision at EU level for a full arms embargo on any country would require the agreement of all EU member states but there is currently no consensus at EU level on an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia or any member of the coalition. However, all EU member states have signed and ratified the 2014 Arms Trade Treaty. This treaty exists to ensure that arms sales do not fuel conflicts and to prevent arms from falling into the hands of non-state actors or terrorists. Ireland’s efforts are concentrated on ensuring the effective implementation of that treaty.
I reiterate Ireland’s deep concern on this issue. The scale of need on the ground cannot be overstated. While Ireland is contributing what we can to the humanitarian effort, we must continue to push for a lasting political solution that will address the conflict at the heart of this extraordinary human suffering.
Our concern and our stern words have not altered the fact that millions of Yemenis are in danger of death by starvation. The Minister's response which refers to poor humanitarian access and the collapse of the economy due to conflict ignores the fact that these are not accidental by-products. Famine is not a side effect but a deliberate tactic by Saudi Arabia. This is an orchestrated situation. We know, from evidence given, that Yemen's geography is such that to destroy its farmland is something that one must go out of one's way to do. It does not happen by accident. The fact that hundreds of Yemeni fishing boats have been shot to pieces by machine gun fire from Saudi helicopters is not a coincidence. It has to be organised. The blockade of Hudaydah was calculated and organised because it is the only port in Yemen capable of bringing in food supplies from abroad through the overseas humanitarian aid programme. The aid programme was deliberately obstructed by the Saudi bombardment in the area.
It is time to do a lot more than just utter stern words and talk about negotiations. Much more is needed when this deliberate tactic is leading and contributing to people's deaths.
I do not disagree with anything the Deputy said. Much of the focus of the briefing we received at the meeting in Brussels with Martin Griffiths was on the port of Hudaydah in terms of, first, ensuring there was not a massacre there and, second, ensuring that the port could facilitate delivery of aid, medicines and so on. I assure the Deputy the issues in regard to Yemen have been the source of intense discussion at EU level, repeatedly, and interaction with the key UN person involved in trying to ensure that a ceasefire sticks this time. Sweden has played a proactive and helpful role in that and will continue to try to do so. In this instance, Ireland is most effective being part of a collective voice from the European Union rather than demanding to do things on its own. I do not think that would work.
This is a war of resistance by the people of Yemen against the pillage of their country by global financial capitalism. Mr. Saleh was implementing neoliberal policies and the people were resisting them. He was thrown out and replaced by Mr. Hadi, who, when he ran out of rope, ran away. The war started in 2015. There is zero justification for the Saudi UAE bombing of Yemen, with the support of eight countries, many of which sit at the table with the Tánaiste. This is ludicrous.
On the arms issue, an end-user certificate system exists, which the Saudis and the UAE were supposed to sign up to but are abusing left, right and centre. The guns, arms and munitions being sold to the Saudis in UAE are ending up in all kinds of groups in Yemen. They are on both sides of the conflict at this stage. The Saudis are using al-Qaeda and ISIS to fight the people of Yemen and they are arming them illegally, with no repercussions. Why is Europe not addressing the breach of international law around their use of the weapons that the US, UK, France and others are giving them? Nothing is being done about this. The more guns that go into Yemen, the worse the situation becomes. The only ones losing are the ordinary people of Yemen. It is mindless.
We know what the problem is; the issues is how we stop it. Any country that signed up to the arms trade treaty of 2014 has a legal obligation to ensure that if it is selling arms they do not end up in the hands of non-state actors, of which there are many in Yemen. That is an enforcement issue. Ultimately, we need to focus on the core issue, which is how we stop the conflict, the bombing and the targeting of people and, most important, how we ensure that the ceasefire that exists, which is fragile, lasts such that a political dialogue can be built over time. In the meantime, we are focussed on getting supplies of aid and medicines safely to into communities that desperately need them and ensuring that the millions of euros of support aid committed by countries such as Ireland gets to where it needs to. We can talk about how we got here and what should and should not have happened, on which I know the Deputy has strong views, but in the here and now, we have a ceasefire that is fragile, an agreement that comes out of Stockholm, and we need to try to make it stick.
The Tánaiste said that Ireland cannot go out on a limb on its own and that it is tied to the EU. European countries sometimes take a separate stand. For example, prior to the latest slow walk to a coup in Venezuela, the Spanish Minister was backing Mr. Maduro and giving him a chance to work things out. In the past few days, the French and the Germans declared that if there are no elections within ten days, they will support Juan Guaidó, which is nonsense. There were elections last year in Venezuela, which because the opposition was not in a position to win, it decided to boycott. Before the votes were counted, countries in the EU were saying that the elections were legitimate. There is no logic to it. I find it heartbreaking that Ireland will not publicly support somebody who has been elected. He may not be brilliant but he was elected. Let us leave this to the people of Venezuela and not interfere. It seems Ireland is going to join the other countries in this regard; likewise, in Yemen. How can we continue to trade with Saudi Arabia in light of the sanctions or boycotts we have in place with other countries? How do we justify this? The Israelis are shooting at will through a fence and the Saudis are starving people to death and we think it is okay to impose sanctions on other countries and not these countries? Will the Tánaiste explain that?
The Tánaiste spoke about how best Ireland can be effective. The problem is that Ireland and the EU have not been effective. For example, last year, the UN Security Council passed a resolution condemning the starvation of civilians in war time and particularly on behalf of the Yemeni civilians but they are still starving. That is the point. They are starving as a result of deliberate, orchestrated tactics by Saudi Arabia, which have occurred with only a verbal reprimand. The EU - and Ireland in particular because last time I checked we were a sovereign nation that has the right to make policy itself - should make a stand against the trade and sale of our beef and baby formula to war criminals who use their might to ensure that ordinary civilians die in other countries. This would be far more effective because the tactics we have used up to now sadly have not worked.
In the same vein in regard to our diplomatic missions to states that have demonstrated poor standards and approaches to human rights and, similarly, states we do very little trade in and with, how can the Government justify the visit of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, to Cuba as part of the St. Patrick's Day diplomatic missions? The Tánaiste will be aware that such missions are an opportunity to sell Ireland abroad. Traditionally, these missions have been to countries with which we trade significantly.
It has been reported that this is a personal request by the Minister of State, Deputy McGrath and that Mexico was added to the visit to make it present better. How can the Government stand over sending a Minister of State to Cuba given all that has happened over the years in terms of how it approaches human rights and the fact that we do little international trade with it?
On Yemen, we would be very foolish not to follow the advice of Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy. He is the person from whom I take our lead in terms of what we do and say. We have had a number of engagements with him at an EU level. The focus was very much on Stockholm for the end of last year to try to bring the parties together, to try to get a basis for a ceasefire and to try to ensure that we avoided what many regarded as a likelihood slaughter in the port of Hudaydah. We are trying to make progress on that. This is where the focus should be in reaching a political solution.
On the questions raised by Deputy Niall Collins, the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath, is going to Cuba and to Mexico after that. The truth is one does not cut out countries from which one has a different political perspective in terms of diplomatic missions. Cuba is changing. The relationship between Cuba and Ireland is improving. That does not mean we agree with the political approach in Cuba on every issue. We do not. It is a legitimate exercise and we will visit 56 countries in total, if one takes all the ministerial visits. There will be a big emphasis on the EU for obvious reasons around Brexit and solidarity.
We are also increasing our presence in Latin America and South America. We are two opening to embassies this year, one in Santiago and one in Bogota. We have a growing trade relationship with Mexico and have had good engagement with the new government. We need to visit a broad perspective of countries and that is the context of Cuba being on the list.