Thursday, 24 March 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
79. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will report on any or all discussions he has had with his counterparts across Europe with regard to the war in Yemen and the ongoing humanitarian crisis there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14568/22]
87. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the details of the efforts Ireland is undertaking at the United Nations and the European Union to address the conflict in Yemen and the humanitarian crisis there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15346/22]
There has been a war raging in Yemen for seven years. Some 10,000 children have died directly and indirectly as a result of that war, 377,000 people have died directly and indirectly as a result of that war and the UN estimates that 17.4 million people are on the brink of starvation. That war involves Saudi Arabia, which is armed to the teeth by allies of ours, the United States, the UK and France. When is the Minister going to argue for action against the war crimes of Saudi Arabia and its backers in Yemen?
The Deputy does not need to tell me there has been a war raging in Yemen for the past seven years. I have answered questions on that many times here and I have spoken on it at multiple fora.
Yemen is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, driven by seven years of conflict, economic collapse and the breakdown of public institutions and services which has left millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance. There is very strong consensus across the EU in support of the efforts of the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, Hans Grundberg, to bring about a political resolution to the conflict in Yemen. As a member of the Security Council, Ireland has also engaged extensively in support of the UN's efforts. I have held discussions with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, as well as with Major General Michael Beary, head of the United Nations Mission to support the Hudaydah agreement. I have engaged extensively with the countries of the region, including in direct talks with the Foreign Ministers of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, UAE, stressing the need to work urgently towards a resolution of the conflict.
In addition to significant diplomatic efforts, Ireland has been a consistent and reliable donor to Yemen and has contributed more than €37 million in humanitarian funding since 2015, including a commitment of €5 million for 2022, which I pledged on behalf of Ireland at the pledging conference for Yemen on 16 March. Ireland also contributes towards the crisis in Yemen as an EU member state. Since 2015, the EU has contributed more than €1.2 billion, including €827 million in humanitarian aid and €407 million in development assistance.
Ireland will continue to support all efforts to end this terrible conflict, which I agree is causing enormous humanitarian suffering, including through direct engagement with Saudi Arabia and other regional actors and in the context of our position on the UN Security Council and as a European Union member state.
Presumably, if anybody in this House suggested that we should send a trade mission to Russia to develop our trade relationship, given what it is doing in Ukraine, they would get pretty short shrift from the Minister and from everybody else, rightly so. It would be similar if anybody suggested that it would be okay for any of our allies, so-called, to be selling weapons to Vladimir Putin in the current context. Yet, strangely, in the context of the Saudi war that has brought Yemen to the brink of catastrophe, Ireland sent a trade mission in November to develop trade relationships with Saudi Arabia, which is conducting this barbarous war in Yemen. Our allies, the US and the UK, are selling billions worth of weapons. The latest deal by the United States is a $500 million air-to-air missile arms sale and there are similar massive sales by the UK. Where is the condemnation? Where is the criticism? Where is the demand that these relations with the Saudi Arabian dictatorship conducting this brutal war in Yemen end immediately? Where are these demands?
The war in Yemen is appalling. Over 370,000 Yemenis have lost their lives, including over 10,000 children. We see some of our allies selling arms, with the UK in 2021 authorising sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia of £1.4 billion, and the US in November with $650 million in authorised weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's involvement is central to this horrific and brutal war on the Yemeni people. Will the Minister condemn Saudi Arabia's actions in Yemen? Will he also clarify for the record when the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, visited Saudi Arabia to deepen ties with this appalling state? Did the Tánaiste raise the matter of the war in Yemen? If he did, can the Minister tell the House when and where he raised the horrific human rights abuses with the Saudi regime and correct the record?
The idea that the war in Yemen is categorised as a war for which one country is solely responsible is completely inaccurate. This simplified notion that it is all Saudi Arabia's fault is just not true. Saudi Arabia has a role to play in terms of bringing about a ceasefire and Saudi Arabia has responsibilities in terms of ensuring that civilians are protected in war, as any warring party has under international law and the relevant conventions. However, it is not true to say, as is being suggested by the Opposition, that all of this is one country's fault and that if only we would isolate it and implement trade embargoes and arms embargoes, all of this would stop overnight. That is not my understanding of it.
I have met all of the parties involved in different settings. I have faith in Hans Grundberg, who is the UN special representative, and he certainly would not take that view either, I can assure the Deputies. From my understanding, Saudi Arabia is supportive of a ceasefire under certain conditions, but that has not been possible to be agreed with the Houthi leadership. I have spoken to Iran quite directly in terms of their relationship and their influence with the Houthi leadership to try to bring about peace.
We need a balanced view. I do not say that we should not hold Saudi Arabia to account for its actions and decisions. We should, but we should hold all parties to the conflict who have been involved in brutality and attacks, particularly in recent weeks, to account. This is about bringing about peace and a ceasefire so we can help civilians to deal with the enormous human suffering that the population of Yemen has had to deal with. Drawing direct comparisons with the war in Ukraine is not helpful. Every conflict is different, complex and needs solutions. That is why we have special representatives for the UN who work full time trying to find a basis for peace. We should support those processes.
The Irish Anti-War Movement, in conjunction with Saudi Arabian dissidents who can never return to their country because if they did, they would be killed, is organising a demonstration this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Garden of Remembrance. Those involved will march to the Saudi Arabian embassy. The march was organised long before the war in Ukraine but, in a gesture of solidarity, they are going to make it also a demonstration against that war. It would be nice to see reciprocation from Europe in that regard.
Let us be clear that there is a difference, which everybody can see. The Saudi Arabian dictatorship is the most vile dictatorship you can imagine. They chopped up Jamal Khashoggi with a sword. They executed 81 people for political crimes at the weekend. They are directly interfering in another country, Yemen. Iran may have relationships with the Houthi, but it is not directly involved. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are bombing Yemen with weapons supplied by the United States and the UK. The latter continue to arm this brutal dictatorship, yet we want favoured trade relations with this regime and say nothing about arm sales.
I have yet to hear the Minister condemn the actions of Saudi Arabia. I call on all international players to pull out, lay off and stop their involvement in and support for the conflict in Yemen, including Iran. However, Saudi Arabia is directly involved in dropping bombs on innocent Yemeni people. I ask the Minister to condemn that.
I also ask him to clarify the following, about which there seems to be some confusion. When the Tánaiste was over wining and dining with the Saudi Arabian regime, it is alleged he raised the war with it. It is also alleged he raised the grotesque human rights abuses, but there is no record of what was said. There are no minutes which show him raising that matter. Will the Minister confirm or deny that the Tánaiste, whilst wining, dining and trying to deepen relationships with this brutal regime, raised the issues, as is claimed? If he did not, that is appalling.
Given the importance of the issue we are discussing and its consequences for people in Yemen, terminology such as the Tánaiste "wining and dining" and so on in an attempt to cast aspersions is unhelpful.
I listened to the Deputy so he should hear my answer, please. My understanding is issues have been raised in relation to the war in Yemen by the Tánaiste but it is my responsibility as the Minister for Foreign Affairs to raise these issues directly with the countries involved, which I have done repeatedly on behalf of the Irish Government and people, in terms of expressing concerns. I have spent time travelling and meeting in person with the UN special representative, to try to make sure we are consistent with the international effort the UN is making to bring about peace. Let us not reduce debates and conversations on huge issues like war in Yemen to party slagging matches around Ministers' travel, wining and dining and so on. It is nonsense. Let us deal with the serious issues at play.