Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

4:05 pm

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development to the House, of which he was a Member in the past. He is always welcome. He has two very important portfolios in overseas development and trade. I served as Minister of State at the Department of Industry and Commerce for some time. It is a most interesting and important Department as far as our future is concerned. I commend the Minister of State for travelling to Jordan and seeing at first hand the effects of the ravages on Syria, which is the most serious issue in the world. The Minister of State has also authorised ¤500,000 in emergency funding and ¤1.6 million in humanitarian aid and assistance to the ICRC. He is prepared to continue supporting it the best he can in very difficult times here. On behalf of this side of the House, I commend the Minister of State for his commitment to the region and refugees.

The situation is that Syria, as is well known throughout the region, has been a destabilising force for some time in respect of its support for and the establishment of Hezbollah, its effects in Lebanon and its supply of weapons to certain elements who targeted Israel. The position in regard to refugees is extremely serious because there are 500,000 Palestinian refugees who have nowhere to go. They cannot go back to Palestine as the state is not established. They are being housed in Jordan and surrounding areas, including Syria which gave them a home. However, they are now in a vulnerable position and it is vitally important that the United Nations, China and Russia bear this in mind. It is a catastrophe of huge proportions and the future is uncertain as the Minister of State pointed out.

The Assad regime was supported and used in the past by various countries in the region but is now in a vulnerable position. The Minister of State expressed concern about the future as there is not a united opposition. The situation is diffuse. There is concern about minorities in Syria such as the Christian minority. Under the Assad regime they were given support and, as far as I am aware, were not discriminated against in any way. If and when the new regime is put in place, their position will be vulnerable and they are concerned. Some are viewed as being on the side of the establishment but a civil war such as this is extremely dangerous. The position is that 90,000 people have gone into Turkey - 80,000 to camps and 10,000 to communities. The total number of refugees expected in the country is 250,000. Some 90,000 have gone into Iraq and it is not known how many others will travel there. Jordan has 77,000 refugees while it expects 250,000 in due course, and Lebanon has 56,000. Those are massive numbers of refugees as winter approaches and will create enormous pressure on the United Nations. That is the reason it is important that the Government and the Minister of State have ensured that funding is provided.

The civil war in Syria has worsened and the humanitarian crisis has deepened because of the violence and refugees threatening to spill out across the region. The instability of the Arab spring is all too apparent in the wave of violence against American embassies and the threat against French embassies, following the publication of inflammatory material depicting the prophet Muhammad. The reaction of countries to these publications is enormous. It was irresponsible, to say the least, knowing the effect it would have, to publish the cartoons, and the film depicting Muhammad which was made in America was outrageous. I heard some extracts from it and, frankly, any religion would be deeply upset. In the Christian community we have tolerated the depiction of biblical scenes in films and there has not been the same reaction but they have been condemned in a democratic way. The way in which these inflame the passions of the Islamic community is unbelievable. Irrespective of free speech in America, France and elsewhere, there is no excuse, knowing the effect it would have, for publishing such cartoons or making a film depicting Muhammad in a derogatory fashion. That is unforgivable and has caused an enormous number of deaths in the region, attacks and the murder of the US ambassador to Libya. Those are serious issues and must be borne in mind.

Some 20,000 people have been killed in the violence unleashed by the regime of Bashar al-Assad since protests erupted more than one year ago and Syria has slipped into the chaos of civil war. A report by the international charity, Save the Children, states that as Syria's civil war has intensified, thousands of children have died in brutal attacks and many more have been injured, traumatised or forced to flee their homes. It warns that boys and girls continue to be killed, maimed and tortured. These appalling violations against children must stop and those carrying them out must be held to account.

Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country to surrounding states. The Free Syrian Army has moved back into an area controlled by the rebels. At the United Nations General Assembly today, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, described the fighting in Syria as "a regional calamity with global ramifications". He called for action from the divided UN Security Council and said that the international community should not look the other way as violence spirals out of control. He said that brutal human rights abuses continue to be committed, mainly by the Government, but also by opposition forces.

President Obama has announced to the UN General Assembly that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad should step aside. The majority of people would call on that regime to step aside and try to put a transitional government in place. However, the United Nations Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the Syrian crisis and on Monday, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi warned that the situation was extremely bad and getting worse. While he did not have a full plan he said he had a few ideas. Mr. Brahimi had just visited Damascus as well as refugee camps in neighbouring Jordan and Turkey. Diplomats have played down expectations for the mission with no sign of fundamental divisions on the Council being bridged.

The UN Secretary General is wary of interference with Russia and China wielding a veto over any Council mandate. Russia regards military intervention as an infringement on the sovereignty of Syria. The Council is further divided over whether the current regime has any role to play in a transition.

The deteriorating situation marks a clear failure of the United Nations which has been paralysed over the issue while thousands continue to die. Western states have been reluctant to give unilateral military support to the Free Syrian Army in the fear that the group will become more radical and that heavy weapons will ultimately be used to enforce an Islamic regime. The murder of the US ambassador to Libya has underlined the potential for a revolution to rebound on its supporters.

I thank the Leader for providing time for the debate and the Minister of State for a comprehensive response. I wish him well when travelling to the region and assisting in the humanitarian needs.


No comments

Log in or join to post a public comment.