Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

4:05 pm

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State to the House and thank him for the contribution he made. I commend him for taking the initiative to visit the refugee camps. It is only when one visits the refugee camps that one can see the difficulties on the ground. In 2008 I visited Chad and the Sudanese border area to see 500,000 people in refugee camps and IDP sites, where people lived in fear because within a short distance of the camps there were people carrying arms and the danger was constant. Going to the refugee camp means we can see the difficulties.

The difficulty during a war is getting access to food, water and medical supplies.

As for my experience back in March 2008, I recall speaking to the people who were organising the importation of food. They needed to bring in something like 57,000 tonnes by the start of June and trying to so do was a huge effort. The same problem arises in this case, as the refugee camps are getting bigger by the day. As the numbers seeking a place of safety continue to grow, trying to service such sites and ensuring people who require medical treatment can get it are major problems, as are trying to bring in the required expertise to the sites and making sure those who provide that expertise are secure and protected, which also is an important issue. The Minister of State's visit highlights the importance Ireland is placing on trying to deal with the issues involved.

One major concern is the American presidential election campaign will take place in the next three months. People who wish to gain power tend to make use of this time because people in America - this is not a criticism of United States - are greatly focused on the next four years of government. In particular, Members should consider what happened in January 2009, when Israel decided to bombard Gaza. The interesting point is this bombardment took place during a changeover of the United States presidency, when little or no action would be taken against Israel. Similarly, because of the aforementioned three or four-month timeframe between now and Christmas, I am concerned by what people on all sides in Syria may attempt to do in the full knowledge there will be little international response, particularly from the United States. The Minister of State referred to the more than 500,000 Palestinians living in Syria, which is another issue of concern. It is a huge number of people to which one can add the 900,000 people in Gaza who are being supplied from food stations at present and are reliant on getting food from them. One thing I did as a member of the committee on foreign affairs of the European Parliament was to visit Gaza four weeks after the Israeli bombardment to see the kind of conditions in which people were living. The difficulty with Syria is the problem is growing in that the number of casualties is growing and lack of care and access to medical treatment unfortunately is also a huge problem.

One issue that always is of concern to me in respect of all international conflicts is the manner in which the arms trade is the real beneficiary and how very little has been done on an international basis to place restrictions on how the arms trade behaves. This issue has never been tackled by the United Nations or internationally. The arms trade has been given an absolute free hand and Europe must do something in that it plays a part in contributing to that trade. Many countries within the European Union, including Ireland, make contributions to the arms trade and I reiterate the real beneficiaries in wars and conflicts are those who manufacture the arms and provide the munitions. People have failed to face or stand up to this issue and Ireland should examine it during its Presidency of the European Union. While I acknowledge it is not a very popular issue to raise, I believe it can no longer be ignored. When one considers what is happening in Syria, where arms and munitions are coming in from all directions, many people are making much profit from that trade. This is an issue we must face up to from a European perspective.


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