Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

7:00 pm

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Like other Senators, I welcome the Minister of State to the House. The media and some commentators regularly use the term "Arab spring" but the reality is that each country must be looked at differently. There are similarities and many positive things happening throughout the Arab world but in the case of Syria we should not rush to simplistic conclusions.

Our position in Sinn Féin is clear - we want to see Assad gone. The regime is brutal, we have heard numerous examples of that brutality throughout this debate, and it has no respect for human rights. That is not a recent change in the nature of the regime. In 1982, Assad's father brutally cracked down on a rebellion, killing between 20,000 and 40,000 people.

We are not, however, prepared to blindly throw support behind any particular opposition group. The aims and origins of many of these groups can be shadowy and diverse. Both sides to the conflict have been involved in the torture and assassination of prisoners, the indiscriminate targeting of rival ethnic religious groups and we should not be naive to the fact there have been foreign influences and interests in Syria and they are not entirely benign to say the least. It is a fractured opposition that includes Islamic fundamentalists as well as ordinary Syrians who want civil and political rights. These groups are then further subdivided, with some funded by America, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, while the Government is allegedly receiving military and financial support from Iran.

There has been an undoubted intensification of the fighting in recent weeks, with the Syrian Government increasing its bombing of residential areas and using its superior air power to bomb the rest of the population into submission. In addition, rebel groups have grown stronger in the north and control certain border areas with Turkey. This points to a protracted military stalemate, the last thing the ordinary people of Syrian want or need. There is an immediate need to end this and for peace and reconciliation to start as soon as possible but that is easier said than done. We do, however, want to see Assad gone and the introduction of democracy and the rule of law, with respect for all ethnic, religious and racial groups in Syria.

Neutral countries with no strategic interest in the region have an important role in trying to broker a peace but post-war settlements should be decided by Syrians and it is up to the Syrian people to decide what government they will install when the fighting stops. It should be done democratically. We are against any country providing military or financial support to any side in the war but countries should use their resources to help those displaced and wounded in the fighting. We have heard repeatedly this evening about the number of people who have been killed, injured and displaced and we call on the Syrian Government to open its borders to NGOs and humanitarian organisations to help the civilians who are drastically affected by the war.

We welcome the Minister of State's decision to visit the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan recently and commend the Government for its recent decision to contribute an extra ¤1.6 million in aid to the UN agencies and humanitarian organisations. We call on the Government to use its influence during the Presidency of the European Union in 2013 to help broker a peace deal and to ensure humanitarian assistance continues to flow into Syria to help those affected by the humanitarian crisis and those refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries. Senator Healy Eames talked about our human rights record and it is important we use the EU Presidency to highlight the ongoing humanitarian situation in Syria and put our weight behind it because of our credibility in the area.

Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, in his first interview, said that the point he wanted to make as strongly and seriously as possible is that the situation is bad and getting worse, it is not improving. According to him, Syrians on both sides say from time to time that victory will be won soon but that is not true, no side is winning now and the situation is getting worse, and that is a huge threat to the region. Does the Minister of State think the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria can help broker a peace deal and will he get any more respect from the Syrian regime and the fighters than Kofi Annan did when trying to broker a peace deal?


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