Seanad debates

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

7:20 pm

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Senators for their incisive and knowledgeable input. They have given me some awkward questions which I will answer to the best of my ability.

I thank Senators Leyden, Mullen, Higgins, Mac Conghail, Healy Eames, Mooney, Heffernan, Reilly, Colm Burke and O'Keeffe for their contributions. Rather than go over what each said, I will try to cover the themes as I introduced them.

I will cover the humanitarian aid side and give an idea of what is facing Syria. There is constant United Nations revision of the funding needs for the humanitarian aid response. It is seeking ¤347 million for the humanitarian response as distinct from the refugee response. It is only 30% funded. The UN has indicated that it requires ¤193 million for the regional refugee response, which is 54% funded so far. It is anticipated that by the end of this month the United Nations will again revise its figures on both the humanitarian and refugee responses and that the funding will be greatly increased. I will give a breakdown of where the Irish money has gone. In March 2012 we gave ¤500,000 broken down as follows: the UNHCR got ¤200,000, the International Committee for the Red Cross-Red Crescent got ¤100,000, and the World Food Programme got ¤200,000. In August we gave ¤1.6 million broken down as follows: the UNHCR got ¤500,000 plus ¤400,000 for non-food items, the ICRC got a further ¤300,000, the World Health Organization got ¤300,000, and the IRC got ¤100,000.

Already the United Nations has contacted us seeking further funding, in particular indicating it will need tents and materials for the winter, including blankets. I have asked my staff to try to arrange a further shipment of up to 300 tents, 2,500 blankets and 3,000 jerry cans for the Sasari refugee camp, which represents a value of up to ¤150,000. These items will be available from the Irish Aid stocks in Dubai. Senator Heffernan mentioned the humanitarian hub we are seeking to establish in Shannon. I have initiated a feasibility study of Shannon becoming a humanitarian depot, using the space available there to provide supplies of materials that can be used at short notice for humanitarian emergencies. I expect to receive that report tomorrow and will study it carefully. In due course I will let Senators know the outcome. Ireland is to the fore in the quest to have depots throughout the world to provide a rapid response to earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, etc. Ireland has a rapid response unit allowing us to immediately send into the field people who have technical abilities in areas such as medicine, tents, sewerage, civil engineering, etc. A depot would allow those supplies to be transported immediately to any part of the world.

Senator Mooney spoke about the Palestinian population in Syria. That area is very much a cockpit, with Syria right in the middle surrounded by countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Iraq, with countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia further afield. All have political interests in the area. Some of them are fragile states and some are states which feel they have strategic interests in it. In addition, the superpowers have strategic interests there. As it is such a complex situation, it has been impossible to get UN Security Council agreement on a resolution. Mr. Kofi Annan's six point plan begins with a ceasefire and the Security Council could not even reach agreement on that, which is outrageous. The Security Council has been pretty much stymied in that respect and the six point plan has been made redundant. Mr. Kofi Annan has resigned and has been replaced.

The Palestinian aspect is potentially quite serious because there are already 2 million displaced Palestinians in Jordan, for example. There are also displaced Palestinians in Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. However, Jordan is particularly affected, not to mention Gaza. There are 500,000 in the Damascus area, which is not far from either Jordan or Lebanon. If 500,000 Palestinians came into Jordan, it would result in Palestinians becoming the majority population in Jordan because Palestine is a small country. This would create a major logistical and political issue. There is real concern among the Jordanian population at the possibility of having such a massive influx of Palestinians and there is the real danger of them closing their borders because it would result in a disproportionate element to the population. That is quite serious and it is equally serious for Lebanon and could have a major impact on what are fragile countries in political terms.

Senator Mooney mentioned the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, and we are in contact with it. Representatives of UNRWA will visit the country shortly given the possibility of something along the lines of what we have been discussing arising. Mr. Filippo Grandi, the commissioner general of UNRWA, will visit Ireland shortly to discuss matters of this nature with the Tánaiste and me. He will seek funding and support, obviously, in dealing with that sort of displacement, particularly as it might affect the Palestinian community. There is flux in all these situations and we are addressing them as best we can.


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