Seanad debates

Thursday, 6 February 2003

10:30 am

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and the opportunity to debate the situation unfolding in Iraq. It is timely we should do so because we have responsibilities we must face up to. We must creep out from some of the hypocritical rhetoric being promulgated in the name of the Irish people.

I am not a warmonger, do not advocate war at all costs and support pursuing every possible avenue to ensure that UN Resolution 1441 is implemented. Military action should be a last resort. As a nation, we have contributed greatly to trying to create a stable peace in the Middle East. We should congratulate our Defence Forces and the Garda Síochána who have contributed to that peace and played an active role.

The events now unfolding are not only a test of our individual character, but the character of the nation as a whole. In debating this subject, we should not be so quick to dismiss into memory the events of 11 September 2001 – a terrorist attack which was a chilling wake-up call for more to come. I have no difficulty in the use of Shannon for the build-up of troops in the Gulf if that show of force and flag-flying prevents a war. In that case we would have done a good day's work, in accordance with UN mandates.

I was appalled at Senator Norris's comments about driving to Shannon with a hatchet in the back of his car. That is the irresponsible type of leadership that should not be forthcoming from any elected public representative. Do we stand idly by or learn from our mistakes? Those who advocate inaction and non co-operation are the same people who would have advocated the same inaction in the face of Hitler, Milosevic and others. We would have had ethnic cleansing at will by so-called leaders. Our choice is whether we support a western-style democracy based on tolerance, freedom, openness and opportunity, respecting the rights of individuals within civil society, or we identify with the opposing model – a violent, political and ideological fundamentalist one that tolerates no opposition and accommodates no diversity.

With the advent of global media coverage of events as they unfold, the terrorists' market has widened. Not only can an atrocity affect their target, their victims and the wider community, but those removed by location can be terrorised by viewing these events as they happen.

President Bush referred to the first war of the 21st century in the wake of the 11 September attacks and vowed to rid the world of this evil. Countries lined up offering support – some were more willing than others and others backed down from initial carte blanche support to conditional support. Western democracies were in turmoil as the task in front of them unfolded. We should look at the area of terrorism in the context of the new world order. People are too quick to sweep this under the carpet.

What is a terrorist? In biblical times, Jewish dagger men, who were violently opposed to the Roman occupation of Judea, concealed weapons under their cloaks and mingled in crowds to assassinate supporters of the Roman empire. Terrorism is therefore nothing new. Until the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington, terrorism, in terms of the number of people killed, was on the decline. However, more people were probably killed on 11 September than in the previous 20 years worldwide.

Who are these people that killed thousands and thousands of civilians they had never met? Where do they come from? They are mostly young males but they have little else in common. Today's terrorists are as diverse as the nations from which they come. They can be highly educated, working class or at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. Their goals range from the narrow political desire of the Real IRA to drive Britain out of Ireland to the wide-ranging desire of al-Qaeda to halt the spread of western culture and promiscuity.

Sometimes different terrorist groups work together. There have been numerous summit meetings of terrorist groups but, more recently, radical Islamic groups have excluded non-Islamic groups from their summits. One must remember that terrorist organisations have infiltrated the western world, some of which are active and some of which have sleepers lying in wait for their day. In the interim they become part of the community they are about to terrorise. This could be for one month, one year or even longer. When one's neighbour unexpectedly turns out to be a suicide bomber or terrorist, it is the ultimate weapon. It is not only these terrorists we should fear but all the mutually supporting groups and organisations also. They may have different goals and objectives but they have a common bond – the desire to inflict terror to achieve their aims.

Terrorist organisations breed off each other. That is their strength. No individual organisation could survive without the finance, weaponry, technology and training that it acquires from another. That they all help each other is their lifeline and what makes them the force that they are. They trade in a currency of terror. Greed among business people allows them make financial investments or buy the equipment or expertise they require. Tolerance of terrorists' causes, turning a blind eye or supporting them, if only in a tacit way, by subscribing to one of their shadowy umbrellas for relief does not make for pleasant co-operation among states. States should face up to their responsibilities in facing down the regimes within their own countries.

One might ask the reason I have spoken about terrorists. I firmly believe the public and many politicians grossly underestimate the dangers associated with them. The public must be educated about the actions of terrorists and the ever-increasing network of organisations working throughout the world. We must also examine our consciences and make a serious effort to address the wrongs in our society and the injustices that lead to the formation of terrorist organisations, not them all but the majority. We have to look at root causes such as previous wars, religious differences, poverty and famine. Foreign policy should address these issues.

Consider terrorist networks and the root networks that support them. While terrorist networks might be evil, the root networks are not. They comprise people who live with oppression, repression, poverty, hunger, despair and hopelessness. They are desperate to survive and experience terrible suffering. Hatred feeds the network of terrorism. President Bush says he has declared a war on the perpetrators of the attacks of 11 September 2001 but the war was declared years ago by Islamic fundamentalist organisations. The attacks were merely the latest and most terrible escalation of this ongoing war.

Certain Islamic leaders see themselves as the new fundamentalists of the world. They see it as their duty to expand by conquest the portion of the world ruled by Islam until all the world will be under the rule of Islamic law. The attacks in New York and Washington are, therefore, no more than a warning to the United States and the countries of the western world meant to terrorise them so much that they will not stand in the way of fundamentalist organisations as they expand their sphere of control.

I have listened in recent weeks to the rhetoric of the Green Party and Sinn Féin on the question of Iraq and the use Shannon Airport. I have heard of the greening of Sinn Féin but I am now, for the first time, hearing of the "Sinn Féining" of the Greens on recent radio performances. I will take no moral lectures from Sinn Féin about people in uniforms or carrying weapons or about this democracy and the Government being in breach of the Constitution and the Defence Act. An organisation which supports its own private army and which has for 30 years put paramilitaries carrying weapons on the streets is in no position to do so.

The question of neutrality is not black and white and never can be. I am a supporter of our position on neutrality but if I was asked if I was neutral in the face of genocide and mass murder, I would say I was not. As a human being and a Christian, I have based my opinions not on ideas formed in my armchair but from my experiences of having served in the Middle East as a peacekeeper and seen the atrocities and their aftermath. As a parent and an Irishman, I will not stand up and say I am willing to turn a blind eye to such atrocities.

We need to know where we stand and where we want to stand as a society. We need to revisit our Christian values and stand firm. We are facing one of the greatest dangers ever to have faced the world. We should not blink or hide under the covers but stand up and take our rightful place as a nation and stand firm in the face of terror. This country has a leading role to play. We have a proven track record in UN operations in the international field and a growing reputation, particularly because of the manner in which we conducted our business in recent years on the Security Council. We have no option but to accept the fate that has befallen us and play our part.

I have posed many questions, questions that many sovereign governments are now trying to consider. As they do so, each individual should use this period of reflection to answer some of the same questions. We are all in this together. The ball is firmly in Saddam Hussein's court and it is his decision. We should continue to use every diplomatic effort to bring about a peaceful solution to the problem. However, if the occasion arises, when hard decisions have to be made, we should not be found wanting and hide behind the rhetoric of those supposedly speaking in the name of the people. We are a more mature nation than that.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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That Saddam Hussein is a brute goes without saying. It would be a wonderful world if we were rid of all the brutes but unfortunately the world is not rid of them, nor has it been in my adult life. Brutes have been kept in power in various parts of the world because it has suited the interests of one major power or another. Superpowers have intervened to prevent the departure of brutal abusers of their peoples. When there were two superpowers, both intervened. We all know what the Soviet Union did on many occasions in eastern Europe.

I have listened carefully to what has been said. If we are to make the judgments we should about this issue, we must ensure that the principles we apply have universal validity. While not suggesting a moral equivalence between the United States of America and Iraq, I am not prepared to accept the positing of a moral dichotomy in which one is perfect and the other is dreadful. One is dreadful, but the United States is firmly allied to many of the most repressive regimes in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian state governed by a single family. All dissidence is suppressed and religious intolerance in the name of Islam is encouraged in a fashion which is contrary to the basic principles of that religion.

For 1,300 years, Islam showed remarkable tolerance to Jews and Christians. Until quite recently, Islam had a far better record of tolerance for religious minorities than had Christianity. As any record of the lives of north African Christians and Jews from the last 1,000 years will show, while their lives may not have been perfect, serious religious persecution was unknown. That said, the primary ally of the United States of America in the Middle East is a country which suppresses all manifestations of Judaism or Christianity in the name of Islam, a religion it uses to sustain an oligarchy that is corrupt to the core.

It is right to deal with and confront the horrific human rights abuses in Iraq, but we can either be pragmatic or we can base our perspective on morality. If we take the latter course, the only acceptable morality is one we attempt, within reason, to apply universally. I watched the western world tolerate brutality in East Timor for the best part of 30 years. That brutality was initiated with, at the very least, the complicity, if not the active engagement, of most of the western powers. I read about the negation of democratic revolution in Guatemala, I watched the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Chile and I saw the destruction of the most exciting experiment in social justice and democracy in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

I do not accept that we have a moral obligation to ignore actions carried out in the name of democracy by a country with which we are friendly when those actions effectively undermine that principle. This is not to play down the horrors in Iraq, it is simply to say that when one introduces morality into political rhetoric one enters dangerous territory. While morality in politics is dangerous, though perhaps there should be more of it, selective morality is worse. There is no moral basis for suggesting that the Iraqi regime is much worse or more evil and threatening than half a dozen other regimes, some of which are allied to the United States of America. That cannot justify the scale of military action against Iraq that appears to be contemplated.

We do not know what weapons stocks Israel possesses and we do not know what it has developed in terms of chemical and biological munitions. We do not know what the USA has developed in this area for the simple reason that when an international convention was established, that country refused to permit inspections of its facilities. Furthermore, the USA destabilised the United Nations organisation which was attempting to implement a convention on chemical and biological weapons.

I do not say these things because I do not like America, I say them because they are facts which underline the necessity of approaching this issue through the use of reason. We must contemplate the consequences of any chosen approach, even if that approach is indifference. We are well aware of what Saddam Hussein is like. While I do not wish to discuss the USA further, I resent its use of the phrase "the free world" to describe itself and its allies, particularly when its primary ally in the Middle East is a corrupt family oligarchy. The USA was quite happy to have Turkey as a member of NATO when brutal military regimes were in power there. I do not say this to suggest moral equivalence, I wish to convey that to start using the rhetoric of human rights, freedom and morality to justify something is dangerous. If such language is used selectively and cynically, it fails to convince and it undermines the concept of morality. That is what concerns me in this debate.

There is no moral equivalence between the USA and Iraq in terms of their being places to live, but there is no absolute moral distinction to be made either. While we are faced with obvious questions, we can forget what they are when we dress the issues up in so much language. Perhaps I do it also. We must ask if Iraq poses a threat to its neighbours or the rest of the world, to which the answer is, probably, "Yes". Iraq is not a very nice country and it has an appalling Government which is capable of being extremely nasty to its neighbours. It demonstrated that when it attacked Iran, ably assisted by the United States of America.

How great is the threat posed by Iraq? That is not an academic question, even if it seems to be. Only if the threat is enormous in scale can the human and political consequences of military action against Iraq be justified. If every nasty country that posed a threat to its neighbours was to become the target of the scale of military build-up we have seen, there would be dozens of countries under threat.

While I find it difficult to be fair to President Bush, he has, at least, used rhetoric which suggests that the scale of the threat is great. However, one should read the statement Secretary of State Powell made to the UN yesterday. Some of it is compelling. We have never doubted that the Iraqi regime is dishonest. That was made clear during yesterday's presentation. It is also no surprise that the regime is less than enthusiastic about the inspection process. However, unless Secretary of State Powell can produce evidence to show that what he described yesterday is happening on a large scale, it must be asked how his presentation could justify the scale of human suffering that will be a consequence of military action. How could the possibility of some things happening justify what will inevitably happen?

Everybody accepts there will be horrific consequences if there is military intervention. There will be horrific short-term consequences in terms of civilian casualties and it is unknown what the Iraqi regime might do to its own people. It is easy to say this is the fault of Saddam Hussein, but the killing of civilians, either accidentally or deliberately, is also the fault of those who take action. To justify it requires evidence.

The old traditional Roman Catholic concept of the just war would have made most of the wars of the last two millennia unjust. Nevertheless, the concept is valid to this conflict. The professor of moral theology at Maynooth expressed the unambiguous view that none of the conditions of a just war could currently be said to be met in terms of the threat posed by Iraq. It is an interesting position, given that some of my colleagues have mentioned the Christian tradition. I am fascinated that a country whose political institutions appear to be Catholic seems able to ignore those who offer guidance about the morality of this conflict. That is why I am sceptical about the moral basis for military intervention. The short-term consequences will undoubtedly be large-scale civilian casualties. I and my party are not convinced that the weight of evidence in terms of non-compliance suggests a sufficient threat that would justify such losses.

There are other medium and long-term consequences to be addressed. The Minister of State referred to some of these but I invite him to explain why the threat posed by the Iraqi regime is greater than the long-term danger of permanent political instability in the region as a consequence of military action, a danger we claim to be trying to prevent. I also invite those in this House and elsewhere to confront the moral and political choice we face. This is not a moral but a political issue. It amounts to a political choice, around which a construct of morality is being put together. Others are diverting the argument to economic consequences and other questions, but the real issue centres on the question of whether the threat posed by the Iraqi regime is of such a scale that it justifies the harm that will be done to innocent people. At present the answer is a definite "No". We must have certainty about the existence and scale of a threat before acting against it.

The postponement of military action because of the approaching summer in the Middle East is a minor inconvenience by contrast with the scale of the harm that could be inflicted. To therefore impose artificial time limits, such as a week, makes a nonsense of any argument based on morality. There can be no moral justification for the scale of human suffering that could be inflicted on Iraq simply because it would be inconvenient to postpone military action until the weather changes after the summer. As long as our moral code is so corrupted and undermined that we leave that out of the equation, we are in severe danger of compromising what this country used to stand for in international affairs.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Daly.

Acting Chairman:

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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The question of war is not clear cut because there are so many variables. It is not only a matter of a good or bad guy – there is much more to it. I would consider myself to be pro-American but I am not anti-Arab or anti-Iraq. Perhaps I am a little older than some other Members, but I am reminded of the Second World War. I have said many times in the House that when the chips are down we always call on Uncle Sam. We can never repay all those young Americans who lost their lives in the last world war so that Europe would be free from the scourge of national socialism. While we can say what we like about the Americans, if things go wrong we must always turn to the United States. So far, we have never been let down.

Many Senators referred to the morality of military action and I agree with many of the views expressed. I also agree with Senator Ryan's view that the current threat posed by the Iraqi regime does not justify war. The Minister of State has indicated that the Government does not wish to see war and at every forum available it has spoken and used its influence to urge the parties to find a peaceful solution. That is what we would all like.

However, this debate is concerned with wider issues, especially in view of the events of 11 September. Can we truly expect the Americans to do nothing while another couple of airplanes destroy skyscrapers and kill more thousands of people? Not only are they right to act, but they have a duty to do so.

The Americans have acted. To the best of my understanding they destroyed most of the al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the figures indicate that 3,000 innocent people lost their lives in that conflict. It is a very sad consequence of war. It is difficult to balance these things, right or wrong.

Our main concern is whether we want the United States to be the world's policeman. Our views appear not to matter much because the Americans will act in this way regardless. The United States is the most powerful country the world has ever seen. The only frightening aspect is that power in such a huge country seems to be concentrated in the hands of a very few, who can use it for good or ill.

Senator Norris outlined the faults of the United States and its various excursions. I do not approve of its involvement in the overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile, its incursions into Nicaragua or its use of agent orange in the Vietnam war, etc. However, ultimately, we must sometimes come down on one side or the other.

A headline to a recent article in The Irish Times declared that if the main produce of Iraq was bananas war would not be on the agenda. I believe that to be the case. I am convinced the issue is concerned with oil. However, while America will always look after its own interests, including its business interests, it will fight against regimes like Saddam Hussein's. Whatever may be said about the United States, people like me can visit the country and criticise the President. In this country I can criticise the Taoiseach and the President. While I may be politically assassinated, I will not be assassinated in the way I would be in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein is intrinsically evil. The things he has done to the Kurds, his own people and his own family beggar belief. Nevertheless, he has done and will continue to do them unless he is stopped.

We are in a delicate and tricky position. If we could be assured that no innocent Iraqi would suffer, I am convinced the whole world would say, "Go ahead". However, we cannot be sure of this and if there is a war, we can only hope the Americans will minimise the number of deaths of innocent people. We face a horrific prospect. Years ago Winston Churchill said jaw jaw was better than war war and that is still true. There may still be a way out but unfortunately Saddam Hussein does not seem to be ready to capitulate.

Senator Bradford made an important point. If we are faced with the choice of a world run by Saddam Hussein or George Bush, we should plump for a world run by George Bush. That is my position.

Brendan Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Lydon for affording me the opportunity to make a brief intervention. I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for the work he is doing on this and many other issues in the Department of Foreign Affairs.

I expect the Minister of State will convey to the Minister, Deputy Cowen, my appreciation of his clear analysis of the present situation as demonstrated yesterday in a radio interview with Marian Finucane. The Minister set out clearly the historical development of Irish neutrality and the work Ireland has done in the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations. Through the Minister of State, I express our appreciation of the officials of his Department and our personnel at the United Nations for the outstanding work they have done, especially during our time on the Security Council, in endeavouring to find a way in which conflict can be avoided.

Although there has been some misrepresentation, I am sure everyone is against war and every one of us would endeavour to find a way to avoid it. It looks as though war is now inevitable but perhaps there is still time to find a solution to the problem. The people who can most easily resolve it are the leadership in Iraq. The message has gone loud and clear from the United Nations to it that the main responsibility for bringing an end to the present dilemma rests with the Iraqi authorities. That message will be repeated by the weapons inspectors when they conclude their business. If the leaders of Iraq avail of the opportunity offered to them, there is still time to avoid a war.

For the past year and even before then a campaign has been orchestrated and well organised by people who remain in the background. Protest marches and demonstrations have taken place at Shannon Airport which have led on a couple of occasions to the damaging of State property, the breaking down of perimeter fences and attempts by people to get onto the runways causing anxiety to those awaiting flights or meeting relatives arriving at the airport. Demonstrators behaved in ways which led to chaos at the airport and created a real risk of loss of life. What is happening is unimaginable.

I do not blame the young demonstrators who are worried about war in this tense situation. I blame those who orchestrated and organised the campaign but who remain in the background. Last summer I saw bills posted in Dublin advertising protests at Shannon Airport and offering free transport to those who were willing to go and agitate there. The Green Party and the Labour Party are now running scared. We have heard little from local Labour Party Deputies on the matter. Deputy O'Sullivan, in particular, who is very vocal on other issues has been very quiet on this one while her party colleague, Deputy Higgins, makes impassioned speeches on the tarmac. However, he then denies all responsibility for those who do criminal damage to aircraft and wind up in prison. I have not seen the Green Party or the Labour Party rushing to sign bail bonds for demonstrators when they find themselves in prison, as some are at present.

People have a legitimate right to protest, to complain and march on Shannon Airport which they have been doing for many years. In my 30 years as a public representative I have seen many protests and demonstrations on this issue at the airport. Proinsias De Rossa chaired a meeting in Dublin to organise a protest there but I did not see him when Aeroflot was transferring technicians on their way to work on the nuclear missile programme in Cuba. He certainly did not come to the airport at the time to protest about Aeroflot refuelling. He was in Moscow seeking money for his Democrat Left organisation.

In some respect I do not blame those who did wanton damage at Shannon Airport because their actions were orchestrated and organised by agitors ambivalent about how we deal with terrorism. The Green Party and the Labour Party are ambivalent about international terrorism but disclaim responsibility for the damage done at Shannon Airport saying they cannot be held responsible for a small minority who break away and do criminal damage to the airport. I hold the Green Party and the Labour Party responsible and believe they have questions to answer on the matter. I would like to hear their answers and hear them soon.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me to speak on this matter and welcome the Minister of State. I was initially reluctant to speak because I feel I do not have the necesssary quailfication to do so. On reflection, however, I decided to avail of the opportunity presented to me. I agree with many of the previous speakers regarding the key issue. The two key words in this debate are idealism and realism. While none of us wants war, we must be realistic.

Iraq is ruled by a tyrant who, according to a 1999 UN report, had biological weapons which could cause mass destruction. At that time the United Nations found that Saddam Hussein had 25,000 litres of anthrax. As we saw the devastation of the anthrax attack in New York in recent years, we can only begin to imagine the devastation that would result if such a level was used in an attack. The United Nations also discovered that Iraq had 38,000 litres of botilium toxin, of which there is now no trace. We must ask where has it gone. In 1999 the United Nations also found that Saddam Hussein had mobile biological laboratories and that he had used poisonous gases on whole villages, especially Kurdish villages. If a man is prepared to poison his own people, what would he do to people outside his own country?

Senator Lydon referred to Saddam Hussein's relationship with his own family. His son-in-law left the country following a dispute with him. He was asked to come back and told that all was forgiven but when he returned to Iraq he was shot on the aeroplane when it landed at the airport. This is the sort of man we are talking about. He cannot even spell the word forgiveness, much less practise it.

The people are concerned about our neutrality. We are not a neutral country and never have been. It is time we had a proper debate on the issue. We cannot sit on both sides of the fence. If a person stands in the middle of the road, he will be knocked down by both sets of traffic. We must examine the issue of neutrality and decide what role Ireland should play.

While it is great to see us playing an active part in the United Nations, it is time we realised that, as a country, we are almost 80 years old and maturing. We should have a belief in ourselves to play an active part in world affairs and not shirk our responsibilities at every opportunity. If the country was truly neutral, we would be spending billions of euro each year on our Defence Forces. We should look again at the whole issue.

The Minister of State referred to the ministerial permission given for the landing of aircraft and personnel. Will he clarify which Minister gives that permission? Is it the Minister for Transport or the Minister for Foreign Affairs as there appears to be some confusion about the matter?

I agree with Senator Daly's comments about the so-called peaceful protest at Shannon Airport. The irresponsible attitude of the Green Party on the issue left much to be desired and when things went wrong, it was quickly on the scene. The Leader of the Green Party had to engage in an embarrassing climbdown during the week on "Morning Ireland". We should not encourage violence or vandalism of any form. Any attacks or pressure put on the Garda cannot be tolerated by any so-called peaceful protesters who have other ways of voicing their concern.

There is a vacuum because of ambiguity towards our neutrality which is allowing some to exploit it. If we deal with the issue, that will not happen again. I would even be so bold as to suggest that we send a delegation from the Seanad to Iraq. On the Fine Gael benches, 13 of the 15 Senators are new. There are many new Senators on the Fianna Fáil side also. I suggest there would be no harm in having a briefing on the issue first hand down the line as it would lead to a more informed debate.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I join in the welcome to the Minister of State and thank him and the Minister for Foreign Affairs for their work on this delicate and sensitive issue. I was honoured to have been selected with Deputy Michael Higgins to visit Iraq from 22-28 January. I thank the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs which was unanimous in proposing that we visit the country. Our first objective was to assess the Iraqi response to the United Nations resolutions and press for full compliance with them. There were other issues at which we wanted to look, in particular, the ongoing humanitarian impact of the economic sanctions on the civilian population, the operation of the United Nations Oil for Food Programme and the preparedness of the international aid agencies in relation to the delivery of humanitarian relief.

I came away from Iraq very concerned about the position on sanctions, the effect of which we witnessed in the Saddam General Hospital in Baghdad. Half the population of Iraq is under 15 years of age. Obviously, children have borne the brunt of the sanctions for 12 years with many suffering from leukaemia, cancer and black fever. The doctors who spoke to us trained in London and the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and said if they had the 20 day treatment for black fever recommended, they would be able to deal successfully with that contagious disease. They found that the cocktail of drugs needed for treatment was never fully available to them. Similarly, parts of ventilators and incubators were missing when they looked for this important equipment.

The international community must take more interest in the question of sanctions against Iraq. The sanctions have been described by Professor Joy Gordon as weapons of mass destruction. The 661 committee has withheld some of the treatments. It is known as the dual use list. Products such as chlorine, which is badly needed for water treatment, cannot be allowed into the country as a result. Lead, which is used in pencils and a basic item for education, is not allowed in also. We have to make a strong case on the question of sanctions and I hope the Government will take up the issue.

Like other Members, I am concerned about a strike against Iraq as innocent people will be killed. The delegation saw the bombed shelter at Al-Amiriyah where 408 people were killed. It was one of 34 in Baghdad, each capable of taking 1,500 people. When the first shelter was bombed in 1991, people returned to their homes and said they would take their chances.

On the question of compliance with UN resolutions, we made a strong case for an Iraqi response. We pointed out that we were standing by Resolution 1441 as we saw it as an alternative to war and an opportunity for Iraq to fully co-operate with the United Nations' weapons inspectors. One outcome of a war would be the disastrous effect on the Oil for Food Programme. Some 18 million people in Iraq, out of a population of 26 million, depend on the programme which is dependent on food rations. One of the NGOs we met, namely, CARE, stated the scheme was most efficient. We were shown the actual amounts of food each person, young and old, would receive. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Dr. Sabri, told us there was about a three month food supply remaining in the event of a war in Iraq.

It is important to focus on resolution 1441. Deputy Michael Higgins has spoken about its interpretation and said some eminent people would get together quickly to discuss the issue, as well as the role of Iraq's neighbours in the region and the Arab league, the question of ending sanctions and the fact that Iraq would do everything to facilitate the weapons inspectors. Names mentioned by him include Nelson Mandela; former US President, Jimmy Carter; Archbishop Tutu; former President and UN High Commissioner, Mary Robinson. The Ministers we met in Jordan, after leaving Iraq, were very interested in this proposal. They referred to the fact that there had been assistance for Ireland when the Northern Ireland peace agreement was being negotiated and that people such as George Mitchell and our colleagues from Canada and Scandinavia were and are still involved in the decommissioning process.

I raised at every opportunity the importance of Iraq admitting UN human rights rapporteurs because of the obligations they have to meet under international human rights law. While we hope to reach a solution in a short period, it will have to be done in stages. The human rights issue is huge. Iraq is a one party state. That bonus payments are paid to party members is an example of dictatorship and abuse. There should be representation for the Kurdish population and a minority group such as the Marsh Arabs who were dealt with in a cruel manner by Saddam. As other speakers said, he must be removed. It is a question of how this should be done.

Life for the Iraqi people is very difficult as there is a high dependence on food rationing. Professional people and the middle classes are devastated by the actions of Saddam Hussein. I met a retired university professor who was earning $4 dollars per month. His wife who also works at the university and is not in good health earns $25 per month. Five years ago 250 dinar was worth $10 dollars, they are now worth 12 cents. The value of the currency has fallen dramatically with consequent effects on the economy.

I am pleased that many delegations have visited Baghdad and agree with what Senator Browne had to say. There were also politicians from Canada who sought to intervene. Also present were Mr. Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck who resigned from the United Nations over the question of sanctions. I was pleased that members of the European Parliament had visited the area but was taken aback when Pat Cox questioned the reason MEPs such as Patricia McKenna and Prionsias De Rossa should go there. I welcome the fact that people go there – everyone should do so – to seek compliance with the United Nations resolutions and to try their best to avert war. The latter is something we are all trying to achieve.

I would be very concerned about a strike against Iraq and would like to see everything being done in the context of the United Nations. The United States and Great Britain have no right to launch such an attack unilaterally. In the spirit of the United Nations, we should adhere to the resolutions passed. I welcome this debate.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I wish to share time with Senator Ross.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Dardis): Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State who has far wider experience than some Members of the House. Although listening to Senators Michael Kitt, Norris, Mooney and Browne, I am impressed by the number of people who have visited Iraq and know far more about it.

I am convinced of Hussein's record of evil in the past, but I am unconvinced by his current protestations of innocence. As long as he continues in power, the world will be a risky and a dangerous place in which to live. I am, in general, very pro-American. I am conscious of the commercial, historical and family ties which link Ireland with the US and of the benefits we have enjoyed as a result of our strong relationship with that country. The ties between America and Ireland should ensure that we listen with a great deal of sympathy to the calls the Americans are making, even if we do not go as far as giving them the benefit of the doubt.

I wish to comment now on to the war which is beginning to look more inevitable with each day that passes. The issue is not about stopping Hussein, but about how he will be stopped. There are ways of stopping him which represent too high a price to pay. I have recently returned from America, where I spent the first couple of weeks of the new year. When I talked to people there – I do not believe they were all Republicans but perhaps they were – I was struck by how many people said things like, "We have the power to wipe out Hussein and, therefore, we should use it." I have not heard those sort of words in recent times. In the simplest words, what they were saying was, "Might is right" and "We can do it, therefore, we have to".

It is this naked assertion of America and of American interests which I find so disturbing. We cannot run the world that way. Even in an era in which there is, effectively, only one superpower, we cannot have a situation in which that power is free to impose its views and to do whatever it wishes. This is what I call an imperial scenario. However benign such a project might be when it starts, it soon degenerates into what I call unbridled aggression and, effectively, abuse of power, with the consequent destruction of the values we, in free countries, including the United States, hold dear. Our protection against that is the United Nations.

Imperfect though the United Nations may be – and we have heard some criticisms to that effect – it is based on the very opposite of the might is right principle. Instead of ceding absolute power to one country, the United Nations encourages us to cling to the principles of collective power and collective action in the pursuit of world peace. That is so important that I am inclined to say we should rule out any solution to the Iraqi problem which is not organised through the United Nations. The United Nations is not an option in this crisis; it is an essential part of how we must work through it. If we get rid of Saddam Hussein through bypassing the United Nations, we will have dealt an enormous blow to the cause of freedom throughout the world. It might take us centuries to recover from such a blow because it is impossible to predict what might happen.

Saddam Hussein must go and that is the bottom line. However, we must work harder to convince and persuade the Americans in regard to how this should happen. That is even more important than the simple fact that it must happen. They might not want to hear that message, but that does not reduce our obligation in that regard. If it puts strains on the relationship and friendship which binds America to Ireland, then so be it. It is essential that we act through the United Nations. We must convince the Americans that this is the only way to proceed.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Independent)
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I share many of the views Senator Quinn expressed. This is not so much about Iraq but about America. Everybody in this House and virtually in the world believes the same thing about Iraq, that is, that it has an evil regime. How that regime is toppled is obviously a matter of fierce debate. To Members of this House, it is a matter of our relationship with America. In the battle between Boston and Berlin, I would be unapologetically on the side of Boston. We should be grateful to the United States, on which we are economically dependent. More than any other country, the United States is responsible for the economic boom here. That is a seriously difficult position from which to start if one wants to take a neutral position in what is probably about to become a war.

As a nation, Ireland is, therefore, handicapped. As a demonstration of that, I would like to point out something about our attitude to Iraq. I remember that I and many others in this House pointed out what was happening to the Kurds in Iraq on many occasions. To be honest, and this applies to all parties, nobody was terribly interested at the time when these people were being slaughtered. Nobody was particularly interested in sanctions against Iraq at that stage, but we were perfectly happy, as part of our foreign policy, to impose sanctions against South Africa. We were utterly inconsistent in that regard. I find some of the sanctimonious comments being made now somewhat difficult to take.

The main problem with this war is that innocent Iraqi people will be killed. These people have no political voice and they have no part in and do not support this war. I will not come down on one side or the other, but we must ask whether it is worthwhile toppling an evil regime the resultant cost is measured in the deaths of Iraqi women, children and babies. That is a terrible choice to make. What is America doing in pursuing this war? Is it concerned with its political or economic interests or is it really the moral policeman of the world?

I wish to refer to Shannon Airport. The Government must take an agonising decision in that regard. People from all parties feel the same about humanitarian reasons for not supporting the Americans in any way. They do not want to be part of a war of any sort because of the consequences. However, imagine the consequences for Ireland – I would go further than Senator Quinn in this regard – if we were to tell the Americans they were unwelcome at Shannon. Why have we not done that? We would like to be able to tell them to fly to Frankfurt everyday and to forget about Shannon for the moment. The Americans are making a political point by landing there because they do not have to do so. They could land in London, Frankfurt or in other places. They are making the point that Ireland is not totally neutral in this war, and we are certainly not neutral in economic terms.

What would be the consequences if we said to the Americans that we did not want them at Shannon? I do not know, nor does anybody else, but because of our economic dependence on the US – this is practical, it is not noble – we might have economic difficulties. That is the reality. The reason the Government is not telling America to buzz off is because of the possible economic consequences. What sort of a message would it send out to Intel, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and others if we said that American soldiers were not welcome here, even to refuel, when America has done us so much good? I feel for the Government in this situation. Nobody has a monopoly of humanitarian feelings on this issue, because we all feel the same, but it would be difficult to take the high moral ground and make a decision which might have disastrous economic consequences for Ireland.

Personally, I think the Americans are going to war for the wrong reasons. They are doing so for economic reasons and it is not worth the candle. It is an unjust war but we should be mindful of the fact that it means a possible return to pre-Celtic tiger days with Americans taking a different economic attitude to Ireland. There is an awful balance here and it is a very difficult decision for any Government to make.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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I sense a palpable, controlled emotion in this debate and I sense the very same emotion among the general public whenever this issue is discussed. It seems as if we are torn between common humanity and what might be perceived as economic and political expediency. It has been said here many times that being anti-war does not mean being anti-American. Those who equate both things are doing a terrible disservice to what is a very serious debate. In fact, they could be doing a terrible disservice to the general good in the long run.

I am anti-war but pro-America, as many others would be. I have a greater spiritual affinity with America than I would have with many parts of Europe, which is understandable given the fact that there are 40 million people of Irish extraction in America. When we talk about America we are talking about the Irish community there also.

We should be able to debate this issue not in a deliberately confused way but on a humanitarian and moral basis. One of the most striking images I saw during the debate on Iraq was the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, when he was in another part of the world, far removed from Iraq. He spoke then about the imminent danger of hundreds of thousands of people dying while other countries prepared for war. This is a vital message which should form part of the debate. Those hundreds of thousands are entitled to human rights in the same way as America would suggest that their invasion of Iraq is about human rights. The difference is that we could do something about the human rights of those Africans with the money we could save by avoiding a hostile situation such as the one that is now developing. We are talking about the expenditure of billions of dollars. If we want to talk about reality, the human rights issue must be put into context.

Following the terrible atrocity of 11 September 2001, I can understand fully why, first of all, it would be necessary for America to retaliate and, second, to ensure that what happened should never recur. Part of the confusion in this debate, however, is that people are still not quite clear about the connection between Iraq and what happened on 11 September 2001, other than that Iraq may have the potential to inflict an atrocity of that kind and, also, that the country has an exceptionally brutal leadership that might undertake such an action. I have not seen the direct connection between the two, however.

I still cannot see how the end will be justified by the means. If what we have been told by military experts and other analysts is correct, then there is no doubt that there will be huge civilian losses. We could be talking about tens of thousands of casualties, if not more, and the smart bombs will not differentiate between men, women and children. While the atrocity in America almost 18 months ago accounted for approximately 3,000 deaths – many of whom were Irish – the death toll in Iraq could be multiples of that number. In debating this issue we must look at that aspect and ask whether it will be justified. Are we sure that Saddam Hussein will be the victim at the end of the conflict? Are we even sure that it will be possible for America to put a regime in place that will have the loyalty of all the Iraqi people, if they have suffered as a direct result of aggression?

Another concern of mine is the terrible damage that has been done to the United Nations. I think America was wrong in being so assertive towards the United Nations. They were entitled, by all means, to make their demands as any another UN member would be, but I have a sense of fragmentation which cannot be good for world order or future peaceful co-existence, and that is only the start of it. If America decides to take unilateral action it will not just be a matter of destabilising that particular region, it will also destabilise the allies. It is quite clear that is happening, even in the language that is being used, but at least we have stepped back from the brink of four weeks ago when the language employed was close to being hostile. That is not good for the United Nations because ultimately that organisation is the only guarantor of world order.

I understand the emotion in America but we should also consider the results of recent opinion polls there. One poll showed that over 70% of Americans were opposed to war. I have visited America many times, including during the Libyan bombardment when I could find hardly anybody who disagreed with it. It is normal for the American people to consolidate at a time like this, but why is it different now? Why are the American people doubting that this is the right course of action? One reason is the markers which America itself has put down, including the undiplomatic language about the smoking gun. They have admitted there is no smoking gun, although that does not mean that there are not weapons of mass destruction but we have UN inspectors to check that. Even in the preliminary reports we received from those inspectors it is quite clear that they are not over-oriented towards the regime in Iraq but they are trying to do their job in a responsible, accountable and transparent manner. It is wrong to be aggressive towards those people who seem to me to be trying to do what is right for everybody in this case. It is clear, however, that there is no smoking gun. As of now none has been found.

Having listened carefully to the speech made by the Minister of State today and to the speech made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to the General Assembly of the United Nations last September, I think Ireland is accepting its responsibilities and is doing all it should. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, said on radio recently that while he did not wish to overestimate our importance in the international forum, he knew we had played a major role in bringing about the current resolution. Nobody can point the finger at the Irish Government in this regard. One should read closely and listen to the two speeches to which I referred.

If we continue along the same lines, America, which I regard as a sister nation, will not be able to say we did anything other than what was right. I would go one step further and say that in a few months' time, with hindsight, people will ask, "Why did we not provide that moral element to help America decide the right course of action?" In acquiescence the wrong message may be given to America. By taking a stand and making a contribution in the context of our understanding of neutrality, of being friends with America and in no way condoning Saddam Hussein and of helping those countries oppressed by dictators, we will be regarded as having been more helpful than some of those much more belligerent and at times much less logical.

Today's debate was filled with palpable, controlled emotion. We had to get behind the rhetoric. That is why the debate was so important. We had to talk about humanitarian issues, sovereignty, the rights of people and the bigger, global issue of human rights where resources can be diverted to assist those who cannot help themselves. By so doing, we will ensure we do not spawn a further terrorist group in those countries, arising from unrest and dissatisfaction.

I am pleased with the stance taken by the Government. Two speeches, one made today by the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to this House and the other made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, to the General Assembly in September should be published because the media are missing out on them.

Photo of Martin ManserghMartin Mansergh (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State. I was very interested to hear the report of Senator Michael Kitt. It is useful for Members of the Oireachtas to undertake responsible fact-finding missions and report back to us. That applies, equally, to Senator Mary White's visit to Colombia.

There is no point disguising the great unease in this country about the situation in Iraq. People are concerned about war. War is always a terrible thing for humanitarian reasons. We strongly believe that war should be the last possible resort. We are concerned, as are many others, about the possible long-term consequences of conflict that no one can foresee.

Our position on any matter like this is clearly stated in the Article 29.2 of the Constitution which states:

Ireland affirms its adherence to the principle of the Pacific settlement of international disputes by international arbitration or judicial determination.

In that context, I warmly welcome the tone of the Minister of State's statement:

The Government does not wish to see war take place. In every forum available to us we have spoken out and used our influence to urge the parties to finding a peaceful solution. We will continue to pursue this approach.

I do not wish to misrepresent or caricature President Bush or Condoleeza Rice – both of whom I have heard speak at first hand – but there is widespread concern that there is too much belief by our friends in the United States in the efficacy of force and not necessarily always as a last resort. The template for me on all such matters are the principles laid down by Eamon de Valera, a very thoughtful international statesman. I would like to quote from a speech made by him in 1955. He made the point that a small country, in an alliance or not, would not be consulted about when a war commenced. That is true.

In the interval, we joined the EU. I was a little amused by an article in the Irish news earlier this week trying to figure out whether, in the terms of Donald Rumsfeld, Ireland was part of the old Europe or the new Europe. As we had not co-signed the letter signed by seven or eight other countries nor had we been part of the Franco-German statement, they were not quite sure. In some ways, I am quite happy with that.

Equally, Eamon de Valera was clear on the question of enforcement. He said – I have quoted this to the House previously – on 25 July 1946:

Under the UN Charter, if there is ever to be a rule of law, nations must make up their minds that they will take part in such enforcement.

Otherwise one cannot have a rule of international law. Disarmament has been demanded from Iraq for ten years. It has been given a much greater urgency by the events of 11 September 2001. Sanctions have negative effects. The Minister makes it clear that that is not entirely due to the crudeness of the sanctions themselves. The way in which the Iraqi regime administers that is also the case. We need to address the causes of sanctions. A particular situation could be created by the bringing to an end of sanctions and that would be better.

Dictatorships are a cause of war. The famous philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in an essay which I recommend everybody should read because some of the European ideal is based on it, said militarily unaccountable governments go to war; they do not have to account to their people and there is no means of changing government. That is the cause of much of the misery in many countries.

I am inclined to believe Iraq does not have nuclear weapons. The UN inspector responsible seems definite there is none. Few of us would be assured there are no chemical or biological weapons being moved around. Iraq must adopt a new attitude if war is to be avoided. Friends of Iraq are urging it to do so. There is a fear that some kind of oriental Götterdämmerung might be fixed which would leave a long-term myth in the future.

I agree with the point that the West has much about which to reproach itself. That is true of Ireland also. We, too, thought we could do profitable business in beef and health care with a brutal authoritarian regime. We had a joint commission with Iraq. The invasion of Kuwait changed our attitude. One can argue, as Senator Ryan did, about the threat but the UN has already decided that question. Weapons of mass destruction do represent a threat and we have to take it from there.

I would like to briefly address the situation at Shannon. We know from history that we gave discreet assistance to Britain and America during the Second World War. In this context, we are providing facilities for a build-up in the Gulf but for the purpose of securing compliance. I suppose we are much closer to the US than to Iraq, just as we were much closer to Britain and America during the Second World War than we were to Nazi Germany.

If there is a second clear resolution, I do not think we will have a huge problem, even though I share Senator Ó Murchú's concerns about undue pressure being put on the United Nations. It more or less implies that the United Nations must do the business or it is irrelevant. The United Nations must make its own decisions and this could be a difficult decision to make. As the Taoiseach observed, we could have a difficult judgment to make. If war was to break out without a second resolution, we would have to judge the situation perhaps with our EU partners but without the benefit of the UN.

I have respect for peaceful protest. I would have been a strong sympathiser with CND, the anti-apartheid movement and their perfectly honourable methods of civil disobedience such as sitting down on roads, etc. It is extraordinary, however, that the person who inflicted much costly damage was invited to be feted by a small number of American warmongers, in other words, those who want the war in Ireland to continue, despite the Good Friday Agreement. I am not surprised that the peace camp has broken up because I think that action made the position untenable. Perhaps the organisations which applaud that activity might think about reimbursing the Government and the taxpayers.

I agree with the remarks made by Senator Michael Kitt. I hope if there is, tragically, to be a war, weapons such as depleted uranium, which has caused many problems in a lot of places, will not be used.

I agree with the statement by the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, that if only people put a fraction of the resources into solving some of the real economic, social and environmental problems of the world that they invest in developing and purchasing military hardware, perhaps we would not have quite so many problems to solve.

It is obvious that the festering sore of the Middle East must be addressed. Realistically, if war is to be avoided, a much more forward and positive attitude is needed from the Iraqi regime. We must do everything in our power to get people to hold off and see whether a peaceful resolution is still possible.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who has done tremendous work abroad and whose statements are welcome. I wish him continued success in his ministry. I would also like to put on record my appreciation to Senator Michael Kitt and Deputy Michael D. Higgins for going to Iraq, which was a very important mission. The report by Senator Michael Kitt is very worthwhile.

On 6 November last, I called for a debate on the crisis developing in Iraq. There is enormous interest in the Seanad in discussing these issues and I compliment the Minister of State on his excellent contribution to the debate.

We have a few choices to make. Saddam Hussein can prevent war by stepping down and being given asylum in another country, which would be given UN support in providing him with accommodation. This would remove the current threat from the United States of America, Great Britain and other countries who will be engaged in the war. If there was agreement to the continued presence of the UN inspectors and a peace force to be stationed in Iraq, with the agreement of the Administration there, it would certainly allay fears that the regime was building up a stockpile of weapons or producing nuclear weapons, as is being alleged. The Secretary of State, Colin Powell's, statement to the United Nations yesterday outlined the cover-ups that are taking place. The inspectors are now on the ground and will be examining the evidence provided yesterday by the United States.

The last resort and unacceptable solution is war. The Irish people are neutral and they wish to remain that way and see a peaceful solution emerge. Those people who marched last Saturday are sincere in their beliefs and want to prevent war. However, in some cases the peace movement at Shannon has been hijacked by others, including party political organisations, who wish to further advance their own agendas and not further the cause of peace. The Government has provided facilities at Shannon Airport which are in keeping with international agreements. As an independent State, Ireland is entitled to provide these facilities to assist in implementing UN Resolution 1441.

Most Irish people have close connections with the United States of America. My nephew is currently in the American army and, if required, may be called up to fight in Iraq. Some 40 million Irish-Americans have an influence in this regard because the war will take place in their name. I would say to the United States that this war may be more difficult than anticipated.

When all is said and done, this conflict is about oil. Yesterday, the Shell International Petroleum Company reported record profits. The French and Germans currently have reservations about the war. The Russians have obtained concessions from the Iraqi Administration in regard to oil fields and exploration. The French are deeply involved in Iraq and companies that have links to Ireland and are quoted on the British Stock Exchange have been given concessions. Post-Saddam Hussein, no one is sure what will happen about the current agreements. This is part of the difficulty involved in removing his regime.

An interesting scenario is that the British have been given a concession to move in to the most profitable oil fields in Iraq. They will secure these on the first drive into Iraq if the war proceeds. Therefore, oil is the fundamental reason for the current moves on Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We must bear in mind that President Saddam Hussein was an ally of the United States of America during the war with Iran. In fact, he initiated the war against Iran and had to finally come to an agreement. The Islamic Republic of Iran, which is now coming on side with the international community, did not support that war. We provided beef to the Iranian and Iraqi armies during that period. The biggest mistake Saddam Hussein made was to move into Kuwait. If he had not done so, he would still be respected in a business sense and business would still be conducted.

Some 47% of the people of Iraq are under 16 years of age. It is unseemly to go to war with a country with such a low age profile, as young people will suffer most. When I worked as an election supervisor in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1998 with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, I experienced at first hand the ravages of war. That country will not be fully reconstructed for many generations. If Baghdad and other cities are bombed from 30,000 feet, urban infrastructure will be annihilated and there will be massive loss of life. That such an outcome must be avoided is the bottom line – it is why we are here. This House and the Government should appeal to all sides to pull back from the brink and to give space to the weapons inspectors to do their tasks and meet their responsibilities.

Iraq is an easy target because no other country has received such a level of surveillance from above, as was evident from Colin Powell's presentation yesterday, and on the ground. Iraq is not in a position to provide great resistance to the 140,000 troops who will be mobilised there. Although other pillars of evil such as North Korea are engaging in war-mongering, they will not be attacked as they do not have oil. Other undemocratic regimes will not be challenged in the same way as Iraq.

This is a serious situation and I hope war is not inevitable. I was impressed by the Government's statement that it does not wish to see war take place. This country has used its influence in every available forum to urge all involved to find a peaceful solution to these problems. The Government will continue to pursue this highly commendable approach, which is based on UN Resolution 1441. This House should unanimously appeal to all sides in the conflict to attempt, through the United Nations, to reach a solution that will prevent war in Iraq.

Photo of John Gerard HanafinJohn Gerard Hanafin (Fianna Fail)
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I also welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, to the House. War is the breakdown of reason and war is hell. I support UN Resolution 1441 and I share Deputy Leyden's wish that the House should unanimously request a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

I hope, even at this late stage, that Saddam Hussein will comply with the United Nations, but it does not appear that he intends to do so. He is drinking at the last chance saloon. Non-compliance with the UN resolution will inevitably lead to war and, unfortunately, the people of Iraq will suffer. There is no limit to the suffering that Saddam Hussein has inflicted and will inflict on the people of his country. During the debate on this issue, some people seem to have forgotten his history of non-compliance with UN directives, human torture, invasion of neighbouring countries, use of chemical weapons to kill Iraqi people and the fact that he is an absolute tyrant.

I was intrigued by Hussein's claim that Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction. General Colin Powell yesterday played audio tapes of intercepted conversations between Iraqi officials, in which they spoke of concealing evidence from inspectors and of coaching scientists on how to answer questions. General Powell presented satellite photographs of material being moved from sites in Iraq just before visits from UN inspectors and he related intelligence detailing Iraqi imports of banned weapons materials. In addition, he detailed travels in and out of Iraq by al-Qaeda operatives and other contact between that network and Iraq. The highly technical and elaborate presentation included about 30 slides, several intercepted audio tapes and satellite photographs. The bulk of the presentation focused on weapons of mass destruction, a large part was devoted to links with terrorism and a smaller portion was concerned with Iraq's human rights record. General Powell has been involved in reviewing US intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programme and its links to terrorist groups.

It is sad that one man can bring a proud nation down, but that is what Saddam Hussein has done with his catalogue of abuse since he took up the reins of power in 1979. Within days, he had executed 20 potential rivals who were members of the Ba'ath Party and the military. In 1986, the UN Secretary General reported that Iraq had used mustard gas and nerve agents against Iranian soldiers, with significant usage in 1981 and 1984.

The 1988 Iraqi military operation Anfal resulted in between 50,000 and 100,000 deaths in northern Iraq. Iraq used chemical weapons, mass executions and forced relocation to terrorise the area. In March of that year, Iraq attacked the Kurdish town of Halabjah with mix of poison gas and nerve agents, killing 5,000 residents. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and was condemned by the United Nations. Iraq was defeated by the allied forces the following year during Operation Desert Storm.

Later in 1991, however, Iraq suppressed rebellions in the south and north of the country, creating a humanitarian disaster on the borders with Turkey and Iran. A UN Special Commission was established, in co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, to ensure that Iraq was free of weapons of mass destruction and to establish a long-term monitoring programme to see that it remained free of prohibited weapons. In 1994, Saddam Hussein amalgamated the positions of Prime Minister and President. In 1998, Iraq ended all forms of co-operation with the UN Special Commission. Iraq asked the UN to replace its United States and United Kingdom staff there in 1999 and it rejected new proposals in relation to weapons inspections in 2000.

This litany of abuse has caused great suffering for the people of Iraq, who have been used as a human shield by Saddam Hussein. It is planned to remove him from office to prevent further suffering, but how can this be done without a war that would itself create suffering? I ask this House to support any further UN resolutions. It looks as if we are inexorably moving towards war with Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

Maurice Hayes (Independent)
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Many wise things have been said during this debate and it is difficult to avoid repeating the comments of other Senators. I commend the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, for his speech and I congratulate him, along with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Cowen, and our permanent representatives in the United Nations for the work they have done in developing the resolutions and maintaining lines of communication.

Senators have shown emotion and concern when speaking about certain aspects of the rhetoric associated with US foreign policy. Particular concern has been shown in relation to the direction in which such policy seems to be in danger of going. Such comments are made, as Senator Ó Murchú has said, because we are profoundly pro-American and not because we are anti-American. This country has deep bonds of respect for the values of American democracy. As Europeans, we are grateful for the way in which the United States rescued European democracy twice in the last century.

Those of us who are concerned are trying to help the US through this period, which is extremely difficult for it. As Senator Ó Murchú pointed out, we are reflecting a profound unease in American public opinion. Many good and thoughtful people in the USA are equally concerned. It is important that the United Nations is supported and that when it passes a resolution, it is enforced. I am very glad to have Senator Mansergh's assurance that Éamon de Valera enunciated that need in 1955.

At the end of the day this could lead to war. The important point, on which we are all agreed, is that war should be the last resort, not the first. I, too, saw the telecasts of Secretary of State Colin Powell's address to the United Nations. It was quite powerful in many ways. Like some, I thought that there was some doubt about Iraq's nuclear potential but there is little doubt about its potential for biological warfare. It is known to have been there and if it has been destroyed, somebody should be able to show that it has or otherwise account for it. I was rather less convinced that taking on Iraq militarily at the moment would do much for international terrorism, which is of great concern to us all. The opposite might well be true: I fear that an attack on Iraq at this stage would not only do untold damage to civilian populations but also have enormous repercussions in the Arab world, which extends from Indonesia to Casablanca. As an action against terrorism, we may end up sowing dragons' teeth by the bushel. The effect would be to make every American a target.

As Senator Quinn said, America is in a difficult position as it adjusts to being the sole superpower. We do not want to go back to the balance of terror that maintained peace of a sort during the Cold War, or Lord Castlereagh's balance of power within Europe, which was a recipe for later struggles. America will have to learn to live with being a superpower, part of which is ensuring support for international organisations. We must cling to the hope this can be settled by means other than war. That does not mean giving Saddam Hussein, who is quite clearly in breach of the resolution, unending rope but it does mean making every effort in the days and weeks available to ensure a peaceful resolution is achieved through the United Nations. There is a challenge for America here, too – sending troops and putting them in position to show that it really means business – calling Saddam's bluff – must be balanced with the difficulty, as the Duke of York found, of marching them down the hill again. That is something we will all want to bear in mind.

There is a further step that must be considered, although we might not like it or want it. We are all fairly satisfied that if action is mandated under the United Nations and taken under its banner, no large section of public opinion here or in Europe will have difficulty in accepting it. What if the United Kingdom and the USA decide to go ahead without it? We are then presented with problems, not least the ones outlined by Senator Ross, to whom we should listen carefully on the matter. If there is a choice between the version of democracy exemplified by Saddam Hussein and that exemplified by America, very few of us would have any difficulty in making up our minds, whatever criticism we might have of the details. We must also consider the very deep and persistent connection, economically and emotionally, between this country and the USA.

In the light of these considerations, it is a matter of biting the bullet, much as we might deplore it. The Government and others should be thinking about what will happen in that case and considering the best form of damage limitation. At best, we can assist in humanitarian actions and help to put the pieces together but in the meantime all anybody can do is hope and pray. I commend the Government and the Minister for the thoughtful and constructive nature of today's speech and encourage them to keep up the good work.

Photo of Timmy DooleyTimmy Dooley (Fianna Fail)
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I will be brief as we have gone over our time. I join my colleagues in welcoming the Minister of State to address this issue, which is clearly of great international concern. The events that occur over the next few weeks and months are likely to set the international political and economic agenda not only for the rest of the year but also for many years to come. I compliment the Minister of State, his Department, including the officials who are here today, and the Minister, Deputy Cowen, for the careful work they have been doing in relation to this developing crisis. Ireland has managed quite well to balance on the fine line between endeavouring to ensure continued international peace and striving to see Iraq rid itself of all weapons of mass destruction.

There has been much talk about what kind of weapons there are. I join Senator Maurice Hayes in my doubts about Iraq's nuclear capabilities – some of the documents we have seen in recent times cast a shadow of doubt over what is there. Mr. Powell certainly seems to be concentrating on biological and chemical weapons. I do not mean to undermine their capabilities as weapons of mass destruction. Certain Members and elements of society seem not to remember the hazardous effects of chemical weapons as we have become hung up on the nuclear threat. People have used the fact that no smoking gun was found leading to nuclear weapons as a reason not to pursue Saddam Hussein. We know that chemical and biological weapons can be just as destructive.

I compliment the Minister and our officials in the United Nations on the careful work we have been doing there, both on the Security Council and in the General Assembly. Throughout the European Union, we have made a telling contribution to preserving peace. Much of this debate has concentrated on the international dimension but I want to discuss the developments in the Middle East in relation to this country, particularly with regard to Shannon Airport. As I come from County Clare, I am well aware of the fact that military aircraft of various nations have been landing at the airport for some 40 years now. They have done so during peacetime and in advance of any build-up to conflict in any part of the world. The airport deals with the fuelling requirements of military aircraft transporting military personnel to many bases throughout the Middle East. An economy has built up around this: many of the hotels in the area succeed, even in the off-season, in maintaining peak employment in the region as a result of this extra business.

Shannon Airport has been used for a number of reasons. Geographically, it is positioned exceptionally well: it is about halfway between the United States and many of its bases. For those of us who live in the region, one unfortunate aspect of the airport is that it does not have the same number of flights as Dublin and Cork. The uncluttered environment, however, makes it suitable for these aircraft. There has been a significant benefit to the local economy in terms of the jobs and income it has generated. I spoke to people who work in the duty free shop who, under normal circumstances, see significant sales to US soldiers returning home, although they have not seen many return flights at this stage.

I condemn the actions of a small minority who fail to recognise the importance of what a peaceful protest means. The peaceful protests of genuine people, whose view differs from the Government's, have been usurped by those whose views on the war are quite different. That is to be deplored. I condemn the fact that a member of the Garda has ended up in hospital. It is regrettable that a member of the civil force was attacked while doing his duty, protecting military aircraft. Damage to the aeroplane has already cost the State a great deal of money and is something we need to examine closely.

It is not just the €500,000 worth of damage to the aeroplane that is regrettable but the damage to the image of the region and the country as a whole. People who are not interested in peaceful protest have succeeded in putting us in the headlines in the United States – a market that has been significant for us in terms of business and tourism. The protest has involved people from outside the State who have decided to congregate in our country and create problems for the Government – which is not directly involved – rather than in the so-called war-mongering nations of the United States or the United Kingdom. The knock-on effect is the unwanted damage to our international reputation. We have successfully generated an image of being at the forefront of the development of peace, particularly in Northern Ireland, but this image is being lost during this period of worldwide unease.

Much of the debate has referred to the rights and wrongs of war. Listening to some of the debate one would be forgiven for being confused at times that Saddam Hussein was a fantastic person who had great care and regard for his people. However, we know that is not the case, as some speakers have already alluded to. The argument that the United States armed Saddam Hussein over a number of years and was an ally at one stage seems to go unchallenged. It is a great strength of any democratic society to recognise that it may have been wrong in the past and that mistakes may have been made. When the United States was allied with Iraq during its war with Iran, matters were different at which stage I have no doubt that Saddam did not indicate his ultimate intentions. It is unfair to criticise the Americans for being part of a bloc of nations that succeeded in putting him where he is today. We must get over this and recognise that foreign policy and directions of countries change, that mistakes have been made and seek to redress them and ensure they do not happen again.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I express my appreciation to the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Tom Kitt, for attending. He has been here since before 11 a.m. This morning we came to an agreement with the Whips to leave the time fluid between 1.30 p.m. and 2 p.m. I, therefore, expect the few minutes overtime will not be taken into account.

We appreciate that the Minister of State came here so readily and without any undue pressure. He has been in the House regularly. I listened to all of the debate in my office and was struck by the sincerity of the contributions and the firmly held views of many of those who spoke. I also reflected on what a good debating chamber the Seanad is. Yesterday's debate on the Science Foundation of Ireland was extraordinary in its depth and how well understood the issues were.

The debate on Iraq has been extensive and featured many contributions. The holding of complex debates on important issues from time to time is the rightful role of the Seanad. I pay tribute to all those who spoke from all sides of the House. The debate has been sought for some time and I have no doubt we will hear more on the issue as it unfolds. I will continue to contribute to this matter as I have done in student debates. It is not a black and white issue – one cannot say Saddam is bad and Bush is good. That is a trite reflection of the complexity of the debate. There are many viewpoints with interleaving thoughts. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and giving of his time so readily. He has an extraordinary depth of vision on this issue and has chosen to share it with us.

I must attend a meeting of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. Therefore, I must leave the House but thank the Minister of State and his officials for attending today.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I am privileged to have been involved in this debate and I am happy to have been present throughout because it has been profound and balanced. There was a diversity of views and opinions, which I expected, but the one over-riding message was that we should do everything possible to avoid war. For that reason, it is important the House debated the issue. It was timely, too, because additional information was available today that the Lower House did not have when it debated the issue

I am heartened and believe this debate will reinforce me, the Government, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Taoiseach and others closely involved with the issue. This helps us in our efforts at UN level to contribute to resolving the crisis. I have always believed our interest in this area is based on our proud tradition of support for peaceful resolutions of conflicts throughout the world. Ireland has a genuine attachment to foreign policy issues, whether on foreign conflict resolution, human rights or the role of international law. Even as a small nation, we have always been anxious to play our part on the international stage, especially at the United Nations. We can and have been playing our part. I thank those who underlined this point. We are dealing with a serious situation. That has also been acknowledged.

I thank those who referred to comments I made in Ethiopia. They were genuinely felt, having been there for a week with my officials talking to people where others were suffering greatly. Members may have heard me say the lives of about 11 million people are seriously at risk through no fault of their own. The country is suffering from a horrible drought which, combined with poverty, has lead to the situation where there are huge and immediate needs.

I made a contrast between the resources urgently needed in Ethiopia for food aid and the resources that can mobilised in a speedy way in the Gulf. I was contrasting the cost of a war and the use of weapons – at my estimation, about $100 billion – with the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. I have no doubt that if any Senators had been there, many of whom have been on various missions to the developing world, they would have felt the same way. Since my return there have been some humanitarian developments. There have been more offers of food aid, including a substantial one from USAID. I have written formally to all my EU colleagues to outline the seriousness of the matter and will keep Senators informed in that regard.

We are determined to do everything possible to avoid war. The House will be aware of the consequences of conflict, which I have already outlined. The Government will continue to do all in its power to ensure we do not see such consequences become real. We know that Resolution 1441 was designed to achieve the disarmament of Iraq and thus bring about a peaceful solution to the crisis.

The inspectors are in place and continuing their work. The information shared by the United States yesterday will be given to them. They should be given the time they need to do their work. All UN members with the capacity to assist them should do so as fully as possible. They will make a further report to the Security Council on 14 February. Dr. Blix has set out very clearly the questions Iraq must answer. We are all very clear, because of the many debates we have had, that the Iraqi Government must respond in a straightforward way without any further evasion or playing for time.

Senator Michael Kitt raised the issue of the dual use list and sanctions. I welcome the fact that both he and Deputy Michael Higgins were able to visit Iraq and share their experiences with us. That is healthy.

During its time on the Security Council, Ireland worked hard to bring about a radical reform of the economic sanctions system to expedite the flow of supplies and do everything possible to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population. Circumstances have improved greatly, as has been made clear here today, but not enough has been done to satisfy us. A Fine Gael Senator mentioned Shannon Airport and asked whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Transport should be responsible where the law is concerned. To clarify that matter, the Minister for Foreign Affairs grants permission under the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, for civilian overflights and landings. Civilian flights are subject to the usual civilian civil aviation regulations. If, however, there is a request to carry munitions or weapons, the Minister for Transport can exempt an aircraft from the prohibition against carrying weapons and munitions, as provided for under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973.

With regard to the build-up, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and I have spoken about the need for a credible threat. Senator Maurice Hayes touched on this also. As I said, we are determined to do everything possible to avoid war and have outlined the requirements with which Saddam Hussein must comply. The build-up of army personnel is part of the credible threat. We hope it will suffice and that, combined with the role of the inspectors and the new information they have received, it will lead to an acceptable and peaceful outcome.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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On behalf of the House, I thank the Minister of State and his officials for listening to the excellent contributions made from all sides of the House on the crisis in Iraq. When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Next Tuesday, 11 February 2003, at 2.30 p.m.