Seanad debates

Wednesday, 2 April 2003

Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq: Statements.


10:30 am

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome this opportunity to debate once again the humanitarian situation in Iraq. We are daily witnessing scenes of conflict and distress in Iraq on our television screens and on my way here I heard about the bombing of a maternity hospital in Baghdad. We do not have the full details, but it is quite harrowing news. Some commentators have suggested that we are becoming used to the 24 hour coverage and that the humanitarian crisis has become somewhat less urgent. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Iraq is potentially facing a catastrophe with millions of innocent civilians threatened by conflict, hunger and a lack of basic needs. As I have stated in this Chamber previously, my focus remains on the protection and saving of human lives. This is the humanitarian imperative to which I am committed.

The current conflict in Iraq comes on top of years of hardship and difficulty. Since 1991, the Iraqi people have seen a dramatic drop in their living standards. In the league table that measures quality of life – the human development index – Iraq fell from 96th to 127th place in a little over ten years. No country has fallen so far so rapidly. This deterioration is translated at the basic human level into increased child deaths, malnutrition and high rates of disease. Iraqi children are facing extreme risks at this time and we should be conscious of the fact that they constitute 50% of the population of Iraq.

Prior to the beginning of the current conflict, 60% of the population, that is, 16 million people, were dependent on rations delivered under the UN Oil for Food Programme as their only food supply. The suspension of that programme on 17 March, when the Secretary General withdrew United Nations personnel from Iraq, has put even greater pressures on an already extremely vulnerable population.

I welcome the unanimous decision of the Security Council, through Resolution 1472, to authorise the Secretary General to administer the Oil for Food Programme for the next 45 days and possibly longer. I hope the resumption of the programme will mean that despite the difficulties, basic food assistance can once again reach those who are most vulnerable. The question is whether the food can reach them in the midst of a conflict.

Senators will be aware that since I last addressed the House on 21 March, I have announced an emergency assistance package for the people of Iraq, with a particular emphasis on women and children. These funds, amounting to €5 million, will be disbursed through non-governmental organisations and international agencies such as UNICEF and the Red Cross. We will work with those agencies which are best equipped and have the capacity and experience to respond effectively to this crisis.

I have already authorised initial disbursements from this emergency funding. Assistance amounting to €1.5 million will be provided for the Red Cross and Red Crescent family and for UNICEF. These agencies are present in Iraq and their staff, the great majority of whom are Iraqi, are providing assistance on a daily basis for those most in need. My Department is currently appraising applications for emergency funding from Concern, GOAL and Trócaire. These NGOs have a proven track record for delivering emergency assistance rapidly and effectively.

Two particular issues have come to my attention in respect of the way Ireland and the international community can best respond to meet the basic needs of the Iraqi people. I refer to the importance of safe and secure access to those Iraqis who are most vulnerable and also to the need to avoid the large scale militarisation of the humanitarian effort.

It is difficult to obtain accurate and reliable information on the suffering of the Iraqi people. We are aware that the ability of the population to cope has been severely eroded over the years. Reports by the UN and NGOs have stressed the deterioration in all aspects of basic living conditions.

The vulnerability of Iraqi children has been underlined repeatedly. In any conflict the primary responsibility for the protection and welfare of the civilian population rests with the warring parties. In a case of foreign occupation, the occupying power must ensure the provision of food and medical supplies for the civilian population. Over the last few days I have looked with growing concern at scenes of food being thrown off the back of military trucks. This is an object lesson in how not to deliver humanitarian assistance. A military truck does not become a humanitarian truck because food is handed out.

The involvement of the military in the humanitarian effort can make the work of civilian agencies such as NGOs and others very difficult. There is a blurring of the separation between military and civilian personnel. This can be dangerous, especially if the neutrality and impartiality of emergency aid distribution is to be effective. Throwing bags of wheat off the back of a truck is no substitute for the painstaking efforts of NGOs and UN agencies in determining those who are most in need and delivering assistance on that basis. In emergencies all over the world, NGOs, the UN and others such as the Red Cross family have clearly demonstrated that they are best practised and equipped to provide the most effective assistance. We have only to look at their work in southern Africa, the Horn of Africa, East Timor and Afghanistan to see how effective they can be.

I hope that safe corridors for the delivery of aid can be established as soon as possible. In Afghanistan this happened very rapidly. I then wish to see NGOs, the UN and other internationally recognised humanitarian agencies take the lead in the delivery of essential items to those most in need. From the outset I have emphasised that the UN must play a lead role in any humanitarian relief operation. I am pleased to note that the European Council at its meeting of 20-21 March echoed the need for the UN to play a central role during and after the current crisis and urged the Security Council to give it a strong mandate for this mission.

I recently returned from a visit to East Timor, an area in which this House is very interested, where I witnessed at first hand the successful outcome of a UN operation which has placed this newly independent country on the road to development and prosperity. In 1999 the situation in East Timor seemed almost hopeless. Its infrastructure was destroyed and a large proportion of its population was displaced, yet today that new nation is looking to the future with determination and confidence. The UN played the key role in this transformation. The East Timor experience clearly shows how strong a force for good the UN can be when its members act in a united manner.

A few days ago the United Nations issued a major international appeal for assistance in relation to the humanitarian situation in Iraq over the next six months. This assistance will be provided in strict adherence to the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality that underpin the mandates of the United Nations and its emergency response agencies. I am currently examining the various components of this appeal and I hope to be able to respond positively. I hope to provide assistance through our key UN partners – UNICEF, UNHCR and the World Food Programme. The needs of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs will also be examined.

Ireland has already provided almost €15 million for UNICEF and the UNHCR in 2003 for their global operations, including emergencies. These funds are not earmarked and, thus, provide these agencies with the necessary flexibility and the potential for fast delivery which can improve effectiveness and save lives.

The European Union and its member states are the largest donors of development assistance in the world. It is anticipated that the EU's immediate response to the emergency in Iraq will be approximately €100 million. The first tranche of €3 million is already being used to deliver assistance in Iraq via the Red Cross. I welcome this rapid response and I will continue to use every opportunity to highlight the humanitarian needs of Iraq to my colleagues in the EU.

I wish to speak about the Irish funding of €5 million being provided to save lives in Iraq. The funding provided by the Irish Government for development co-operation and the reduction of poverty in the developing world has never been at a higher level. The primary focus of our assistance remains sub-Saharan Africa, where the greatest number of poor countries in the world are located and this focus will not change. However, there are many millions of poor people in other parts of the world and we must and do respond to their needs as well.

I assure Senators that the emergency humanitarian budget, which currently stands at €23 million, is, by its very nature, designed to be flexible. It is not allocated in advance to any particular region or emergency but is available to save lives and livelihoods in whatever region of the world there is greatest need. We cannot predict the number or intensity of crises we have to address and, therefore, the funding must remain flexible. My priority is to address humanitarian needs wherever they arise. I have sufficient funding under the programme as a whole to deal with the full range of humanitarian needs and also to tackle the longer-term development challenges in Africa and elsewhere.

In 2002 the Government intervened to provide humanitarian assistance such as food, water, shelter and medicines on more than 120 occasions in over 30 countries, including Iraq. This is testament to our commitment to respond to the needs of the poor in times of crisis. It was the flexible and unallocated nature of our funds which allowed us to respond quickly to humanitarian needs as they arose. As the situation in Iraq unfolds, Ireland will work as part of a concerted international humanitarian effort involving the United Nations, the European Union and NGOs.

Conflict in Iraq is upon us – that is the reality. I dearly wish this conflict could have been avoided. Ireland worked very hard during our time on the Security Council to alleviate the effects of economic sanctions and to avoid war. There is a very important task ahead of me now. I will do absolutely everything in my power to alleviate the effects of suffering on the Iraqi people by contributing directly to the humanitarian efforts. I will also use every opportunity at EU level, at the UN and in other fora to advocate the return of the United Nations to a central role in the humanitarian and recovery efforts and the reconstruction of Iraq.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to discuss events in Iraq. This House debated war in Iraq in advance of the conflict. As the situation unfolds over the next few weeks, we must continue to speak out on the issue.

Television coverage was raised in the debate and has been mentioned repeatedly on the Order of Business, with Members rightly criticising the coverage we have seen. The conflict has been presented by some media outlets as if it were a video game. Members have stressed that real war is not a video game and will result in the realisation of its full horrors, with killing, destruction, deprivation and fear being visited on the people of Iraq.

In spite of complaints about some coverage, however, we now enjoy the advantage that every citizen in the world with access to a television can see on a daily basis the destruction and civilian suffering the war is causing. If there is any positive result to such up-front coverage, it is that no one can remain immune to the pain and suffering being experienced in Iraq.

We should not, however, be surprised by this because all wars are brutal. I previously quoted President Jimmy Carter, who said that war is sometimes the lesser of two evils but is always evil. War will never be as neat or surgical as the planners would have us believe. The greatest casualties are not inflicted on the armed factions or the political leaderships but upon the ordinary civilians and this war is no different.

The Oireachtas, and society in general, has been debating the rights and wrongs of the war in Iraq. Opinion about the conflict is divided, as has been demonstrated in recent polls. It is fitting, therefore, that we should debate the matter, but we were never going to have any real say about the conflict or veto over it. We could take a moral stance but we were in no position to stop the war or influence the participants. Since the United Nations was unable to stop the war, it was unlikely this House would be able to.

At this stage I believe we can play a meaningful and leading role in relation to humanitarian relief for the people of Iraq. We can speak clearly and strongly on the question of rebuilding Iraq when the terrible conflict has ended. My party leader, Deputy Kenny, last night spoke about what he described as the two absolute requirements, first that there must be full respect for Iraqi sovereignty, for its territorial integrity and for its independence, and second the right of the Iraqi people to determine their own political future and to control their own natural resources, which must remain sacrosanct.

We must insist that when the conflict ends, Iraq will not simply be an oil well for the West. We must demand that the resources of Iraq are used for its sole benefit. The participants in the conflict, in particular the US and Britain, have certainly given assurances that this is what they want. We must publicly insist that they fulfil those commitments. We must use every possible occasion to demand of the US and Britain in particular that they do so, that they will respect the rights of the Iraqi people to rebuild Iraq in the way the Iraqi people wish, that they will ensure the resources of Iraq will be used for the people of Iraq. This will happen only if the reconstruction of Iraq is directed by the United Nations, and it is a very necessary first step that the United Nations have a strategic role in the humanitarian effort.

I mentioned earlier how the Oireachtas and in a sense the country itself is divided on this issue, but as Kofi Annan said to the United Nations, we have it in our power to either deepen these divisions or to start the healing process. We in Fine Gael strongly believe that the huge humanitarian effort which must start immediately, and which will take many months and perhaps years to complete, is the best possible way to start the healing of these divisions, within the EU and the United Nations. It is important that we can speak with one voice in both Houses on this fundamental issue of aid, and that the moneys which will be made available will be additional, not money directed from other relief programmes. I welcome the commitment by the Minister of State and the Government to allocate the initial €5 million, and I hope it is an initial sum and that more money will be provided.

Hopefully the war will stop soon. Possibly it will not, yet if it does, the following are the brutal statistics as brought to our attention by the various aid agencies and non-governmental organisations, statistics which show clearly the huge humanitarian efforts which will be required. At least 11 million people will need some sort of humanitarian aid, at least 10,000 people will have died in the conflict and at least 900,000 Iraqis are likely to become refugees. Half a million people will be left sick or injured, three million mothers and children will require urgent food supplies, two million people at least will require shelter, and millions of people will have been affected by the disruption to the food supply chain.

Furthermore, there will be huge numbers of people who will be fleeing from central and southern Iraq into the northern region of the country, and many of these could fall victim to the land mines which litter these areas. The mines advisory group has currently identified over 2,000 mined areas.

That is a picture of the enormous humanitarian aid requirements which will need to be put in place. John O'Shea of GOAL said in relation to the aid efforts – which the Minister of State touched on – that television footage on all the major networks on Wednesday night last provided a lesson in how not to deliver aid. If aid distribution is poorly planned, as the intervention in the Iraqi border town of Safwan appeared to be, then the one thing we can be assured is that only the strongest will receive aid. Opening the backs of a few trucks and letting a desperate crowd of people fight between themselves for aid demeans us all.

As for the cost of aid, UNICEF is I understand indicating a short-term ballpark figure of approximately $166 million, a drop in the ocean in comparison to what the war itself is costing. I believe President Bush is currently seeking $76 billion from Congress to help continue the war effort. The message from this House, apart from the obvious message that the war should stop immediately, is that at European Union level and at the United Nations this Government must lead the efforts to direct the aid effort and the humanitarian effort. This project must not be left only to the United States and to Britain. The United Nations, as part of the process of rebuilding itself, must use the rebuilding of Iraq, and of hope in that country, as its first step.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State and the opportunity to speak again about this awful war. Over the last ten days not alone have we discussed it in this House, but there is probably not a sitting room in the country where people have not been glued to their televisions watching the trauma reflected in those horrible pictures on screen.

The situation should concern everyone and there is no one in the country who would not love to turn back the clock and ask if there might be another way out of the situation. The war is a reality, so how do we move on? That is what we should be debating in this House and wherever we get the opportunity. I am glad that the Minister of State and the Leader of this House have found time again to allow us air our views as to how we might move forward and alleviate the awful suffering.

I saw a sickening clip on television very recently involving the notion of journalists being "embedded". Some are embedded with the coalition forces in distributing humanitarian aid, and when it was rejected, there was the appalling feeling that these people were throwing aid at the Iraqis as if this were the way to overcome rejection by them. The journalists were reflecting that view, and that nauseated me when I saw it on television. I felt it was not correct.

I use this opportunity to congratulate our own journalists, who are being very fair in their assessment of the situation. They are describing it as it is, and I welcome that because it shows up that some other journalists are not reading the situation as it should be read.

Another loss is the lack of faith in the United Nations. It is a shame that such a noble organisation has been undermined to such an extent. I recognise the good work Ireland has for a very long time done in supporting the United Nations and supporting humanitarian relief efforts. We know that Ireland always had a strong voice for the innocent victims. We all want to see an end to this war, and every day we hope for the end.

The British forces are, I think, trying to handle the situation and trying to integrate with the Iraqi people and build up the confidence that is lacking. They are trying to counteract the lack of trust between east and west, which is such a pity. We should be aiming to rebuild that confidence and trust, because there is the fear that it is "them" and "us", and the Iraqis as a proud nation do not want to be handed aid. They would rather die than accept it in this way, and I am very conscious of that.

The question is how we can liberate Iraq. There is no democracy there. We are trying to build the future of Iraq, to give them a sense of their own identity and nationalism, their sense of being. It is not going to be easy to get that message across, but that is our aim. We have the experience of Afghanistan, where we aimed to give out aid, and that of the various NGOs, including Concern and GOAL, which have distributed aid with sensitivity. It is only when we go about the task in that way that we will establish ourselves as the key people.

There is a need to restore water and food supplies. I was reading about what cutting off the electricity links and public health services will mean regarding disease. Many urban dwellers have a huge fear that, unless we get those grids back in working order, it will lead to diseases such as typhoid and respiratory infections, with an impact on public health. It has been well quoted that the collapse of services would lead to a humanitarian disaster. Many children are at risk from death due to malnutrition.

I congratulate the Government which is doing everything it can to provide moneys for UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for their global operations, which currently include Iraq. The Minister referred to a current allocation of €15 million which I hope will be earmarked with flexibility and given in such a way that it can be easily distributed among the people. Our problem is that the journalists who have taken on a pro-coalition role have destroyed it for those who wish to enter the country to hand out aid and best deliver our contributions to the people. Unless we can restore that confidence, dealing with the lack of trust, we will have no role, which worries me greatly.

I wish the Minister of State well and congratulate him on his work in the hope that he will continue and that we will go on debating the issue to ensure Ireland is working in the field, making the public aware of the suffering and how best we can move forward on a humanitarian level. What we really want is the war to end, to rebuild Iraq and make it a sovereign state. We can only do this through our resources, calling in GOAL, Concern, the Red Cross and UNICEF among other organisations to try to alleviate the suffering. I do not know what else we can do.

I recently read a line in the newspaper that sickened me. An American soldier said, "I had to kill that chick because she was in my way." I could not believe what he had said. They have a role to play but I could not believe he would use such an insensitive line. Perhaps he did have to kill her but it was the way he said that turned me off. There must be another way of doing this. I do not want Saddam Hussein or the current situation to continue. I want a democratic country, young people to receive an education and enjoy freedom of expression in the same way we do. I want to give Iraq the same sense of identity as we have. We must keep fighting to ensure people in the eastern part of the world are aware that we are on their side. We are not against them, we want simply to liberate them. That is my message today. We can do this best on a humanitarian basis. I hope we will keep pushing this line to alleviate the suffering.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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This is a filthy and unjustifiable war. While I know he is a decent man who feels things keenly, the Minister of State mentioned the fact that, as we have just heard, a maternity hospital had been bombed. Are we now to be told that the babies in their incubators bombed themselves? This the kind of thing the Americans have been saying. With regard to this business of liberating people and giving them democracy, one cannot dump democracy from the sky on top of them in the form of a bomb. That is simply impossible, it must be grown from the base up. One cannot have instant solutions.

We see the growing militarisation of the idea of humanitarian aid, something I find absolutely revolting. On television last night I witnessed the obscene sight of a soldier enticing a terrified child with a bar of candy. Do the people doing this remember the way they carried on when Saddam Hussein stuck a British child on his knee? They are doing exactly the same and worse. It is a violation of the innocent, nothing else. With regard to the so-called liberation of Iraq, can one be liberated against one's will? That is complete and utter nonsense. Let us spell it out the way it is: it is a rape. Of course, the rapists are saying the victims provoked their lust and that, in any case, they will get to like it. That is the message of the Governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. We hear the cry of the Iraqi people, at home in Iraq, here and in Britain. They ask, "Are we not human?" It is remarkable how many of them have used this phrase. They say, "Leave us alone and we will deal with Saddam in our own way."

There is, as I said, an utterly cynical and degrading abuse of humanitarian aid. Food and water – hunger and thirst – are being used as instruments of war in the siege of towns such as Basra. The proof can be seen, We were told that people would come out and welcome them but the proof is that there has not been a single sign of this. We have, however, had some instructive elements such as the bombing of a water purification plant. It is totally cynical that agencies distributing food and water should be bombed by the axis of evil of the United Kingdom and the United States, only for them to then go in with their laughable humanitarian aid.

What we are confronted with, in fact, is a totally imperialist situation. I know that the word "imperialist" used to be tossed around in student debates but this is imperialism. Look at the struggle between the various elements in the Bush Administration. Colin Powell's State Department put in a list of eight people, who included several former ambassadors to Arab states, to be involved in the presumptuous and arrogant administration of Iraq after the war but Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon put their pens through them all and instead are trying to give the posts to long-time supporters of regime change, such as James Wolsey, a former director of the CIA. What was the one they had earmarked for him? The answer is the Minister for Information in the new Iraqi Government. Can one imagine anything more Orwellian? This is 1984 20 years too late. They are going to impose a Government, and the Minister for Information representing the Iraqi people is going to be the American-based former director of the CIA. That is what we are dealing with in this situation.

Let us look at the language used. I salute and thank Senator Ormonde for her sensitive speech but they are not the only phrases and they are very interesting. There was the British soldier who said the American airman who shot up his tank column was "a cowboy . out on a jolly."That is what we are dealing with in the American army. Let us have a few more quotes from The Sunday Times, one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers: "The Iraqis are sick and we are the chemotherapy." What does that tell one about the mentality of those troops? However, there is a progression. The next person quoted said, "I'd like to meet one of those friggin' Iraqis, I'd kill him." The final quote is, "I'm sick of the war, I'd like to nuke that bloody town." Perhaps they will because they are mad enough. George Bush is so thick that he seems to believe gas masks are weapons of mass destruction and chemical warfare. They present them on television and say, "We told you so." Are the unfortunate Iraqis not to protect themselves? It reminds me of the time in this country when the British were bombing the hell out of O'Connell Street, and one of O'Casey's characters in the play said, "Do they want us to come out in our pelts and throw stones at them?"

These are a dignified people. I was astonished that we even had Mo Mowlam saying it is dreadful, it is awful but we have got to bomb them out of it and end the war as quickly as possible. It is like a game show – I have started, so I will finish.

It reminds me more of Macbeth, the play we studied for the intermediate certificate. The feeling expressed by Macbeth hangs like a pall over this:

I am in blood

Stepped in so far that, should I wade no

Returning were as tedious as go o'er.

That seems to be what Bush thinks.

Then we had the case at the road block at Najaf. We were told, in that wonderful American principle that Mr. Nixon gave to the world of "deniability", that they were responsible, that they did not stop and the soldiers fired warning shots. Now we know they did not because there was an embedded reporter from The Washington Post who has shown to the world that it was all lies. Seven or eight people, women and children, trying desperately to flee with all their worldly possessions, were blown to smithereens, and then they lie about it. It works because today I heard somebody on Joe Duffy's radio show say, "They shot a warning signal, they told them." They did not. Do not insult us with these lies.

Then they handed out ten body bags and an offer of money. The brave people there were the poor unfortunate relatives who had the courage to go in and claim the mutilated bodies of their families and refuse the money, and I hope they spat in their faces while they did it.

Last night 33 women and children were obliterated. I would like to quote the shameful account of this, again from The Irish Times:

Most of the dead are women and children, and have the sort of amputation wounds caused by cluster bombs, which are banned for use against civilians.

"This was done by US cluster bombs," a British-trained doctor, Dr Nazem al-Adali, said, speaking to the camera. "I appeal to all my colleagues in Britain to do something to stop this."

If the medical profession in this country have any decency, they will, to a single person, unite and demand a stop to this.

The Minister should summon the representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States to demand that the use of cluster bombs and depleted uranium is stopped immediately. We are told, regarding these incidents at roadblocks, that they learnt from Northern Ireland. Is that music in the ears of this Irish Government?

We should see these images. It is far too sanitised. I could not sleep last night after what I saw and heard – the poor unfortunate man taking up his mutilated baby and screaming, "This is my baby. They are cowards." Two young men were hiding and screaming with their keffiyeh over their heads. I saw it and I hope Bush saw it, and I hope he slept as little as I slept last night. We have to see these images.

We have had this business about Shannon. Of course we are complicit. I have a record in human rights and if they are brought before a war crimes tribunal, with my record I will stand and give evidence that Ministers in this country were complicit in a war crime.

I salute the bravery of the British soldiers, those two wonderful young men who refused to fight and who are to face a court martial.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator's time is up.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It may be, but I am going to finish this. I mean no disrespect, a Chathaoirligh, but I just want to finish two points. We have had Rumsfeld trying to involve Syria and Iran. Is there not enough blood for him? We have had Hosni Mubarak saying there will be 100 more Osamas, and there will. It is totally disproportionate.

I mentioned Macbeth. I hope that somebody around Bush has the intelligence to reflect on Macbeth's bitter musings: "It will have blood, they say; blood will have blood." So it will, and it will be on our heads if at the very least the Minister does not, as I have asked, call in the ambassadors of the United Kingdom and the United States to tell them plainly what we think of the use of cluster bombs on civilian targets, of the blowing up of maternity hospitals.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to be present at this debate. Obviously we all share the sense of horror at what is happening. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, for coming to the House because it is not easy.

We all are confronted with the pictures, daily and nightly. We all feel a sense of horror. We all have various ways of expressing it. We wanted to come together. It was the thought of Senator Ó Murchú that we should have a drawing together here of how we all faced up to it, what we thought about it and what we are seeking to ameliorate in the very best way possible.

I know Senator Norris feels it deeply. So do we, so does my colleague, the Minister of State.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I know that.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Every one of us feels it. We may not have the strength of volume in our voices – I mean that as a praiseworthy remark to Senator Norris – but we feel it just as much. If we do not express it loudly, it does not mean that we do not feel it—

Photo of Mary WhiteMary White (Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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—when we see the television pictures, none of which we can believe now because they contradict one another on the hour. They cannot find the armaments factory or the gas equipment that they told us were there. They cannot find the rose blossoms which were to strew the path of the incoming invaders.

Unfortunately and sadly, the invaders, what the Minister called the "occupying forces", are getting there. There has to be a better way than seeing every evening the lined and stricken faces of women and children, old long before their time through hunger, deprivation, worry, loss, abandonment, puzzlement, wondering where they are going and what it is all about. They have absolutely no way of knowing. Their daily lives, from morning until night are one long series of bullets and bombs and a sense that they are bereft.

We must reflect upon the news about the maternity hospital. We must reflect on the fact of women giving new life and the life being stripped away from them as soon as they give it. It is a most awful picture.

We are here today to talk about humanitarian aid. I applaud the flexibility of the Minister in the way he talked about the unallocated funds and how they do it. He dwelt on this particular topic fleetingly, but he did dwell upon it. I find it obscene that it is military lorries that are bringing death and at the same time bringing food.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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That has to be the wrong way to do it, throwing it out as if they were the lord protectors who had come to protect the people of Basra and all of these towns, the names of which, along with the those of the rivers and the passwords, trip off our tongues as if we were daily familiar with them. There is something wrong about men and women in uniform giving out aid and having the bullet in the other hand. It has to be, as the Minister stated, the NGOs and the recognised agencies and the countries that are giving the humanitarian aid. In essence humanitarian aid in the hands of invaders is wrong and obscene.

It is aggrandisement – there is no doubt about it. There is no other way to describe it. But what happens? Afghanistan was overtaken and there is, in its main city, a semblance of governance, but the rest of the country is as lawless as ever. Nobody wants Saddam Hussein, as Senator Ormonde stated, but if you talk like this you are somehow believed to be on his side. How could anybody be on the side of a tyrant who denies everything of democracy to all his people? There has to be another way which is better than a war, because at the end of the day war achieves nothing.

I am no pacifist, but I know enough of life to know that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. There is a sense of people needing to take part in a great, heroic war effort. There is nothing heroic about war, about bombing civilians, about beating women into the ground or about killing children. There must be a better way. I applaud the Minister of State, Deputy Tom Kitt, who has given his heart and soul to humanitarian efforts. I am glad we have had the opportunity to discuss this matter today.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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If people are concerned – as are many Members of the House – about the humanitarian disaster looming in Iraq, they are obliged to demand immediately an end to the activity that is causing that disaster, namely, hostilities. I do not understand why a Government that claims it is neutral cannot say that this conflict should stop now. The British Government says that if we stop now, we will leave Saddam Hussein in power. Is that worse than letting the Iraqi people continue to suffer? Who are we to say that it is more important to eliminate the regime in Iraq than to end the agony of that country's people? If we are genuinely serious about humanitarian issues, we have an obligation to say that the best thing that can be done to alleviate the humanitarian disaster is to stop now.

The fact that people launched into an activity that is clearly both immoral and illegal does not permit us to avoid confronting the realisation that what was immoral and illegal when it began remains so and that the only thing changing is the scale of the horror. It is up to us and the Government to speak out.

I do not want to make a political issue out of this, but the view of this conflict has been fudged at Government level. The leader of Fine Gael believes the war is illegal and immoral and the Labour Party and its leader also believe that. The leader of Fianna Fáil in this House believes it, but we cannot get the Government to say that it believes the war is wrong. The reason for this is that we could not merely discuss the outcome of a war if we believe that the activity is illegal and immoral.

It is not as if we have always found it difficult to make judgments about invasions. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we knew what was our position, although our official position was neutral. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia – to drive out the most appalling regime the world had seen since Hitler, which killed perhaps 20% of its population, deliberately and callously, in the pursuit of a most profoundly savage ideology – we refused to recognise the new Government of that country. We persisted in recognising the tyranny of Pol Pot, for the best part of 20 years, in the interests of power politics. Let us not pretend that in our strategic interest we are not allowed to say what we think about major issues. I challenge the Government, as I have done on previous occasions, to say what it thinks about this war.

Of course the war is regrettable. Every single death of a human being – be it an Iraqi soldier, an American soldier, a British soldier or an innocent civilian – is regrettable. However, regret is a step away from conscience. My conscience is where I decide whether something is moral and my understanding of law is where I decide whether something is legal. The fundamental problem, which is infuriating Irish people, is the fact that the Government cannot bring itself to say whether its advice suggests that this activity is either moral or legal. I believe it is neither. As a result, there is no reason to believe that we can simply stand back and hope it ends quickly.

What is happening in Iraq is a war of aggression on the part of two countries. I know the Minister of State has much goodwill towards East Timor, but I was taken aback by his reference to it because just two weeks ago in The Economist there was a startlingly blunt assessment of the grab Australia has made for East Timor's natural resources. There is something sickeningly ironic about Australia involving itself in a war to liberate the people of Iraq, while it is also involved in the use of what is essentially brute force to impoverish the people of East Timor. It has withdrawn from the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has withdrawn its acceptance of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in order to justify its illegal grabbing of the natural resources of East Timor, which, according to all international conventions, should be the property of the people of that country. I have no patience with that sort of crusading spirit, which lines up with the USA in Iraq halfway around the world while bullying its nearest neighbour. I do not believe we can accept the ethics, values or morality of a Government that behaves in this way.

I am concerned that discussion about humanitarian aid will become a smokescreen for many who want to avoid confronting the real issue, which, I reiterate, is the morality of this war. There is nothing unique about the brutality of what is happening in this war, nor about the massacre of civilians, including children. It happens in every war. The real moral challenge to the Governments of the USA and the UK and their puny ally in Australia is whether the slaughter they have accepted is necessary and morally justified by the aim they have in mind.

I invite our Government, which claims to be a subscriber to international law and decency, to say whether it believes that this war is right. Not whether it is regrettable – of course it is – but whether it is justified. If it is illegal and immoral, then, regardless of the precedents 55 years ago, we should not allow our airports to be used to transport troops to participate in such a war.

I ask the Minister of State not to reply that the Attorney General said we were not involved in the war. I accept that as an interesting, casuistic, Jesuitical distinction, but what I want to know is whether, if the Government believes a war is immoral and illegal, it will still tolerate troops passing through on the basis of some vague – I emphasise the word "vague"– precedent. It was shameful to allow troops to pass through during the war on Vietnam, but it was a different era: we had a different view of the world and we were less informed about the brutalities that were taking place.

Let us by all means weep for the children of Iraq. Of course we should do so. Let us also urge others to do likewise. However, humanitarian tears that ignore the moral obscenity being perpetrated against the people of Iraq have more to do with crocodiles than with compassion.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his comments on humanitarian aid, which is an issue we have discussed both at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and in this House.

For some time I have been concerned about the UN Oil for Food Programme. The Minister of State referred to the fact that the UN, which had suspended this programme, has announced its recommencement. Having met people from the NGO, CARE, when I was in Baghdad at the end of January, I know the Oil for Food Programme was operated very efficiently. Some 16 million Iraqis, or 66% of a population of 27 million, depended on the programme.

Much depended on people being able to get to the depots from their houses to collect the food. Since the war started, I have been wondering how people have been able to collect the food rations available and bring them home. Earlier today, I spoke to a girl from Iraq who has been studying and working in Ireland for 12 years. I met her parents when I visited Iraq. She confirmed there was a difficulty with people collecting their rations. She also mentioned that refugees have always had huge difficulty getting to the borders with Jordan, Turkey and Syria because of the huge cost of transport. Unfortunately, the borders have been closed in recent times and it is very difficult for people to reach those countries. That is one of the practical issues that has arisen.

At yesterday's meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Chairman, Deputy Woods, proposed a motion on the political and humanitarian situation in Iraq. He rightly stated that the United Nations should do everything in its power to ensure that the stability of the region is maintained and that there will be no extension of hostilities outside the boundaries of Iraq. He referred also to the fact that there is a road map for peace and security in the Middle East. The representatives of NGOs who attended the meeting said the United Nations should provide assistance and it was not acceptable for this to be done by the military. John O'Shea referred to the militarisation of food provision and I agree that this is a matter of concern.

The joint committee also discussed sanctions. On a number of occasions I have referred to the need to end sanctions as soon as practicable. It is obscene that military trucks are bringing in food when water supplies are being bombed. Water supply is key, but we are not allowed to provide chlorine to Iraq to assist in the purification of water. The lack of decent water supplies is one of the biggest issues in Iraq.

We should learn something about human rights in Iraq. President Saddam Hussein has obviously abused his position. I condemn the fact that while members of the Baath Party receive preferential treatment, he has abused the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs.

Great work was done on the peace process in Northern Ireland and in South Africa in setting up the truth and reconciliation commission. We received – I hope we are still getting it – help towards the peace process in Northern Ireland. Representatives from the Seanad travelled to South Africa to monitor elections and look at the political process there. This sort of assistance should be available to the people of Iraq and the people of the Middle East. We should not dismiss the proposal made by Senator O'Toole yesterday to send politicians to provide assistance in Iraq. There are reporters from Ireland in Iraq and in neighbouring countries who are doing an excellent job. There are also doctors and nurses from Ireland, many of whom I have met, working there. The politicians should also provide assistance by visiting the area.

I congratulate the Minister of State on what the Government has done in terms of the provision of food. He mentioned that the UN has stockpiles of food, medicines and supplies of essential equipment in countries in the vicinity of Iraq. Those need to be made available as quickly as possible for the sake of the refugees and the innocent citizens in Iraq.

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Clearly Saddam Hussein is a dangerous leader. He is a military dictator in charge of a large country and he wants to have weapons of mass destruction, although no evidence has been shown to date that he possesses them. Two weeks ago, President Bush stated that the US and Britain would have a quick military success and that Iraq would be liberated. However, the war has gone on for a fortnight and there is no end in sight. What is happening in Iraq at present is very sad. As stated previously, all wars are bad and they bring much death and destruction wherever they take place. The inevitable loss of life of men, women and children is the saddest result of any war.

Leaders from all over Europe, and particularly from neutral countries such as Ireland, need to display their leadership by speaking out courageously against this war. Any days of war are evil days and this is something we have recognised in the past. History has written about the evil days of war and it is no different today from what we learnt in our history classes at school. The majority of Irish people are opposed to this war and we have a duty towards those we represent to try to bring some realisation of what is happening.

We should be outraged at the level of military expenditure by the US and Britain at a time when famine is rampant in Africa and other parts of the world. If we are true friends of the American people, we must tell them of our concern that war achieves nothing but misery. There are many other ways of getting rid of a dictator. Ultimately, people power is what counts. If people rise up and they have the confidence and the support of all right-minded nations, they will eventually get rid of a dictator.

I have visited America on two occasions since Christmas. In general, its citizens are kind and generous but they are being conned by President Bush. Last night I spoke to friends in New York who are seeing a different side of the war in Iraq to that which we are seeing here. It is regrettable that people in the American media, who no doubt care about standards in the profession, are simply being used to deliver false information to the world. This was particularly evident when I spoke to my friends in America. It is being done through a system of censorship that applies to most journalists working in Iraq at present.

We hear about the so-called embedded journalists but they are referred to more on US television networks such as Fox News where they are most prevalent. These journalists come from all the major television and radio stations and newspapers and are officially part of the American and British war units in Iraq. They travel into action with the military and what they report is strictly controlled by the military, which means that the information the public gets from such reporters is largely propaganda. This is the annoying thing about the modern media, but thankfully there are also many good independent journalists working in Iraq, some of whom are from Ireland. I compliment them on a good job – they publish the truth, which is paramount in this situation. I am glad we have people who stand up to the mouthpieces of Bush in this State and other EU countries.

I compliment GOAL, Concern, Trócaire and the many other agencies working for those afflicted by the war. It is important that we support these organisations because all right-minded people in a nation that has suffered should see that the ordinary decent people of Iraq are looked after and supported in every way possible.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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It is in the nature and tradition of Ireland to be at the forefront in any humanitarian mission in any part of the world and Iraq will be no exception. We are particularly fortunate to have Deputy Tom Kitt as Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. I hope he does not mind my saying so, but I have been observing him for some time and have been impressed by his work.

I am glad this debate is taking place and I support what the Leader said initially. I made the same point in the House on the occasion of our last debate on Iraq. I would love to see a united front by the Seanad, the Dáil and the people, reaching the common ground on this matter, which I believe there is, even though there may be peripheral issues upon which we disagree. It is always a privilege to be able express one's views in this House openly and honestly. However, with that privilege comes responsibility and accountability to oneself, the electorate and ultimately to all people.

Many of us have wrestled with our consciences on this issue for some time and there is no doubt that it can be a burden. That same conscience-grappling should apply to both ends of the spectrum. In that context, I agree with the words of a churchman who said: "Those who have laid aside the diplomatic role and have gone to war have taken on a huge responsibility in the face of God, in the face of their consciences and in the face of history."

It is particularly important for us to be able to express our views openly. Most of us are trying to seek out a logic and rationale for this. We are reading every piece of literature we can get, listening to radio programmes and watching television programmes. We are questioning our own biases, prejudices and partisanship and still, I believe, we are dealing with an immoral, unjust and illegal war. Of that I have no doubt.

While reading through various articles, I came across the following piece in last Saturday's edition of the Irish Independent which illustrates the difficulty in trying to make sense of what is happening:

Let us scroll back a decade to the post-mortems which followed the liberation of Kuwait. Try to guess who said this –"The Gulf War was a limited-objective war. If it had not been, we would be ruling Baghdad today – an unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships."? The same person went on to deliver the following insights into America's attitude to Iraq –"There are those who have asked why President Bush did not order our forces on to Baghdad after we had driven the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. We must assume that the political objective of such an order would have been capturing Saddam Hussein. Even if Hussein had waited for us to enter Baghdad and even if we had been able to capture him, what purpose would it have served and would serving that purpose have been worth the many more casualties that would have occurred? Would it have been worth the inevitable follow-up: major occupation forces in Iraq for years to come and a very expensive and complex American proconsulship in Baghdad? Fortunately for America, reasonable people at the time thought that and still do." That was Colin Powell.

We listen to the theory and logic from the spokespersons and place it against what we know to be true and correct, yet we can find no logic. What is certain is that looking at the shattered bodies of men, women and children should bring us to our senses. A news item on the radio this morning reported that the media had been allowed to get close to the latest civilian casualties in Iraq. The journalist said that the scene was so bad it was said it would never be shown on television. That is a pity. I would show it on television and place it against the hypocritical diplomacy and its accompanying words and let ordinary people make up their own minds.

I find it utterly obscene that bombs – which are neither smart nor directed – are dropped and kill civilians by the hundred, while those civilians are told they are being liberated and are expected to garland and welcome as liberators those who have come to kill them and devastate their lives. The reason I make this point is that they may win this battle – for that is all it is – but there is no way they can win this war. That is because it extends way beyond the end of the present hostilities and there is no way there can ever be understanding between the people and those who have done this to them.

We have an opportunity to cry "halt" and we must do so. We have an opportunity to ask sane minds to focus on this issue but we will not achieve anything by dividing, making this a political issue or being party political about it. I have made these same points before and a journalist from The Irish Times rang me two days later to ask if I had been admonished by Fianna Fáil for saying what I had. I said that I have been in the Seanad for six years and have always been allowed to express my views openly and honestly. Many Fianna Fáil and Government Members agree with me. That type of targeting is unhelpful.

I accept that we must focus on the humanitarian issues. However, as the Leader said, it is difficult to see a situation where, after devastating a country, the same trucks bring in humanitarian aid. It is important that neither the UK nor the US has any role in this. One of the most obscene images recently broadcast from Iraq was that of a truck pulling up, its tailboard let down and starving people being forced to fight. That was no accident, it was trying to give the impression that the people were welcoming them even though, in their hearts, the people hated them. It is particularly important, therefore, that we work through the independent agencies.

We should not presume that this war will end in a certain way and let our policies be dictated by that presumption. We should take it for granted that if only one person believes there is a righteous approach in a time like this, that person will convince others. I will try to get inside the minds of the one in three people in Ireland who support the war and the minds of the one in four people who support what President Bush is doing. It will be difficult, but my main job will be to convince the one person in three – I will omit the political aspect of convincing the one in four – that there is no justification for this war. It should end now. The troops should come back and let us return to the diplomatic road.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment to this issue. The justification for this war is nil. I was one of the doctors who wrote a letter against this war to The Irish Times. I said that I regretted the fact that Ireland allowed the troops to go through Shannon. I doubt that it would make much difference if we stopped the troops passing through, but, unfortunately, our attitude will now be aligned with that of America. Given the great name we had in the past in terms of the distribution of humanitarian aid, I hope our workers will not be put in a situation of greater danger because of the flights into Shannon. I am sure the Government would not want that to happen, but it is a possibility.

For Prime Minister Blair's sake, I hope that anthrax is found by the tonne. I do not mean just a few flasks of it. He has stated that it exists in Iraq. Unless it is revealed by the tonne, I will not believe it was there. If there are just a few litres, I will not believe that they could not have been brought in. There are numerous laboratories in America where anthrax is available. It is the only country where there has been a problem with anthrax in recent years. If Prime Minister Blair is to have any credibility, anthrax and some chemical agents had better be found by the tonne.

The Minister and other Senators have mentioned the bombing of the Red Crescent maternity hospital. This is the last straw. In the past ten years, as I have said previously in the House, the maternal and infant mortality figures in Iraq have risen to an appalling level as a result of the sanctions imposed on that country. The maternal mortality figure for 2000 was 370 per 100,000 births. In this country the figure is eight and it might include car accidents, cancer and other causes. Even worse, before 1990 the figure was about half that. This is a serious situation. The country has been in a humanitarian crisis during the past ten to 12 years.

The infant mortality rate, that is, the death rate per 1,000 live births, was 100 in 1997; that is one in ten children. The mortality rate for children under five years of age per 1,000 was 120. Before 1990, the figures were about half that level and it was expected that by 1997 the infant mortality rate in Iraq would be about 37 per 1,000 live births. Instead it has trebled. The Iranian figures were always much worse than those in Iraq. The Iranian infant mortality rate in 1997 was down to 38 and by 2000 it was down to 33. The Iranians have improved enormously, even though they are in the same part of the world. The Iranian figures were always worse so one can see how seriously affected the civilian Iraqi population has been by the sanctions. We all tried to do something, but we did not do enough. There is no more or less to it than that.

I am sure the Minister for Foreign Affairs and our representatives on the Security Council did everything they could to try to prevent this war. The small countries of the world which are members of the international organisations have huge obligations to deal with the outrageous desire for power of some major countries. They will have to try to build up these organisations again.

I agree that it will have to be international organisations that distribute humanitarian aid. It was outrageous to see those poor people clawing for food out of the back of a lorry. Giving sweets to Iraqi children does not do much good either. Maura Quinn, the executive director of UNICEF Ireland, is a friend of mine. She wrote the following to me on 31 March:

My last visit to Iraq was in February, when there was a sense of dread about the future. Iraq is truly the saddest country I have ever visited. I have witnessed its continuing decline from a thriving nation to a place where children are dying from malnutrition and preventable disease. And now war is going to devastate an already crumbling nation.

Currently UNICEF has 160 Iraqi staff in Baghdad with a further 90 national staff in other parts of Iraq and along the borders. The remaining non-Iraqi staff will return to the country as soon as it is safe to do so. Although conditions are very difficult and are changing from day to day, UNICEF staff have been able to carry out their work in the past few days, including getting supplementary food to children who are isolated in institutions outside Baghdad.

There is an enormous number of homeless children who rely on people such as UNICEF workers to bring them food. Ms Quinn also stated that:

UNICEF has been working in Iraq since 1983 and is currently the main humanitarian agency, along with the Red Cross, with our focus being on children. UNICEF has been given particular responsibility for nutrition, health and water and sanitation.

We have heard about civilian casualties from the various bombing raids, massacres at checkpoints and so forth, but the American public has not. American television stations carry different reports of the war from those carried in Europe. I refer, in particular, to the fine reports we get from RTE. My husband has just returned from the United States and he told me the reporting is not the same. Even Fox News and Sky News, both of which are owned by Rupert Murdoch, have a different brand of reporting for their different audiences. It is no wonder that the American public is giving support to President Bush.

If people have contacts in America, it is important that we tell them our views. Senator Ó Murchú is right about explaining our objections to people in Ireland. We also have an obligation to explain them to our friends abroad.

John Minihan (Progressive Democrats)
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I compliment the Minister of State on his passion and commitment on behalf of the Government to humanitarian relief, not only in Iraq but also worldwide. Looking at the statistics he outlined to the House, one can see the great endeavours undertaken by this small nation to provide humanitarian relief in so many countries. Long may that continue. It is the proud tradition of this country and Members of the House should salute the Government and the Minister of State for continuing that tradition and commitment.

In recent days, Members have had opportunities to deliver effective soundbites on the Order of Business. They are selective soundbites and one can be as selective as one wishes when discussing the situation in Iraq. This debate gives Members an opportunity to flesh out their arguments and try to get a sense of balance. I thank the Leader for organising this debate to allow that process unfold.

There is no doubt that war is evil and I do not know of anyone who supports it. Reference was made to statistics which show that one in three or one in four people support the war, but I have yet to meet anyone who advocates it. It is easy to talk about the rights and wrongs of war when one does not have to make the ultimate decision to engage in military action. As we have seen on television in recent days, the consequences of military action are quite horrific and, unfortunately, it looks as if we will see more of the same.

The pillars of power comprise the principles of diplomacy, information, military action and economic sanctions. In the Iraqi situation, diplomacy has been ongoing for a number of years. We should not forget that, as part of the 1991 ceasefire agreement, Saddam Hussein was given 15 days to co-operate fully with the international community. Some 12 years and 17 UN resolutions later, he has still failed to comply.

I would have preferred if this war had not taken place. I supported the build-up of troops in the Middle East in the hope that the show of force would bring people to their senses. Equally, I had hoped that any action would be taken under a UN mandate, backed by a Security Council resolution, but, unfortunately, that was not to be.

In an effort to bring some balance to the debate, however, I want to join the "what if?" brigade. We must ask what if action had been taken earlier, what if we had taken action in the Balkans, what if the EU and the UN had not procrastinated as much on these international issues and what would the result have been if they had not stood idly by? In yesterday's newspapers, we saw some of the 8,000 bodies – victims of that tragic day in Srebrenica – being prepared for reburial. The Americans later took action there when the UN had failed.

There is an ongoing issue concerning the operation of the UN and its failure to take decisions based on collective responsibility. We have seen that occur in the past few weeks with regard to the situation in Macedonia, which I highlighted in the House recently. As a nation, we now find ourselves in the unique position where we cannot participate in that peacekeeping operation. I hope we will be able to discuss that matter again.

What should we do now regarding Iraq? The greatest role we can play is in the area of humanitarian aid. Some of the examples highlighted by previous speakers are correct, including the fact that the UN has to take a major role in this matter. I fully endorse the Minister of State's commitment to having NGOs involved in relief operations. It should not be the role of a military force to do so, but in the early days of the conflict there has been no alternative. We have to get food in there and that is being done initially by the military force. However, the UN and the NGOs will have to, as far as is possible, become involved. The Government must fully support every effort to bring that about. From day one of the conflict, we ensured that we would have an active role in the relief effort.

I was very taken by a BBC 2 television documentary last week which featured interviews with Kurdish people. In particular, one elderly gentleman said, "Even if we were to lose half of our population and I were to be one of them, I would welcome that so as the other half could live in peace and not under the barbaric rule of Saddam Hussein." We cannot forget the 11 year old child who waved at American troops and was hanged within one hour for doing so. We cannot forget either the people trying to leave Basra who were mortared by their own troops. We can be selective and some may say that is western propaganda and is not true. However, the information war is part of the conflict and media input is used as a tool of war. The new era of embedded journalists is part of that tool. It will be left to historians to decide in future who was right or wrong.

We are facing an international conflict of cultures following the rise of fundamental Islamic elements in the western world in recent years. Whether we like it, 11 September 2001 was a catalyst for this conflict between cultures. We have to decide whether to sit in our armchairs and continue procrastinating or ask why we did not stand up earlier to stop this. We must cross-check every course of military action against whether it corrects the wrongs and injustices in this world. There are serious question marks over American foreign policy in certain areas. To be effective in a war against terrorism and rogue states, one must match it with proactive action to correct the wrongs and injustices in the Middle East, particularly in the Palestinian conflict.

Ireland must be proactive on the international stage in terms of the provision of humanitarian relief. I know we are already proactive, but we have to be even more so now. Our role in the United Nations represents a proud tradition of service and I urge the Minister of State to continue his good efforts in that regard. We also have to try to get diplomacy working again, but we should not lose sight of the multinational force that went into Beirut in the early 1980s. That force failed and eventually had to be replaced by the UN. There is, therefore, a precedent for a multinational force being replaced by a UN operation.

No one knows whether the war in Iraq will end quickly, but it does not look like doing so at present. Despite the atrocities that have been highlighted on television, restraint has been shown. If the allied forces were to unleash all the power available to them, there would be far more casualties and the war would be over far more quickly. However, restraint is being shown. The types of atrocities we are now witnessing are both a cause and a consequence of war.

I congratulate the Minister of State on his efforts. We should move forward in playing an active role in providing humanitarian assistance, as well as encouraging dialogue between the parties to this conflict to bring it to a conclusion as quickly as possible. We must not lose sight of the information war or the real wishes of the majority of the Iraqi people.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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This war is already taking longer than originally planned. We were led to believe that it was going to be over very quickly, but the timescale has now changed completely and both the British and American media are saying it could continue for an awfully long time. There is much more involved than appeared to be the case initially. It is frightening to think that 120,000 extra troops are on the way to Iraq as we speak. I agree with Senator Minihan that, as the war is now on, we must deal with the facts. It would defeat logic for the US and British forces to pull out of Iraq at this stage.

I firmly believe that history repeats itself, but I hope that is not so in this case. We were told lately that 12 years ago the then coalition forces were within two days of capturing Saddam Hussein. One can think of all the pain and suffering that could have been saved had they proceeded. The US general in charge at that time pulled back, even though he wanted to go ahead. President Bush senior would not let him as he believed that the Iraqi people would topple Saddam Hussein because he was so weakened, but unfortunately it did not work out that way. Not alone did he survive but he came back worse than ever. There is no benefit whatsoever in the forces pulling back. All we can hope for is a quick and successful war and the removal of Saddam Hussein.

We cannot leave the Iraqi people exposed as they were last time. We saw the disbelief and hurt of the people in southern Iraq who rose against Saddam having been left high and dry when the coalition forces pulled out, but then Saddam got his revenge on them. It is not hard to understand why they would be somewhat sceptical and cynical of the coalition forces there now. It is in everyone's interest that we remove Saddam Hussein from his role in Iraq.

I question the comments of the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, today when he spoke about Iraq being ruled by Iraqis. That is a simplistic approach. Iraq is made up of many ethnic groups and the question remains as to which group will be in charge. I regret that was not planned in advance.

I also question the role of the US and Britain in the provision of humanitarian aid. I am of the view that if a person creates a mess, that person should also clean it up. It is not good enough that the US, which over-rode the UN, should look to the UN to bail out Iraq in terms of the provision of humanitarian aid and its rebuilding. The US has an important role to play in that area.

I am cynical and sceptical of the Government's commitment to foreign aid because it cut the foreign aid budget in its term of office. Senator Minihan spoke about tradition in terms of foreign aid, but the Government's tradition in this area is certainly questionable.

I was delighted to hear some colleagues speak about organising a delegation to visit Iraq in the future. I am aware of the difficulties that would present, but it was an idea I suggested two or three weeks ago when we spoke on this issue. That would be well worth doing, especially in light of the high level of propaganda presented day in day out whether in the newspaper or on television stations.

RTE should be complimented on its balanced presentation of the facts. It is hard to digest all the information. This morning one of the English newspapers carried a story that Saddam Hussein was on the way out, that he was wounded, but we do not know if that is the case.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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They have been saying for the past three weeks that he is wounded.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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It is hard to know what is the position. We saw horrific images of the innocent victims of war last night. The only way we can justify this war is by having Saddam removed. All we can hope for is a quick and speedy conclusion to this war. I share Senator Minihan's view of people who support war, but we need war every so often to remove evil tyrants like Saddam Hussein.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to speak on this matter. I look forward to Ireland's playing a positive and constructive role in the provision of humanitarian aid, an area in which we have played a fantastic role.

Maurice Hayes (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I find a good deal to support in what Senator Browne said, but I stop short of endorsing his scepticism about the bone fides of the Government.

All war is filthy – we all know that. The first casualty of war is truth and we just labour on from that. We are in danger of almost canonising Saddam Hussein by having produced an anti-hero in the form of the American President. That is a terrible position for us to get ourselves into.

The innocent Iraqi people have suffered and they will suffer more. What is important is to bring that suffering to an end as quickly as possible. That will not be effected simply by telling people to stop in their tracks now and return home.

Senator Norris talked about the spirit of Macbeth. There is another Shakespearean character who boasted, "I can call spirits from the vasty deep," to which the response was:

Why, so can I, or so can any man;

But will they come when you do call for


Ours is a small voice and we do not want to imagine that it can be magnified to that extent on the world stage.

Let us imagine what would happen if the war stopped now. This is an aspect of Senator Browne's analysis which I found quite telling. The Minister of State indicated the plight of the Iraqi people, how their standard of living had fallen. It had fallen for two reasons, one being the regime under which they were living and the second, to which Senator Henry referred, is due to the United Nations sanctions, to which we all subscribed. The sanctions were the result of the regime. The other cause of their immediate and terrible suffering is the war.

I agree with Senator Browne that the last Gulf War stopped about a week too soon without achieving its objective. Simply to stop things now and leave people in the hands of a corrupt regime would not effect any great improvement. Apart from praying for a rapid end to the war, for the minimisation of casualties and for as little destruction as possible of the infrastructure, we need to use whatever influence we have to ensure that a humanitarian programme is put in place under the aegis of the United Nations and the EU rather than a military or an imperial occupation.

Reference was made to the fact that there were two American shadow governments waiting to move in, one from the State Department and the other from the Pentagon. That could only be disastrous. This needs to be considered in the wider geopolitical sense. Attention needs to be paid to the running sore of Israel and Palestine. I hope the Minister of State can redouble his efforts in that regard.

There is an immediate need for relief. I, like many Members, find it difficult to imagine the armalite and the bread-basket coming in together, but it may be the only way. I would rather see people getting water from soldiers than getting no water. It is important for the relief programme to be managed by the NGOs and they may well need the logistical support of armies in order to do so, owing to the need to shift vast quantities of food. Then there is the question of developing the capacity of the Iraqi people to set up administrations for themselves. There is a need to build up the infrastructure and, on the longer scale, to help restore democratic institutions.

The one great advantage is that Iraq was a developed nation before Saddam Hussein came to power. It has great resources of oil and it should be one of the better off nations in the world. Iraqis are educated, with a long tradition and a fine culture. It is important that is respected and the Government, with other governments in the United Nations, does its best to ensure that the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people and that all necessary assistance is given to them.

Michael Finucane (Fine Gael)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Ross.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Finucane): That is agreed.

Photo of Joanna TuffyJoanna Tuffy (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State and his efforts regarding aid which he outlined. The Government and some Fine Gael Senators seem ambiguous about or at least resigned to the war. The war may be taking place but it is still wrong and unacceptable. It is still illegal and Ireland must make a stand in that regard. We need further debate on this aspect of the war, which is also relevant to the debate on the humanitarian consequences. It is war which causes the need for aid. The war poses a risk to the stability of the world in addition to the risks it poses to the lives of Iraqis.

The Minister of State mentioned the Oil for Food Programme and my colleague, Deputy Michael D. Higgins, has pointed out the difficulties for Iraqis in accessing that aid. He said the best way to bring in humanitarian aid is to end the war. Ireland can take the initiative at Security Council level by seeking intervention from that body to end the war. I also support Deputy Higgins's comments requiring the examination of compliance with the fourth Geneva Convention regarding damage to infrastructure needed for children.

I agree with the Minister of State and other speakers who said we should object to the militarisation of aid. I also agree that aid should be provided through UN organisations and NGOs. We must ensure that aid is not abused but gets to the people who need it. There should be no diversion of aid from other programmes; the money provided should be additional funding.

The outcome of this conflict must be in the interests of the world and the Iraqi people and not in the interests of the superpowers. The Government must stand up for the reinstatement of the pre-eminence of the UN and for a global approach to the interests of the world in general, not for a world order determined by superpowers. We must work for a fairer world, both in development and in the way the world is divided economically, in order to prevent future conflicts. We should also work on our relationships with countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, building fair, balanced relationships.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Independent)
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I thank Senator Tuffy for giving me a minute of her time. I will not dwell on the military situation, past or present, but I make a plea to the Government based on some of the views of Senators Tuffy and Maurice Hayes. When this is over, in so far as that is possible, the future of Iraq should be in the hands of the Iraqi people and not in the hands of the United States. That is not a judgment but there are already ominous signs in the past few days that the Iraqi people, not just the United Nations, will be bypassed.

The Government has been relatively silent on this issue and maybe with good reason. However, it has some influence on the United States because of the huge numbers of Americans who claim Irish ancestry and loyalty. Most Irish people have great reservations about or are actively hostile to the actions of the United States. The Government should warn the United States that this is the situation among those numbered as their greatest friends. That may not be possible without causing great difficulties but it can be done silently and behind closed doors. I do not expect the Government to tell us about this in an open forum, nor do I expect a response to this plea. However, there are diplomatic channels which can be used without making an exhibition of ourselves. I plead with the Government to make those views, which are almost unanimous in the Seanad, known to the United States Government in whatever way is open to it.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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War is obviously regrettable in any circumstances and we have seen why in the current conflict in Iraq. War should be a last resort but that was not the situation here, as there was still time for the arms inspectors to carry on their inspections. Though that might ultimately have led to war it would have meant all avenues were exhausted, which was not the case.

Senator Ryan stated that the leaders of Fine Gael and the Labour Party said the war was illegal and he prompted the Government to do likewise. Such a statement would be highly irresponsible. That is not for the Government to determine – there are international bodies which can determine such issues. However, the conduct of the war is a matter for scrutiny.

Some of those involved in the conflict have said on television that should the Iraqi generals use chemical weapons they would be held accountable for war crimes. That should happen but the allied conduct of the war should also be open to such scrutiny. If there is indiscriminate bombing or shooting, then such actions must be subsequently justified to establish whether or not crimes have been committed. It is inevitable to an extent that there will be civilian casualties but Kofi Annan put it cogently when he said there was a duty on belligerents on all sides to ensure the civilian population is protected. One gets the impression that this is not happening to the extent we would like.

Serious issues arise in the context of the aftermath of the war, such as humanitarian requirements. I compliment the Minister of State on his interest in this area. It is imperative the United Nations plays a pivotal role here. It is reprehensible to see arguments behind the scenes between Britain and the US about who will be awarded contracts to rebuild Iraq while the country is still being demolished on a nightly basis. If the reconstruction is to have any credibility then international bodies must play a role.

It is imperative that certain events occur in the aftermath of the war. First, there must be a genuine effort to resolve the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. It is noteworthy that the Israelis have ignored many UN resolutions. The rules regarding the operation of the UN must apply fairly across the globe and must be seen to do so. Also, the issue of weapons of mass destruction was instrumental in the instigation of the war. If such weapons are not discovered then serious questions will be raised as to the war being initiated.

It is necessary to strengthen both the UN and the EU. World order should be policed and I acknowledge the US has played a role in this area when other countries were reluctant or unable to do so. However, it cannot be done on a unilateral basis. The international community must adjudicate on what action should be taken in such policing.

There are many similar rogue dictators in various jurisdictions across the world in which the populations are oppressed to the same or an even greater degree than the people of Iraq. One of my concerns about the conduct of the war is that it will encourage some of these dictators to develop nuclear weapons to protect themselves because they do not have sufficient might to do so by other means. We recently saw tensions between India and Pakistan, both of which possess nuclear weapons. The prevention of nuclear proliferation must take place on an international basis.

Acting Chairman:

As the debate started several minutes late, I seek the permission of the House to extend it by five minutes to give the Minister of State time to respond to contributions.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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If the Minister of State wishes to reply – I know he wishes to be succinct – he should be given time to do so.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for their contributions. I want the issue of the humanitarian situation in Iraq to remain on the political and public agendas. This debate has been helpful in that regard. I thank Senators for giving strong support to the work we are doing. We will continue to play a role in meeting the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. As many Senators noted, this country is good at fulfilling this kind of role and our non-governmental organisations enjoy a tremendous reputation and have always been held in high regard.

Senators Maurice Hayes and Ross raised the important issue of the role of the Iraqi people in the reconstruction process. I agree they must be empowered and enabled to rebuild their own country. Our focus is firmly fixed on the important principle that the United Nations must be the central actor in this process.

Senators rightly raised the issue of access, which was also raised by NGOs during a meeting with me last week and at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. Safe access and a safe environment are vital if NGOs and other agencies are to do their work properly. I will pursue this objective in all my contacts.

I share the view of Senators on the quality of the output of Irish journalists. The role of the media in this conflict is important and has been commented on extensively. I share the cynicism about the so-called embedded journalists. We have to be discerning about where the truth lies when watching some of their television reports.

We are all agreed on the need to look to the future in order to ensure the humanitarian effort is delivered in a neutral and impartial manner. We must also ensure the recovery process is designed taking into account all the lessons learned in places such as Afghanistan, East Timor and Kosovo. The Iraqi people must be central to the future of their country. I fully concur that Iraq cannot become an oil well for the West.

I have made my feelings known on the important issue of the militarisation of aid, which I discussed in my earlier contribution. It is the wrong tactic in every respect. I share the concerns expressed by Senator Tuffy about the recommencement of the Oil for Food Programme. As the programme was operated by more than 40,000 Iraqis, it will be very difficult to get the delivery system operational again during the ongoing conflict. The United Nations Secretary General believes the United Nations can make a difference in this respect and I hope it can. The Senator is correct to point out that this is not a simple issue.

The issues of the legality of the war and the use of Shannon Airport have been well rehearsed and debated and are unlikely to disappear. However, Senators have recognised that I have a special responsibility for development co-operation and my role is to accept the reality that the war is now raging and focus my energies on the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people.

As Senator Ó Murchú stated, the spirit of all the contributions today has been one of trying to find common ground. This has been helpful. We have an enviable reputation for the extent and quality of our emergency response. I now have a duty to work with UN agencies and NGOs to deliver the highest quality aid, as has been the case in the past.

On the media reporting of the war, I agree with Senators that some of the reports we have seen are sickening and, like many Senators, find it difficult to watch some of them. The voices of reason sometimes appear to be muted. Again, however, I will not deviate from the job in hand. We will do everything possible to assist the innocent victims of this conflict.

Senator Jim Walsh and others referred to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, correctly stating it requires immediate and urgent attention and a very clear focus by the international community. Ireland has a strong tradition of involvement in the region and we will play our part in developments. Incidentally, the matter will be raised in the other House later this evening.

The overseas aid budget was mentioned. We have a strong tradition in development assistance. This year's budget is approximately €30 million more than last year, making it the largest in the history of the programme. The House will agree that if €30 million constitutes a cut at a time of considerable pressures on public finances, many Ministers would welcome similar cuts in their budgets.

I thank Senators for their co-operation during the debate. Despite the divergence in views, Senators, like Deputies in the other House, have made a genuine effort to come together to do what the Oireachtas does best. I will do my utmost not to let down the House or the nation in the important weeks ahead.