Seanad debates

Wednesday, 27 October 2004

5:00 pm

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann urges the Government to redouble Ireland's efforts to bring peace to Iraq and Palestine.

I thank the Leader for her apology. We will go around saying things like: "It would not have happened in Minister Cowen's time."

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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It is disgraceful behaviour.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I am sorry. I actually telephoned the Department myself.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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The Senator should speak on the motion.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Power, for attending. This is his second crack at the Seanad in one afternoon.

Many Senators have taken a great interest in the situations in both Iraq and Palestine and I tabled this motion in the hope that they would have an opportunity to contribute to it. I thank Senator Norris for seconding it. I will speak mainly on Iraq, on which he will also speak, but his knowledge of Palestine is probably greater than any of ours.

The bank holiday this week gave me a chance to listen to radio programmes which I do not usually get a chance to hear. I heard a man called P. J. O'Rourke on the BBC World Service. He is an American, I presume of Irish descent, who has written a book about the great derring-do of President George W. Bush in Iraq. He thinks it is all going fairly well and that we are all being very negative about the whole situation. He used phrases like "Iraq is an evil country" and "Islamists hate us, they are bad people". He was being interviewed by a British person and he gave British people some praise because they gave support to the invasion of Iraq, but he saw the rest of us as being pretty hopeless. However, he said something which I thought was interesting, that because the rest of Europe was not involved, the United States missed the wise counsel it might otherwise have received. I hope the Department of Foreign Affairs could consider some of the wise counsel which might be useful even at this late stage in this appalling war.

The first thing I want to address is the situation regarding Shannon. I will not ask the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to stop planes carrying military forces from landing in Shannon because it has been made plain that this is business and these flights have been going on for years. The Taoiseach does not think it offends our neutrality although other people believe it does. I am not alone in considering it wrong to send people through one of our major airports to an illegal war.

The situation I wish to address is the possible transfer of prisoners to Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay has not only been declared illegal by the international community because it operates outside the terms of the Geneva Convention, but it has also been declared illegal by courts in the United States of America. In fact, three members of a military tribunal which is to try people who have been kept there for years without trial, some of whom have been subjected to torture, have been dismissed because they were considered unsuitable.

On 26 June this year during the concluding Stages of the Transfer of Execution of Sentences Act, I asked the Minister, Deputy McDowell, what was the situation regarding untried and unsentenced people who might be going through Shannon. He said they would be subject to our Constitution if they landed on our soil and that if I had any further information on this situation I should give it to him. I do not have any further information, apart from the fact that in articles by Fintan O'Toole on 28 September in The Irish Times and Vincent Browne in the first edition of his magazine, Village, they suggested that an unmarked Gulfstream jet registered as N379P had been seen in Shannon. This plane had already been used to take two Egyptians from Sweden to an unknown destination and had also transported people from other places in Europe to elsewhere. The jet is owned by an unlisted American company and, as the headline in The Irish Times article asked, "Are we now party to kidnap?" We have to ask if the American authorities are transporting people to Guantanamo Bay through Shannon Airport. They do not give us any manifests but after what the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform said, there is an obligation on the Government to tell people if this is happening. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, to undertake this important task.

The second matter I wish to address relates to prisoners being held in Iraq. Over 9,000 prisoners have been held for over 18 months without being charged and without trial. I am sure Members of the House will have read A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney. He makes the point in it that internment was the most effective recruitment tool for the IRA and resulted in even more new recruits than the burning of Bombay Street. I suggest that what the Americans are perpetuating in Iraq is a most serious own goal. Saddam Hussein used to intern people without trial and many such people disappeared. Many people in Iraq cannot find out where family members or friends have gone. For them it is very much a return to the good old days when the same thing took place. It is against international law to transfer people out of the country but the Americans have admitted to it. There may be really good strategic and political reasons for keeping people in prison, but I cannot understand why so many are being kept there. They could be described as hostages to fortune because as we have seen in the past their release has sometimes been requested by terrorists in return for hostages.

I raised this issue recently in a letter to The Irish Times regarding the imprisonment of two women scientists, Dr. Ammash and Dr. Taha. Dr. Ammash earned her doctorate in microbiology from the University of Missouri in 1983 and she got a Masters degree from Texas Women's University in 1979. Dr. Taha received postgraduate education in the University of East Anglia and she too worked on plant pathogens. They admitted they worked in the biological warfare department of Saddam Hussein's regime.

They were very well known on the international stage because they bought anthrax from America and equipment and supplies from America and Europe. That was in the good old days when the United States and other Western governments were best friends with Iraq as it was attacking Iran. Are they in fact being kept where they are because of what they might say about their previous work in these two countries if they came out? The United Kingdom has said it no longer has biological weapons but the United States has not said what it is doing about anything. It pulled out of the completion of the verification process of the United Nations convention on bio-terrorism when President Bush was elected. It is the only country where people died of anthrax poisoning in recent years. That came from a military source but has never been properly investigated.

More hostages are taken from the Iraqi population than from any other country. While it is quite right to appeal for the release of Western hostages, the extraordinarily good woman, Margaret Hassan, who was taken recently, would, I am sure, want us to appeal on behalf of everyone else. Chaos, mayhem and murder occur every day for Iraqi citizens. Madeline Hadi, a nine year old was taken from her father's car the other day, Zinah Hassan was taken on the way back to secondary school, Asma, a young engineer, was taken while out shopping with her mother and a male relative. A total of 250 university professors and scientists have been killed, 12 of the 14 journalists killed were Iraqi and 100 doctors have been killed or kidnapped. We must show more sensitivity, the Americans particularly, because the Iraqis feel people do not matter unless they come from the West. The Iraqi Department of Health has stopped issuing the number of Iraqis killed each day; that should re-start.

The economic occupation is a disgrace and should end at once. Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 39, brought in on 19 September 2003 by Paul Bremer, allowed anyone to buy anything in Iraq. Initially, they said mineral rights could not be included but now they are to be included and even Prime Minister Allawi recently suggested that oil assets might be up for sale as well. The building of the enduring bases should also stop. Iraqis see these as a continuing operation that will go on forever and it is terrifying for other countries in the region to see this taking place. The Saudi Arabian bases are closed down. They should stop talking about imposing our values on Iraqis. A Turkish journalist who was kidnapped recently said those who kidnapped her were not fighting for Iraq but for Islam.

The Minister of State could also ask the Americans to accept help when it is offered. For example, the United Nations nuclear inspectors from Vienna wanted to continue supervising in Iraq. This was refused and now 380 tonnes of highly volatile munitions have been taken. They should also start giving money for reconstruction to Iraqi firms and stop giving it to Haliburton. Congress promised $85 billion for the reconstruction of Iraq, a few billion have been spent and $5 billion taken for security. This is robbing the Iraqi people of things they have been promised and I see no reason the Irish Government cannot point this out to the Americans.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I hope he listens in detail to what is said because we are going to give him some advice on this situation. I am very glad that the motion put down by my colleague, Senator Henry, refers to how the Government can help. There are many ways it can help in Iraq and Palestine. I will not rehearse all that I have said before. The war is perfectly illegal. We have debated this on many occasions. It has not even achieved its own objectives. We were told it was to make the world safe and remove al-Qaeda but it has spread this infection all over the place. There was no al-Qaeda in Iraq. The Americans have violated their own constitution. There was a necessity to demonstrate a clear and present danger but that was not done. There were no weapons of mass destruction. These arguments have all been made.

I am very glad that Senator Henry took up the question of the Gulfstream aeroplane. I have raised this on numerous occasions. I would like the Minister to commit to doing something about it because we are complicit in an international war crime. It did not feature only in The Irish Times from which Senator Henry quoted. There was also a very interesting article in Village identifying the plane as one which has been used by the US Government to transport the victims of kidnapping. I have mentioned this before and I want the Minister to investigate it. The articles states: "On 18 December, 2001 US operatives kidnapped Ahmed Agiza and Muhammed Al-Zery, Egyptian exiles who had requested asylum in Sweden." They were forced on to this aeroplane in Sweden. This is the aircraft that lands frequently in Shannon Airport. The identifying marks have been read out here this evening. The two prisoners had their clothes removed from their bodies with a scissors, a suppository inserted into their anus and diapers placed on them. Their hands and feet were chained to a specially designed harness and they travelled blindfolded and hooded.

Once in detention in Eqypt local interrogators fastened electrodes to the prisoner's genitals, breast nipples, tongue, ear lobes and underarms. There were doctors present to judge how much torture the prisoners could withstand. The exposed parts were anointed, so that there would not be marks and scars and cold water was poured to stop blood clots.

Why has the Garda Síochána not been sent onto that aeroplane? I want that done. This Minister, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Government stand indicted because they cannot say they did not know about this. This is happening. The Garda has the right to go on board. Why is that not happening? We are complicit in war crimes and it is not good enough for the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, to brush it off and say we received €25 million. That does not excuse the use of Shannon Airport for exporting people not to Guantanamo Bay, but to Jordan and Egypt. I would like this investigated very quickly.

Almost all the people involved in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2002 were Saudi Arabian. The Wahabi religion is Saudi Arabian. The money trail led there and the Saudis bombed Iraq. How logical is that? That is the context of the war. If the Minister wants to do any good he can advise the Americans not to bomb Falluja. They are getting ready to do that as we speak. It will be another catastrophic mistake.

I indicated that I would spend most of my time discussing Palestine and I am grateful that Senator Henry suggested I do so. I recommend to the Minister a report by Christian Aid called Facts on the Ground: the end of the two-state solution? There is a parallel abuse of human rights going on in Israel. I am not anti-Semitic. Authority after authority quoted in this document was sourced among Israeli Jewish academics and human rights workers. One could hardly accuse them of being anti-Semitic. There is significant violation of human rights. There are offences against the fourth Geneva Convention, such as collective punishment, the murder of children and indiscriminate bombing.

There is something we can do. In the European Union there is an external association treaty with the state of Israel which has certain human rights provisions attached. These articles require that the agreement be suspended if there are violations. Why does this Government not use its position to try to ensure that human rights actually mean something in Europe, that they are not just paper, that children cannot be murdered wholesale, civilian populations terrorised, and ghettos created, which I have seen in Jerusalem? This is not just my word. It is used by distinguished Israeli Jewish commentators yet for the sake of money we are not prepared to act as we should and make sure that these international instruments are operated in the human rights dimension. That is my second suggestion.

My first suggestion is that this plane be investigated. The second is that we operate the human rights protocols of the external association agreement with Israel. My third suggestion is to place information on the record that has been put in my hands by my former partner, Ezra Yitzhak, about what occurred on 30 September 2004 at 6 a.m. in the village of Twane near South Hebron. Schoolchildren and the Christian and Jewish human rights workers that were accompanying them to try to protect them from the attentions of the illegal settlers were viciously attacked. Two of them, Kim in her forties and Chris in his thirties, both from the US, were attacked and seriously injured. This is a situation we should take to heart. I am prepared to give the Minister the document I have, which is a contemporaneous note from my telephone conversation with Ezra on this issue. This is a situation that should go to our hearts because it is directly parallel to the situation that we all got so worked up about in the Holycross convent in Belfast, yet this is much worse. The Minister will remember that case where the school children were attacked by Protestant paramilitaries. Much worse is happening in Israel and we are doing absolutely nothing about it.

We now have a suggestion that Mr. Sharon will remove some of the settlements. That is a good thing I suppose, but it is a cosmetic exercise. What will be left is a truncated state, surrounded by Israel and completely impotent and ineffective. As Professor Avi Shlaim, a distinguished Israeli commentator, said:

What Mr. Sharon envisages is an emasculated and demilitarised Palestinian entity, built on less than half the land of the Occupied Territories, with Israel in control of its borders, air-space and water resources. This is a recipe for a ghetto, not a free country.

That quote is from an Israeli professor of international law. The illegal settlements, which began in 1967, now contain up to 400,000 settlers. Unfortunately, this was one of the defects of the Oslo agreement. It was corrupt from the beginning as its initial calculations from the maps drawn accepted the plainly illegal settlements. I again quote Professor Shlaim, who is a professor at St. Anthony's College, Oxford:

The subsequent decline of the Oslo peace process was caused more by Israeli territorial expansionism than by Palestinian terrorism. Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which Sharon's Government continues to expand, are the root of the problem.

Here again is something that needs to be examined. The whole expropriation is based on a very shaky and corrupt legal process. Professor David Kretzmer, professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said:

The connection between widening the scope of State land and the settlement policy of the Likud Government is quite explicit; although purporting to preserve the right of the public in State land, such land was regarded as a resource to be used for the resettlement of nationals of the occupying power. This is quite illegal.

I could continue to quote these points, but it would be redundant. I commend this report to the Minister. They do not even count how many children have been killed. There is no investigation of the murder of children. It is just intolerable. Again, no one can say that I am anti-Israeli. The issue of land is something to which we in Ireland can respond. A farmer from Tulkarem, which I have visited, said:

From January you need to fertilize olives, but I was not allowed to get to my olive grove for long enough. Olives need continuous care. Neglect cause weeds to take hold, they get dry and settlers burn them and damage the trees. Last year I could see the destruction, but I could not reach the trees to save them.

Some 3,670 acres of land have been confiscated and 102,320 olive trees destroyed to create the notorious wall.

We must bear in mind those wonderful people who stood up against ethnic cleansing, against apartheid and against the creation of ghettos. We must bear in mind people like Rachel Corrie, who was murdered by the Israeli army, Jamie Miller, an unarmed reporter who was murdered by the Israeli army, and those wonderful Israeli Jewish people who protect human rights. There are people like the Physicians for Human Rights, whose work I have also seen, and my friend Ezra.

I wish to raise three points with the Minister. First, the use of the aeroplane referred to by both Senator Henry and I is part of an international criminal conspiracy and we are now complicit in international war crimes. It is urgent that the Minister ask the Garda to board this plane when it arrives in Shannon. We must investigate the circumstances on board. Second, we must urge our colleagues in Europe to operate the human rights clauses of the external association agreement. Finally, I ask the Minister to take up with the Israeli authorities, through the Israeli ambassador who is a decent man, the situation in the village of Twane in South Hebron, the facts of which I will hand to him before I leave the Chamber this evening.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. It is my first occasion that he has graced us with his presence for an international debate, in which this House has a long and illustrious tradition. I compliment my friends and colleagues on the Independent benches, Senator Henry and Senator Norris, for bringing this debate to the House at this time. I appreciate the non-contentious wording of the motion, which I think all of us can embrace on all sides of the House. It is often said in legal terms that the devil is in the detail.

In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I could not help but refer to a comment thatHarvey Morris made in the Financial Times on 11 October 2004:

Whoever takes over in Washington next week needs to explain to the Israeli leadership, because the Palestinians have already been told, that the world can no longer afford this running sore, this renewed contract for conflict, which is now set to run for at least another generation.

It is in that context that this debate and others take place. One can only despair at the amount of rhetoric that has been generated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, increasingly since the invasion of Iraq last year, with volumes of books, articles, newspapers and political debates about the rights and wrongs of that particular event.

I repeat what I said last week in the House. I really believe that it is only contributing to a somewhat sterile debate to constantly refer to what happened regarding the consequences and circumstances surrounding the invasion of Iraq. This House has repeatedly made its position clear. I am on the record in this House as being critical of American foreign policy in this area, especially under the Bush Administration, which has adopted a unilateral approach to international relations under the pretext that American interests come first. This is fine and right and proper, but they seem to indicate that they are living in their own world and on their own planet and that the rest of us do not matter. In fact, the key element of the debate between Senator Kerry and President Bush is about America's international relations and the way in which it will try to repair the very real damage that has been done as a result of the unilateral policies of the Bush Administration.

Senator Norris always speaks passionately and eloquently about the horrors of the loss of innocent life. There is nothing more emotive than to refer to women and children as casualties of war. It is an emotive subject. I was horrified, as I am sure the rest of the watching world was, by the massacre of more than 40 young Iraqi police trainees by their own people last week. The massacre encapsulates the unfolding tragedy in that sad country. One cannot blame the Americans or the British for that. I suggested at the outset that we should no longer focus on what happened last year. It is now a matter of history because it has been done. We should now consider how the international community will deal with the reality on the ground in Iraq.

In proposing this motion, Senators Henry and Norris referred to Shannon Airport in the context of the crisis in Iraq. I understand that the airport is used on a regular basis by over 38 airforces. The Government's decision to allow overflights by other countries and refuelling rights at Shannon Airport was based as much on the need for trust between friendly countries as it was on the legal basis on which the decision was taken by the Oireachtas. I do not doubt for a moment anything Senator Norris said about aeroplane markings, but it would have been useful if he had quoted his sources. He probably received his information from people of a particular political persuasion who are in Shannon. I do not doubt the credibility of such people, but it would have been helpful if Senator Norris had quoted the exact source of his information.

The trust which exists between friendly nations should be maintained because it is paramount. The international image of Ireland is of a non-aligned country with a proud record of peacekeeping and advancing human rights. It has earned that image because successive Governments have taken a measured and realistic view of Ireland's role in world affairs. In other words, we have cut our cloth according to our measure. Ireland is not a military power, but a small country on the periphery of Europe. We do not do wars — we do human rights, overseas development and peacekeeping, which we do very well.

While Ireland needs to protect its image abroad, it also has obligations to its people at home. It would be intolerable for the Government to direct the Garda or the Army to insist on searching every aeroplane which lands at Shannon Airport. One should consider, in the context of the remarks which were made, that all US troops brought through the airport are transported by commercial, rather than military, aircraft. Commercial decisions to refuel at Shannon Airport are taken by companies which have been employed by the US Government to carry troops. Such companies refuel their aircraft at other locations such as Frankfurt, which is in a country which fell out bitterly with the United States because of its attitude to the war in Iraq. That international relationship has yet to be repaired.

If Ireland is complicit in an illegal war, why did its supposed military allies in the US not include it in the coalition of the willing? Ireland was specifically excluded from the list of countries involved in the coalition of the willing when the US was making decisions on tendering for contracts for the restructuring and reconstruction of Iraq. The countries included on the list were those which were considered to have been complicit with, or allied to, the US invasion of Iraq. The question I have asked is a fair one, especially as Ireland is friendly with the United States.

The Taoiseach said in the Dáil, in the context of a debate on refuelling and landing rights, that Ireland's two most important bilateral relationships are with Britain and the United States. That is an historical fact, as well as an economic and practical reality. We have to live in the real world, but that does not mean we should compromise our principles. I have explained the context in which Ireland meets its international obligations. Nobody suggests for a moment that we are warmongers, or that we are complicit in any way with what is happening in Iraq. Many other non-aligned and neutral European countries, such as Sweden, have taken a particular line on Iraq. I spoke to Swedish officials about matters of mutual interest in this area when I was in Sweden last week.

I wish to discuss Palestine and Israel, particularly the Israeli defence force's demolition of houses in Rafah which has been the subject of global attention in recent months. A report published by Human Rights Watch states that the Israeli military has demolished over 2,500 Palestinian houses in the occupied Gaza Strip over the last four years. Over two thirds of the demolished houses were in Rafah, which is a densely populated refugee camp and city at the southern end of the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt. Most of the 16,000 people, or more than 10% of Rafah's population, who have lost their homes are refugees. Many of them have been dispossessed for a second or third time. Major General Yom-Tov Samia, who is a former head of the Israeli defence force's southern command, claims that the houses should have been demolished and evacuated a long time ago. He considers that a strip of 300 m along both sides of the border should be cleared, regardless of the number of houses involved.

I support Senator Norris's view that it is time for this country, along with its EU neighbours, to consider seriously the possibility of economic sanctions against Israel. I do not doubt that my esteemed colleague, Senator Bradford, who is Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, will refer to a brief meeting we had last week with an Israeli citizen who proposed such sanctions. When Israeli Jews living in Israel, who know the impact sanctions would have on their community, say that sanctions are the only way of making the Israeli political establishment start to focus on attempting to look for a serious and firm resolution of the problem, then that should be given serious consideration within the EU.

Some people might think that the Israelis do not care. An internal confidential report about the international image of Israel, which had been prepared by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, was leaked to the press two weeks ago. The report stated that Israel may have some difficulties in the future if it continues its current policy of relying exclusively on the United States because the EU is likely to become one of the major international power blocs. The EU is likely to outstrip the US in terms of economic power and international political influence. The Israelis care about what the future will look like. I suggest that the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, should outline the Government's views about the implementation of some form of sanction against Israel if it continues to operate the policy it is pursuing in the Gaza Strip.

6:00 pm

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)
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I support the motion, which "urges the Government to redouble Ireland's efforts to bring peace to Iraq and Palestine", as I am sure every Member of the House does. Regardless of whether our efforts are being redoubled, trebled or quadrupled, we need to consider the practical steps we can take and the real impact we can make at international level to try to improve the problems in Iraq and Palestine.

Some Senators attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs earlier today. A motion was agreed by the committee following a constructive and lengthy discussion on Israel and Palestine. It is interesting that similar motions are being considered by a committee and the Seanad in the aftermath of the vote which took place in the Knesset last night. We should not underestimate the political significance of the vote and the success of the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Sharon, in getting his proposal adopted.

When we have debated the Middle Eastern situation over the past few months, most people have focused on the fact that the road map solution agreed by the Quartet was the only show in town and the political way forward. We then began to doubt whether the road map could or would be implemented. Unfortunately, it has not made the progress for which we hoped. I hope that what happened last night in the Knesset is a very positive step forward. When one talks about the politics of the Middle East, everyone's motives can be questioned and people can wonder what exactly the Israeli Prime Minister is up to and whether he is sincere in his public pronouncements about the withdrawal of the settlements and the removal of some of the enclaves built. Last night, the Israeli Parliament voted to take a major step in that regard. I noted one interesting comment from the Israeli justice Minister, Yosef Lapid, who heads one of the centrist parties. He said that, while there was a great degree of debate on the political intrigue that went on in parliament, what was decided that day would be remembered in 100 years, so significant was it. I hope that it proves to be as significant as he said and a major step forward. Unfortunately, many steps must still be taken.

Senator Mooney spoke of the meeting he, Deputy Carey and I had last week with a representative of Israeli public opinion. I expect that it was a minority point of view. The argument was made to us that sanctions should be considered against Israel while human rights violations and the building of the so-called "peace wall" continue. My personal view of sanctions is that we should tread carefully. One can consider the example of South Africa, where sanctions obviously worked very well. However, in more recent times there were sanctions against Iraq which cannot be deemed to have been successful. When one adopts a policy of sanction and penalty, one may be breaking down the prospect of dialogue. In this country we can sadly claim to be experts on this. A policy of non-dialogue and refusing to engage and negotiate has not worked. The path to peace in the Middle East and turning that road map into a reality involves dialogue, co-operation and debate. I have doubts about the sanctions route, which might simply result in people hardening their positions. The road map is the way forward and if we want to see that solution enacted as agreed by the Quartet, we must encourage people to walk with us — I hope Members will excuse the pun. Sanctions might not be helpful in that regard.

I absolutely object to the "peace wall" project. There is no doubt that rather than bringing peace, it is causing more difficulty and distress and ravaging entire communities. At hearings of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and its human rights sub-committee over the past six months, we have had witnesses able to portray in the gravest detail what effect the "peace wall" project is having on the ground and how it is dividing communities economically, socially and politically. It is bringing great despair. It has been condemned by the entire international community and the message must be sent out from the Oireachtas to the Israeli authorities that the "peace wall"— or separation wall — project must stop and that meaningful, real negotiations must commence.

This House, the Oireachtas, the Government and its predecessors have always taken a very balanced and open approach to the Middle East, and to Israel and Palestine in particular. We were one of the first countries to recognise the right of the Palestinian people to have their own safe and secure state. Equally, we have always supported the right of Israel to have its people live in security and peace. That has been the policy of the Irish Government and it must continue. We must try to ensure that the European Union, the only forum where the Minister can have a direct impact, drives forward the road map solution.

I would also like to mention the situation in Iraq and I agree with what Senator Mooney said. We can dwell for ever on what should not have happened and how or why the invasion occurred. We could do the same regarding the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein. We could dwell for ever on the mass graves now being found in Iraq, the direct result of his regime. However, that will not solve the problems. The people of the country are living in dangerous, depressing and fearful times. The killing goes on daily, and we must ask in this country what we can do to help them. I say to the Minister that we must ensure that the United Nations takes a more direct, hands-on role. In the run-up to the invasion, the cry coming from our Government, most of its European counterparts, and the international community was that nothing should happen without UN sanction or approval. That is not how the game played out. However, the United Nations is the best prospect for progress in Iraq.

The elections are scheduled to take place in January, and there is, probably with good reason, a great deal of doubt about whether they can go ahead. However, it must be the aspiration of the interim administration in Iraq and the international community that there be free and fair elections. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Annan, thinks that the elections can take place, but I understand the level of assistance afforded by the United Nations through election monitoring and preparation is quite minimal. There are obviously very good reasons Mr. Annan and his officials are not very inclined to pour hundreds of people into Iraq to help in the preparation and conduct of the Iraqi election. However, if we want the United Nations to play a major role in the reconstruction of that country, as is proper, we should start with our involvement in the elections. It will be the Iraqi people's first opportunity in generations to have some say in building their own country and conducting their own affairs. That is in everyone's interest. If one is a democrat, whether in Iraq or Europe, it is surely in one's interest to promote democracy and elections. A properly run, free and fair election in January would be a major step forward.

There are obviously great challenges. A tiny minority in Iraq is hell bent on trying to ensure that chaos continues and that murder, mayhem, kidnapping and looting are the daily diet of the Iraqi people. As I said, and as I believe Senator Mooney expressed more articulately, we can talk for ever about why the invasion should not have happened, but it did. We must now debate where we go from here and the best people to plan the future of Iraq are the Iraqis themselves. Their first opportunity will be by way of a free and fair election. I ask the Minister to try to ensure through international dialogue that the United Nations maximises its role in those elections and adds a veneer of confidence and international repute to them.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate him on his appointment. I have no doubt he will do an excellent job in his new role.

This is a peculiar motion before us.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I was trying to be non-contentious and hoped that all Senators would support the motion.

Don Lydon (Fianna Fail)
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I was hoping to tie up matters at the end.

Life in Palestine today is life in an open prison. The daily life of any Palestinian is, to quote a phrase, "nasty, brutish and short". Palestinians need permits for everything — to go to school, to work, to shop, even to post letters. There is very little a Palestinian can do without Israeli permission. There is a network of more than 400 checkpoints. Ostensibly they are there to deter suicide bombers but in reality they serve to separate Palestinian from Palestinian and have little impact on suicide bombers.

The checkpoints have a devastating effect on the daily life of Palestinians. Each Palestinian goes through one checkpoint at least once daily. He or she might wait for hours. It is an old-fashioned technique. It was used by the British in the Six Counties, and I often had to wait for hours, though not every day, or everywhere, as Palestinians must do. From September 2000 to April 2004, 82 sick Palestinians died at Israeli checkpoints, having been forbidden passage. Since the beginning of 2002, 52 Palestinian women have given birth at checkpoints. Two years before that, 19 Palestinian women and 29 newborn Palestinian babies died at checkpoints for lack of medical care. They were not let through.

I have experience of being held up while coming from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and going to Hebron. I was left sitting at the checkpoint. There was nothing on the far side and no reason one could not get through. Israeli soldiers chat and laugh among themselves and there is nothing one can do. They have the guns and one is sitting there.

There has been a policy of destruction and humiliation over the past three and a half years. Israeli armed forces have demolished more than 2,000 homes, leaving tens of thousands of men, women and children homeless and without a livelihood, just like the evictions in the old days in Ireland by our British landlords. It is the same with the Israelis. The evicted victims are mostly the poorest and most disadvantaged. Families are left destitute. The wall encircling Palestinians is a violation of international law.

Why and how is all this happening? In 1897, the first Zionist congress in Basle introduced the Basle Programme which stated, "Zionism seeks to establish a home for the Jewish people in Palestine secured under public law." The Palestinians did not want them, but in 1909, Tel Aviv was developed as the first all-Jewish city. From then on there was a gradual encroachment, annexation, expulsion and humiliation of the Palestinian people. That is Al-Naqba, or the catastrophe, as the Palestinians call it. There are now 4 million Palestinian refugees who are not allowed to return. This refusal to allow them return is also against international law or United Nations resolutions.

I have spoken to many Israelis at conferences and in Israel and asked why they ignore the UN resolutions. The answer is simple. They are surrounded by enemies such as Hizbollah, who they see as wanting to wipe out the state of Israel. Accordingly they retaliate, but their retaliation has always been disproportionate. If it were not for the billions of dollars paid by the Americans to the Israelis, the latter would have made peace long ago because they would not have been able to keep the effort going. It is ironic in a way. I spoke before about the initiation ceremony for the elite corps of the Israeli army, which is the nearest thing to the Nuremberg rally that one could see. Torchlight parades feature the Star of David instead of the swastika. Without realising it, these soldiers have in a way become the new Nazis. The oppressed became the oppressors.

I welcome the stated intention of the Israeli Government to withdraw from the Gaza Strip as part of its implementation of the roadmap process. It is the only way forward. I note with concern the escalation in violent acts emanating from both sides in the conflict. These acts serve only to impede and frustrate peace efforts. I welcome the clear decision of the International Court of Justice on the illegality of the wall separating and encircling the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the subsequent UN General Assembly resolution to the same effect, backed unanimously by all 25 members. The construction of the wall has continued because the Israelis ignore these resolutions. They see themselves as a Jewish nation with no friends. At the UN, all the Arab states vote against them. Others too vote against them, while some vote for them. The Israelis are on their own. Only the Americans back them, so they urge everyone else to hell while they intend to defend themselves at all costs.

The matter has reached the stage where neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis on their own can reach a solution. The violations of human rights have been too great, as is the hatred sown. The problem can be solved but only with the roadmap and continued pressure from the EU, Russia, America and others.

When the war in Iraq began I was one of those in this House who said it was illegal and immoral. The results now include 30,000 Iraqis dead along with young soldiers from America, Italy, Britain and elsewhere. It is a sad situation. Members will agree that if Iraq grew bananas instead of oil, there would be no war. This has led to torture in the prisons in Iraq, but it produced Guantanamo Bay too, whereby poor people from mountainous regions of Afghanistan were hooded, blindfolded, put in uniform, forced to kneel and tortured. That was America's shame. The mighty democracy of the world is shamed by this event.

I have given two examples of America backing events without much thought for what is going on behind them, or without caring. America is now the policeman of the world and the Iraqi and Palestinian conflicts are intimately connected. The main motivations are greed, power and money, and the Jewish vote in the US helps. However, we cannot abandon Israel at this stage. That is sometimes forgotten. Although Israel's actions are disproportionate to the aggression visited upon it, we cannot abandon Israel. The state of Israel exists whether we like it or not. We must support that state so that it feels secure surrounded by Arab neighbours, rather than threatened by them. We cannot abandon the Palestinians either and we must insist on the return of the 4 million refugees. They cannot return until the Palestinian lands are returned.

It is amazing to see Mr. Sharon moving in the direction in which he is moving. This is a man who led many raids and killed many people in his earlier days and who precipitated the intifada. Rather than merely consider what is wrong we must ask if we can do anything about the situation. There is always something we can do. Someone suggested today that sanctions be applied to Israel. That will not do much good. The only way we can move forward in both of these conflicts is through dialogue. That is the only way we have been able to move forward on this island. Force does not work. The Americans are now calling for further British armed forces to go to Iraq, and there has been a similar call for Irish armed forces. We have a reputation for peacekeeping rather than for oppression and it is too early for our armed forces to go to Iraq.

We can however highlight the situation. We are a small Parliament in a small country but if sufficient small parliaments in small countries continue to highlight matters, change takes place gradually yet irrevocably in every conflict throughout the world. This one will not be any different. We must keep fighting and keep trying. We must support Israel's efforts to live in peace and support the Palestinians in gaining the return of their homeland and the return of their refugees. This can be done. It will be a long, slow haul and it might be a case of taking one step backwards for every two taken forward. However, we must take those two steps forward.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I wish to share my time with Senator Kitt.

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister. I did not intend to speak on the motion but I am glad that it was brought forward because it gives us the opportunity to discuss whether peace can be achieved and whether there is any way to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict and the awful mess in Iraq. I have given some thought to the matter and I believe there is a way to achieve these things. Senator Lydon touched on it when he said the only way forward is through political negotiation. We must then consider how to bring together those from Israel and Palestine to discuss matters. During Ireland's Presidency of the EU, everything possible was done to move matters forward. Unfortunately, however, a backward step has been taken.

We have witnessed the awful deaths and injuries that have resulted from the upsurge in violence along the Gaza Strip and in southern Israel. Our priority must be for Ireland to find a way to help resolve matters. The Minister will have an important role to play in this regard and I ask him, on behalf of the House, to do everything in his power to find a way to express Ireland's interest in the peace process and for us to formulate a solution for the problems between Israel and Palestine.

I do not know what to say about Iraq. I am completely against the war there. I have been traumatised by the barbaric murders shown on television. I do not know whether we will find a solution to this problem but I hope the Minister will indicate how best we might move forward. I hope he will also state whether the interim government is capable, perhaps with support from the United Nations or the United State, of resolving matters and whether the member states of the European Union can help to find a way forward. Events in Iraq cannot remain on their current course. No purpose is served by what is happening there at present. What are those involved there trying to solve? Is any country or member state in a position to come forward with a solution that might work?

I do not have much more to say. I merely wish to state that the current position cannot be allowed to stand. I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs to do everything possible to promote the Government's position in respect of round table discussions. I do not care whether these relate to Israel, Palestine or Iraq. The only way the problems will be solved is by people negotiating with each other. I ask the Minister to do everything in his power to ensure that Ireland provides assistance in whatever way possible.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Ormonde for sharing her time and Senator Henry for tabling this motion. I welcome the Minister who, as with his previous Ministries, has done a good job in a short period.

I visited Baghdad in January 2003, a number of months before the war began, with an Oireachtas delegation. One of the most vivid memories I have of that trip is that many of our visits to hospitals, schools and public buildings were often interrupted by power blackouts. The situation in hospitals as regards the loss of power was particularly dreadful. The first thing that happened in the attacks on Iraq and Baghdad was that the power supply was hit again by the invading forces. A great deal has been written about the fact that we do not know the full extent of the casualties caused by the war and, in that context, innocent Iraqi people would be our main concern.

If the situation in Iraq as regards health, education and energy supplies was bad previously, it became worse with the advent of this war which has been described by Kofi Annan as illegal. People were obliged to start rebuilding when Saddam Hussein was overthrown. It is only fair to state that there have been some good developments in Iraq in terms of education since the war began.

The sanctions in place before the war affected hospitals and the health services in general. I recall visiting a children's hospital in which many of the children were suffering from leukaemia. The doctors and consultants informed us that they could not procure supplies. For example, some drugs might be missing from the cocktail of drugs required for someone's treatment and much of the equipment in the hospital was missing parts. The situation improved in the interim but recent violence and atrocities have caused further disruption to the health services, to education and to water supplies and sewerage facilities.

On my visit I was glad to meet workers from CARE International, the NGO of which Mrs. Margaret Hassan is director. Our sympathies go to Mrs. Hassan's family at this time. CARE International is an excellent organisation. Its staff deal with basic issues such as water treatment and their work in hospitals and health centres is extremely important. They spoke to me about the necessary work of rationing and feeding which must be carried out. Their main achievement relates to dealing with the matter of infant mortality and they were able to demonstrate the improvements that have taken place in that regard. I hope the work of CARE International and other NGOs will be successful. It will be difficult, however, because kidnappings, suicide bombings and other violence have led to the creation of a very unstable situation. For example, the United Nations had to close down its headquarters in Iraq — which I visited on my trip — because of bomb and other attacks on it. The Minister has taken a particular interest in Iraq during his short time in the Department. I hope he will be successful in his work in that regard.

As regards the Middle East and Palestine, a matter with which Senator Lydon dealt very well, efforts must continue to achieve peace there. There have been some positive noises, particularly in respect of what the Israeli Prime Minister said. However, the situation in this region is particularly difficult. I hope the efforts being made by the Government and the Minister in respect of Palestine and Israel will be successful. It is ironic that some time ago we were informed, in the context of the North of Ireland, that we should look at the blueprint for the Middle East as a possible way to solve the difficulties on this island. We are now telling people that they should look at the peace process here, on which we are working hard and in respect of which we hope to make further progress. Some of the people we met in Iraq were interested by the process in Northern Ireland. Perhaps efforts similar to those relating to Northern Ireland can be made in the Middle East.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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I welcome the Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and wish him well with his new portfolio. I am confident he will carry on the good work of his predecessor, Deputy Cowen.

I wish to concentrate, in particular, on the Palestinian aspect of the motion. I welcome the fact that the motion has been framed in such a way that it can be supported across the House. At this afternoon's meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs, a motion was tabled by Deputy Mulcahy. It was a good motion and I supported it. However, it was rather unfortunate the Sinn Féin put down an amendment. There was little significant difference between the motion and the amendment. The main aspect involved the European Union's role in recognising Israel and having it participate at international fora. It is important that Parliament, the Government and the European Union continue to take a unified approach on these issues as it gives authority to the views expressed. A good consensus has been achieved on Palestine over the years. I can recall at least one instance of a motion being signed by the leaders of all groups in the Seanad.

With regard to Palestine, we all view with horror the events we see daily on our television screens. Irrespective of whether it is violence perpetrated by the more extreme elements of the Palestinian population or state terrorism in the case of Israel, we must continue to be even-handed in our condemnation. I am encouraged by and support the conclusions reached by the General Affairs and External Relations Council at its meeting in Luxembourg on 11 October 2004.

I am disturbed by the apparent inconsistencies between the attitude of the United States to the Middle East, particularly with regard to Iraq but also on the issue of Palestine, and the war against terrorism. Terrorism from whatever source is unacceptable. To have authority, one must take an even-handed view. While there is no doubt that al-Qaeda and similar groups are worthy of the strongest international condemnation and the intervention of the United States, nevertheless, if the US is to fulfil the role it envisages for itself, it must also condemn terrorism when it emanates from Israel or is state inflicted.

I realise that for many years it was strategically important for the United States to have influence on the state of Israel but I am not convinced strategic reasons, other than domestic political concerns, still exist. The end of the Cold War and the US presence in Iraq make America's need to be dominant in Israel less evident. I hope that when the new administration is established, whether through a continuation of President Bush's period in office or Senator Kerry assuming the presidency, the United States will take a more even-handed approach.

If, as has happened, rockets are launched from the Jabalya refugee camp or elsewhere in the Gaza Strip into Israel inflicting terrible carnage, it is reasonable to assume that Israel would respond. The central issue, however, is that its response must be proportionate, rather than indiscriminate as has been the case.

As I stated at a meeting of the Joint Committee on European Affairs today, I have been in the Palestinian territories twice. On the first occasion, several years ago, I visited Jabalya and another refugee camp near Bethlehem in the West Bank. I also had the good fortune to return to monitor the first Palestinian elections. This was an inspiring trip which showed the appetite for democracy among the Palestinian people who came out in enormous numbers — well over 90% of the population — to cast their votes. Polling stations had to be kept open much later than envisaged and, as I recalled earlier, we were forced to intervene when ballot boxes became stuffed with ballot papers. Even our traditional system of using a ruler to push papers further into boxes failed and we had to fetch plastic bags in which to put extra ballot papers. We then sealed the bags in front of witnesses using sealing wax to ensure they remained confident that the integrity of the ballot had not been breached.

During these visits, I was particularly struck by the total disregard of the rights under law of the Palestinian people. Bulldozers arrived to demolish houses in which the occupants were suspected of harbouring terrorists or others who were perhaps more marginal to the conflict. The occupants had no recourse when this occurred or when settlers took land that had been in Palestinian hands for generations, evicted people from their homes and settled on the land on the basis of some presumed biblical legitimacy.

I was in France over the weekend where CNN, a channel of which I am not an enthusiast and would not choose to watch, appears to be the only English language television channel available. My view was reinforced as I watched an elderly lady who had been born in England, reared in the United States and now lives in the Gaza Strip state she did not accept that she must move home as a result of Prime Minister Sharon's initiative. Her home had been appropriated under false pretence from somebody who had title to the property. If that were to happen here, there would, correctly, be uproar.

As to the way forward the Council, at its October meeting, reaffirmed the elements laid down by the European Council in March 2004. This is the correct approach. It stated:

The Council reiterated its view that proposals for an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the Northern West Bank could represent a significant step towards the implementation of the Roadmap, provided that it comprises a full and complete withdrawal and is implemented in accordance with the five elements laid down by the European Council in March 2004, i.e:

It took place in the context of the Roadmap; it was a step towards a two-state solution it did not involve a transfer of settlement activity to the West Bank; there was an organised and negotiated hand-over of responsibility to the Palestinian Authority; and Israel facilitated the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza.

While these are important conditions, money is also important. When one visits Gaza it becomes evident that the area urgently needs a capital injection. The World Bank and other international agencies must provide support to ensure the Palestinian Authority can operate with a degree of financial security.

The Council also called for the "resumption of security co-operation and direct negotiations between the parties, as called for in the Roadmap." The central issue, reiterated by the Taoiseach when he addressed the matter recently, is that the road map must act as a template, which sets down the actions which must be taken if progress is to be achieved. We cannot start to re-negotiate it in response to violence and I hope the Government will take a determined position in this regard.

Ireland has an opportunity to act as an honest broker, a capacity we have demonstrated domestically with regard to Northern Ireland and in our conduct in international fora, including the United Nations and the European Union. We have authority beyond our size and position in the world.

The wall separating the Palestinians from the Israelis has been held to be unlawful. An executive of CRH, when asked about this matter at a recent meeting I attended, replied that the company had invested in the only cement company in Israel, which in turn only provided cement for the wall. He almost gave the impression that CRH had nothing to do with the wall, which is not the case. It can decide to invest in such companies. Ethics come into play in this regard — I say this as a shareholder in the company — and CRH has responsibilities which it should fulfil.

Photo of Dermot AhernDermot Ahern (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senators who tabled the motion which the Government is happy to support. I thank the speakers for their contributions. It is interesting that the Seanad, for the second week in a row, is discussing issues pertaining to that part of the world. That is as it should be. The Government and both Houses of the Oireachtas look forward to a peaceful resolution of the intractable issues in Iraq and in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. They have complicated roots which long predate the current crisis of violence and instability.

The spiral of violence which has overtaken many areas of Iraq has inflicted great suffering on many people, including some families that have Irish roots. The Dáil and the Seanad discussed the issues pertaining to the Irish families last week. Senators will understand if I do not go into that aspect further, given its current sensitivity particularly with regard to Mrs. Margaret Hassan. We are still in contact with the family in that respect.

The Iraqi people are the primary victims of the conflict. It is they who are suffering most, including from the interruption of basic services. This was illustrated by previous speakers, particularly by Senator Kitt who visited Iraq just before the war. The European Union's objective on Iraq is clear. Senator Dardis referred to the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council which I attended and at which I had an opportunity to speak on these issues. The Council was resolved to put forward a strong proposal. We want to see the development of a secure, stable and democratic Iraq, able to play a positive role in the region.

The immediate problem in Iraq is violence, which exacerbates the challenge of building a democratic political structure in a country which has never known one, and where two of the three communities making up the country have been hitherto systematically excluded from participation in power. The starting point for our actions in Iraq is, and must be, UN Security Council Resolution 1546 of 8 June, which provides for the transfer of power to the interim Iraqi Government on 28 June. The multinational force, MNF, in Iraq now operates under the authority of Resolution 1546 and at the invitation of the interim Iraqi Government.

The EU will have an opportunity to review the situation when the members of the European Council meet with Prime Minister Allawi on 4 November. That will give us a chance to hear from him what his Government's needs are and to discuss how best we can help. The multinational force in Iraq has prime responsibility to assist the Iraqi Government in the security area. The MNF includes a number of EU member states but the EU, as a Union, is not involved. Ireland does not, at this stage, envisage becoming involved in the provision of any form of security assistance in Iraq.

The treatment of prisoners in Iraq is and has been a matter of serious concern. The Government voiced its concern and displeasure at the revelations earlier this year about abuse of Iraqi prisoners in coalition custody. We did so together with our EU and Arab partners in the EuroMediterranean ministerial meeting in Dublin and in our bilateral contacts with the occupying powers.

One important area where the EU can be helpful is in the preparation for the Iraqi elections, scheduled for January 2005. Senator Bradford referred to this aspect. Only elections can give the Iraqi Government the enhanced authority and legitimacy it needs to pull its country together and rebuild its future. However, we need to be frank — the holding of elections against the background of the current security situation will not be an easy task. The Iraqi Government also faces a daunting task in trying to create a functioning civil society and political system. This will be a long-term task and much of it cannot even begin until security has been restored. One of the issues I discussed with Kofi Annan when he visited Ireland recently was the prospect of UN personnel returning to Iraq in substantial numbers, given what happened to some of them there some time ago.

The EU has sent two exploratory missions to Iraq to examine how we can best assist. One critical area identified is supporting the establishment of a responsible criminal justice system in Iraq. This could help convey to the Iraqi people that the justice system now belongs to them. The specific aim will be to help Iraqis to re-establish and reform their own system, not to impose an alien one from outside. In this regard, the field of policing and the rule of law was identified as an area in which possible EU assistance could be most effective in the first instance. The Presidency has now put forward a proposal for a package of measures in support of the interim Iraqi Government and Iraqi reconstruction. The proposal has just been received and, quite frankly, it is too early to give a considered response.

However, I will give Senators a flavour of what is in the proposal. It has only just been received and we are currently examining it, as are our partners. The measures include elements relating to political support for the Iraqi Government, such as EU backing for the proposed regional conference on Iraq to be held in Egypt in late November. They include EU support for the role of the UN in Iraq, something we discussed at our meeting with Kofi Annan, including financial support for the proposed UN protection force. Again, I refer to the discussions I had with Kofi Annan in that respect. As we spoke, the attacks on the green zone made it even more difficult for the implementation of the UN protection force. Ireland intends to make a financial contribution to the EU financial support for the proposed UN protection force. The Presidency package would include EU assistance both from the Community budget and from individual member states for the preparation of Iraqi elections. Finally, the Presidency has put forward possible elements for an EU action in the field of policing and the rule of law to help the development of the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the only way a peaceful solution can only be attained is through negotiation. We know that from our experience on this island. Any such solution must satisfy the legitimate aspirations of both sides. We have availed of every opportunity, both as a member of the UN Security Council and during our recent Presidency of the EU, to advance international efforts to achieve a two state solution, with each country living at peace within secure and recognised borders. Previous speakers, particularly Senator Lydon, referred to the difficulty for ordinary Palestinians going about their business as a result of the type of security measures that are being put in place. We got a flavour of these from the Palestinian Foreign Minister, Mr. Shaath, whom I met earlier this week.

The road map provides the opportunity and the framework within which to achieve a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regrettably, it is clear that neither side has to date acted to fulfil its commitments under the road map. We discussed this with Mr. Shaath when he was here. Our priority must be to get the peace process back on track. The essentials are an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and a return to the negotiating table. There is, and can be, no military solution, just as there is no substitute for political negotiations between the two sides.

I have repeatedly expressed the Government's great concern about the deaths and injuries caused by the violence in Gaza and southern Israel. As Ireland nationally has done, the EU has also strongly condemned the disproportionate nature of the Israeli military engagement. We have repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to take every precaution to avoid causing civilian casualties and to conduct operations in full conformity with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention. Above all, I am disturbed and concerned by the civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, including the many children killed or wounded. I also unequivocally condemn the terrorist attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian groups which have resulted in the deaths of Israelis, including children. Suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism advance no legitimate agenda and can only damage the interests of the Palestinian people.

We in Ireland know only too well that violence is pointless. We see again and again in the Middle East that violence achieves nothing. As a result, Israel is no closer to the goal of real security and Palestine is no closer to its long-cherished goal of independence. I took the opportunity to emphasise all of these points when I met last week with Dr. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian Foreign Minister.

The road map provides the way forward and addresses the issues of concern to both sides. It calls, for example, on the Palestinian side to embrace internal reform and to take firm action against terrorism. It also calls upon Israel to freeze settlement activity and to take steps to ease the humanitarian and economic plight of the Palestinian people.

This week, the Israeli Parliament voted in favour of its Government's proposal for disengagement from Gaza and from a small number of settlements in the West Bank. There is, nonetheless, strong resistance within Israel. The European Union, for its part, has set out five elements which it considers essential if it is to endorse the withdrawal process. In particular, in our strongly held view, withdrawal must take place in the context of the road map and must be a step towards a two-state solution.

I refer finally to the separation barrier in the West Bank, to which previous speakers referred. I acknowledge and uphold the right and responsibility of any government, in this case, the Israeli Government, to protect its people, including, if it so wishes, by a security fence. However, the fence must not be on occupied territory and must not create facts on the ground. This, I emphasise, is also the position of the European Union and the International Court of Justice.

The motion before the Seanad has provided me with a welcome opportunity to inform Senators of the Government's position in regard to two areas of great concern to all of us: Iraq and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While they are two quite different issues, each has the capacity, especially the Palestinian conflict, to impact negatively on the other. This is why, in the case of Palestine, all of us need to seize every opportunity to drive forward the solution to this distressing and destabilising situation, namely, the road map. Following the presidential election in the US, a renewed and critical opportunity may well exist for us to do so. We must seize it quickly and effectively. Accordingly, I am happy to support the motion.

Mary Henry (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his reply and thank all the Senators who spoke, most of whom are far more knowledgeable than me on the situation in both areas. Senator Dardis made the important point that because Ireland had its own problems, we have domestic experience which enables us to give advice. I find it extremely distressing that the situation in both areas has become a religious war. We witnessed two denominations of the Christian religion fighting each other in Northern Ireland and violence was no solution.

Many speakers referred to the American intervention in Iraq. However, when the British Prime Minister, Mr. Blair, states this war will define relations between the Muslim world and the West, I wonder what he means. The Muslim tradition is also valuable and Muslims may see our values as less important than some of their own.

There is huge chaos in both areas and, as all speakers noted, civilians are suffering most. It is the duty of the occupying powers in Iraq to maintain the security situation. Senator Mooney pointed out that the appalling massacre of trainee soldiers, which must have been due to inside information, was carried out by other Iraqis. While that may be so, it was interesting that Prime Minister Allawi blamed the occupying forces. It is difficult for progress to be made in Iraq.

One area not addressed in the Minister's contribution, which I would like to be addressed, concerns the economic occupation and the fact the reconstruction funds are not being invested in Iraqi firms to get them going. There are millions of unemployed Iraqi men who, if the funding was made available to Iraqi firms, could work on the reconstruction effort. An Arab television network made a programme on the rebuilding of houses bombed by the Americans. If a television programme could be made on this, surely funds could be distributed so that some Iraqi firms could begin repairing damage caused to houses and to infrastructure such as sewerage systems.

A colleague of mine works as an obstetrician in Iraq. She recently told me that she still carries out caesarean sections by candlelight and washes her hands with filthy water. Such conditions should not prevail a year and a half after the invasion. In the same way that we encourage negotiations between Palestine and Israel, we should encourage the United States and United Kingdom to become involved in the practical problems of Iraq and to repeal the appalling order No. 39 made by the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Mr. Paul Bremer, which robbed the Iraqi people of every last thing they have. I would object if such a measure applied here. To take the property of a state and sell it to outsiders was wrong when even Iraqis outside the country at the time the order was invoked asked for time to buy the property themselves. It would be useful to encourage the US and UK to revisit the issue.

When the Minister meets with British Government Ministers, who obviously support Mr. Blair because they did not resign, he should point out to them that if internment had continued for years in Ireland, the situation here would not be as it is. The Minister should ask that some prisoners be released. I cannot see why those of no political or strategic significance are being held. It is a continuation of Saddam's policies and the people of Iraq must feel that their plight has not been improved by this imposition of a so-called democracy.

Question put and agreed to.

Rory Kiely (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.