Seanad debates

Thursday, 11 June 2015

10:30 am

Photo of Paddy BurkePaddy Burke (Cathaoirleach of Seanad; Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, to the House.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important international matter and I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Flanagan, and thank him for being present to hear my presentation. I am raising the issue of the ongoing ISIS threat because I am seriously concerned that, from an international perspective, neither the European Union nor, in particular, the United States is taking with sufficient seriousness the profound threat to what I would deem to be civilisation being posed by ISIS. When we hear of a group which brings along a body of six year old children to watch a beheading for educational purposes, we are starkly reminded of that with which it is we are dealing. Over the past number of years, the ISIS group has ploughed with alarming and frightening effect through Syria and Iraq to gain a major stronghold in these geographical areas.

During the course of the 20th century, the world had to deal with and eventually prevailed over threats from fascism, nazism and communism. In ISIS, we are dealing with a group which is just as dangerous, deranged and ideologically driven as those other groupings. There has been a campaign of terror, cultural vandalism and religious fundamentalism which is of such sufficient concern to us that we have to ensure there is a much stronger international response to ISIS. The group poses a threat to civilisation and to a peaceful world order. It is posing an immediate threat to the broader middle Eastern area of the world. In the medium to long term, it is a threat to the Western world and western civilisation. I am, therefore, both concerned and disappointed with the apparent total lack of a response by the broader international community.

The G7 group of countries met during the week. They had many pressing matters to consider but I did not read any great reports of progress on tackling the ISIS threat. The Administration of President Obama - a wonderful Administration which was to bring about hope and change - is now of such irrelevant import, it does not even appear to have a policy. The European Union presumably has a policy but we are not seeing any action. I am not sure what is the Irish involvement in the EU policy and I would like to hear from the Minister in that regard. Above all, I want the Minister to assure me that he, his officials, the Government and the Department are taking this matter seriously and that there will be a ramping up by the EU of action and of whatever type of intervention to which we can commit ourselves.Without abusing the words of a former Taoiseach, Mr. Jack Lynch, the world's civilisation cannot stand idly by. It is depressing, culturally, to see monuments thousands of years old being destroyed and cities and a civilisation being buried in ashes. That is bad, but we have also seen beheadings and other forms of execution, terror and the displacement of entire populations. That is not only a profound human rights issue but must also concern everybody interested in world peace and order. It is not a question of seeing if ISIS can be contained, as there is no place in the world's civilisation for a group like it. It must be tackled and removed from the map, politically and militarily. We must see the start of a substantive campaign against it in the near future. I would like to hear the Minister's observations.

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for facilitating this debate in the Seanad. As he stated, it is an important issue.

The barbaric violence and culture of hatred which fuel the ISIS campaign of terror are utterly unacceptable to Ireland and the wider world and a threat to the values of freedom and human dignity which we fundamentally espouse. ISIS's actions are harmful, first and foremost, to the people of the Middle East region, especially women and girls; ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians and Yazidis; members of the gay community; and other vulnerable groups that are the principal victims of its inhumane actions. I also condemn the wilful destruction of cultural artefacts and ancient buildings in the Middle East, the cradle of civilisation, as it constitutes irreplaceable losses to the history of humankind.

The ideology of ISIS is based on totalitarianism, denying all freedoms and rights to the people of the region in pursuit of a perverted interpretation and extremist implementation of religious doctrine. ISIS is a radical group which is seeking to consolidate its power across much of the Middle East and expand its territorial control, widening the threat to the lives and human rights of millions of people across the region. It poses a limited threat to the European Union, including Ireland, but there can be little doubt about its ambitions to export Its violence and terror to Europe. We are working closely with our partners in the European Union and through the United Nations to co-ordinate our efforts and strengthen the tools at our disposal.

The February Foreign Affairs Council conclusions set out five priorities in combating terrorism internationally. They are the strengthening of partnerships with key countries, supporting capacity building, countering radicalisation and violent extremism, promoting international co-operation and addressing underlying factors and crises. Following a special meeting of the European Council, EU Heads of State and Government set out a range of priorities to guide further work by the Foreign Affairs and Justice and Home Affairs Councils. These priorities were set out under three headings - ensuring the security of citizens, preventing radicalisation and safeguarding values and co-operating with our international partners. The approach being taken by the European Union is consistent with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2178 on foreign terrorist fighters which was adopted unanimously on 24 September 2014. Ireland co-sponsored the resolution, with 103 other states, including all other EU member states. The resolution takes a comprehensive, human rights-compliant approach to tackling the foreign fighters problem in accordance with international law. It highlights the need to tackle the underlying causes of radicalisation through community outreach initiatives, while at the same time focusing on strengthening legal and security measures. This comprehensive strategy in the resolution is in line with Ireland's approach to the issue.

Our approach nationally combines preventive measures and capacity to prosecute terrorist-related behaviour. An attack on Ireland is possible, but it is assessed as not likely. There is no specific information on a threat to this country. There are a small number of people based here who support extremism. Their activities are closely monitored by An Garda Síochána which also keeps the level of threat from international terrorism under continuous review in the light of ongoing developments and continues to take appropriate measures to counteract it. In this, it has the full support of the Government. In tandem with this, the Garda operates a progressive community relations programme in engaging with all minority communities in the State through the racial, intercultural and diversity office.

Our approach nationally combines preventive measures and capacity to prosecute terrorist-related behaviour. The Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, has been very active in this area. With regard to preventive measures, An Garda Síochána monitors the movement of those suspected of involvement in extremist behaviour. With regard to the capacity to prosecute, existing legislation, dating from 2005, provides for the offences of terrorist bombing and terrorist financing. We recently passed the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Act 2015 which created the three new offences of public provocation to commit a terrorist offence, recruitment for terrorism and training for terrorism.

A comprehensive solution to the challenge posed by ISIS must also embrace efforts to promote a political settlement in Syria based on the Geneva Principles, as well as international support for the new unity government in Iraq, encouraging the Iraqi Government to pursue inclusivity and reconciliation. We also recognise the immense humanitarian impact of the current conflict and have committed over €41 million to humanitarian relief since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his response. When the ISIS media watchers take note of his answer, they will be reminded of The Skibbereen Eaglein keeping its eye on Russia. That will be the impact of the policy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The media watchers may read about our support for capacity building and our co-sponsoring of UN resolutions and ask, "So what?" The Minister has stated ISIS poses a limited threat to the European Union, which is a fair statement of fact. Does he concede that the current campaign and the geographical advancement of ISIS into Syria bring it within a short plane journey of the Italian border? Does he concede that, as we are thinking about the possible accession of Turkey to the European Union in the medium to long term, the border of the European Union could be within a short hop of ISIS-dominated territory? What are we going to do in that regard? The Minister did not mention any engagement with the United States. Is there active engagement by the European Union with the United States and the Obama Administration to see if this threat can be taken more seriously?

Photo of Charles FlanaganCharles Flanagan (Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
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Yes, the United States is very much involved. There is an ongoing programme of interaction between the European Union and the United States. Only recently the High Representative, Ms Federica Mogherini, visited the United States and she has been particularly active on this issue since assuming office in November. Our position, notwithstanding the Senator's exhortation that Ireland should do more, is, as I outlined, that we consider matters from a domestic perspective. We also have influence within the 28 member European Union bloc. Later this month the European Council will review progress in the implementation of the European Union's counter-terrorism agenda. It includes a number of strands, including tackling the phenomenon that is foreign terrorist fighters, countering terrorist content on the Internet, improving international co-operation and information sharing, including through the adoption of the EU passenger name records directive. Other elements include constructive engagement with third states. In this context, I refer particularly to the Senator's comments on Turkey.I am anxious to ensure there is constructive engagement between the EU states and Turkey which, as Senator Bradford will recognise, is the main gateway for foreign fighters into Syria.

On the domestic front, Senator Bradford is familiar with the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Act which was debated here before Christmas and I am sure my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, would be happy to address the House again on the domestic approach to this important issue. We have a two-pronged approach, domestic and international. As Senator Bradford has urged, the European Union regards this issue as a high priority in terms of its engagement on the international stage.