Tuesday, 29 June 2021
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
278. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason Ireland has not continued to support the Ethiopian government but instead maintain allegiance to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front; the reason Ireland raised the issue of Tigray at the UN Security Council without consultation with the Ethiopian government and the Irish community in Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Irish community in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34541/21]
279. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will support free and fair elections in Ethiopia and request that the EU take on the responsibility of acting as observers at the upcoming elections. [34542/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 279 together.
Ireland has a longstanding relationship with Ethiopia, our largest bilateral development partner, built over time and characterised by close working relationships with its people and Government. Over the past 5 years alone, Ireland invested approximately €200m to support Ethiopia’s development and growth, with a focus on governance, health, agricultural development, social protection and humanitarian assistance. Our trusted relationships have been built with the Government, civil society and local communities across Ethiopia. Ireland has never had "allegiance" to the TPLF or any other group.
It is in the context of this longstanding friendship and concern for the welfare of Ethiopia that the Government raises the human impact of the conflict in Tigray and we make no excuse for doing so. And we follow the same policy in relation to the terrible effects of conflicts in other parts of the world. Indeed conflict prevention, peacebuilding and support for humanitarian access to vulnerable conflict affected communities are cornerstones of Ireland's work at the UN Security Council.
I fully acknowledge the commitments made by the Ethiopian Government in respect of humanitarian action. However, and notwithstanding these commitments, UN and other credible sources point to a continuing deterioration of the situation on the ground.
There are credible warnings of famine, and of attacks on humanitarian workers. Three aid workers were murdered last week. Since then, there have been significant developments, with Tigrayan forces reportedly entering the capital Mekelle and a declaration from the Ethiopian Government of a ceasefire to allow for planting by farmers. I welcome this announcement, and hope it leads to a general cessation of violence. UN OCHA has confirmed that 350,000 people in Tigray are in imminent danger of famine. UNICEF is warning that at least 33,000 severely malnourished children face death by starvation.
This is the context for Ireland's association with, and endorsement of, international calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, to enable planting and help avert the risk of famine. There is an urgent need for full humanitarian access. All parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, which prohibit attacks directed against civilians. It is imperative that Eritrean forces leave Tigray immediately.
Ireland continues to advocate for an effective response to the situation in Tigray, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, through our bilateral engagement with Ethiopia, our EU Membership, and at the UN Security Council. We maintain a full range of regular and ongoing contacts with Ethiopia, including in Dublin, Addis Ababa, the Permanent Missions to the United Nations in New York and Geneva, as well as in EU forums in Brussels. Ireland’s Embassy in Addis Ababa plays a key role in this regard, and Embassy officials have visited Tigray on a number of occasions.
When I met with Ethiopia’s Ambassador to Ireland last month, we had a good exchange on the situation in his country, complementing Minister Coveney's discussions with Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.
Ireland continues to work on the Security Council to maintain a focus on the situation in Tigray. We have engaged closely with Ethiopia in this regard. Most recently, on 15 June, we called an informal meeting of the Security Council that focused on the humanitarian situation, in which Ethiopia participated. In April, Ireland led the negotiation of a Council press statement on the situation in Tigray, the first time the Security Council spoke publicly on the crisis. We have made a joint request for a further Council meeting this week.
We also continue to closely monitor the wider situation in Ethiopia. On 21 June, Ethiopia undertook partial national elections. There were significant concerns among the international community, including the EU, that the situation on the ground was not conducive to a credible, inclusive and transparent electoral process. The planned EU Election Observation Mission was not deployed, as it was not possible to reach agreement with the Ethiopian authorities on essential parameters. Ireland supported local civil society organisations to monitor the election situation on the ground.
Ireland’s continued priority will remain, as always, supporting the needs of the most vulnerable people in Ethiopia, including those affected by conflict in Tigray. My Department, through the Irish Aid programme, has so far provided over €3.2 million to support the humanitarian response in Tigray and the refugee response in neighbouring Sudan, through our trusted UN and NGO partners on the ground.