Header Item Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017: Committee Stage (Resumed) (Continued)
 Header Item Message from Select Committee
 Header Item Situation in Syria: Motion [Private Members]

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 6

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  9 o’clock

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell As it is 9 p.m., I must ask that progress be reported.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien: Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien Can we have an indication when the Bill is coming back as it is not scheduled for the rest of the week?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell That is a matter for the Business Committee. I assume it will have to discuss it as soon as possible but, at the moment, I do not have a scheduled time.

  Progress reported; Committee to sit again.

Message from Select Committee

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell The Select Committee on Education and Skills has completed its consideration of the following Estimate for public services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2017: Vote 26 - Education and Skills (Supplementary).

Situation in Syria: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

— the continued imposition of economic sanctions against Syria by the European Union and the United States of America; and

— the kidnapping of 54 children from the towns of al-Fu’ah and Kafraya in Syria, who went missing following an attack on 15th April, 2017, on a convoy of buses transporting evacuees from those towns; and
calls on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to:
— advocate at the EU Foreign Affairs Council for the lifting of the EU's economic sanctions against Syria;

— immediately make contact with the US Ambassador to Ireland, to raise the issue of lifting the US economic sanctions against Syria; and

— work with all relevant authorities for the return of the 54 missing children from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya.

I wish to share time with Deputy Mick Wallace.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Alan Farrell): Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly The response to our motion is not acceptable in many ways. The motion we put before the House is not about the Syrian war or about blame. It is simply a humanitarian proposition dealing with the situation facing ordinary Syrian people at the moment. The response of the Government, Fianna Fáil and, indeed, some of the left parties to this shows the games that are being played around this issue, with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael bending the knee to the US and EU establishments and those on the left thinking that a bomb or a bullet from Bashar al-Assad is somehow worse than one coming from ISIS. The only amendment we will be accepting is that from Sinn Féin, which encapsulates all of our issues, although, to be honest, we did not think it was necessary given our motion stood on its own.

  This issue shows us the difficulty of interference from outside. This is about the people of Syria. They do not want our opinions; they want our help. I am conscious, when we talk about the impact of sanctions on the Syrian people, that at present there are 36 countries against whom the EU has sanctions in place. While we would certainly have a problem with many of those sanctions, there is a world of difference between sanctions imposed on a country outside a war and on a country in a war. We note, in particular, the devastation being meted out to people in Yemen at the moment and I think it is important not to diminish that situation. However, we want to state at the outset that to speak out against an injustice in one area does not make us silent with regard to other parts of the globe.

  The reason we have tabled this motion and singled out Syria is because we had the honour and privilege to go there and experience it at first hand and to meet many people in that country over recent weeks. Of course, Syria is experiencing the biggest humanitarian emergency since the Second World War, with more than 400,000 people dead, the displacement of half of its population, 6 million people internally displaced and 5 million people driven outside of its borders, a country that has gone from self-sufficiency to dependency on aid in six years. This was a country that gave us the oldest inhabited city of Damascus, with seven UNESCO sites, and a country which made 14% of its GDP from tourism, employing hundreds of thousands of people. It is against this backdrop that we look at the impact of continued EU sanctions.

  We went to a refugee camp outside Damascus at Sayyidah Zainab, where we had a meeting with the survivors of the Shia towns of al-Fu’ah and Kafriya. We met a doctor who made the point that Syria would be rebuilt. He said:

Hospitals have 100 times more people than they have resources. Here, in the cradle of civilisation, we are humans and love other humans. We hope this does not happen in your country.

We asked him what we could do, and he said: "Just see, and say what you see." That is what we are trying to do with this motion today. We think too many people are afraid of being cast on either side of the war but we want to report what we saw and to talk about that.

  The theory is that sanctions are supposed to weaken the regime and put on pressure to undermine it. That is absolute rubbish. It was not the case in 1979 when sanctions were imposed and it certainly was not the case when they were massively escalated in 2011. The regime is not going to fall and the only thing being undermined by sanctions is the living standards of the population, who have already suffered severe hardship. Of course, we also know that sanctions are put forward with the idea that something is being done but we know since Iraq that sanctions have a terrible effect on people. Some 500,000 children died from the sanctions in Iraq. In fact, it was a crime against humanity. Denis Halliday, the head of the UN humanitarian programme in Iraq in 1997 and 1998, when he was resigning, made the following point:

I had been instructed to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals ... We all know that the regime, Saddam Hussein, is not paying the price for economic sanctions; on the contrary, he has been strengthened by them. It is the little people who are losing their children or their parents for lack of untreated water.

It is exactly the same today as it was then. That is the situation we are also dealing with in Syria. Sanctions are a blunt instrument, with negative consequences for a sovereign state and often with unforeseen consequences for civilians. They seldom impact on the government and they are certainly not having an impact on the government of Bashar al-Assad. This policy, ironically, is actually serving to strengthen him. Deputy Wallace will make further points in this regard and I will also make further points when I sum up.

Deputy Mick Wallace: Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace The war and sanctions have turned what was once an independent and self-sufficient country into one heavily dependent on international aid. The sanctions have had a disastrous impact even on the functioning of the aid programme itself. A report commissioned by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which analysed the humanitarian impact of the sanctions, describes the US and EU measures as some of the most complicated and far-reaching sanctions regimes ever imposed. The licensing system is incredibly inefficient, with seemingly no co-ordination among EU governments as to what criteria should be applied when considering licence applications. EU sanctions and export controls prohibit the export into Syria of a range of dual-use items, so drilling equipment and pipes associated with water and sanitation projects are likely to require a specific EU licence. The related provisions of financing and brokering services in support of such exports are also prohibited by EU regulations.

Ireland has seen an increase in the value of licences for arms exports to countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel from €23 million to €132 million in the last six months of 2016 and the first six months of 2017. Israel, when it is not busy carrying out the ritual of what is called "cutting the grass" and bombing women, children and other innocent civilians in Palestine, is busy arming and funding Syrian rebels and pouring more fuel on the fire of the Syrian war. Saudi Arabia, our special trade partner, not even when it openly and intentionally makes air strikes on civilians in Yemen at markets, weddings, funerals, schools, mosques and hospitals, cannot make this Government question our growing relationship with this massively destabilising force in the region. The Saudi-led coalition has launched more than 90,000 air strikes on Yemen in the last two years. Those who have not been killed by the US and UK-made bombs are now starting to die from starvation in what human rights organisations are predicting will be the worst humanitarian disaster we have seen in decades. Despite this, our Government has no problem trading with Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, UAE, which is also complicit in war crimes in Yemen.

The situation in regard to essential medicines in Syria is dire and the sanctions are making it worse, as a UN commission report highlights. Prior to the conflict, Syria was known for being relatively self-sufficient in domestically produced medicines. Today, the majority of pharmaceutical factories are reported as either non-operational or destroyed.

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