Situation in Syria: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 962 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith] While we oppose the sanctions, we also have to say that there is a major hypocrisy on the part of the European Union, including us, in that we pay billions to countries such as Turkey and now Libya to hold onto refugees. We are witnessing an absolutely shocking repetition of history in Libya at the moment. Human beings are being sold. Strong boys are being bought in the slave trade. The regime is totally chaotic and using the resources the European Union is pumping into it to allow the brutal captivation of millions of ordinary people who are trying to flee war, destitution and famine. The hypocrisy of the EU imposing sanctions on Syria and pumping money into Libya is breathtaking. It is, therefore, crucial that we speak out against this and support the lifting of sanctions.

  In our amendment, we propose to amend the motion by inserting the following after “evacuees from those towns; and”:

“— the slaughter of up to half a million of their own people by the brutal regime of President Bashar al Assad including the current bombing by Assad and Russian forces of Eastern Gouta, where up to 400,0000 civilians are trapped and according to the United Nations facing ‘catastrophe’;

— the imperialist interventions in Syria by both the US and Russia, neither of whom are serving the interests of the Syrian people;

— all other foreign intervention in Syria whether by the EU, Turkey, Iran, ISIS or Israel, as the grievous problems of Syria can and must be solved only by the Syrian people themselves”.

Our amendment also proposes to insert in the motion the following after “missing children from al-Fu’ah and Kafraya;”:

“— increase substantially its intake of refugees from this appalling humanitarian catastrophe and put pressure on the EU to assist a speedy, dignified resettlement of refugees currently trapped in appalling conditions in camps in Greece, Macedonia and various border crossings in Europe.”

  We saw recently a disgusting attempt by this regime to start arguing against the resettlement of a lousy few hundred Syrian refugees. We promised many years ago to take in 4,000. We have taken in way fewer and now we are talking about stopping the programme because of the housing crisis. It is despicable that anyone would use the housing crisis to argue against offering assistance and relocation of families coming here from a crisis such as that in Syria.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney We are not.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith It has been hinted at by many Ministers and it has been argued for. We have to stop it immediately and stamp it on the head.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Do not mislead the House. We are not changing our approach.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith The Minister will get his chance to come back in.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Do not mislead the House, Deputy.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith I do not wish and I do not think most people would want to see the assets of the EU being used to fuel this conflict. However, indirectly, that is what sanctions are doing and, quite directly, that is what EU funding of the Libya deal is doing. It is using human beings as shields against its own hypocrisy and the refusal to allow desperately needy people arrive on our shores. Then it uses the excuse of the crises which our system has created as an excuse not to further help them.

We will support the motion although we wish to amend it on the question of sanctions. We also seek to recognise that this has been a proxy war by imperialist forces on all sides and condemn all sides. Leave the Syrian people to sort out their own issues just as it needed to happen in this country. To a large degree, it still needs to happen in this country. This is a lesson that the world has learned. Imperialist intervention worsens the situation; it does not help it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I, too, am delighted to speak to this motion tonight on behalf of the Rural Independent Group. I compliment Deputies Daly and Wallace on tabling this important motion for debate in the House. We have had little or no debate on this issue or the issue of genocide in the Middle East despite many requests. I also compliment the Deputies on going out and spending their time there and seeing it first hand. I intend to travel there myself. I did travel to Lebanon but I have never been to Syria.

  The devastation and the carnage that has been inflicted on the Syrian people over the course of recent years has caused untold misery. The Syrian civil war is now in its sixth year. It has been reported that more than 400,000 people have died, with more than 11 million people displaced from their homes, including 5 million registered refugees. It is an appalling crisis by any standard. The news agency Catholic World Report has said that civilian witnesses have given testimony to the carnage. Hospitals bombed, chlorine gas bombs unleashed and starvation are only some of the atrocities that have been inflicted. Families and entire communities have been destroyed. It will be at least a generation before some hope of any renewal can take place within Syria, and that is provided the war is stopped.

  Add to that the extremely complex geopolitical problems and one would easily be forgiven for thinking no resolution is possible. However, we must never despair. That is not a position we can or must adopt. We have seen in our country, although admittedly on a much smaller scale, how an internal conflict can scar a nation and fundamentally change it. We still see the baggage of it in our present situation regarding Brexit. When it comes to debating sanctions as a political option, the main problem is always the same: will the sanctions help to resolve the situation or will they hinder it. I note that in May of this year the United States House of Representatives passed a Bill that issues additional sanctions against supporters of Syria's Assad regime and those providing arms for the regime. An old saying I used to hear from my late mother and father was, "Those who live in glasshouses should not throw stones". We could apply this saying to our Yankee friends in this case.

  The American House passed the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2017, issuing additional sanctions on the Assad regime and its backers, especially human rights violators and those involved in the trade of weapons or weapons parts with the regime, which, as clearly outlined by other Members tonight, is a vast industry. As I understand it, those supporters include Russia and Iran - international allies of Assad. As is to be expected, Christian leaders in the area have denounced the trafficking of weapons into Syria as something which helps the conflict continue. Pope Francis has repeatedly denounced the arms trade. In his September 2015 speech to the US Congress, Pope Francis emphasised that Christians must ask why deadly weapons are being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society. He stated:

Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Last July, in a video message promoting peace in Syria, he lamented that, while the people suffer, incredible quantities of money are being spent to supply weapons to fighters. He also noted that some of the arms suppliers are also among those that talk of peace.

  The questions of sanctions is complex. I note that the Council on Foreign Relations states that Governments and multinational bodies impose economic sanctions to try to alter the strategic decisions of state and non-state actors which threaten their interests or violate international norms of behaviour. The council also notes that critics say sanctions are often poorly conceived and rarely successful in changing a target's conduct, while supporters contend that they have become more effective in recent years and remain an essential foreign policy tool. I have my serious doubts.

  For example, sanctions have become the defining feature of the Western response to severe geopolitical challenges, including North Korea's nuclear programme and Russia's intervention in Ukraine. What must be uppermost in our minds, however, are the questions around who really suffers when it comes to sanctions. Again, the Council on Foreign Relations has observed that economic sanctions may be comprehensive by prohibiting commercial activity with regard to an entire country such as the long-standing US embargo of Cuba or they may be targeted by blocking transactions with particular business groups or individuals. Since 9/11 there has been what is termed a pronounced shift towards targeted or so-called smart sanctions which aim to minimise the suffering of innocent civilians. Perhaps if were to make more decisive interventions, however, the need for sanctions would have been eliminated or reduced.

  When it comes to Syria, I want to conclude by noting the Christian Aid work of the Open Doors organisation. It has stated:

The overall situation in Syria is characterized by heavy persecution of all types of Christians in areas held by IS and other Islamic militants. Many Christians have already fled areas that are held by Islamic militants (including IS) or that were destroyed during the conflict.

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