Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D. in Seanad Éireann on the abduction of Mrs. Margaret Hassan, 21 October 2004
I value this opportunity to address the Seanad on this very difficult and distressing situation. A dedicated and widely-admired humanitarian worker, Margaret Hassan, has been abducted in Iraq.
As Senators will be aware, the Dáil yesterday unanimously passed a resolution condemning this appalling act and calling for Margaret’s immediate release. This unanimity and the deep concern expressed by all sides in the Dáil reflects the deep concern of all our people.
I therefore welcome and applaud the decision of the Seanad to have a debate on the abduction.
Yesterday, both the Taoiseach and I stated that we, as a Government, would do everything that we can to assist in the safe return of Margaret Hassan to her family.
In my statement, I said that I had contacted Margaret’s husband and her immediate family, as well as Governments and organisations in the region that might be of assistance. Overnight, we have been in discussion with the Egyptian and Jordanian Governments, and with Arab League contacts. We will continue with these efforts. Later today, I will be discussing the case in detail with the Foreign Minister of Palestine, Dr. Nabeel Shaath. I know that he will share my strong view that Margaret should be released immediately.
I know I need not emphasise to Senators the great sensitivity attaching to the efforts to have Margaret released. In this regard, we will in particular be guided by the views and advice of those on the ground in Iraq; they are best placed to advise us on how we can best bring our further efforts to bear in the period ahead.
The Government’s position on abductions and the taking of hostages has always been crystal clear. All such acts are deplorable and can never be justified.
In this instance, it has happened to a person who has devoted her life to providing humanitarian assistance to the neediest people in a country devastated in recent years by war and deprivation.
She is the head of the Baghdad office of CARE International, where she and her 30 Iraqi staff do everything possible on a daily basis to provide emergency relief, medical aid and assistance in restoring access to clean water.
CARE International is one of the world's largest independent global relief and development organisations. It is resolutely non-political and non-sectarian and it operates in over 72 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and eastern Europe.
Out of more than 10,000 employees, over 9,000 are nationals of the countries where CARE run programmes. Margaret Hassan is a leading member of that group of 9000, an Iraqi citizen working in an all-Iraqi office, doing everything she can to help Iraqi people. It is, therefore, all the more shocking that such a dedicated person should be subjected to such inhumane treatment.
My officials are in very close contact with the Chief Executive of CARE International, and will continue to review all aspects of the situation with him.
Public opinion reflects this sense of outrage and it is right that the Seanad, which brings its own distinctive contribution to public debate, should take this opportunity to address the issue.
In my statement yesterday, I noted with concern the erosion of respect for humanitarian personnel that we have witnessed in recent conflicts. Other speakers in the Dáil debate echoed this concern. This is deeply disturbing.
Margaret’s abduction highlights the enormous dangers facing those who engage in providing humanitarian services in Iraq.
In my appeal to those who have abducted Margaret to set her free, I pointed out that her abduction can serve no purpose whatsoever. On the contrary, it can only damage and disrupt the valuable work done by humanitarian organisations in Iraq and directly harm the lives of thousands of Iraqis who are in need of such support.
When I spoke with Margaret’s husband in Baghdad yesterday to convey the concern and solidarity of the Government, the Dáil and the people of Ireland to him, he was deeply appreciative of all our support, which he emphasised was extremely important to him and to the family.
This is a dreadful time for the family, friends and colleagues of Margaret Hassan. I hope that the widespread concern and, indeed, outrage felt by us all at this appalling act will be heard widely and have some effect. I know that the family are deeply grateful for all our efforts. They are equally appreciative of the respect being shown for their privacy. In order to assist them, a senior official of my Department has travelled to Kerry and will act as a liaison support to the family. The Gardaí are also being very helpful and supportive.
I can assure the House that we will continue with our diplomatic efforts to try and secure Margaret’s release and I thank the Seanad for this timely and much valued opportunity for all of us to show our concern and solidarity on behalf of all the Irish people.