Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D. in Dáil Éireann on the abduction of Mrs. Margaret Hassan in Iraq
A Cheann Chomhairle,
Firstly, I want to welcome the very strong support for this resolution by all the members of the House.
This is a dreadful time for the family, friends and colleagues of Margaret Hassan.
The Government’s position is clear - all acts of kidnapping and hostage taking are deplorable and unjustifiable.
In this case, it is absolutely appalling when the victim of such a crime is a dedicated provider of humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people – a people who have suffered so much in recent years from war and deprivation.
Margaret Hassan has devoted her life to helping others. She ran a valuable humanitarian programme for CARE International in Iraq which benefited thousands of Iraqis.
Her abduction highlights the enormous dangers facing those who engaged in providing humanitarian services in Iraq.
I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those who continue to serve the Iraqi people, and especially the many Iraqis working for humanitarian agencies there, who risk their lives on a daily basis.
I greatly regret that, in recent conflicts, we have witnessed an erosion of respect for humanitarian personnel.
This incident is yet another episode in the disturbing pattern of attacks on UN, Red Cross/Red Crescent and NGO humanitarian workers in recent times.
These appalling attacks highlight the need for greater respect for human life and dignity, as well as for international humanitarian law and the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence which are currently under significant threat.
Since we became aware of Margaret’s abduction yesterday, both I and my officials have been in ongoing contact with her immediate family to assure them that we will do whatever we can to help in securing the safe return of Margaret.
Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Margaret’s husband in Baghdad and conveyed the concern and solidarity of the Government, this House and the people of Ireland to him.
Mr. Hassan was deeply appreciative for all our support, which he emphasised was extremely important to him and to the family.
We have been in direct contact with the Chief Executive of Care International, and fully reviewed the situation with him.
We will stay in continuing contact with Care and with the family.
All of our actions will be guided by the experience and advice of those on the ground in Iraq, who are best placed to tell us how, and when, we can best be of further help.
In the meantime, of course, we are staying in active contact with our Embassy staff in the region, and in particular the Ambassador in Cairo.
At this stage, we do not know the identity or the purpose of the abductors.
Whoever they are, I appeal to them again to set Margaret free.
Her abduction can serve no purpose whatsoever.
On the contrary, it threatens to disrupt the work of the humanitarian agencies in Iraq.
It will directly harm thousands of ordinary Iraqis who benefit from their activities and programmes.
Today, as I have just said, I spoke with Margaret’s husband and family, and with a close friend who has worked with her over many years.
I assured them of our determination to do everything that we can to help.
I have also designated a senior official of my Department to be with the family and to act as a liaison support for them.
I know that my colleague, Minister McDowell, is also providing support through an Garda Síochána. At this very difficult time for Margaret’s family, I would like to make a special appeal to all to respect their privacy.
As I said at the outset, I welcome the contributions of all sides of the House to this debate and thank them for their support. On an occasion like this the unanimous support of the Dáil, reflecting as it does the voice and spirit of the whole country, strengthens the efforts to secure Margaret Hassan’s release.
I commend this resolution to the House.