Speech to the Seanad by Minister Kitt
Yesterday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the Security Council the evidence which President Bush had promised in his State of the Union Address at the end of January. A considerable volume of material was put before the international community, and it would be premature to attempt to put forward an assessment of it this morning. We have been given a lot to consider. Equally, the weapons inspectors have been given information which will assist them in their work, and Iraq has been put on notice of the pressing areas in which its cooperation with that work must be improved if it is to meet its obligations under international law.
The current crisis has been a long time in the making. The international community has given Iraq every possible opportunity to comply with its obligations. For more than ten years Iraq has been under sanctions intended to compel it to comply. When it became clear that these sanctions were causing undue hardship to the population of Iraq without having the desired effect on the regime, the system of sanctions was reformed so as to minimise the hardship on the civilian population of Iraq and focus the impact as closely as possible on Saddam Hussein’s administration and its military underpinnings.
A key area where Iraq has failed to meet its obligations is that of weapons of mass destruction, in particular chemical and biological weapons. These weapons have been prohibited under international law for almost eighty years and Iraq’s government bears the distinction of being the only regime to have used chemical weapons since the prohibitions were put in place. Conscious of Iraq’s unique record in this matter and the terrible consequences which might follow if Iraq continued to flout international law, the international community put special measures in place to ensure that Iraq renounced these weapons once and for all. In the end, after many years of obstruction and partial cooperation, Iraq refused to cooperate with the UNSCOM inspectors, accusing them of bias and espionage. In response the UN Security Council created a new structure, UNMOVIC, and a new framework for its operation. Iraq was offered an opportunity to cooperate with an inspections process which had taken its grievances into account and offered a clear incentive for cooperation in the prospect of the suspension of sanctions. That was in 1998. It is only now, in 2003, after repeated threats of dire consequences, that Iraq has finally begun to cooperate with UNMOVIC, and permit the inspections which it has been long obliged to cooperate with.
Iraq has been given every opportunity, and the international community has tried every possible means of peaceful compulsion, to meet its obligations as a responsible member of the community of nations. Even at this late stage in what we all recognise as a gathering crisis, it is still open to Iraq to resolve its problems by complying with its obligations.
Ireland very much wants to see a peaceful solution to this crisis. The use of military force must only be a last resort when all other means have been exhausted. Recognising this, Ireland together with our fellow members of the Security Council worked hard to ensure the unanimous adoption of Resolution 1441 on 8 November last. As the government has repeatedly stated, the purpose of Resolution 1441 was both to place fresh pressure on Iraq to comply with its disarmament obligations and to give a final opportunity for the matter to be resolved within the UN framework and without resort to military force. In the months before Resolution 1441 was adopted, there was a widespread expectation that the United States would resort to the unilateral use of force. Today, by contrast, the Security Council is dealing with the issue and efforts are still underway to ensure a peaceful outcome
The possible consequences of a war are dreadful to contemplate. Quite apart from the terrible suffering to which the ordinary people of Iraq would be exposed, there would be a serious risk of destabilising an already volatile region. The sense of victimisation felt by many in the Moslem world would be deepened, support for terrorism could grow, and economies would suffer. The Government does not wish to see war take place. In every forum available to us, we have spoken out and used our influence to urge the parties to find a peaceful solution. We will continue to pursue this approach.
It is a matter of deep regret for the Government that the people of Iraq have suffered such terrible hardship as a result of their government’s deliberate and persistent violation of successive UN Security Council Resolutions aimed at preserving international peace and security.
In every way open to it, Ireland has worked to ensure that UN sanctions are administered in such a way as to ensure that the humanitarian and long-term economic interests of the people of Iraq are secured, while ensuring that the necessary controls are in place to prevent Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction.
During its term on the Security Council, Ireland was active in developing Resolution 1409, which was adopted in May 2002 and seeks to target sanctions against the Iraqi regime while minimising the impact of those sanctions on the civilian population. In particular, the provisions of Resolution 1409 were intended to ensure continuing availability of medical supplies for the most vulnerable sectors of the Iraqi population, including mothers and children.
In addition to the work which it has done at the United Nations, the Government has also sought to assist the vulnerable sectors of Iraq’s civilian population. In 2002 Ireland allocated 150,000 euro in assistance. This money is being channelled through the Irish NGO Trocaire for an emergency programme targeting children and mothers in an emergency nutrition intervention. Ireland has provided 467,500 euro in bilateral humanitarian assistance in 2001/02.
I also have to emphasise that from the outset, the sanctions regime did not seek to impose restrictions on the importation of humanitarian supplies. The actual implementation did, however, involve some very undesirable results which Ireland has worked to remove. With the adoption of the Oil for Food Programme in 1996, Iraq was given a workable mechanism by which it could trade unlimited quantities of oil in exchange for humanitarian goods for its civilian population. The UN Secretary General has confirmed on a number of occasions that the improved funding level for the Oil for Food Programme means that the Government of Iraq is indeed in a position to address the nutritional and health needs of the Iraqi people, particularly those of children. The Head of the Office of the Iraq Programme, Mr Benon Sevan, has repeatedly advised the Security Council, and indeed in November last visiting members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Oireachtas, of the obstacles which the Iraqi government has put in the way of the effective operation of the Oil for Food Programme. By withholding effective cooperation from the OFFP, through such means as politically motivated embargos on oil sales and refusals to prioritise purchases under the Programme, the Iraqi administration has contributed in large part to the shortfalls in the provision of essential supplies to the Iraqi people.
The fact remains, however, that the most effective way of easing the humanitarian situation of the Iraqi people and avoiding any escalation in the current situation would be for the Iraqi government to act immediately to meet its obligations under the UN Charter by complying fully with the demands placed upon it by the Security Council.
So far, Iraq has shown little sign that it truly intends to do so. It has failed to give a believable account of its production and acquisition of chemical and biological weapons material, and more importantly a believable account of what has become of it. It is time that it did so. It is not the inspectors’ job to search for evidence of Iraqi non-compliance. It is for the Iraqis to prove that they have in fact done what they claim to have done. It is for the Iraqis to set the record straight once and for all.
I now wish to address the issue of use of Shannon Airport by foreign military aircraft and personnel and in particular, that by US aircraft and personnel.
A comprehensive account of the Government’s position on this matter was provided to Dáil Éireann by Minister Brian Cowen on 29 January. It remains the case that the Government is acting to ensure full compliance with all relevant Irish legislative provisions. In summary, these are the Air Navigation (Foreign Military Aircraft) Order, 1952, the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, 1973, as amended in 1989 and Section 317 of the Defence Act 1954.
The 1952 Air Navigation Order sets out specific stipulations by which foreign military aircraft are permitted to overfly and land in the State. It is in accordance with these stipulations and on the basis of advance clearance requests that US military aircraft have been granted permission by successive Foreign Ministers to refuel at Shannon over a period of decades.
Arrangements concerning US overflights date from 1959 and were put in place by then Minister for External Affairs, Frank Aiken. Reflecting security considerations which prevailed during the Cold War years and since been upheld by successive Governments, these arrangement require that such overflights be unarmed. Moreover, in the vast majority of cases, they relate to ordinary supplies and equipment. The US Embassy supplies post-hoc statistics of the overflights on a monthly basis.
The 1973 Air Navigation Order, as amended, governs transiting military personnel on board civilian aircraft and falls under the responsibility of the Minister for Transport. In summary, any civilian aircraft seeking to overfly or land in the State requires the permission of the Minister for Transport to carry military weapons or munitions.
Finally, Section 317 of the 1954 Defence Act governs the wearing of uniform within the state by foreign military personnel. Such personnel are forbidden to enter or land in the state while wearing a uniform, except with written Ministerial permission.
In order to ensure that all of these provisions were being fully complied with, a full review of their day-to-day implementation was initiated under the direction of Minister Cowen. Improvements to the existing arrangements have been introduced with the full cooperation of the US authorities. It should be recognised that it is this Government which has done more than all of its predecessors put together to ensure that the practices and arrangements built up over years are operated in strict compliance with the precise legal requirements.
While not wishing to comment on any individual cases which are currently before the courts, it would be remiss of me not to reiterate the Government’s serious concern at the recent violent incidents at Shannon. I condemn these incidents unequivocally. A line must be drawn between peaceful protest and acts of trespass and the infliction of wanton damage to property. Violent acts in the name of pacifism are surely a contradiction in terms.
The recent breaches of security at Shannon have been taken with the utmost seriousness by the US authorities. It now seems as though these irresponsible acts may have economic implications for the people of the Shannon region. US World Airlines has decided, as an initial reaction, to re-direct some flights. The reality is that the practice of US planes landing at Shannon - maintained for decades under successive governments - has brought employment and income to the wider Shannon region and generated revenue for Aer Rianta.
Following the Government’s review of security arrangements at Shannon, appropriate security measures have been taken to make sure there is no repeat of such events. The use of Army personnel, in support of the Gardaí, is a measured response intended to ensure security. We want to maintain Shannon as a safe, secure and reliable destination for all its users. I hope the carriers involved will now be assured that there will be no repeat of the recent security breaches.
These steps, together with the improvements made by this Government in full cooperation with the US authorities to ensure full compliance with relevant legal requirements, should also assure Irish citizens that our responsibilities are being taken seriously. In the meantime, the Government stands by its commitment to allow for further debate on all aspects of the unfolding situation in the event of military action being initiated against Iraq.
Yesterday’s discussions have given us a great deal to think about. However, some things are as clear now as they have been from the outset. The Government has the highest confidence in the inspectors, and they may be assured of our wholehearted support. We look forward to their return to the Security Council on 14 February to report on how Iraq has responded on the issues put forward in their report of 27 January. As they carry their work forward from today, we expect that they will be put in a position to take full advantage of the new information which the United States has made available, and we hope that all countries with such information will now come forward to assist in the tasks which lie ahead.
The international community, acting collectively, must continue to put pressure on Saddam Hussein to comply with his obligations. It must continue to be clear to him that no other options are open to him. This is the only way in which conflict can be averted. I place great stress on the need for collective action. The Government are committed to supporting the authority of the Security Council. Resolution 1441 states that the Security Council will consider the question of whether Iraq is in material breach of its obligations and decide what further steps may be needed. We believe that this is the course which will be followed. I would strongly urge Saddam Hussein to respond immediately and without further delay or evasion to the demands of the Security Council. There is still one last opportunity to ensure that peace will be preserved.