Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Brian Cowen T.D.
A Cheann Chomhairle
It is safe to say that no event in recent history has had such an instant and widespread impact on the people of this planet as the dreadful tragedy which struck the United States on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. A series of calculated deadly assaults on the proudest symbols of the most powerful nation on earth was broadcast on live television across the globe. Thousands of innocent civilians going about their daily business were slain in a merciless assault driven by vicious hatred.
The debate that has just taken place shows clearly that this House is completely united in its condemnation of the murderous attacks that took place in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. These attacks will go down in history the most appalling act of international terrorism ever committed.
This was not just an attack on the United States. It was, as has been said many times over, an attack on the entire international community. New York City is not just the seat of the United Nations, it is a home to people of all nations. More than 60 nations are thought to have lost citizens in last week's attack on the World trade Centre. The political and economic repercussions of last Tuesday's evil deeds will be far reaching. The various shock waves will wash up against the farthest shores of the Earth.
The sheer chilling callousness of the people who carried out these atrocities has shocked and offended the entire world. There can be no excuse for their actions. No political or ideological cause could possibly justify the needless and senseless death of thousands of innocent civilians. We condemn utterly and unreservedly these appalling crimes and those who perpetrated them.
What happened last Tuesday was not, as some have suggested, the opening salvo in a war between civilisations. It was an assault on the essence of civilisation. No religion worthy of the name, and certainly not Islam, advocates the mass slaughter of innocent human beings. It is tragic to reflect that young men driven by perverse fanaticism sought through such evil and hateful deeds to achieve a status of so called martyrdom.
Sadly, the scale of the devastation wrought last Tuesday may never be fully known. Estimates of the number of people killed in the World Trade Centre are still imprecise. The recovery operation is proceeding slowly and painstakingly. It will be some time before it is completed but, even then, it is doubtful if we will ever know for sure how many lost their lives.
President McAleese, on behalf of the people of Ireland, and the Taoiseach, on behalf of the Government, have already expressed their deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this tragedy. The debate in this House today has echoed these sentiments and has shown the very real sorrow that Members from all sides of the House feel at the loss of so many lives.
The number of Irish casualties is still not known precisely. Based on the information available to us at present, we expect that the number of Irish born fatalities could be in the region of up to twenty. However, there may be others who have not been notified to us and who are not yet thought to have been caught up in the tragedy.
There will be a large number of Irish-American casualties also. The terrible losses suffered by the New York police and fire services will include many Irish Americans who continued the proud Irish tradition of public service in their adopted country. This courageous sacrifice was brought home to us as we watched in sadness as Fr Michael Judge, the first victim of the disaster, was buried to the strains of the Minstrel Boy played by the pipe band of the New York Fire Department.
Tuesday's tragedy has, directly or indirectly, touched almost all of us in Ireland. It extends to this House where our colleague, Deputy Gerard Reynold, who was holidaying in New York, has two cousins on the missing list. Our deepest sympathy goes to Deputy Reynolds and to the Lynch and Reynolds families.
We extend in particular also a very special word of sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives bravely trying to bring assistance and relief to those caught in the World Trade Centre. Their heroism and valour will not be forgotten.
A Cheann Chomhairle
Immediately the news of the attacks broke last Tuesday, my Department established a special Emergency Centre to assist Irish people seeking information about friends or relatives who might have been involved.
A telephone helpline service was set up and a team of over 50 volunteers worked around the clock answering calls and building up a database of over 2,500 Irish people possibly thought to have been affected. The Department of Health provided a team of counsellors to assist relatives in coping with the trauma of the events. Staff from other Government Departments volunteered their services as a gesture of solidarity and support for the victims of this tragedy.
In the US, our Embassy in Washington and our Consulates in New York and Boston also established special emergency services to assist Irish citizens caught up in the terrible events. They too have been working around the clock for the last week dealing with queries from relatives in Ireland and the US.
Working closely together, the Emergency Centre in Dublin and our Missions in the US have helped to narrow down the list of potential Irish victims of the attacks. Happily, the overwhelming majority of the 2,500 persons reported to the Emergency Centre in the first days after the attacks have proved to be safe and well. There have been some heartening stories of people who were thought lost turning up alive. Tragically, there have been a small number of cases where the news has not been good and where it looks as if our worst fears will be realised.
I would like to pay my own tribute to the many officials of my Department at home and abroad, to the staff from other Government Departments, to the Health Board representatives and to the locally-employed staff at our Missions in the US who participated in the emergency services during this crisis. Their commitment and dedication has demonstrated the very highest standards of the Irish Public Service. The public can be proud that they have people of such ability and generosity working in their service.
A Cheann Chomhairle
Terrorism strikes not only at human and physical targets but also at the very fabric of society, at the ties of tolerance and trust that bind us together. There can and will be no equivocation in our response to these terrible acts. The Taoiseach has already made clear that we stand squarely with the United States in the face of this onslaught.
In its Resolution 1267 of October 1999, the United Nations Security Council repeated its demand that the Taliban cease the provision of training and sanctuary for international terrorists. It further demanded that the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden without delay to appropriate authorities in a country where he had been indicted, or to appropriate authorities in a country where he would be returned to such a country, or to appropriate authorities in a country where he would be arrested and effectively brought to justice. UN sanctions were imposed against the Taliban by the same resolution and these sanctions were strengthened in December 2000 as the Taliban had shown no sign of complying with the Security Council demands. Last Tuesday, in the attacks on the city where the United Nations has its Headquarters, the international community received the response to these demands.
We will support action in conformity with the UN Charter, or in pursuit of Security Council Resolutions, against those who planned, supported and carried out these attacks. The US government has made clear that it is embarking on a long and difficult campaign which must be pursued on a wide front, using diplomatic, military, economic and police assets. They have recognised the need to build the support of a broad international coalition, to act in a targeted manner and to offer clear justification for any action, should it prove necessary.
We will work with the international community at the UN and with our partners in the European Union in a concerted effort to stamp out international terrorism wherever it is found. In the past, our efforts have been negated by the duplicity of a few. This can no longer be tolerated. We must bring every pressure to bear on regimes which encourage, support or play host to those who practice terror.
At the same time, the international community must redouble its efforts to address the festering conflicts on which terrorists prey.
As the Taoiseach has mentioned, I was in Israel, on my way to Gaza, when I heard the news of the attacks in the United States. I came away from the region deeply concerned at the manifest lack of trust between the parties. I am convinced that the sustained support of the entire international community is required to help them bridge that gulf The US, the European Union, Russia, Arab, and other Islamic States, all have a contribution to make.
We must, individually and collectively, encourage the earliest possible resumption of dialogue.
We must restore the primacy the concept of compromise. In the Middle East, as in Ireland, compromise is all too often misrepresented as surrender, or appeasement. This is wrong, terribly wrong. Compromise is the oil which cools and lubricates the frictions of human coexistence. Where compromise is absent, conflict occurs.
We must, as part of any solution, collectively guarantee to both Israel and Palestine their right to exist in peace and security within their own borders and with their own territorial integrity assured.
There is much to be done. The Government will be active in ensuring that Ireland plays a part commensurate with our commitment to an international order based on liberty, justice, respect for human rights and the rule of law. We will carry a particularly heavy responsibility next month when we assume the Presidency of the UN Security Council. I will be travelling to New York and Washington in advance of our Presidency for detailed discussions with members of the Council and others on how we can address the urgent challenges which presently confront us.
A Cheann Chomhairle,
We find ourselves in a period of fear and uncertainty. The certainties of our world have been severely shaken. We cannot undo the damage that was done last week but we can strive to ensure that such atrocities never again take place. If the international community can find the collective resolve, we can use this opportunity to reinvigorate the system of international cooperation. We can eradicate the scourge of international terrorism once and for all. We can bring about a just solution to the conflicts which scar our world and bring justice to those who struggle to maintain their very existence. If we can achieve this, then those who lost their lives in the US last week and all victims of terrorism will not have died in vain. They deserve nothing less.Top