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Seanad Éireann Debate on Situation in Gaza and Ukraine

European Union, Human rights, Funding, Minister Charles Flanagan, United Nations, Speech, Middle East and North Africa, Europe, Ireland, 2014
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Charlie Flanagan T.D

Seanad Éireann Debate on Situation in Gaza and Ukraine - Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, T.D.

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan sets out Government position on Gaza and Ukraine

Summary: 

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Charlie Flanagan TD, today briefed Senators on his ongoing engagement with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the Director General of UNRWA seeking a ceasefire in Gaza.

Speaking at a special debate in Seanad Éireann on the crises in Gaza and the Ukraine, Minister Flanagan said:

“I fully share the horror and revulsion of Senators and very many of our citizens at the horrendous scenes we have witnessed since the start of the Israeli military operation. This is a truly appalling situation and the Government has been quite categorical in condemning both the unacceptably high civilian casualty rate resulting from disproportionate military action on Israel’s part as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas and other militants into Israel.

“The violence must stop and an immediate ceasefire must be instituted.

“Earlier this week, I spoke at length with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the crisis. I condemned the appalling attacks which we have seen on UN and civilian facilities in Gaza and we agreed that both sides have to cease violating international law. The Secretary General was also fulsome in his praise of the Irish Government’s humanitarian efforts to date.

“On Tuesday, I spoke directly with Pierre Krahenbuhl , the Director General of UNRWA, to receive his assessment on the current humanitarian needs within Gaza. Ireland has long been a steadfast supporter of UNRWA’s efforts to provide essential services to the millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. Ireland’s direct financial support to the Palestinian people currently amounts to over €10 million per annum.

“I have met and spoken on several occasions with the Israeli Ambassador to make clear the very grave concerns and unhappiness of the Government at the disproportionate military response of Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks which has resulted in such an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties and warning against further escalation.
“On my instructions, the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Eamon McKee, yesterday visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry. In the course of a lengthy meeting, he again made clear the Government’s very grave concerns and our particular appeal that there should be no escalation of the military campaign underway and the need for all violence to cease forthwith.

“I have also kept in very close touch with the Palestinian Ambassador and spoke this morning with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry. I am determined that Ireland will continue to play the distinct and respected role which it always has within the EU in actively seeking the promotion of the two-State solution which ultimately offers the only remedy to all the conflict we are witnessing.

Minister Flanagan also addressed the EU decision to step up sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine and the loss of flight MH17.

“Despite our repeated calls, Russia has failed to use its influence on the separatists to end the violence and lay down their weapons. Instead there has been a continued flow of militants and material over the Russian-Ukrainian border. Indeed, rather than the situation deescalating, it has worsened and there are credible reports that Russia is once again massing troops on the border. This is a deeply destabilising move in an already highly volatile atmosphere.

Against this background, my fellow EU Foreign Ministers and I last week agreed on a further expansion of restrictive measures targeting individuals supporting or benefitting from Russian decision-makers responsible for the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine. We also agreed to accelerate the preparation of sectoral sanctions which would impact on Russia’s access to capital markets, arms supplies, dual use goods and sensitive technology, including in the energy sector.

 

 

Seanad Éireann Debate on Situation in Gaza and Ukraine, 31 July 2014

Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Charlie Flanagan, T.D.

 

I welcome the opportunity today to address this House on two major crises confronting the international community at present, namely the horrendous conflict which has erupted in Gaza and Israel over the past three weeks and the crisis in Ukraine, including the recent downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.

Our approach to both crises has been to work pro-actively not only bilaterally but also with our European Union partners and internationally through the United Nations to urgently address these issues as effectively as possible.

Gaza/Israel

To begin with the Middle East, I fully share the horror and revulsion of Senators and very many of our citizens at the horrendous scenes we have witnessed since the start of the Israeli military operation, Operation Protective Edge, on 8 July.

The bare statistics of the conflict make grim reading.

An estimated 1,300 Palestinians killed in that period, the vast majority civilians. More than 240 children have lost their lives, including eight innocents slaughtered on Monday in what should be any child’s sanctuary, the playground. Over 200,000 displaced, more than 10% of the Strip’s population.

And the horror has not been confined just to the Palestinian side. Millions of Israelis have been forced to seek shelter on a daily basis from the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel. 55 Israelis, the vast majority IDF personnel, and one Thai national have died.

This is a truly appalling situation and the Government has throughout this crisis been quite categorical in condemning both the unacceptably high civilian casualty rate resulting from disproportionate military action on Israel’s part as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas and other militants into Israel.

The violence must stop and an immediate ceasefire must be instituted. Everyone, whether Israeli or Palestinian, has the right to live in peace and security and without the threat of indiscriminate violence being visited upon them.

In many ways, the real tragedy of the current crisis is that we have seen all this horror and death before. This is the third Gaza conflict in less than six years, following similar cycles of violence in December 2008/January 2009 and in November 2012. The level of casualties we are now seeing is rapidly approaching that arising from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 where 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

The reasons for this recurrent and utterly futile violence are quite clear.

Firstly, we have an unjust blockade imposed on Gaza which has served only to impoverish the territory and its people and promote extremism. Ireland has consistently called in recent years for the blockade to be ended and Gaza’s crossings to be opened up to normal human, commercial and humanitarian traffic. The UN Security Council has also called for this in Resolution 1860 and has repeated that request only last Sunday.

The blockade of Gaza has to be ended. So too must the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militants including Islamic Jihad and also the building of tunnels for the purpose of attacking Israelis. Hamas must renounce violence as a means of achieving its political objectives.

While fully accepting that Israel has the right to defend itself against such rocket attacks, this right cannot negate the right of others. As was clearly set out in our statement to the UN Human Rights Council last week, any use of military force in self defence must be in accordance with international humanitarian law, and in particular must be both discriminate and proportionate. In view of the unacceptable casualty figures, it is quite clear this has not been the case.

There is no military solution to the problems confronting Gaza. They can only be resolved by dialogue and genuine negotiations.

Ultimately, Gaza is merely a symptom of the overall malaise which is the persistent failure to achieve a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based on the two-State solution.

This has been a major priority for successive Irish governments and I am determined that Ireland will remain whole-heartedly engaged in the international efforts to address and resolve the underlying issues preventing peace between Israel and the Arab world.

Since becoming Minister, I have been active in clearly setting out the Government’s position on the crisis and condemning the huge civilian casualties resulting from Israeli military actions as well as the rocket attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas and others. This position is fully consistent with the long-standing approach pursued by successive Governments to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That position, and my central message that the violence and terror being inflicted on ordinary civilians is utterly unacceptable and must end, has already been clearly spelled out in Dáil Éireann in a debate on 16 July* and in responding to Deputies’ questions. I have also written directly to a number of Deputies and Senators who have been in touch with me to brief them more fully on the Government’s efforts to date.

Government efforts to try and resolve the crisis have focussed on a number of fronts, including bilaterally, at EU level and internationally.

Earlier this week, I spoke at length by phone with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the crisis. I praised the Secretary General for the very strong leadership he and the UN are providing and for his articulating so clearly the very great anger and anguish which people feel about what is happening in Gaza. I condemned the appalling attacks which we have seen on UN and civilian facilities in Gaza and we agreed that both sides have to cease violating international law.

Secretary General Ban briefed me on all the intensive efforts in which he has been engaged in recent days to secure a ceasefire. Regrettably, all these efforts have largely fallen on deaf ears to date though the Secretary General was not deterred and believed that some form of extended humanitarian truce would eventually be secured.

We agreed that the underlying issues of security and an end to the blockade must be addressed urgently, as soon as a ceasefire is secured. The Secretary General was also fulsome in his praise of the Government’s humanitarian efforts to date. I’d like at this point to acknowledge the work of Minister Sherlock in this regard, and, that of his predecessor, Deputy Joe Costello.

The current humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic. Israel’s military actions have greatly compounded what was already a very grave situation resulting from the effective closure of Gaza to the outside world.

I and my colleague at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Minister of State Sean Sherlock, have already on 21 July authorised the provision of €500,000 in response to the urgent appeal launched by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for assistance to cope with the dire humanitarian circumstances on the ground.

On Tuesday, I spoke directly with Pierre Krahenbuhl , the Director General of UNRWA, to receive his assessment on the current humanitarian needs within Gaza. Senators will be aware that Ireland has long been a steadfast supporter of UNRWA’s efforts to provide essential services to the millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. Ireland’s direct financial support to the Palestinian people currently amounts to over €10 million per annum.

Mr. Krahenbuhl made clear that UNRWA is virtually at the limits of its ability to cope with the situation now prevailing in Gaza. He warned of the grave dangers of any further military escalation by Israel and I fully agreed with him that international pressure needs to stepped up on the Israeli government not to precipitate a even more calamitous and unmanageable humanitarian crisis.

I expressed my praise and appreciation to Mr. Krahenbuhl for all of UNRWA’s heroic efforts, both in the current crisis and over many years, in attending to the welfare needs of the Palestinian population, some 80% of whom within Gaza are dependent on international assistance to survive. I reiterated Ireland’s full commitment to continue supporting UNRWA’s efforts and to provide further assistance as may be required. Clearly, once a durable ceasefire has been achieved, a major reconstruction effort will be required to remedy the damage that has been inflicted on Gaza and to renew its basic infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and other vital services.

I have also been active throughout the crisis in addressing urgent appeals to both sides to end the violence. I have met and spoken on several occasions with the Israeli Ambassador to make clear the very grave concerns and unhappiness of the Government at the disproportionate military response of Israel to Hamas’ rocket attacks which has resulted in such an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties and warning against further escalation. These very clear messages to Israel to end the violence and agree to an immediate ceasefire have also been directed through our Ambassador in Tel Aviv to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. On my instructions, the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Eamon McKee, yesterday visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry. In the course of a lengthy meeting, he again made clear the Government’s very grave concerns and our particular appeal that there should be no escalation of the military campaign underway and the need for all violence to cease forthwith.

I have also kept in very close touch with the Palestinian Ambassador and with our partners in the region, including Egypt which is centrally involved in current mediation efforts. I spoke this morning with Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry to be briefed on current ceasefire efforts and to commend the vital mediation role which Egypt is playing in the current crisis and to encourage him to continue his endeavours to achieve a sustained humanitarian truce.

I also met last week with the Palestinian and other Arab Ambassadors resident in Dublin to discuss the crisis in Gaza and receive their assessment of the situation. I will continue to keep in close touch with all sides as efforts intensify to end the carnage.

In line with Ireland’s long-standing position, I also believe firmly that the EU must be centrally involved in all efforts to end the conflict and promote peace within the Middle East. This means not just supporting current efforts to achieve a ceasefire but actively addressing the root causes of the conflict.

I attended the Foreign Affairs Council on 22 July where both the Ukraine and Gaza crises were extensively discussed.

Ireland for many months has sought a substantive discussion on the Middle East Peace Process at the Council in order to review the very negative recent developments on the ground, including the appalling murders of four teenagers in June, and to press for a stronger, more active EU role in addressing the growing impediments to the attainment of a two-State solution, and not least Israel’s continued expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The eruption of the crisis following the launch of Operation Protective Edge inevitably meant a focus at the Council on the violence in and from Gaza. The Council nevertheless adopted substantive Conclusions which not only addressed the immediate crisis but also made clear that the preservation of the viability of the two-State solution must remain a priority for the EU and dwelt at some length on what needs to be done to promote a resumption of substantive peace negotiations.

I believe these are important Council Conclusions in the negotiation of which Ireland was centrally involved. Indeed, during the discussions, I myself successfully pressed for Conclusions which for the first time saw an explicit condemnation by the EU of the very high number of civilian casualties resulting from current Israeli military actions in Gaza. I am determined that Ireland will continue to play the distinct and respected role which it always has within the EU in actively seeking the promotion of the two-State solution which ultimately offers the only remedy to all the conflict we are witnessing.

There also has to be accountability for what has transpired during the past three weeks of conflict. Too many innocent people have died. International law has undoubtedly been flagrantly violated.

There has been much comment on Ireland’s decision last week to abstain, along with all other EU Partners, in the vote on the Palestinian resolution at the UN Human Rights Council Special Session seeking establishment of a commission of inquiry into events in Gaza.

I want to make it absolutely clear, as was stated in our national statement to the Council session last week, that Ireland fully supports and wants all breaches of international law which have occurred to be fully investigated. Ireland and our EU Partners negotiated intensively and in good faith with the Palestinians to agree a Resolution we all could support. In the end, we couldn’t resolve differences over the most effective way to conduct the investigation. The EU also believed it important that any resolution comprehensively address all the violations of international law which have occurred.

The decision to abstain was a collective EU decision, only taken after prolonged deliberations. One day after the adoption of important EU Conclusions on the peace process, it would have sent a very negative signal and undoubtedly weakened EU leverage if we could not agree on a common response to the resolution. The cold reality also is that, if a common abstention had not been agreed, there was a very high likelihood of a number of our EU partners voting against the Resolution, thereby reducing overall EU influence even further.

What we are now witnessing in Gaza is a brutal and utterly futile conflict. Ultimately, both sides will have to talk and engage in negotiations of some kind to address the underlying issues. The world has been rightly appalled by the violence we have seen and by the intransigence which both sides have shown towards the repeated entreaties, most recently and tellingly by all fifteen members of the Security Council, to end the violence and declare an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire. I fear, in particular, for the damage which its continued military operations against innocent civilians is doing to Israel’s international reputation and to the credibility of its repeated commitment to wish to negotiate a just peace with their Palestinian neighbours.

As I stated earlier, this is not the first Gaza crisis but we must earnestly hope that it is the last and that the underlying issues contributing to such widespread violence and appalling suffering, and in particular the long-running blockade of Gaza and the faltering peace process, are now addressed and advanced in a decisive manner.

I can assure you that both this immediate crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to receive my highest priority as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I will continue to work vigorously to bring about the earliest possible ceasefire as well as to address the humanitarian crisis in the region. I will also continue to strongly condemn all violence and civilian casualties.

Ukraine

I would now like to turn to the other major crisis being addressed by the House today, Ukraine.

What we have witnessed in Eastern Ukraine over the past number of months represents the most serious crisis in recent years in Europe. I deplore the violence and the bloodshed that we have witnessed and, in particular, the suffering that has been wreaked on innocent civilians. 

As Members of this House will be aware, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report this week in which it is estimated that, since April, over 1,100 people have been killed in the conflict, over 3,400 injured and that over 100,000 internally displaced persons have been forced to flee the violence. This is totally unacceptable in 21st century Europe.

An early resolution of the crisis, based on a peaceful, inclusive and negotiated settlement, is an urgent priority for the entire international community. The concerns of the Irish Government have been widely reflected in the Irish public at large. Indeed, this country was directly touched by the tragedy when an Irish-born citizen lost her life in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July, allegedly by a surface-to-air missile.

Last week in Brussels, I had the opportunity of conveying the Government’s condolences to my Dutch colleague, Frans Timmermans, on the tragic loss of so many of his fellow citizens. I take this opportunity of conveying my deepest condolences to the people and the governments of all affected countries and, in particular to the families of the victims.

Throughout every phase in this crisis, we have worked closely with our partners in the European Union and internationally through the United Nations and the OSCE to address these issues as effectively as possible. All EU Member States have been, and are, united in their views that what has happened in Ukraine is completely unacceptable and that it will have serious consequences for our relations with Russia.

From the outset, the EU has played an active role in trying to facilitate a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. On 6 March, EU Heads of State and Government decided on a three phase approach to restrictive measures against Russia in view of its actions in respect of Ukraine.

Until now, the EU has limited itself to the first two phases - essentially involving suspension of some negotiations with Russia and a series of asset freezes and visa bans on named individuals.

I very much regret that this has been necessary. However, despite our repeated calls, Russia has failed to use its influence on the separatists to end the violence and lay down their weapons. Instead there has been a continued flow of militants and material over the Russian-Ukrainian border. Indeed, rather than the situation deescalating, it has worsened and there are credible reports that Russia is once again massing troops on the border. This is a deeply destabilising move in an already highly volatile atmosphere.

Vital opportunities, including the terms of President Poroshenko’s Peace Plan and the unilateral ceasefire which accompanied it, have not been taken up in any serious manner.

The European Council took stock of the situation on 16 July and agreed to further expand the restrictive measures, with a view to targeting entities, including from the Russian Federation, that support actions undermining or threatening Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence.

On 22 July, I attended my first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council where we engaged in a lengthy discussion of the situation in Ukraine. The tragic loss of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft on 17 July, with 298 people aboard, was obviously uppermost in our minds.

Together with my EU partners, I called on the separatist groups to ensure, full immediate, safe and secure access to the site and surrounding area. We emphasised the need for a viable security corridor in order to proceed with victim identification as well as to recover remains and possessions of the victims and the professional and dignified repatriation of their remains.

I myself have publicly called for a full investigation and expressed the Government’s support for UN Security Council Resolution 2166 which Ireland cosponsored in New York earlier this month. Those directly or indirectly responsible for bringing down this plane must be held accountable and brought to justice. I am sure that all in this House will join me in insisting on this accountability.

The difficulty which international investigators have experienced in gaining access to the crash site is quite simply scandalous and an affront to the grieving relatives of those who perished. I know that the Prime Minister of the Netherlands has also asked President Poroshenko to do everything possible to work to bring about a sustainable cessation of hostilities which will allow the important and necessary humanitarian work to proceed. I fully endorse that call.

Against this background, my fellow EU Foreign Ministers and I last week agreed on a further expansion of restrictive measures targeting individuals supporting or benefitting from Russian decision-makers responsible for the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine. We also agreed to accelerate the preparation of sectoral sanctions which would impact on Russia’s access to capital markets, arms supplies, dual use goods and sensitive technology, including in the energy sector.

For my part, I stressed in Brussels that Russia must demonstrate by ‘deeds instead of words’ that it is committed to resolving the crisis. I also indicated that the EU must take strong action on sanctions if it to remain credible and must remain united. I stated that failure to take decisive action could embolden others to take further destabilising steps. I indicated that we were ready to support strong action, something which our citizens expect.

The proposals on sectoral sanctions were discussed by EU Ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday of this week. In our intervention, Ireland indicated that we could agree with the package as proposed, believing it to be effective and balanced. The measures were agreed and are expected to enter into force today. They are carefully measured and can be intensified or lessened according to how developments unfold. Provision is also made for a review after 3 months. As the situation evolves, we will discuss with our EU partners what adaptations or further measures might be necessary. We believe that these measures send a strong signal that the EU is ready to take further determined action if required.

Despite the clear deterioration in the security situation, and the steps that we have taken in response, Ireland has from the outset of this crisis, consistently stressed the need for dialogue and the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation. We continue to take that view. Given that we all agree there can be no military solution to the situation in Ukraine, we need to see serious engagement from all sides and a positive, constructive contribution to the lasting peaceful resolution to the crisis that we all wish to see.

Conclusion

As I said at the outset of my statement, the reconvening of the Seanad today is a welcome opportunity to consider two major crises confronting the international community at present – the conflict in Gaza and Israel and the crisis in Ukraine.

The Irish Government has worked extensively and constructively in seeking to address both conflicts – bilaterally, with our European Union partners and internationally through the United Nations to address these issues as effectively as possible. I stand by those actions and I believe that we have made, and continue to make, an important, distinct and worthwhile contribution.

I look forward now to listening to statements from Members of the Seanad.

 

ENDS

* Earlier version of this speech incorrectly said 16 June.