Dáil Éireann - Volume 542 - 17 October, 2001

Written Answers. - Sanction Regime for Iraq.

72. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will consider establishing humanitarian delegations to Iraq to oversee the oil-food aid programme in order to verify that food, medical facilities and medical attention are available to all children and to accurately determine the factual position regarding children's health there; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24433/01]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The Government is gravely concerned at the humanitarian situation in Iraq. Ireland, as a member of the UN Security Council, is committed to reform of the sanctions so as to eliminate the suffering caused to the people of Iraq. The reason sanctions remain in place is Iraq's rejection of the Security Council demands that it allow UN arms inspectors to verify that it is not engaged in the production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. It refuses to comply with UN Resolution 1284, adopted in December 1999, which established a new arms inspection body, the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission – UNMOVIC – and provided for the suspension of UN sanctions if the Government allowed arms inspections to be renewed.

The oil for food programme was established by a memorandum of agreement between the UN and the Government of Iraq in 1996 to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people in the context of the UN economic sanctions regime introduced in 1990. Administered by the United Nations Office for Iraq Programme – UNOIP, the oil for food programme is the co-ordinating mechanism for meeting the humanitarian needs of the people of Iraq. The question does not, therefore, arise whether Ireland should establish humanitarian delegations in Iraq to oversee the oil for food programme.

During my recent visit to the UN, I held discussions on 1 October with the head of the UNOIP, Mr. Benan Sevan. Mr. Sevan had completed work on a further report from the UN Secretary General on the humanitarian situation in Iraq. This report was discussed in the Security Council on 11 October, under Ireland's chairmanship. The report provides a detailed and objective analysis of the operation of the oil for food programme over the past three months. The Secretary General's report has made it abundantly clear that, through the programme, the Government of Iraq is in a position to address fully the nutritional and health requirements of its people, particularly children. That Iraq has deliberately [784] failed to co-operate with the UN to fulfil those needs is unacceptable.

In the view of the Government, the UN humanitarian programme in Iraq is in the best position to verify that food, medical facilities and medical attention are available to all children and to accurately determine the factual position regarding children's health. From my discussions with Mr. Sevan and others closely involved with the situation in Iraq, I am satisfied at the manner in which the Office for Iraq Programme is carrying out that task and with the integrity shown by its staff under very difficult circumstances.

Given the UN assurance that the necessary funding is available, it is the Government of Iraq's own responsibility to ensure that the nutritional and health needs of its children are met. Under its agreement with the UN, it is Iraq's responsibility to draw up the sectoral distribution plan and to revise the distribution plan allocations. It is Iraq's responsibility to place the orders, to authorise the necessary credit and to arrange for the normal dispatch of supplies. However, the Secretary General reports that Iraq has made preparation of the distribution plan unnecessarily cumbersome, that it has declined to revise the distribution plan allocations, that it is responsible for slow contracting for essential supplies and has created considerable delays in the opening of letters of credit. Indeed, during the first half of 2001 not a single order was placed by Iraq for medicines.

Ireland urges Iraq to co-operate honestly and effectively with the UN humanitarian programme and to look after the interests of its own people. At the same time, Ireland is working in the current negotiations in the Security Council to revise the sanctions to achieve a resolution which will help to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Iraq by providing for the normal development of the Iraqi economy and convincing Iraq to accept fully its international obligations under the resolutions of the Security Council. These, when accepted, will result in the suspension of sanctions.

Given the responsibility of the UN for the administration of the oil for food programme and the responsibility of the Iraqi Government in its implementation, it would not be appropriate for governments to send delegations to Iraq to oversee the programme.