Dáil Éireann - Volume 565 - 09 April, 2003

Written Answers. - Oil for Food Programme.

  124. Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the contact he has had with Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, with a view to ensuring that the United Nations [226] will have removed all obstacles placed in its way by invading forces so as to ensure that the United Nations will be enabled to continue its work through its agencies in Iraq and lead the food programme with which it has previously been associated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9827/03]

  Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): On 19 March the Taoiseach wrote to the UN Secretary-General to reiterate the concern felt in Ireland for the humanitarian situation of the people of Iraq, to express the Government's strong hope that the Security Council would continue to give the fullest weight to humanitarian considerations in its ongoing deliberations and discussions concerning Iraq and, in that regard, to suggest that the members of the Security Council receive regular and frequent humanitarian briefings from the Secretary General and his colleagues. The Taoiseach wrote on the same day to the President of the Security Council in similar terms.

  The Deputy will be aware that the UN Secretary-General needs no mandate from the Security Council to provide humanitarian relief. The relevant UN subsidiary agencies such as the Food and Agricultural Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) can act on their own responsibility, according as the security situation permits, and the Government has provided funds to help them and proven non-governmental organisations in doing so.

  Since 1997, the UN's Office of the Iraq Programme has administered “on the ground in Iraq” the Oil For Food Programme which was established by Security Council Resolution 986, 1995. Following the recent commencement of large-scale military action in Iraq, the Secretary General suspended operation of the programme in Iraq.

  The Oil for Food Programme has been set on a new footing with the adoption of Resolution 1472 on 28 March. Secretary General Annan has been given the necessary authority to run the programme for an initial 45 day period. He has been authorised inter alia to prioritise the delivery of contracts already in the pipeline to accelerate the meeting of urgent humanitarian needs. He is also permitted to conclude new contracts “drawing on appropriate available monies” in the medical sector. This authorisation by the Security Council was critically important given the inevitable suspension of the programme at the start of the military engagement and the enormous humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people. Its passage was not a simple accomplishment given the varying and strongly held concerns of the various Security Council members. It therefore demonstrates a new unity of purpose in the Security Council, which the Government has welcomed.

  The Taoiseach spoke personally to Secretary General Annan on Monday to ascertain his priorities for humanitarian relief and post-war reconstruction in Iraq. The Taoiseach told the [227] Secretary General that the Government regarded a central role for the United Nations as a matter of crucial importance. He also raised the issues directly with President Bush and the Prime Minister Mr. Blair at Hillsborough yesterday.