Seanad Éireann - Volume 128 - 25 April, 1991

Plight of the Kurds: Statements.

Professor Conroy: One of the saddest occasions or functions one goes to either as a public representative or as an individual is the funeral of a child. I am sure we have all attended one on some occasion within our own family or among friends or connections. We know how desolate such a day or such a happening is. Fortunately for us here it is something which we very rarely have to attend. That is not the situation with the people we refer to as the Kurds at the moment. Four, five or six children of Kurdish families have been buried one after another over the past couple of weeks.

The Kurds have the same human feelings as we have and it is very hard to imagine how one would cope with such a situation: fleeing in panic and terror from one's home, moving through mountains and appalling weather conditions, having no food or drink, seeing members of one's family die one after another of starvation, dehydration or cold and exposure, never able to pause knowing that the helicopter gunships and the troops of the Iraqi army are following close behind, by all accounts indiscriminately shooting and killing the refugees as they attempt to flee. It is an appalling situation and who these people were or whatever side they were on does [1133] not matter; they are still men, women and children. In such circumstances it is often the old people and children who suffer most and most quickly.

Kurds are people largely unknown to us, although very well known in history; in some ways we share similarities. For many centuries they have been unable to express their political independence. Unlike us, who at least have our freedom, they were cruelly deceived at the end of the First World War when they received promises from the then great powers that they would have independence. These promises were very soon broken. Whatever the justification or otherwise for an independent Kurdish state, Kurdistan, there is little doubt that the Kurds themselves wish to have such a state. That is not the purpose of today's statements or discussions, except in the sense that the Kurds in Iraq have on a number of occasions in the last few years attempted by one means or another to gain a degree not of independence but of autonomy.

One of the few brighter or more hopeful features has been the meeting between the leader of one of the main Kurdish groups and the Iraqi government, and an understanding has, I believe, been agreed but not yet signed whereby autonomy will be granted to the Kurdish area of Iraq. Let us hope that that is an agreement which will be signed and kept to and which will give a measure of comfort in the future to the Kurdish people. One of the terrible things about war is that it is nearly always the innocent, the old and the young who suffer. I do not think there is very much doubt but that these people, rightly or wrongly, felt that they had been encouraged to attempt to rise against the Iraqi regime. With the successful conclusion of the war by the United Nations allied group, they found themselves in a position where they had taken on the Iraqi Government and we heard plenty of statements about the murderous brutality of that Government and their police and armed forces. They effectively found themselves at the mercy of these forces, forces which had themselves suffered very severe casualties. No doubt they were not feeling very friendly [1134] towards those whom they would regard as having attacked them.

The immediate aftermath of the war in which the helicopter gunships were turned on the Kurdish rebels seems to have gone far beyond any necessary military suppression and charged into a situation which could, with a good deal of reason, be described as genocide, an attempt to wipe out an entire people, basically because they are a people and not to discriminate in any sense between those taking part in protests and the vast mass of ordinary people. The pictures of the torture chambers where individuals were hanged by their heels, beaten, tortoured and maltreated in every imaginable and unimaginable way on a systematic scale gives us to understand why the Kurdish people in their millions fled before the severe and brutal onslaught of the Iraqi armed forces.

The western world was not prepared for this and I think there was an understandable temptation, perhaps even on the American side, not to become involved. The war was over, the objectives of the United Nations mandate had apparently been secured. But starting a war is easy but to end it is much more difficult. It was only as the television pictures of the tragic circumstances of the Kurdish refugees began to appear on our television screens, and perhaps more importantly on those of the US and other major powers, that it was realised that it was not just good enough to encourage these people to rise and revolt and then leave them to the devices of Mr. Saddam Hussein, whom all of us on both sides of this House have justifiably described in very strong terms. Yet these people had been left to his tender mercies. I am very glad to see that steps are being taken, by those involved on the Allied side and by the United Nations. I am particularly pleased that an Irish officer is playing a major role as Commander of the United Nations unit which has just taken over one area. I hope that we, our Government, and our people who have already subscribed to this, will support the provision of humanitarian aid and relief to the Kurdish people and will support [1135] measures by the international community to give all possible aid and support to those people.

Mr. McDonald: I am glad the House is taking time to reflect and consider what steps can be taken to make a contribution to ease the plight of the Kurdish people. I hope that the concern of this House will not be wholly concentrated on the Kurds but on all the displaced Iraqi people — the Kurds, the people from Turkistan and the Christians alike who comprise the Iraqi civil population massing on the Iraqi-Turkish and Iraqi-Iranian borders. We must all strive to understand this tragedy and face our moral obligations. Our generation cannot say in the future that this tragedy was on the other side of the world and we did not know about it. We have all marvelled at the high-tech knowledge used in the Gulf War. We saw on television the destructive power of modern technology and some people marvelled at the effect and efficiency of it. Is it too much to expect that a somewhat similar response to this gigantic human tragedy would be forthcoming at this time? We have seen millions of deprived people in the wilderness. There are horrific scenes similar to biblical times. We all bear witness in our own livingrooms to this terrible visitation on millions of unfortunate people. So we must be aware.

There is a growing famine in Africa which is largely ignored or relegated to a poor second place behind the Middle East. We are told that an estimated 20 million people need food, are undernourished or are starving in a number of African countries, while here in Europe, the fortress of prosperity, the hoarders of food mountains, we complain about the problems of our food surpluses. Europe, especially the European Community, has opened its doors to the East, and rightly so, but the window to the south and to the problems of the south has been tightly closed. This is not good enough. We must champion the plight of starving and displaced people. We must champion the plight of refugees, whether [1136] they are fleeing from Saddam Hussein in Iraq or from inhuman regimes in any other part of the world. There are starving hordes of unfortunate tribes searching and begging for sustenance, for food, shelter and medication.

This human tragedy is too large to become the burden of one or two countries. The entire world must provide immediate and generous help and tangible support. We must not look to Governments alone to answer the call of a free conscience on our behalf but make some individual sacrifices to ease the burden and the pangs of hunger of those millions of people.

Let there be no mistake. The blame for the Kurdish tragedy must be put firmly in the court of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I have great difficulty understanding the reluctance of President Bush to aid the Kurds. The UK Prime Minister, Mr. Major, proposed a safe haven for them. This should have been implemented by the United Nations and supported by every freedom-loving person in the world. There has been sufficient talk. Our Government must take the lead in the European Community and in the United Nations, insisting on human rights for all of these people, so that those deprived and displaced persons also enjoy human rights.

Our Minister should speak out fearlessly on behalf of humanity in defence of the Kurdish people and nation and we, in our freedom, must advocate maximum pressure on Saddam Hussein not only to stop attacking and threatening those people but to provide land and help for those subjects. In the television shots Turkey has been portrayed in a somewhat negative light, especially on some of the RTE news coverage over the last number of weeks. I would like to ask how we would react? The only recent invasion we experienced here over the last few years was a couple of dozen of itinerant or travelling traders who descended on a number of provincial towns to the consternation of the settled people in those areas.

How would our public react if, instead of having a couple of hundred people [1137] camping for two or three days in the car parks or in the vicinity of the towns, we had 1,000 people with no sustenance, no means of support concentrated in an area not to mention a couple of million people who are presently in the mountains on the Turkish and Iranian borders. I do not think that our country, or any country could be expected to meet that challenge alone. It is clear that this is not the first time Turkey faced this problem. When the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons against the Kurdish population in 1988 some 60,000 refugees went to Turkey. Of those the western democracies accepted 418 refugees. It is unfair to expect one or two countries to bear the entire burden. Turkey has been declared an underdeveloped nation; its standard of development is too low for the European Community to consider it fit for membership. Yet, there is a glib suggestion that that Third World country should be able to take on an additional two million people and feed them. They cannot do it alone.

That is why I want our Minister to take a headline from Frank Aiken in the early sixties when he championed a United Nations policy for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and disarmament. It took years go get that message across. What are we left with 20 years later? We, with our neutral status and contacts in the EC as a full member of the European Community and as a founder member of the United Nations, have a moral obligation to make our voices heard. I do not think there is anyone in a better position to do that other than our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Collins. I hope he will take that up.

It will charge out of the history books in one hundred years' time that this generation, especially the western democracies, allowed millions of people not only in the east, in Iraq and also in Africa, to die of starvation and want when the main problem in Europe was one of food mountains. We are restricting production and not allowing people produce food that is so badly wanted and scarce right across the world. Nothing less than a concentrated effort such as Mr. Aiken [1138] undertook with Freddie Boland at the time when I first had the pleasure of speaking in this House, will suffice to deal with the horrific problem.

I listened with tremendous interest to Mr. Gay Byrne and Mr. Charlie Bird on the Radio this morning. The entire country had the opportunity of hearing first hand an eyewitness account from Mr. Bird. He told us of his experiences while representing Telefís Éireann and sending the news home. I compliment the aid workers, the Red Cross, Trócaire, Concern and the United Nations for the tremendous organisation involved in getting aid out promptly although in a small amount. We should appeal for more. The Government have an obligation to give the lead and the £500,000 they have made available through the Red Cross, Trócaire and Concern and, indeed as their proportionate share of the one billion ECUs made available through the European Community, is but a drop in the ocean and is not enough. As a developed country we cannot say we do not know and have not seen and witnessed the misery of these people on the top of those mountains.

Mr. Major's proposal for safe havens in Kurdistan should be, even at this late stage, implemented with whatever force necessary being used to ensure the safety and interests of those people who were forced to flee barefoot from their homes and country. This is an episode that history will not appreciate or thank this generation for. Even at this late stage we must reverse the situation, and be fearless. The United Nations if it is not able to deal with this problem, and cannot cut through the red tape is not worthy of support. It is an absolute nonsense to accept that once the economic interests of the United Nations have been served humanity means nothing to them. I had hoped that the reverse would be the position. On behalf of the Fine Gael group in the House I would like to thank the Leader of the House for making time available so that we as a party can express our concern and demonstrate our Christian responsibility in not asking the Government only to give a sharper lead [1139] and make more resources available but to appeal to all right minded people to make a sacrifice so that at least we can say that we made a contribution. We hope to see a sharp and prompt easing of the situation for those people.

Mr. Hourigan: I want to express my horror at the terrible state of affairs that exists at present in Iraq and in the mountains of that country where approximately two million people are marooned in very shabby and inadequate accommodation, with little or no food as the days go on. Their numbers are almost unmanageable. One reads in magazines like Newsweek and Time detailed reports of burying children each morning, perhaps 30 or 40, who had died in the night from the cold weather or other factors. That is a standard thing. The very few doctors who are in the area expect a severe acceleration in the number of deaths in the very near future unless something very major is done.

We must not forget that the people dying here in very large numbers are not the sort of people that we were confronted with in Ethiopia, Sudan, Cambodia and other places where we were confronted with very unhealthy people in the sense that they did not have much physical resources left to them. Here we have very strong people, people who have suddenly gone down and are going down rapidly. In the first instance, we have young healthy children being the victims. Young children are dying at the rate of 34, 40, 50 or 60 each day. We also have older people, middle aged people and young people. There are no sanitary conditions and no food. It is an environment conducive to massive outbreaks of disease of one type or another, cholera and other diseases.

Let us reflect for a moment on why two million people have suddenly headed for the hills and departed into a no-man's land area. The reason is fear. I said in this House previously that the Americans did a marvellous job in the war in Iraq and did teach Saddam Hussein a very firm and direct lesson. At the same time, [1140] Saddam Hussein is still there. Saddam Hussein is the reason why these people through pure fear have left their towns and villages, in many cases places of comfort. We are not dealing here with people who had nothing in life. We are dealing here with a lot of people who had the ordinary comforts that we are all fortunate to enjoy. They had to leave and disappear or otherwise be forced out by the army. These people are there in these massive numbers and indeed being joined all the time by additional people — as well as losing thousands and thousands of people as the days go on — because we have Saddam Hussein still in Iraq.

I find it hard to reconcile the American situation here. I compliment them with others — the French, the English and others — for dealing very effectively with the tranny and the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. At the same time, I am not at all sure that it was politically correct for the Americans to leave Iraq in the state in which it is now. The Americans will say, and have said, that they would not be responsible for another civil war in Iraq. At the same time one has to be conscious of the fact that there is no point in removing the problem unless you remove the cause of that problem. The cause of the problem in Kuwait was effectively Saddam Husein. He was the one we all felt should have to leave the scene. The words “Hussein should be taken out” were used. Yet we found ourselves with this man firmly entrenched and protected against almost any form of attack from any quarter. With this I believe that we, as part of the United Nations, and our American and UK friends especially, who dealt with the problem magnificently this far, stand condemned for standing back now and doing nothing. This is basically our problem and it is something I believe will have to change radically in the days ahead.

There is no point in expecting countries like Iran to accommodate one million additional persons at this stage. This is the sort of figure that is estimated of the number of people who have either gone into Iran or are on their way into Iran. There is a figure talked about of 600,000 [1141] persons who are heading for Turkey. These are very underdeveloped countries that have great difficulties in maintaining their own people in reasonable levels of living. Quite honestly this is not a Middle East problem at this point in time. It is a problem that faces the world, faces the United Nations and faces us all. Together we can and must find a solution, but it must be found very rapidly.

I believe that some policed type of law and order has to be restored to Iraq. We have to get Iraq removed from the scene where the army is running riot through the country, that is Hussein's army, and forcing out in front of it the people that were in any way against Saddam Hussein during the war. This is the sort of situation that has to be tackled immediately and simultaneously. We must get down from the mountainsides all these unfortunate creatures, or at least those of them who are left. The matter is extremely urgent. Out there, there are thousands of people who will have died before we have completed a short discussion on this vital subject.

There is little point in piecemeal efforts on the part of the voluntary organisations like the Red Cross, Trócaire and all the others contributing their little bit. They are to be complimented. They are to be saluted and admired, thanked and paid tribute to for all their efforts. Having said that, I believe the impact they are capable of making on this major problem is very, very small. There is no way that they can make a dent in this major problem at the moment.

The problem that is facing us at the moment, let us call a spade a spade, is one that would require a major army manoeuvre involving hundreds of helicopters and lots of people, qualified people in the medical and nursing arena, to bring these people down from those positions they have wandered into and been forced into and get them back to ordinary habitation again. This is something that has to be done quickly. There is no point in letting the matter drag on. Week after week we read in the various magazines and papers that so many extra hundreds or thousands have died and the [1142] position has become this, that or the other. Basically, the problem is one of the state that Iraq has been left in after the war. Iraq did, in fact, leave Kuwait. This was the kernel of the war in the first instance. However, Iraq was still directed and ruled by Saddam Hussein and his terrorist army. That is the position that in my view must change.

Simultaneously to that changing there must be a positive and concrete effort to get the people from their places of destitution down to some area of short term comfort with a view to their being placed throughout other countries in the world. I do not expect Turkey or Iran to take in hundreds of thousands of people. In the short term I am quite satisfied they could be accommodated there. They could be kept alive until they could be brought along to other countries like our own. We recall the uprising in Hungary in 1956. The refugees were brought here to Ireland and to other countries as well. That is the kind of exercise that will take place but, in the first instance, there has to be a short term effort to get the people out of desperation into a position where we can undertake this very valuable exercise.

I have gone through the points that I wish to cover. We as a small nation can contribute enormously to it not in direct terms but through our influence in the UN and through our illustrious Minister whom I would like to welcome to this House, who is doing a very good job in the Foreign Affairs Department.

We must make certain that we use the UN as a vehicle to put in place what I have suggested with regard to the administration of Iraq, with regard to getting these people down from their places of horror on a temporary level and then I am quite certain countries throughout the world will take them. In case anybody might get the impression that I was making little of the contribution made by many organisations like the Red Cross and Trócaire, I would refer to all of them with great respect and great admiration. While their effort is to be admired, their final contribution is little in the context of the job to be done.

[1143] Since the Minister is with us I would appeal to him to use his best offices at UN level and at any other level that he can to make certain that there is an immediate job done to get these people where they can be positioned before they are distributed to other countries throughout the world. I would also appeal to the Minister to use his good offices to make sure that this tyrant in Iraq does not continue to remain in the position of responsibility he is in.

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Collins): Over the last few weeks we have witnessed one of the greatest human tragedies of this century. It is impossible not to be deeply moved by the plight of the Iraqi Kurds and the other Iraqi refugees. The scenes of suffering, starvation and sheer human misery which we have seen on our TV screens and read about in our newspapers have touched us all. Particularly harrowing is the fact that those who are suffering most in this tragedy are those who are least able to endure suffering, very young children and elderly men and women.

These people are ordinary human beings like you and me. They are the victims of brutal repression by a regime which has in the past shown no regard for the basic human rights of its own people. The Kurds of northern Iraq were deliberately targeted by Saddam Hussein for one of the most savage campaigns of collective reprisal which the world has ever seen.

With the ink barely dry on the agreement which brought about the cessation of hostilities between Iraq and the multinational forces, the Iraqi authorities launched a terrible onslaught against a section of their own people who were fighting for a status of autonomy which had been conceded to them some 20 years ago but regrettably was then withdrawn. Cities, towns and villages were shelled and fired on by helicopter gunships, bombs were dropped indiscriminately on civilian communities, many innocent people were killed or maimed and hundreds of thousands of families were [1144] driven from their homes, many in inadequate clothing and having to leave behind all of their possessions, and forced to flee to the barren mountains of the north-east in the hope of sanctuary from the terror which followed them.

This is the scale of the problem with which the world has been faced; a massive number of people, men, women and children, people from all walks of life, stranded in the open air on freezing mountain-tops, without adequate supplies of food or water, huddled together in make-shift shelters watching members of their community die in their hundreds each day. Up to two million people have been uprooted from their homes and forced to endure the most horrific deprivation. The total number of displaced persons remains unclear but this is one of the largest involuntary movements of population the modern world has seen, in particular in so brief a period.

The immediate needs of the refugees are obvious for all to see — it is imperative that they receive food, shelter and medical supplies as an absolute priority and they must be safe from further attack while this relief effort is in progress. The front-line countries which had to bear the initial brunt of the refugee problem were Iran and Turkey. It is fair to say that these two countries, along with the international community in general, were caught unawares by the scale of the crisis and the speed with which it developed. Because of the swiftness and brutality of Saddam's retribution and the Iraqi ban on foreign media coverage, little was known of the enormity of this tragedy until thousands of weak, hungry and bewildered people began arriving at the Turkish border having made the long trek, on foot, through the mountains.

No country could, on its own, cope with a refugee problem of this size. Even in the early days of this tragedy, when emergency relief efforts were getting under way and food and shelter items were beginning to be distributed at the Turkish border, few imagined the scale of the crisis. The resources of the Turkish state were severely stretched. The local [1145] population and the military and provincial authorities, under the co-ordination of the Turkish Red Crescent, made major efforts to alleviate the suffering of the refugees. There was simply no way, however, that this could be sufficient and a massive international effort was always going to be necessary.

The same must be said of Iran, a country itself ravaged by eight years of terrible warfare and having suffered a series of natural disasters such as extensive flooding and the recent catastrophic earthquake. The Iranian authorities have responded very well to this latest crisis, opening their border to admit the Kurdish refugees and making available to them everything they can, in terms of food, medicines and shelter. Iran had already accepted many thousands of refugees during the preceding months of the Gulf crisis, including of course the Shi'ites from the south of Iraq whose uprising against Saddam Hussein was also brutally repressed. Some camps were prepared, but not nearly enough to cope with the numbers involved.

When the scale of this problem became clear, I believe that the international community responded well. The United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international organisations launched appeals within days and began setting up organised relief operations. The European Commission made a preliminary contribution to the relief effort on 3 April. On 8 April, at the special EC summit meeting, the Twelve Heads of State and Government announced that 150 million Ecus was being made available immediately to help the refugees. I hope that the massive provision of aid and improved logistics will shortly ensure that food and other vital supplies will become more widely available to the refugees. However, this will not solve the crisis, as refugees cannot be left in temporary camps in the inhospitable mountain conditions of the border regions. Apart from the problem of the physical needs of the refugees, the [1146] international community had to address also the question of security.

What was at stake was the effective possibility for the refugees to receive and benefit from the international aid being provided so massively. This issue confronted the international community with very serious issues of principle. The territorial integrity of states and non-interference in their internal affairs are very important principles of international law. However, faced as we were with the deaths of hundreds of refugees daily, especially the very young and the old, we had to consider whether the international community did not have overriding responsibilities to intervene in order to prevent these unnecessary deaths.

It was thus that on 5 April the Security Council passed a Resolution insisting that Iraq allow immediate access by international humanitarian organisations to all those in need of assistance in all parts of Iraq and to make available all necessary facilities for their operations and requesting the Secretary-General of the UN to use all the resources at his disposal to address urgently the critical needs of the refugees and displaced Iraqi population. The Security Council expressed its grave concern at the developments on Iraq's borders which threatened international peace and security in the region, and thus opened the way for enforcement action by the Security Council. The European Council, meeting three days later, confirmed the view that the situation represented a threat to peace by virtue of the Charter and envisaged the establishment of a protected zone under UN supervision.

Since then, the efforts of the international community have been directed towards the establishment of protected zones in Iraq, within which the refugees can be assured of receiving and benefiting in security from the aid being provided. Because of the urgency of the emergency, the safe zones I refer to are being established in Iraq by U.S., UK and French military forces, with assistance from [1147] other states. The objective is to establish these zones, so that urgent requirements can be met within the time-frame required, and then hand them over to the authority of the United Nations. Ireland supports this objective, considering that the primary need is to prevent further unnecessary death and suffering. We note that the objective of handing the camps over to UN authority is shared by those setting them up, by Iraq, and by the UN itself. Of course, an important consideration in deciding the future responsibility for the camps is the security of the refugee population being aided there.

The mission of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, the Secretary General's Representative to the region, and his signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqi authorities on 18 April is an encouraging development, encouraging in that it opens a possibility of transfer to UN responsibility of the relief operations currently going ahead in northern Iraq. The Memorandum recognises the importance and urgency of adequate measures, including the provision of humanitarian assistance, to alleviate the suffering of Iraqi refugees. Both Iraq and the UN agree that the measures to be taken for the benefit of displaced persons should be based primarily on their personal safety and the provision of humanitarian assistance and relief for their return and normalisation of their lives in their places of origin. In it the Iraqi authorities pledge their full co-operation with the United Nations wherever a UN presence is needed.

UN sub-offices and Humanitarian Centres are being set up under this agreement. The centres are to be staffed by UN personnel as well as personnel coopted from the ICRC and other nongovernmental organisations. The Iraqi Red Crescent will also play a role in the relief effort. The memorandum also provides for the urgent setting-up of routes of return, with relay stations along the [1148] way and logistical back-up. The Iraqi Government has agreed that humanitarian assistance should be impartial and that all civilians in need, wherever they are located, are entitled to receive it. The agreement specifically guarantees that all Iraqi officials concerned, including the military, will facilitate the safe passage of emergency relief commodities through Iraq.

These provisions reflect the more general objective of the operations now being carried out, namely, to ensure urgent relief of the suffering of the people concerned and to reassure them that they can eventually return in safety to their homes. The recent history of Iraq gives rise to legitimate questions concerning the violability of assurances given by the present authorities of Iraq. While, therefore, we hope that they will deliver on this agreement, the international community will be monitoring the situation closely to see that Iraq begins to behave acceptably to its own population. In this connection we attach some importance to the negotiations being conducted in Baghdad between Kurdish representatives and the Iraqi authorities aimed at securing agreement on a status of autonomy for the Kurds in Iraq. From press reports it would appear that progress has been made in these negotiations. We hope that thus the necessary steps can be taken to ensure that the current crisis can be overcome while maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq. In our view the dismemberment of Iraq would not serve the interest of anybody.

I would like now to go back to the relief effort proper. The Irish contribution to this has been a significant one. The Taoiseach announced in Luxembourg at the informal meeting of the Twelve Heads of State or Government that the Government was providing £1 million to assist the refugees, £700,000 of this has been made available through the Community budget and £300,000 was provided bilaterally through aid agencies. At the weekend I announced a further £225,000 [1149] allocation, bringing the total Government bilateral contribution to £550,000, of which £200,000 will go through the Red Cross, £150,000 through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and £100,000 each through Concern and Trócaire. The Irish public have also responded magnificently to the various appeals. This country's total contribution to the relief effort will exceed £3 million. Once again the Irish people can feel proud of the way in which they have acted to help those in need.

As Senators know, the first plane-load of Irish aid was flown to Tehran last week in a joint Government-Red Cross effort on a cargo plane provided free of charge by the Aer Lingus's subsidiary, Aer Turas. The supplies were accompanied by a Red Cross volunteer who was able to report that they were successfully distributed. Since then further flights have followed and more are scheduled for the coming days, including two more flights arranged by the Government and provided free of charge by Guinness Peat Aviation and Aer Turas.

One of these will go to Turkey, bringing relief supplies for the Concern operation in refugee camps on the Turkish border, and one to Iran with further supplies from the Irish Red Cross.

The relief effort has gained momentum rapidly in the last fortnight but there is still much more that has to be done to ensure quick and effective assistance to the refugees so that their suffering can be ended as speedily as possible. There have been indications in recent days that more aid is reaching those who need it most and some refugees have been airlifted to lower ground. A more effective distribution network for food and medical attention is being established, and better co-ordinated relief programmes and full and speedy delivery of the resources pledged are getting the immediate problems under control. The Government, as part of the overall international effort, will continue to review the situation and will consider further action as developments warrant.

[1150] At present the situation in Iraq has not yet been satisfactorily clarified. It is therefore the view of Ireland and the rest of the Twelve that the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq because of its invasion and purported annexation of Kuwait should be maintained so long as it persists in policies and practices regarding its own population which have given rise to such unprecedented suffering and that derogations from the sanction regime should continue to be examined case by case on a humanitarian basis. It is also our view that those in Iraq who are responsible for such crimes should be brought to account: we know that the authorities in Kuwait, which was the victim of war crimes and vandalism throughout the Iraqi occupation, are pursuing this matter. The Twelve have decided to follow up this possibility as far as they are concerned: we have already taken it up with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

I would like finally to revert once again to the effort to provide humanitarian aid to the refugees. The situation on the Turkish border at first received most attention — understandably, as it was there that the international media had concentrated. However, I have just been having talks here in Dublin with my Iranian counterpart, the Foreign Minister Dr. Velayati. I have told him that most of the Irish bilateral aid has gone to Iran. This is only appropriate, when one considers that the numbers of refugees entering Iran are in fact greater than the number on the Turkish border.

I once again pay tribute to the openheartedness of the people of Ireland in their response to this appalling tragedy. I hope that out of this unspeakable suffering of millions of innocent people will arise a new international consciousness of the solidarity of all the people of the world and of the corresponding responsibility of the international community to do its utmost to relieve the suffering of the innocent, wherever it may occur. This [1151] will be an indispensable component of any acceptable new world order.

Mr. Ross: With the permission of the House, I would like to share my time with Senator Norris in equal proportions.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Ross: I do not find a great deal to quarrel with in what the Minister has said, but it is significant that it has taken so long for the Government to be concerned about the Kurds. It is ironic that President De Klerk is downstairs right below us now or, if he is not, he is on his way. We as a nation were one of the leaders of the crusade to introduce sanctions against President De Klerk while at the same time we were trading happily with Saddam Hussein. At the very same time that Ireland was trading with Saddam Hussein, Saddam Hussein was involved in a genocidal war against the Kurds. It is a terrible indictment of our foreign policy that we can take a moral attitude against President De Klerk and be so much in favour of pursuing sanctions against him while encouraging prominent businessmen in this country to trade with Saddam Hussein.

Today we are taking a high moral attitude about the plight of the Kurds. The plight of the Kurds was similar, if not identical, several years ago when the Government was giving export credit relief to the country that was persecuting them. That is unforgivable, it is rank hypocrisy and is the sort of hypocrisy that our foreign policy is, unfortunately, riddled with. Our foreign policy is dictated by trade and not by morality or ethics. I find it difficult to accept a statement from the Government today, written from a position of deep concern and morality, when that concern is so new. When Amnesty International had it in black and white what was happening to [1152] the Kurds many years ago, we were totally unconcerned. Indeed, we were frightened of raising our voices about their plight.

I share the Government's fresh, renewed concern about the Kurds but it is only right that it should be pointed out that it is very new. It is appropriate that the sanctions issue is being discussed by President De Klerk today when we are now belatedly introducing sanctions against Saddam Hussein. We refused and had no interest in pursuing sanctions against him when he was involved in a genocidal warfare against these people many years ago. That has to be acknowledged and pointed out again and again, not because it is a particularly good debating point, but because it should never be allowed to happen again in this country. Having pointed that out, I welcome this concern as evidenced in the Minister's speech about the plight of the Kurds today and I welcome everything the Government are doing to help those unfortunate people.

I do not agree specifically with many of the things the Minister had to say. I am not even sure we should accept any longer the principle which he enunciated here that non-interference in the international affairs of another country is justifiable. I know that is a cardinal rule and principle of international law and of the way many countries conduct their foreign affairs. The Minister went on to say that “the dismemberment of Iraq would not serve the interest of anybody”. I believe we have to question that assertion. We have to ask ourselves whether the new order of things — and there is a new world order — should be pursued a bit further than mere sanctions against Iraq, because by taking sanctions against Iran we are saying that this is a regime which is unfit to govern any territory or any people.

I am no longer certain that it would not be justifiable, by limited force, to establish havens or homes for people like the Kurds who are otherwise going to be [1153] massacred by a wicked regime. Is that principle to remain so inviolate that we as a people and other peoples are to say human rights must be subordinated to territorial integrity? I am not so sure the Minister is right any longer to subscribe to that particular principle. We will have to look again, not just as a small nation but as a member of the United Nations and the Europe Communities at that principle. If we are prepared to take sanctions against countries — and in both the South African and the Iraqi case it was justified at the initial stages — we will have to examine the principle of whether we should take more specific and more forceful measures to defend the lives of people in other countries where they are being massacred. That principle of international law is one that has to be questioned.

It begs the question, which of course this particular crisis begs, of whether it was right to stop the Gulf War so soon. At the time, of course, huge pressures were brought to bear not only on the President of the United States but on the commanders of the Allied Forces and on the United Nations to stop what was an appalling apparent massacre of Iraqi soldiers. That is something which everybody in the House regrets happened, because we should prevent the loss of any human life. However, it might have been better to have gone further. It might have been better to have ensured that the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein were removed from office, it might have been fulfilling a greater obligation to the international community to do that.

I know that infringes basic principles which nations find it convenient to adhere to — minimum force and territorial integrity — but it might have been preferable had the regime in Baghdad been toppled because the appalling massacre and genocide of the Kurds which is going on now would probably have been prevented. That is not necessarily something that could have been foreseen, but when the international community is united against [1154] an evil, as it was in that particular case, it might have been preferable to have gone the whole hog and to have taken the regime out and to have disarmed that dictator.

It seems to me that the result of the Gulf War, while it achieved limited objectives, left some unfinished business which has resulted unfortunately in a small distinct people being massacred. I do not blame the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Irish Government for that because it is in a wider context and it is a wider question, but I think in retrospect we might have been right to say go on to Baghdad and disarm Iraq completely, because those who are in charge in Iraq are uncivilised and barbaric and will have to be removed from office.

The Minister's speech is encouraging in that it gives us some sense of an international community of responsibility. It is also encouraging that the Minister is obviously prepared to make substantial contributions in terms of the size of this country in the international context to the international crusade and efforts to relieve the Kurds. The basic lesson in this tragedy is that we should re-examine the basic principles not just of Irish foreign policy but of international foreign policy, that we should re-examine the basic principle of——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I wish to remind the Senator that there are only four minutes left in this debate.

Mr. Ross: I will conclude. The basic principle of international and territorial integrity should be removed.

Mr. Norris: I regret that you, Sir, did not indicate that earlier on because I should have been the first speaker. Senator Costello has indicated he will be prepared to give me two minutes of his time, with the agreement of the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.

[1155] Mr. Norris: I do not think it is necessary or useful to reopen the whole question of the Gulf War, but there is one thing that needs to be taken on board, that is, anybody who looks at the map of that region will notice a very suspicious perpendicularity about the borders. The borders in that area were not created in the interests of the people living in that area, and that is why I share Senator Ross's disquiet when the Minister says that maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq is the foreign policy objective of this country and that “the dismemberment of Iraq would not serve the interest of anybody”. Of course it would; it would serve the interests of the Kurds but nobody is interested in that, nobody opened their mouths when Halabja was gas bombed, none of the people who are now squawking about human rights were the slightest bit interested.

Let us look at the attitude of the occupying American forces. I saw on television an American soldier talking about the way in which they were getting the Kurds to come down from the hills, they were putting bait out as they would for animals to draw people down from the hills. He spoke contemptuously of these people. There is not a recognition of the rights of Kurds and there are, of course, Kurds not only in Iraq but in Iran, Turkey and so on, and if any group has a right to autonomy, surely it should be the Kurds who have one ethnic social, religious and linguistic system in common, but by virtue of this perpendicularity, as I have described it, they are excluded from consideration by nations. If anything showed how useless and ineffective the United Nations is, it is the recent operation where it will only intervene to safeguard the territorial rights of states, the relationship between states. There must come a time when the fundamental human rights of those people inside the states are guaranteed by the United Nations. It is a lamentable situation that this does not exist at the moment.

[1156] Let us look at the attitude of the European Community towards the Kurdish people. Every major organisation, including the European Community, has delayed, there have been bureaucratic delays, there have been suggestions that distribution of European Community food to the Kurds should be delayed because certain bureaucratic requirements have not been met. I would like to put on the record a quotation from our parallel experience of Famine when Sir Randolf Routh, chairman of the Famine Relief Commission, wrote to Charles Edward Trevelyan the permanent head of the Treasury in Great Britain on 4 August 1846, when he said:

You cannot answer the cry of want with a quotation from a political economy.

That ought to be borne in mind in the councils of Ireland. You cannot answer the cry of want with a quotation from political economy.

I am glad the Irish people reacted immediately, but the Irish Government did not react immediately; they reacted in a tardy fashion. It was groups like Trócaire and the Red Cross who got involved immediately and I believe, put pressure on the Irish Government. I am very glad the fourth plane load of supplies left yesterday for Iran and I think it is good that the Red Cross are sending supplies to Iran.

I have deep disagreements with the Iranian regime and I am sorry the Minister, Deputy Collins, is not here while I am speaking because I would like to suggest to him that while he is having his cosy discussion with Mr. Velayati he ought to raise a few of the points that are also raised in Amnesty International's report and what is going on now in Iran. I would like to place on the record that if Mr. Collins's agony about what happened in Iraq is genuine, let him now start agonising about what is happening in Iran. I say that as a deliberate and intended [1157] attack upon the Iranian regime but not upon the Iranian people.

I salute the Iranian people for the way in which they have welcomed the Kurds. They have taken in over one million Kurds and the ordinary people of Iran deserve to be saluted for their humanity in treating these people. It is a regime for which I have nothing but contempt, but I am glad the Irish Red Cross are sending equipment and supplies to the people who are suffering. It is a cry of want and I am glad there have been faxes sent back from Iran to indicate that these supplies are satisfactory, appropriate, that the balance is correct between medical supplies and blankets and so on, so that what is happening is the best possible and most practical thing we could do for the unfortunate people who are the victims of this situation.

I also think it is worth placing on record our appreciation of the professionalism of these voluntary organisations. The relief channelled through organisations like the Red Cross is going directly to the areas where it is needed within 24 hours. It is worth saying in Seanad Éireann that anybody who contributes to an organisation like the Red Cross can be certain that it is their contribution will be on its way within 24 hours, because they have pioneered a system where volunteers travel with the convoy of materials to the destination of this aid.

I would like to take up a phrase that has been thrown around here, “the new order”. What an unfortunate phrase, even for an accident-prone person like the President of the United States to use. I am not old enough to have active memories of the last new order but I know historically what it was all about. It was in Europe in the forties and it was a Mr. A. Hitler who was involved in the “new order” at that stage. Perhaps President Bush was not quite aware of the sinister resonances of this. What a cheek for the Minister, Deputy Collins or Mr. Bush to suggest that there should be a war crimes tribunal for Saddam Hussein, the man [1158] they were supplying with arms, food, sustenance, and with every possible thing they could sell him. May I ask a parallel question? The Minister's conscience has become so delicate, his friend, Mr. Bush's conscience has become so delicate, but have they heard of a gentleman called Pol Pot who murdered two million people? They are still trading with Pol Pot. If we are going to have a war crimes tribunal for Saddam Hussein, our erstwhile friend, when are we going to add Pol Pot to the list? That will convince me that the Minister and Mr. Bush have the delicate consciences they speak of so movingly.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I would like to remind the Senator that he made a remark about my not calling him earlier, but when Senator Ross stated he was sharing his time he did not say what portion of time he was sharing.

Mr. Norris: I would not criticise you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh.

Mr. Costello: I share Senator Ross's and Senator Norris's disappointment at the speech we have just got from the Minister. It is a very smug document, full of anomalies and reflects the inadequacy and puzzling variation in the foreign affairs policies that have been adopted by our Government.

The Kurdish problem is not new. The plight of the Kurds existed long before the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein did not suddenly come out of the blue and begin to persecute the Kurdish people. Genocide had been practiced on the Kurdish people far in advance of the Gulf War and we have had numerous investigations by and detailed submissions to Amnesty International, to the EC and the United Nations. All of a sudden we seem to recognise that Saddam Hussein was guilty of genocide. Certainly our hands were not clean in the past.

[1159] Professor Conroy: I resent that suggestion. Our hands are perfectly clean.

Mr. Costello: We gave credit refunds to that administration under that same dictator. Goodman International, and the Irish people to an extent, have lost well in excess of £100 million as a result of that hypocrisy. We did not recognise the need to defend human rights when violations were put before us. That was long before the Gulf War.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq prior to the Gulf War. At that time the United Nations stated that the Security Council allowed “all necessary means” to be taken to ensure that Kuwait would be liberated. “All necessary means” was interpreted as allowing the infringement of the territorial integrity of Iraq. Yet our Minister for Foreign Affairs expressed deep concern in his statement about the possibility of any infringement on the territorial integrity of Iraq at present. Certainly the United Nations have no problem there. The territorial integrity of states, and non-interference in their internal affairs, is a very important principle of international law. Suddenly we find that the United Nations has cold feet about giving permission to the United States, a coalition led force, or anybody else, to infringe the territorial integrity of Iraq and allow safe havens for the Kurdish people to be created. That initiative could not be taken by the United Nations or the Community at large but it came very belatedly from our neighbour across the water. Now perhaps the United Nations will take on board that initiative and take on the job of ensuring that those safe havens are properly guaranteed. It is a terrible disappointment that the body entrusted with the care of the international community has, on the one hand, been prepared to give total discretion to the United Statesled forces to invade, not just Kuwait but Iraq, and that it is finding itself so reluctant to take the necessary measures to [1160] ensure that two million people are protected from genocide. The hypocrisy we find on the international scene is amazing. What happened was that America was concerned with its oil interests in the Middle East, with its oil interests in Kuwait, and, naturally, took measures to liberate Kuwait. What happened subsequently?

Subsequently there has been none of that urgency to ensure that the people against whom all this harassment and genocide — and that is what it has to be called — is being perpetrated have been protected. The urgency has gone out of it, and the reason for that — and it is expressed in the Minister's statement here — is that it is in nobody's interest to have the dismemberment of Iraq. By that is meant that what the international community wants — and the international community our Minister is speaking about is the international community that is US-led — is the Kurdish people and the Shi'ite Moslems causing unnecessary problems which would destabilise the regime and the last thing they want is a destabilised Iraq. While an invitation was given to rise, the means to allow the people to rise and to take steps against Saddam Hussein were not given to the people. That is why the helicopter gunships were allowed and that is why the people who would have been in a position to destabilise the regime were not given assistance. I think that is the height of international hypocrisy. It is money matters; it is oil matters; it is not concern with people or community protection.

I must say that the Iranian people have been magnificent in the manner in which they have provided sustenance to the Shi'ite Moslems when they were being persecuted after the war and that like wise Turkey and the Turkish people have been tremendous in the manner in which they have given aid to hundreds of thousands of refugees. That is a particularly difficult problem for them, considering this is something that has not just happened overnight. They have been receiving [1161] Iraqi refugees in the years prior to this, due to previous persecution as well.

What about Ireland? What contribution has Ireland made? I am not at all happy with what the Minister has said in terms of our contribution. Certainly 150 million ECUs are being given by the European Community; but we find that, out of our £1 million being given, £700,000 of it is part of the Community budget, so this is not a separate allocation. We are talking about £300,000 and last week that had risen to £550,000, which is literally just over £500,000, whereas the broader community in this country have given in excess of £2.5 million already, which is roughly five times what the Government are prepared to give. That is a sad reflection on our Government if that is the extent of the contribution they can make towards solving this horrific crisis.

We must remember that it is only 150 years ago that our people experienced a very similar mass exodus from this country, when approximately two million people emigrated or died. That is almost the same as the number of Kurdish refugees there at present. At that time we were looking for funding, resources, food. Our Government should be very sensitive to our history in that respect and make sure that the least they can do is to match the voluntary contributions being made. I would be expecting from the Government at least £3 million at this stage, not £500,000, not this cover up that it is giving £1 million, but nearly three-quarters of which is being given through the Community budget and is therefore coming from a different source.

I would also ask the Minister for Finance to consider whether tax incentives could be given, that there could be tax relief given on voluntary contributions by our people. Where voluntary contributions are being made to this catastrophe, and then in the broad sphere to Third World needs, they should be tax free. People are very generous. We were discussing last night the question of the [1162] development of Dublin in the context of it being designated the European cultural capital and it was mentioned that 100 per cent tax incentive were being given in Temple Bar. I cannot see why we cannot respond in a similar fashion when we are talking about giving tax relief to people concerned about providing succour and assistance to those who are in great need and who are in danger of losing their lives through hunger.

All the resources possible should be made available. The Government should ensure that supplies are delivered. We have heard how Guinness Peat aviation has made itself available. We have heard how the Irish Red Cross has made itself available. But we should assume that Aer Lingus put their facilities at the disposal of voluntary organisations for the transport of food and clothing collected by those voluntary organisations.

The Government are today inviting here the leader of the Government in South Africa, a country against whom we have had sanctions because of their infringement of human rights over the decades. We are now receiving that President, and by implication that country, into the community of nations by giving that country our imprimatur, by issuing an invitation to the President of that country to come here. On the one hand, we are still taking the high ground against Saddam Hussein and are suddenly recognising that Saddam Hussein is the great monster. We have only recognised that since the Gulf War. On the other hand, although the security laws in South Africa have not been abolished, though there is no secret ballot, though there is no one person, one vote, we are at the same time bringing that country into the community of nations. Why are we doing it? The same principle seems——

Professor Conroy: It is disgraceful to compare President De Klerk, who has done so much, to Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Costello: We did business with [1163] Saddam Hussein prior to the Gulf War. We turned a blind eye to the abuses that were there. We are now prepared to do business with South Africa while all of the——

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: The Senator's time is up.

Mr. Costello: That is hypocrisy.

Professor Conroy: The hypocrisy is the Senator's.

Mr. Mooney: I am rather saddened that Senator Costello should attempt to introduce partisan politics into what is essentially an appalling human disaster. I have, reluctantly, to be drawn briefly into the political debate that he has obviously initiated for his own reasons and his party's reasons. It is disgraceful that he should compare the reforms which are currently undergoing debate and completion in South Africa with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and to suggest, as he has done, that it has only been since the Gulf War that people have been aware of Saddam Hussein's shortcomings. I find that to be an incredible statement. Perhaps it gives some indication of the paucity of the argument that Senator Costello has been putting forward if he suggests for a moment that the people of this country or the people in this House have not been aware of the dictator Saddam Hussein and of the outrageous genocide that he has inflicted on the people of Kurdistan——


Mr. Mooney: To suggest for a moment that it is a recent conversion and that people in this country were not aware is an outrageous statement to make. Obviously, Senator Costello wants to have a political argument and I am not going to be led down that road. I came into this House to add my voice to the [1164] saner voices on all sides of the House that have complimented the humanitarian efforts that have been carried out by the Government and the voluntary agencies. It is to the everlasting credit of the Irish people that they have risen magnificently to the calls from the various relief agencies over the last couple of weeks to attempt in some small way to minimise the human conflict that has developed out there and the appalling results of that conflict that one has witnessed on the television screens over the last few weeks.

I want firstly to address myself to that aspect of it. As someone pointed out in one of the newspapers in the last couple of days, the response of the Irish people has evoked a folk memory of the Famine times. I could not help but think of how history has a strange way of repeating itself, sometimes in reverse. I remember growing up reading about the Famine times. One of the countries that stood out as having helped Ireland in her moment of need, way back in that black winter of 1847, was Turkey by providing ships with grain and maize for the Irish peasant population of the time. Although it has taken 150 years to repay that generosity the efforts of the humanitarian agencies in this country along the Turkish/Iraq border and the aid being given to the Turkish Government is 150 years later, a small gesture of thanks to the Turkish people.

What I would like to address now is Ireland's role in the general political debate which arises as a result of the initiative to create an enclave of protection within Iraq policed by the British and American Governments through their armies. I have to put on record that I have been somewhat concerned over the last few months — and this concern has been heightened by the Gulf War and its aftermath — at what I see as a certain lack of enthusiasm on the part of the Irish Government to initiate its own attitudes and policies. Time and again I have read of statements being made through the [1165] Department of Foreign Affairs that Ireland is working in co-operation with its European neighbours on political co-operation, that we are acting with one voice and we will fall in with the European view of what is happening in the Gulf and the political settlements that must flow from the conflict in that region.

I say “concern”. I do not wish it to be interpreted as a criticism, because foreign policy is something that is a continuity, if you wish. Ireland has a traditional neutral role. The ongoing debates in Europe on economic and political co-operation are relatively new to us as a separate nation. We are having to come to terms with a diminution of our sovereignty in a variety of areas as a result of our accession to the EC and, more recently, the acceptance of the Single European Act. It is an area fraught with danger and complexities.

Sometimes, as an Irishman, I feel that on some issues Ireland should take a unilateral stand. I hasten to defend that proposal, before I am attacked for being anti-European or for not wishing to fall within the folds of European political co-operation, by stating that several of the major countries in Europe such as France and Britain have acted in their own interests whenever certain issues have come before them. Indeed, up to the very day prior to the start of the Gulf War the French had unilaterally opened negotiations between Baghdad and Paris. The British have also acted in a unilateral fashion, particularly to strengthen their close relationship in the NATO alliance between America and Britain rather than looking eastwards to their European partners. It would not be a matter of grave concern if Ireland were to not only identify its own national interests but were to propound those interests.

I will be more specific. As a result of the relationship which has built up between this country and certain Middle East countries, such as Iraq, Iran particularly and Saudi Arabia to a lesser extent, Ireland has a good name in the Middle East. It has a respected name. It has [1166] credibility. It is not seen to be a post-colonial power. It is seen from its history to have had the same struggles as many of the Middle Eastern countries who emerged as a result of lines being drawn on maps at the same time as a line was being drawn on the map of this country in the early part of the century. The excellent work of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, acting in concert with the Government as a whole, has reaped enormous benefits for us as a nation among Middle Eastern countries. This could not have been more manifestly felt than the visit in the last few days of the Iranian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Velayati. Therefore, I would like to suggest, in the most modest and humble way I can as a Member of this House, that we should attempt to build on those contacts and on that credibility by initiating rather than following policy that will help at least to lead to a stabilisation of the situation in the Middle East. For example, Iran has been treated in the most hostile fashion by Western Governments as a result of the Khomeni revolution and the post-Shah situation in that country. Ireland throughout the eighties maintained a chargés d'affaires in Teheran. For some time it withdrew, in concert with its European partners. I believe we have far greater clout in Tehran as a Western nation than many of our larger neighbours. I would have thought that Ireland, acting through the United Nations and through the Committee for Political Co-operation in Europe, would have taken the initiative in attempting to strongly influence a change in policy towards Iran among the larger more powerful nations.

There seemed, for example, to have been great enthusiasm for providing humanitarian aid, military deployment and all of the paraphernalia of modern technology to Turkey to aid the Kurdish refugees on the Turkish side of the Iraq border. However, there are, I understand, over one million Kurdish refugees in Iran; yet there did not seem — I repeat “seem” — to be the same enthusiasm for [1167] helping the Iranian Government because they were not seen to be part of the cosy Western club.

That is one area. I believe that the creation of the protective enclave in north-eastern Iraq is the beginning of an autonomous Kurdistan. I welcome that development. I unequivocally and unambiguously welcome the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan state. I do so as an Irishman, and aware of our history in this regard. I do not believe that it is a position anybody from this country should feel embarrassed about. In fact, we should positively welcome it. The Kurds are, like the Irish, a separate cultural national entity. It is unfortunate — because they have become the flotsam of history — that they are spread over three of four countries rather than being a homogenous grouping within one country. Obviously, big power politics do not wish to see a destabilisation not only within Iraq but also in the Soviet Union, Syria and in Iran where there are large elements of Kurds.

If one is to believe the recent developments, the meeting of Kurdish leaders in Baghdad in the last couple of days would seem to indicate that the despicable Hussein regime is beginning at last to come to terms with the reality of their situation. I hope Ireland will have a major role to play in developing this line of political action within the European Community and, more importantly, within the United Nations. Time and time again we have been reminded that Ireland has a proud role within the United Nations. However, I repeat the little concern I have that sometimes it is perceived that Ireland does not take a more unilateral view of things where the big powers are involved.

It would be in our long term interests if we were to develop our own foreign policy attitude to countries outside the EC without in any way disrupting the [1168] process towards full economic and political union. After all, every other country in Europe and every other country in the western world, starting with the United States have always looked after their own interests first when the chips were down. Let nobody be under any illusions that the decision to send in troops to oust Iraq from Kuwait has as much to do with protecting regional interests and the balance of power in the Middle East as it had to do with humanitarian motives.

I am glad that this debate has taken place. It is important for us as a nation that we are seen to be identifiably separate, that our foreign policy is not hitched to the wagon of some other entity. Debates such as this should be more frequent in this House because we need more open and regular debate on Ireland's role in international affairs. Towards that end I welcome the speculation rife in the media over the last few weeks that we will soon see the creation of a foreign affairs committee. I am glad to have had the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I hope that the appalling plight of the Kurdish people will soon be ended.

Mrs. Jackman: It is ironic that earlier today we talked about our suffering and misery as a result of the crippling effects of the ESB strike. The Kurds would surely see the situation we are exposed to as heavenly when their tremendous suffering is compared with ours. We listened this morning to the harrowing and horrific accounts of returned journalists. One particular journalist said he despaired. He could not adopt his usual professional journalistic stance of not being involved but felt he had to cry out in support of those people. He conjured up pictures of dying children — not dying of famine but dying of the cold, which is something that we cannot accept — of mass inside graves which he believed will be washed away by rains and probably will never be there as even a little sign of [1169] what has happened in that country; of distraught people pushing pathetic little pieces of paper towards the journalists saying, could they please inform their relatives in Australia, Germany, the United States, that they once existed. It is very sad. Fathers grovelling on the ground, as we have seen in newspaper photographs, preparing little graves for their beloved children. It is interesting that we are supposed to see the world as a global village. I would say that there has been little or no knowledge of the Kurdish people within our Irish consciousness until, like the Ethiopian tragedy and the tragedy of the Sudan, we were forced to look at our television screens and see the devastation throughout our global village.

I suppose over 20 million people identify themselves as Kurds. It is mind-boggling relative to our population of 3.4 million. They speak the Kurdish language. Their homeland is the mountains where three country boundaries meet, those of Turkey, Iraq and Iran. They have been persecuted since the 1920s. Thousands of them have fled from their homes in Turkey, Iran and Iraq to other countries in the Middle East and in Europe. It is interesting that quite a big percentage of the migrant population working in Germany are Kurds, so they are contributing to the wealth of Europe and they are a forgotten statistic. I am just looking at their population numbers. There are ten million to 12 million in Turkey; four million in Iran; three million in Iraq; 700,000 in Syria and 100,000 in the Soviet Union. Since the Gulf War you have had a mass exodus of 400,000 refugees arriving in Turkey and 700,000 arriving in Iran. Of course, we know the Syrian border is closed to them.

When they reached the Turkish area they were forced to make journeys crammed like sheep in coal lorries. Perhaps this animal-like treatment is a ploy to make them return to their own country, but it is again ironic to look at what is happening in Europe. The European [1170] Parliament at the moment is passing legislation about the transportation of animals which would not permit animals the kind of conditions that these Kurds have been made to face. Our individual response, and the Government's response has been mentioned by many Senators here. There is no doubt about it that we automatically and instinctively respond to famine. It is etched in the folk memory of the Irish people. Once the trigger was pulled you had supermarkets being allocated to collectors. You had children, old people, young people, male and female, thronging to give their money. There was no question this time of putting the box towards them; they thronged to support. I was glad that the Minister referred today to moneys that have come from the Government; and, of course, we would wish that more could be given. It is interesting to listen to Fr. Finnucane's response to famine. Fr. Finnucane, with his experience of work in the Sudan and in Ethiopia, found that this was the most atrocious situation he had ever been exposed to. I suppose with that coming from a man who has been so involved, we cannot but be alerted to the tremendous problems facing them.

There is the sadness, I suppose, that the problems of Ethiopia and the Sudan will pale into insignificance; and, despite our humanitarian approach and our sympathy, this appears to be the situation throughout the world. During the Gulf War Ethiopia and Sudan went off the political stage. I would hope that the plight of the Kurds will not pale into insignificance as some other major catastrophe takes precedence on the world stage.

Because of the shortness of time I end with some questions. This is for the future when perhaps the immediate problems of the Kurds have been addressed through the relief organisations like the Red Cross, as a result of the response of the United Nations, Europe, the United States and countries such as ours. I would [1171] pose these questions; are the Kurds condemned to be the new Palestinians? Are they just an orphan nation uprooted from their homelands? They are scattered in exile, dumped in camps, left to rot while the world loses interest. Hopefully, this will not be the future of the 500,000 refugees from Saddam's gunships who were left to freeze on the hillsides and mountains in unspeakable conditions.

I suppose we respond because, like our history, Kurdish history is one of betrayal and of suffering; it is one of rebellion and of repression. This latest mass exodus is the final stage of a tragedy that began — and we would want to remember this — after the first world war when the western powers refused to honour promises to create a unified independent Kurdistan. It has continued with sporadic revolts and guerilla campaigns by Kurds in both Iran, Turkey and Iraq until Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas at Halabja in 1988 raised the spectrum of genocide. All of this was going on and we were unaware of it, except for some people who have an interest in problems of the Third World and minority groups — Amnesty etc.

I would pose the final question: will tossing powdered milk and blankets out of helicopters, do anything except salvage our conscience and ease President Bush's embarrassment? I hope this will not go off the political stage of our so-called global village and that much more will be done to ensure that the Kurds do not become the forgotten people, the people that nobody wants.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: When is it proposed that the House sit again.

Professor Conroy: It is proposed to sit at 12 noon next Wednesday, 1 May 1991.