I would like to start today joining with the Taoiseach on expressing my deepest sympathy and that of my party to the people of Belgium following the horrific inhumane and barbaric bombings at Brussels Airport and Malbec Metro station earlier this morning . There are reports that many lives have been lost and many more injured.
The attack at Malbec is adjacent to the main European institutions and we deeply condemn these terrorist attacks at the heart of European democracy.We stand united with Brussels and the people of Belgium against these terrorists.
In March five years ago a group of Syrian teenagers were arrested and tortured for writing graffiti which called for democracy in their country. The mass demonstrations which this caused were brutally suppressed and the cycle of violence which is now called the Syrian Civil War began. It has become the greatest humanitarian crisis in recent history.
Instead of engaging with its people the Assad regime chose to brutally suppress them. As the United Nations has stated, from the very beginning war crimes have been committed, including the regular use of chemical weapons denounced as barbaric 100 years ago when deployed in the First World War.
The role which Russia, Iran and Hezbollah played in 2011 and 2012 in supporting Assad in his refusal to follow a UN path to peace has been disastrous, and their targeting of attacks against moderate forces has helped the most repressive and radicalised elements to strengthen their position.
This conflict is unfortunately testament to the weakening of international institutions and international cooperation in recent years. The use of Russian warplanes to bomb moderate forces, including Kurdish fighters who were successfully engaging the barbaric IS group, is something even its most uncritical apologists have struggled to justify.
Hopefully the peace talks will finally begin in a serious way – however the first and absolute priority has to be to aid the victims of the conflict.
Over 250,000 people have been killed. 11 million people have been displaced, of whom over 4½ million have left for other countries. They live in desperate situations. With at best basic accommodation and none of the social or economic facilities which might give them hope.
There is no question why there is a refugee crisis. People in search for a future are leaving their homes and leaving the camps. The current pressures being faced in Europe are the inevitable outcome of five years of growing despair.
When you look at the scale of the crisis and the appalling humanitarian catastrophe which is involved the outcome of last week’s Summit is at best inadequate and at worst shameful.
The core agreement at the summit focused solely on trying to stop the main migration route to Europe through tougher border enforcement. This is to be achieved primarily through Turkey preventing people from leaving in return for which the Turkish government is to receive a range of long-sought demands.
I will return to this deal in a moment, but the first thing that has to be said is that it is incredible that nearly two days was spent discussing the refugee crisis after which a communique was produced which makes almost no reference to the single most important factor why these refugees are fleeing to Europe – which is of course the conditions they are living in having fled their homes.
The absolute priority should be an emergency programme to ensure decent conditions for refugees. Unfortunately this is not the priority. The United Nations and relief agencies continue to struggle for funding. They are pushed to the very limit to provide basic shelter, food and safe water for millions.
There is a basic moral duty on us and on all countries to step up and do more. We cannot and we must not agree with the idea that our focus should be just those who are seeking refuge in Europe.
Ireland is doing proportionately more than others, but this is not enough. I believe we should immediately review our support programme, both our direct aid to organisations and the funding we provide through international bodies. We should work with other countries to set, cost and deliver at least basic standards of provision.
Fianna Fáil continues to support increased funding for aiding the victims of the horrific conflict and we call upon the government to prepare proposals in conjunction with the main relief organisations for how this can be done.
In addition, we believe that a further expansion in EU humanitarian support should be tabled at the Foreign Affairs Council.
The deal with Turkey concerning the handling of refugees seeking to travel to Greece was the dominant topic at this Summit. What has emerged is highly unlikely to deliver significant benefits and it runs the risk of causing very serious damage to core principles of the European Union.
Discouraging people from taking highly dangerous sea journeys is reasonable. However linking this to visa-free travel for Turkish citizens and the speeding-up of accession talks for Turkey sets a dangerous precedent.
As Deputy Brendan Smith said last week, we will oppose any measure which goes against clear legal obligations. Just as importantly we insist that the European Union cannot compromise on core values which it demands of all members and of all countries that have automatic rights to access the Union.
For all of the attacks on the Union which are made by its enemies on the extreme right and extreme left, it is a community of nations which does respect the rule of law and does uphold human rights to a level unmatched elsewhere in the world. Equally, these are the very values which mean that it is to Europe that so many are looking for refuge rather than to the countries which seek to undermine Europe.
There is no way of looking at recent developments in Turkey and saying that it is upholding core democratic values. The closing down of critical media is one part of what appears to be a growing intolerance to democratic debate.
We must all stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey against the recent terrorist attacks. They and their government are entitled to take strong action against people who clearly have no respect for the lives of innocent people.
However, as has been shown elsewhere, the most effective way that a democracy can combat terrorists is by upholding the rule of law.
Fianna Fáil is extremely concerned about developments in relation to the Kurdish population. The winning of seats in parliament by a party primarily backed by Kurds should have been welcomed as a positive development but was unfortunately treated as a threat.
A long-term, sustainable peace in Turkey requires a return to negotiations between the government and the main organisations representing the Kurdish people. The role of the PKK in fighting IS in Syria and Iraq is one which shows that it is an organisation which cannot be dismissed.
Very few commentators have suggested that this deal will play a decisive role in reducing the number of refugees seeking to journey to Europe. What all have agreed is that elements of the deal have nothing whatsoever to do with refugees. However you want to describe these demands by Turkey the decision to agree to them makes last week’s Summit one which will not have an honourable place in the history of the Union.
In relation to agriculture matters, they will be dealt with by Deputy O Cuiv later today. The other items on the Summit’s agenda were merely formal. Leaders failed to have a substantive discussion about economic policy even though there are enormous concerns about deflationary pressures. The decision of the ECB to go further with extraordinary measures to try to lift economic demand should have caused some comments – yet the decision was to just keep ploughing on.
A number of countries including Italy and France have raised concerns with how the current fiscal rules are being applied and there have been calls for greater flexibility to be shown. Ireland should be supporting them in this, rather than quietly going along with an approach which has manifestly failed to return Europe to sustainable growth.
Ireland is doing well because of the core strengths of its economy built up over decades. It would perhaps have helped the outgoing government if it had spent less time trying to sell a cynical story of post 2011 deliverance and more time talking about the long-term sources of growth for our country.
We have unfortunately been strong advocates for an orthodoxy of ‘austerity for all’ which has not worked. There are countries and circumstances where it is avoidable – but there are others where an expansionary approach such as that seen in the United States could be implemented and would work.
Europe has been badly served by leaders going quietly along with pre-determined and inflexible plans.
We still need leaders wiling to show the level of urgency and ambition capable of addressing the social, economic and now humanitarian crises facing our countries.