357. Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if Ireland is doing enough to combat the refugee crisis in Syria and although Irish Aid has distributed humanitarian aid if more vocal and progressive action is needed at European Union level and at international level to combat some of the dreadful atrocities being committed within Syria, which in turn is contributing to the refugee crisis and persons fleeing their homeland. (Question 11881/16 asked on 24 May 2016)

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): It has been over five years since the start of the conflict in Syria, and the suffering of the Syrian people has become a defining crisis of this generation. An estimated 400,000 people have been killed, and some 13.5 million people within Syria need humanitarian assistance. The UN estimates that more than 4.8 million Syrians have now fled to neighbouring countries. The Syria crisis threatens the sovereignty, stability and national unity of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan through a massive refugee crisis.

A peaceful solution to this conflict is essential. The Assad regime has consistently sought to undermine all avenues which could lead to a political solution, repeatedly choosing further violence against its own population over an inclusive political solution. Alleviating the suffering of the millions of Syrians affected by the actions of the regime, and by the crimes of Daesh and other terrorist groups, is a priority for Ireland and for the EU.

Negotiations within a UN framework offer the best avenue for action, and an early resumption of UN-sponsored negotiations is central to progress on the core issue of a political transition, and, ultimately, to achieving a political solution. Ireland strongly endorses the efforts of the United Nations to renew peace negotiations based on the 2012 Geneva communique principles and UN Security Council Resolution 2254. These principles include the ending of violence, the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive powers and a constitutional reform process which would protect Syria’s multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian character. With our EU partners, and at the UN, Ireland will continue to support all efforts for a peaceful solution to the interlinked conflicts across the region. I discussed these issues with my EU colleagues at the Foreign Affairs Council yesterday, underlining the need for a clear EU voice and strong EU policies on achieving a political solution and addressing the humanitarian crisis.

In addition to action at EU level, I believe that there must also be legal accountability for victims of the Syrian conflict and in 2014 Ireland co-sponsored a resolution called for referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

This war has given rise to a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented scale. The UN has appealed for over $7.7 billion in humanitarian funding for 2016 alone. The European Union and its Member States have together mobilised more than €5 billion since the onset of the crisis. At the London Syria Conference in February 2016, the EU and its Member States pledged a further €3 billion to meet the needs of the Syrian people.

Ireland has pledged €20 million in support for the Syria crisis this year, which will bring Ireland’s total humanitarian assistance to Syria to €62 million since 2012. We are working with our UN, EU, Red Cross and NGO partners to maximise the effectiveness and impact of this funding. In allocating Irish Aid funding, I have sought to balance the needs of those inside Syria, particularly in besieged and hard-to-reach areas, with the needs of those who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Ireland is strongly committed to providing ongoing humanitarian support, which is crucial to alleviating suffering, but aid cannot by itself resolve the crisis. I call on all parties, including all members of the International Syria Support Group, to support the UN’s efforts and to commit themselves to work for a nationwide ceasefire, and for a negotiated peace agreement which will protect the rights of the Syrian people and which will preserve the pluralistic character, unity and sovereignty of a free and democratic Syria at peace.