125. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the extent to which the most serious locations of war, famine, genocide and abuse of human rights remain a concern for the EU and UN and global communities with particular reference to targeting specific areas such as use of child soldiers, abuse of women and children and in general the civilian populations; if any success has been achieved in restricting the supply of arms to the locations most seriously affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 36556/16 asked on 23 Nov 2016)

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I propose to take Questions Nos. 118 and 125 together.

The locations currently experiencing war, starvation, genocide, violence against women and children, and the use of child soldiers remain a constant concern to the EU, UN and wider global community.

The priorities set out following the Foreign Policy Review in ‘The Global Island’ recognise that we are increasingly confronted by an array of challenges that have little precedent in recent decades, either in range or in seriousness. The complexity and cross-cutting nature of global challenges demand a coordinated approach, in particular at the international level. Ireland’s support for a fairer, more just, more secure and more sustainable world through our development programme, human rights policies, peacekeeping, disarmament and security policies, finds expression in our active engagement in the development of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy and our participation in the work of the United Nations. Regional organisations are also playing an ever more important role.

As I have said many times, these crises will continue if the root causes of conflict - political instability, inequality, and poverty in countries of origin - remain unresolved. Ireland will continue to play its role in responding to crisis and emergency situations, while not ignoring the underlying factors. Investment in conflict prevention and an increased focus on post-conflict reconciliation and other forms of peacebuilding demonstrate Ireland’s more nuanced approach to achieving sustainable peace.

Promoting stability and supporting efforts towards peace and security in parts of Africa, Asia and the Middle East continue to require and receive major international attention. UN-authorised peacekeeping missions have a major role in stabilising former and current conflict zones throughout both regions and in protecting vulnerable populations.

Ireland has a long-standing tradition of contributing to UN and EU peace-support missions. Ireland currently participates in seven UN peacekeeping missions. The majority of the 548 Irish UN peacekeepers currently deployed overseas are serving at the three UN missions in the Middle East while smaller numbers are deployed to missions in Africa and Eastern Europe.

The EU also takes a leading role in peacekeeping operations, conflict prevention and in the strengthening of international security in support of the United Nations, through the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Crisis management missions are established under the CSDP in order to prevent the initiation or renewal of conflict and to help societies or fragile states to recover from violent conflict. At present, the EU operates 17 CSDP missions across Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Ireland has been a strong supporter of the Common Security and Defence Policy since its inception. We currently deploy both military and civilian personnel to a total of 8 CSDP missions across Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. My Department currently seconds 11 Experts to 6 civilian CSDP missions.

The UN is very active in the area of child soldiers, particularly through the work of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui. Since the launch in March 2014 of the ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ campaign, significant steps have been taken toward the goal of ending and preventing recruitment of child soldiers.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, on Women, Peace and Security, and seven subsequent bolstering resolutions, have brought increased focus to issues such as sexual violence in conflict, and women’s participation in decision making. Ireland’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security reflects the importance of these issues and has ensured that gender perspectives have been incorporated in Ireland’s work in humanitarian and development aid, peace-keeping, post-conflict activities and interventions.

Almost 65 million people are now displaced globally, half of them children, and the great majority of them living in situations of conflict.

In addition to these emergencies, this year the El Niño effect has also had a significant impact in many countries, most notably in Africa, leading to threats to food security and a spike in humanitarian need. UN Agencies and the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, or CERF, are key in providing humanitarian assistance. Ireland is currently the eighth largest donor to the CERF. The EU also has mechanisms to respond to the crises through the European Development Fund and the EU humanitarian budget.

Ireland is committed to working with a range of partners including non-governmental and UN organisations, and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The development of Ireland’s Rapid Response Initiative, established to support the broader Humanitarian Reform Process in 2006, is an operational tool to supplement these efforts. The Rapid Response Initiative consists of two key elements - the Rapid Response Corps, a roster of highly experienced and specialized personnel for deployment at short notice to emergency situations; and stockpiling, the pre-positioning and transportation of essential relief supplies into crises through the UN Humanitarian Response Depots (UNHRD) network. Over 350 tonnes of supplies were airlifted into crises so far in 2016, and 37 rapid responders have been deployed as surge capacity to UN partners’ emergency response operations this year.

Ireland pursues a strategic and comprehensive approach to countries in Africa facing challenging humanitarian, conflict, or human rights situations. Informed by the Africa Strategy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and One World, One Future, our policy for international development, this approach encompasses political and diplomatic engagement, humanitarian assistance, support for peacekeeping operations, and development cooperation programming. Engagement at the international level, in particular through the UN, regional bodies and within the EU, is at the heart of this approach.

Ireland is committed to supporting the recovery efforts and successful transition of countries emerging from conflict or significant and protracted humanitarian crises. The announcement in 2013 that Sierra Leone would become one of Irish Aid’s key partner countries is a testament to this commitment.

Ireland’s total humanitarian assistance to global crises reached some €140 million in 2015, and four of the five countries receiving the largest share of this aid were in Africa. This level of funding will be maintained in 2016, in response to unprecedented levels of humanitarian need. When the first ever World Humanitarian Summit took place in Istanbul earlier this year, President Higgins, who led the Irish delegation, spoke passionately on Ireland’s commitment to humanitarian action. In addition, my colleague, Minister of State McHugh, made 35 specific commitments on Ireland’s behalf to achieving more sustainable and effective humanitarian action.

Disarmament and non-proliferation are a major focus for Ireland’s foreign policy and the issue of illegal and irresponsible transfers of weapons to conflict regions is a very serious one. For this reason the successful negotiation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) which aims to end such transfers has been a major focus for Ireland over the last few years and I welcomed its early entry into force in December 2014. Successful implementation and universalisation of the ATT remain the best means of ensuring that the flow of arms transfers to conflict areas should decrease in the future. Ireland therefore will continue to prioritize and use every opportunity to advance the ATT and its aims, including in our bilateral contacts. The ATT is also a priority for the European Union.