Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said the international community needs to send a “clear message” to the Taliban demanding that humanitarian aid be allowed in to the country.
Speaking in Cork, the Minister also accepted Ireland does not have the same capacity as other countries in terms “of lift capacity” when dealing with situations like airlifting citizens out of Afghanistan and said “a discussion” was needed on the issue.
Mr Coveney stressed the international community now needs to look to see how it can negotiate to ensure those who want to leave Afghanistan will be allowed to.
“The US are issuing a statement today to that effect and they have the support of many other countries including Ireland,” Mr Coveney said.
“We are calling on the Taliban to ensure that nationals from other countries around the world who want to leave Afghanistan should be facilitated safely to do the and indeed many Afghans who want to leave should of course be entitled to do that as well. That is a human right that should be respected in terms of international law.
“This is a very fluid changing situation. Kabul airport is still controlled by the US. That will change over the coming days, and I think it will be a very volatile and difficult few days, but everybody is now thinking beyond that in term of how the international community can put pressure on the Taliban leadership to respect international law to allow citizens who want to leave to leave and also to facilitate access to humanitarian aid into Afghanistan,” he said.
The Minister said Afghanistan is a country of 38 million people where roughly 50 per cent of the population rely on some form of international humanitarian assistance.
“That aid cannot get in at the moment. The big focus for Ireland in terms of our presidency of the Security Council for the next few weeks will be trying to achieve consensus among Security Council members on a very clear message to the Taliban leadership that the international community demands access to be able to support and assist people who desperately need humanitarian assistance.
“I think are likely to see more assistance needed in Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months not less.”
The Minister said it would cost a considerable amount of money to equip the Defence Forces with the “airlift capacity” that other countries have.
“That’s expense, and if we decide to prioritise it then it’s going to cost money. We are looking at that. We have a commission that is looking at the future of the Defence Forces. A big part of that work is about capacity and they will be reporting in the next three months, so let’s wait and see what they say.”
Mr Coveney said the “real challenge” is “less about getting people on planes in the airport and much more about trying to get people safe from the streets of Kabul into the airport itself through Taliban checkpoints and then through a very difficult and chaotic situation on the outskirts of the airport itself”.
“This is why we sent a team of people to be on the ground to co-ordinate with other militaries, particularly the US, to get Irish citizens through that chaotic, difficult situation so the biggest challenge over the past 10 days has not been in getting seats on planes.
“We have many partners . . . the Germans, the Finns and the British have been very helpful. The French have been extraordinarily helpful this week as have the US. So even if we had our own plane we would have had the same challenges in terms of getting people into the airport.”
“There is a discussion that needs to be had on whether this is a strategic asset our Defence Forces needs,” the Minister said.
He added that attention has now switched to the Irish citizens and their families and Irish residents that are Afghan citizens who are still in Afghanistan.
“We will stay in close contact with them through our consular team in Abu Dhabi but also from Dublin.”
The Emergency Consular Assistance Team facilitated the evacuation of 26 Irish citizens from Kabul Airport during the recent evacuation mission, which started on Tuesday morning and finished just after 3pm on Thursday when the last of the team departed by air.
Ten people who were evacuated before the arrival of the team, which comprised two Irish diplomats and a section of the Army Ranger Wing, last week.
The Government has pledged to ensure the evacuation of 75 Irish citizens and residents who remain stranded in Afghanistan.