Syria: Coveney ‘understands’ need for US, UK and France air strikes

Anyone seeing images of chemical attack in Douma would be ‘sick to their stomach’

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill


Simon Coveney can “understand” why the US, France and Britain carried out air strikes against Syria over the weekend, he has said.

The 105 missiles were launched in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Syria a week ago, targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs said anyone seeing the images from Douma just over a week ago would be “sick to their stomach” and the international community needed to respond “in a very robust and comprehensive way”.

But he added he would have preferred an agreed United Nations response to chemical attacks in Syria, including war crime prosecutions.

“I think the international community has to be strong on this issue,” he said.

“I would have much preferred it was the UN taking robust action in terms of accountability, independent inspections and taking legal prosecutions after investigation on the basis of in international war crimes.

“But that clearly hasn’t been possible, yet anyway, through the UN, so I can understand why the targeted military action happened, but it wasn’t something that Ireland was involved in.”

Mr Coveney remained guarded in his response to Friday night’s offensive on Syrian research, storage and military targets, saying he wanted to hear more about “the detail and the justification”.

France and Britain are expected to brief other countries at a European Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Luxembourg later on Monday.

Lesser of two evils

But Mr Coveney described the air strikes on suspected chemical bases as “thought through” and said “many people would accept” the action was the lesser of two evils.

“The information I have is that they were very targeted, there were warnings given beforehand, there hasn’t been casualties, but they were targeted so that would send a very strong signal that chemical attacks are totally unacceptable, in any circumstances, but in particular when targeting women and children,” he told Newstalk’s Breakfast show on Monday.

He said: “From an Irish perspective we would like to see (a response) happening through the UN security council, but we have seen over and over again motions coming before the UN security council in relation to Syria being vetoed by Russia.”

Mr Coveney said there was no evidence any of the countries involved, including Russia, wanted to further escalate tensions in the region.

The Government has already pointedly not criticised the missile attacks. In a carefully worded statement on the air strikes over the weekend, the Department of Foreign Affairs, where Mr Coveney is Minister, said when chemical attacks such as that on Douma were mounted, it was “natural” to respond with deterrent action.

The spokesman for the department stopped short of expressly supporting the action, mounted by the US, France and the UK. “There are no good answers on how to address the horrible situation in Syria,” he said.

“When something like this happens, it is natural to want to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

He said Ireland continued to urge caution by all parties. “The Syria conflict ultimately requires a political solution; that is the only way to bring peace,” he said.

The spokesman said Ireland was very strong and clear in condemning the use of chemical weapons. “We were horrified by the attacks in Douma just over a week ago,” he said.