Excerpt from the statement by the Taoiseach, Mr Bertie Ahern in Dáil Éireann on Tuesday, September 18, 2001, in regard to Terrorist Attacks in the United States of America
A Cheann Chomhairle.
I wish to thank you and the leaders of the Opposition Parties for responding so promptly to the Government's request to convene this special session of Dáil Éireann. It is important that the House would have the opportunity to express, on behalf of the Irish Nation that we represent, our sorrow and outrage at the terrible and evil events that have occurred in the United States.
This day, one week ago, is a day that will never, ever, be forgotten. It was, in the words of one commentator, one of those moments in which history splits, and we define the world as "before" and "after". In short, last Tuesday is likely to mark a clear and shockingly defined moment in history.
We are gathered to express our sympathy for the very many victims and our condemnation of the barbarous acts of terrorism. On behalf of the Government and the Irish people, I wish to express the deepest heartfelt sympathy with the families of the victims, many of whom are Irish or of Irish descent. We also come together to express our solidarity with the President and Congress of the United States of America and with the entire American people. It is also appropriate that we take the opportunity to express our readiness to co-operate in any way within our power to bring the perpetrators of this crime against humanity to justice and to ensure that never again, can there be a recurrence of the horror that has unfolded before our eyes over this past, terrible week.
I believe, a Cheann Comhairle, that it is true to say that the whole human family has been engulfed by such a sense of disbelief over this past week. We have, all of us, seen mass murder and tragedy on a truly universal scale. We have all been struggling to come to terms with the enormity of this disaster.
We have seen pictures of frightful scenes as people fell to their deaths from the upper floors of the World Trade Centre in New York. We have also heard with shock the accounts of airliners hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon and Pennsylvania. And we cannot even imagine the fate of those caught in the infernos that so quickly developed or who were crushed beneath hundreds of thousands of tons of rubble as the twin towers collapsed.
Our hearts go out to the victims and their families and to the American people, as we have seen and heard the appalling scenes unfolding on our TV screens and heard the many stories of fortunate escape or of family members and friends lost for ever. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people at this time. For this was an attack not only on the leading democracy in the world but on all of us who uphold the values of freedom, democracy and human rights.
We have to face the probability that the number of Irish people killed in these attacks will be substantial. Already we have heard with sadness the tragic fate of Ruth Clifford McCourt and her daughter Juliana, the first Irish fatalities to be identified. That such a typical Irish family could suffer such an horrific fate at the hands of ruthless killers is a shocking indication of the effects that terrorist actions can have on ordinary people. Unfortunately, in the coming days as additional fatalities are confirmed, we, will feel again the sense of shock we felt last week. The death toll of Irish people and of Irish Americans is proof, were it needed, of the close links between our two countries.
I want to put on record our great admiration and profound respect for the men and women of the emergency services in America, not least the men and women of the police and fire departments in New York, for the heroic sacrifice made by them and their lost colleagues, for their patriotism and sense of duty, and for their complete commitment to the task of attempting to save life from this cruel, heartless act of mass murder.
In our own country, over the past thirty years, we have had many days that we etched in our memory, days which saw terrible and tragic events that have brought immense suffering, most recently at Omagh. We can, therefore, in some measure, begin to understand and empathise with the shock and pain our American friends are feeling.
Apart from the scale of the catastrophe, we were also very conscious, in arranging the National Day of Mourning, of the special and unique relationship between the Irish and American people, exemplified, by the Irish people who lost their lives, or are still missing and feared dead, as a result of last Tuesday's events. In both these senses, what we saw were attacks on our own kith and kin.
In addition to the deep personal and family links with the United States Ireland has manifold other links - trade, investment, artistic, political - but it is the intimate human ties that underpin the special and unique relationship between the Irish and American peoples. The way in which that affinity is so strongly felt by our people was clearly demonstrated by the large numbers - thousands at one stage - who queued to sign the Books of Condolences at the American Embassy and by the attendance at religious services of remembrance, both on the Day of Mourning and again on Sunday last. In the same generous spirit, many families opened their houses to American tourists who were stranded here by the closure of American airspace or offered words and gestures of comfort and solidarity to American men and women they met in street or hotel or restaurant or pub.
We all know the extent of our economic links, how so many Irish people work in US firms established here in Ireland, which has been the investment location of choice for a large number of American corporations. We know the extent of the support that the United States has given to the peace process here in Ireland and to the related political process. This was most notably seen during the two terms of President Clinton, who himself made three official visits to Ireland, North and South, in support of the process. He also, of course, sent us Senator George Mitchell to carry out the successive tasks he undertook with such distinction and success, most notably, of course, the chairing of the multi-party talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement.
US support for the peace and political process has continued undiminished under President George W. Bush. Very early in his term of office he appointed a very senior State Department diplomat, Ambassador Richard Haass as his special representative to advise and assist on Irish affairs. It was, in one way, extraordinary that I learned of the dreadful attacks last Tuesday, just as I was about to commence a meeting with Ambassador Haass, accompanied by the new US Ambassador, Mr Richard Egan, whose presence today in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery I am glad to acknowledge.
We would all dearly like to believe that last week was just a bad dream. But sadly it was not. We now have to face the new and unsettling realities that are in front of us and many other new realities that at this time we cannot even begin to contemplate. In all of this grief and mayhem it is difficult to imagine what the future will hold.
There are no excuses for last weeks outrage. There can be no justification of cold blooded murder. Crashing air liners full of innocent men, women and children into crowded office buildings is wrong and evil on an appalling scale. It cannot be justified on any grounds and we must not entertain any efforts to offer justification.
Ireland has suffered more than most at the hands of terrorism and we will play our part in the fight against this insidious evil. Events of this nature affect and threaten us all. This is not just America's problem. The entire international community must work together on this. The perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these awful deeds must be brought to justice.
The response to the events of last week must be a multilayered one. I very much welcome the discussions that the President has had with other world leaders since last Tuesday. I believe that this is indeed a time when the entire international community must stand shoulder to shoulder. The resolution passed by the UN Security Council last Wednesday was unequivocal in its condemnation of the attacks, and stressed that those responsible for aiding, supporting or harbouring the perpetrators, organisers and sponsors of these acts will be held accountable.
At the beginning of next month, Ireland will take over, for one month, the chair of the Security Council. Not for the first time, we will assume this new position at a difficult and challenging time. I can assure the House that we will discharge our responsibilities to the maximum of our energies and capabilities.
Every country has the right to self-defence under the UN Charter. The United States has wisely taken time to gather available evidence on the sources of last Tuesday's attacks and to consider the most effective and appropriate form of action in response. The temptation immediately to lash out with all available military might has been resisted. I am certain that the United States will wish to avoid civilian casualties that might indeed compound an already difficult problem. They understand the importance of ensuring that the response to these horrendous events be proportionate, measured and focused on the pursuit of justice.
In addressing the immediate crisis, the international community must also ensure that we are not sowing the seeds for even greater catastrophes in the future. It is imperative that whatever actions are taken are clearly seen as measured, as targeting terrorism at its source and based on clear evidence. This must not be allowed to be portrayed as a war of religions. It will take considerable and concerted skill and effort to ensure that this does not happen.
To conclude, a, Cheann Comhairle. We believe that the response must not be merciless. It must be measured and must not be indiscriminate. It must enhance the stature of those who carry it out - not diminish them - in the eyes of the world. It must form part of a sustained struggle to overcome global terrorism. It must be effective to neutralise organs of terrorism which supported and carried out last Tuesday's atrocities - it must be an effective deterrent to future global terrorism.
Above all, it must ensure that events like those of last Tuesday's never happen again.