Belfast Telegraph

Local MPs in 'wait and see' strategy over vote on Syria

BY JOANNE SWEENEY

Prime Minister David Cameron cannot rely on Northern Ireland MPs to support military action in response to the Syrian crisis, it has been claimed.

Tomorrow's emergency debate in the House of Commons will set out the Government's main arguments for its response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria, Mr Cameron said on Tuesday.

He stressed that any decision would have to be "proportionate and legal".

However, elected representatives from the DUP, SDLP and Alliance parties have adopted and "wait and see" policy as to what the Government may suggest in its motion.

While the Prime Minister launched a passionate lobby for taking action against Syria for using chemical weapons, the view from Northern Ireland MPs last night was to tread carefully as the ramifications of taking any military action could lead to major conflict in the already volatile Middle East.

Reacting to the recent appalling television scenes of civilians killed by the chemical weapons, Mr Cameron said: "Let me stress to people, this is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria, or going further into that conflict.

"It's about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world should not stand idly by."

Jeffrey Donaldson from the DUP, the only Northern Ireland MP who sits on the Government's defence committee, said his party would be "keeping an open mind" when it came to voting in the debate and did not rule out support for "limited military action".

"Our support for military action cannot be taken for granted, but we are not ruling anything in or out at this stage," he said.

"We will take a view once we have heard the full motion and arguments tomorrow.

"We are very wary of supporting any action to put troops on the ground at this stage but may take the view to support taking some limited military action to take out chemical weapons capacity from the Syrian regime in a way that does not place civilian lives at risk.

"But we are keeping an open mind and will listen very carefully to what the Prime Minister has to say in Parliament before coming to a decision on this as a party."

Mr Donaldson did not know exactly how many of his party's seven other MPs would be at the debate due to holidays.

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie also spoke of the "unestimable bloodshed and impact on the Syrian nation that a UK-backed military action could provoke" and urged the Government to "tread carefully". She said her party would be calling instead for a major humanitarian aid effort to help the millions of Syrians displaced and for an international peace plan to be put in action.

She said: "I talked in June about humanitarian aid being the key in all of this in not going the road of military action. Whilst none of us could help but be moved by the harrowing scenes of the poor dead children and the 2.1m displaced Syrians, we would not be supporting military action, but we really won't know what the options will be until the PM speaks."

Naomi Long, Alliance MP for East Belfast, confirmed that she would be returning from holiday to attend the debate.

She said: "I share the horror and revulsion of the vast majority of people when they see the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria and particularly the images of civilians being subjected to chemical weapons.

"However, I remain unconvinced that military intervention is the right course of action in this case and will be listening carefully to the arguments put forward on Thursday."

Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon was unavailable for comment.

BACKGROUND

The Syrian conflict started in 2011 claiming an estimated 100,000 lives, with more than two million made homeless. Syria is thought to have the world's third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons. More than 300 people are believed left dead by the latest chemical incident, which both sides are blaming on each other.

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