Thursday, 21 September 2017
10. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken and contact he has had with the Israeli ambassador in relation to the organised and pre-prepared deportation of four persons (details supplied) from Israel on 9 September 2017. [39694/17]
After midnight on 9 September, 37 people, most of whom were Irish citizens, landed in Tel Aviv for a week-long trip to the West Bank. It was a trip that some of them had been making for over a decade. By 5.30 a.m. that morning, four of those people - Elaine Daly, Stephen McCloskey, Joan Nolan and Fidelma Bonass - had been deported on spurious grounds of preventing illegal immigration and a danger to public safety. That is an outrage and I ask what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is doing in this regard.
I am aware of the deportation of the four persons Deputy Daly named. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was notified immediately by one of the individuals and we have since received letters from each of them about the incident. The leader of the group has led study groups to the West Bank for over ten years, involving a total of 17 tour groups and over 400 people. These groups met a range of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs and other interlocutors and studied issues on the ground relating to the occupation of the West Bank. As usual, she had advised the Department of the dates and itinerary of the tour in advance so that our missions would be aware of a large group of citizens touring the area.
No detailed reason for refusing admission to Israel was given to them other than a generic explanation that it was for immigration reasons and, in the case of the leader, Ms Daly, also because of unspecified public security, public safety or public order considerations. Thirty-three of the group entered Israel but unfortunately these four people were deported.
No report or allegation has ever been made to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of any legitimate concerns about the activities of these study groups. The group leader has also stated that she has never taken part in any demonstration in Palestine, nor have any of the groups' programmes included attendance at a demonstration.
Without a more specific explanation, it is difficult not to conclude that the exclusion of these persons is part of the ongoing effort to suppress scrutiny and criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank.
The Ambassador in Tel Aviv has called to the Israeli Foreign Minister and requested an explanation for this action. We are awaiting a response and I will ensure that the Deputy and the persons concerned are notified when we hear more. It is currently a Jewish high holiday so there is a delay in that process but as soon a response is received Deputy Daly and the individuals concerned will be informed.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. I strongly echo her comments that the only conclusion that can be drawn from the order was that it was an attempt by the Israeli state to avoid scrutiny of its activities in the West Bank. I reiterate that the group leader, my sister, is non-political and has never been involved in any political party, although that would not be a reason to exclude her, and has never attended any protest. She is the only Irish person to have been honoured with an honorary citizenship of Bethlehem for her work, which involves inviting people to go to the West Bank to see what goes on there and to meet Israelis and Palestinians.
Of the others who were deported, Stephen McCloskey is a director of an NGO in Belfast on educational and global studies who has published many articles and has been to Gaza many times. Joan Nolan has been to Palestine eight times. She is a community activist who does voluntary work and is non-political. Fidelma Bonass has brought Palestinian cultural groups to Ireland. It is an outrage that they were treated like this. It is a trip they make every year. Plans were made to take time off work and give up their valuable holidays in order to bring support, money to the local economy and products, clothes and assistance to women's and children's groups in Palestine. I hope the Department follows up on this issue.
As Deputy Daly is aware, the reasons given on the deportation order do not tell us anything and that is why the Department has asked for an explanation. It may be that the refusal was on foot of legislation enacted earlier this year which provided for admission to be refused to any person who has advocated or is a member of a group which has advocated a policy of boycott in relation to Israel or Israeli settlements in Palestine, known as the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS, movement. All four of the individuals were asked about alleged previous attendance at a demonstration in Palestine. However, I am not sure that either explanation was justified. I am happy to restate that the Government is not aware of any concerns about the actions of the individuals or their group such as could form a legitimate basis for concern or exclusion. We must first allow the Israeli authorities to respond to our inquiry before commenting definitively but it does not currently appear that there was any legitimate reason for those persons' expulsion.
I appreciate that the Minister of State and the Department have responded promptly. I am very glad to hear that. I hope that is followed through because I am satisfied there will not be any contradictory evidence that would legitimately prohibit these people from visiting the West Bank. If one considers that this is how Irish citizens with valid Irish passports are treated for supposed immigration offences, it gives one an idea of the daily struggle that Palestinian citizens suffer in that region at the hand of the Israeli state. To scream and shout at a man and three mature women - I hope they are not insulted by that categorisation - who have never been involved in any difficulty before is outrageous.
The work those people have done is very important. As the Minister of State said, over 400 Irish people have taken part in those visits with no agenda other than for people to see the situation in Palestine with their own eyes. I hope that when a response comes from the Israeli authorities it can be followed up because it is interesting that hundreds of Israelis get visas to come and work in this State every year and they are not treated in that manner. It was disgraceful.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle. I offer my support and that of Fianna Fáil for what has been outlined by Deputy Daly. When I was contacted by two of those affected, who are constituents of mine, I contacted Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on foreign affairs, who in turn contacted the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the ambassador.
Human rights and their infringement have to be hugely important for all Members. It is unacceptable that these four people who have given so much time to support Palestinians and make the world aware of the problems there were deported. I have been to Palestine and Israel. It is very important that the message of what is happening in Palestine gets out to the world. The four people that were deported have been doing a huge service for us all.
Approximately 25 years ago I organised for a group of young people from Kildare to go to Northern Ireland to see the unionist and nationalist traditions and areas. I was reminded of that when Ms Elaine Daly contacted me in regard to her deportation. I could have been stopped from going into Northern Ireland because I had organised that fact-finding mission. I would have found that appalling and a huge breach of my rights.
I stand with Deputy Daly in regard to everything she has said.
Deportation officials in Ireland have the same rights as any other deportation officials to make a call. As a Government, however, we need to closely observe what has happened here and the fact they are possibly pursuing a more aggressive policy on deportations. This impacts on the four individuals now. They may apply to return to Israel in the future but we expect that they would be excluded again.
Looking at the bigger picture, this Government has on several occasions commented on its concern about increasing moves to hinder the work of Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organisations, NGOs, the presence of international NGO workers and even international parliamentary and ministerial visits to parts of the West Bank and Gaza. A state which can stand over its actions needs do none of these things. When we get a response outlining the reason for this we will respond to these individuals.