Dáil debates

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Middle East

5:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

The third item has been submitted by Deputy Andrews. He wishes to discuss the decision by the Israeli state to designate six Palestinian human rights groups operating in the West Bank as terror organisations. Before inviting the Deputy to make his contribution, can I say I have had much correspondence from members of the Irish Jewish community of late and it has highlighted for me the need for us to be very careful and very precise in the language we use. We should avoid the unintended effect of causing offence or hurt to the Jewish people and especially to the Irish Jewish community, within which we have many colleagues, including former Deputy Ben Briscoe, the late Mervyn Taylor and former Deputy Alan Shatter, all of whom served with distinction. In addressing these matters we need to be careful about the language we use and that we do not cause unintended hurt. I am certainly not saying that in respect of Deputy Andrews or any individual Member but as a collective it is something we need to be conscious of. That said, the Deputy is putting this matter down because so many Members of this House over so many years have had a genuine interest in the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the interest we have is shared by the people we represent. The floor is yours, sir.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ceann Comhairle. Two weeks ago on 19 October the Israeli defence minister formally designated human rights organisation Al-Haq and five other Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations under Israeli law. The other five are Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees. Let us be clear about this. This is about shutting down legitimate criticism of Israeli human rights abuses. Israel's charge against the six NGOs, which include groups that offer legal support to prisoners and a women's rights organisation, is based on a connection to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP. This claim has been made by apartheid Israel for many years and it is untrue. There is absolutely no evidence to back up the claim these organisations are involved in terrorism. For any state to be able to change policy in this way would suggest apartheid Israel is growing in confidence it can do what it wants. Apartheid Israel is becoming increasingly confident it can do what it wants and there will be no consequences for anything it does. Let us be clear apartheid Israel's actions are increasingly making a two-state solution less and less likely. The chance of a two-state solution is disappearing on Ireland's watch on the UN Security Council.

I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney's additional €2.4 million allocation to fund UN bodies working in Palestine. However, to be brutally honest, it feels like guilt money because the Government is not willing to recognise the state of Palestine or even to pass the occupied territories Bill put forward by Senator Black. If we genuinely want to support Palestine we must make significant acts like recognising the state of Palestine and supporting the occupied territories Bill. We need concrete action on the six designated organisations and we need clarity. We need an official public statement from the Minister for Foreign Affairs that categorically denounces the terror designation and removes all deference to Israel. We need to send public messages to the Irish banks that Ireland does not recognise the terror designations and ensure the open exchange of transactions between Irish entities and the organisations and their staff members. This will have implications for Irish citizens and relations with Palestine and Palestinian advocacy groups. In light of the unprecedented attack against Palestinian civil society, Ireland must ensure increased funding to these six civil society organisations.

It is important to state Al-Haq regards Jerusalem in its entirety as Palestinian as there is no recognition of the illegal acts of annexation in 1949 in west Jerusalem and in 1967 in east Jerusalem. It is equally important to note the Minister, Deputy Coveney, insinuated during his recent visit to apartheid Israel that Ireland might at some point recognise Israel's sovereignty over west Jerusalem and even consider moving the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This was reported in The Jerusalem Postand it was unclear so we need clarity from the Minister on it. Will the Minister clarify that Palestinians have a continuing right to self-determination and that the 1949 annexation was an illegal act under international law for which there can be no recognition. We must stand with the six designated organisations.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney.

I would first like to restate the Government's concern at the designation by Israel's Ministry of Defence of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities on 22 October last. This includes organisations in receipt of support from Irish Aid and the EU. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, made a statement on the matter on 27 October and has raised the issue directly in his meetings in Israel this week. We are in touch with the Israeli authorities, along with the EU, to seek clarification. We were not informed in advance of these designations, and have not received detailed evidence. Previous allegations against civil society organisations in the occupied Palestinian territories which are supported by Ireland and the EU have not been substantiated. As the Deputy will be aware, Ireland is committed to funding civil society organisations and human rights defenders through the Irish Aid programme, including Palestinian civil society. We carry out robust checks to ensure our funding is used only for the purpose intended. Terrorism is a very serious issue, and must be addressed with both resolve and evidence. This designation has the potential to impact not only on these six organisations, but on civil society more broadly across the occupied Palestinian territories and to seriously undermine vital humanitarian, development and human rights work.

Civil society organisations and human rights defenders play a critical role in promoting international law, peace, human rights and democratic values. Ireland will continue to support such efforts bilaterally and at EU and UN level. We lead on this issue at the UN, tabling a biennial resolution on the protection of civil society space at the Human Rights Council.

We believe in the essential role civil society actors play in scrutinising the actions of governments globally, including those of Ireland and Israel.

Deputy Andrews raised our role in the Security Council. Ireland will raise this issue at the Security Council as soon as possible. Ireland is a strong believer in the vital role played by civil society actors in the peaceful resolution of conflict. This is why during our presidency of the council in September we invited civil society briefers to share their perspectives. Among them were an Israeli and a Palestinian who spoke at the council's monthly meeting on the situation in the Middle East. Palestinian civil society organisations must be enabled to carry out their important work free from obstruction, harassment and intimidation. Israeli and Palestinian authorities should support rather than restrict civil society space.

We continue to work with partners in protecting and promoting civil society, including in the context of our membership of the council. Ireland's position on these issues is, and will continue to be, based on international law, Israel's obligation as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and on the relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. Ireland has repeatedly made this position clear at the Security Council where the issue is discussed each month.

Ireland remains firmly committed to a negotiated two-state solution based on international law, relevant UN Security Council resolutions and agreed parameters. Ireland will remain seized of these matters and we call on both parties to build on steps taken in recent months to improve co-operation and reduce tensions.

5:50 pm

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I thank the Minister of State for that response. I agree with his comments that this matter is bigger than the six designated organisations. This will impact on all civil society groups and on people being able to challenge the Israeli Government on their breaches of international law. The Minister of State mentioned raising this issue at the UN Security Council, which is all very well, but if there is no action as a result of that, what is the point of Ireland being on the council? We raise issues, wag our fingers and lecture, but it has no consequences. Israel knows that so it does what it wants when it wants.

The Minister, Deputy Coveney, knows that the ongoing settlements are having a major impact in ensuring that the two-state solution will not be possible very soon. We have an opportunity to take clear action. It is not dramatic action, but recognising the state of Palestine will send out a clear message, to Palestinians and to Israel, that Israeli actions are unacceptable. It is not a lot to ask yet all we do is raise the issue in the Chamber and express concern about it. That is no good to the Palestinian community and Israel knows that.

Senator Frances Black's occupied territories Bill is very reasonable and fair and yet we are not willing to support it. We sacrificed that Bill to get our place on the UN Security Council, which is having no impact, in a positive way, on the Palestinian situation or giving the Palestinian community a little justice.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Sligo-Leitrim, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

As I said in my opening statement, the Government shares the concerns raised by the Deputy at the designation of these six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist entities. The Minister has conveyed our concerns directly in his meetings in Israel this week. As the Deputy knows, civil society organisations play an important role and Ireland is a vocal supporter of the civil society space. This is an issue we take seriously and we will raise the designations as soon as possible at the Security Council.

A number of Deputies have raised the issues of settlements and the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories. We have been forthright in expressing our concerns regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. I will also take this opportunity, since the Deputy raised the matter, to reiterate the Government's concerns regarding recent announcements by the Israeli authorities of plans for the construction of more than 3,000 settlement units in the West Bank. Ireland joined 11 other European states in issuing a statement on 28 October urging the Israeli authorities to reverse the decision. Ireland has consistently and strongly opposed settlements and will continue to do so. Settlement expansion, demolitions and evictions threaten the viability of a two-state solution.

Ireland will continue to use our voice at the Security Council to draw attention to these issues. As the Deputy knows, the Middle East remains a key priority for Ireland during our term on the Security Council and we engage actively in monthly meetings on the situation in the region. As part of Ireland's presidency of the council in September, the Minister chaired a dialogue between the Security Council and the Arab League during which he underlined the need for a strong regional engagement on the Middle East peace process and a reinvigoration of the political track, which is vital to advance peace.