Thursday, 27 January 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures that Ireland is prepared to take to reverse the decision by the European Union to halt funding to Palestinian NGOs that are currently being targeted by the Israeli Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3888/22]
Following the designation of six Palestinian NGOs last October by Israel, based on no intelligence or data, as terrorist entities, it has now emerged that the European Commission had suspended prior to that designation funding some of these six NGOs. What actions is the Minister taking in terms of having that funding restored? What actions is he taking to try to counter some of the false narratives being put forward by the Israeli authorities about these NGOs?
This issue has been raised repeatedly in the House since it emerged and I have repeatedly expressed my concern about the designation of six Palestinian NGOs, including organisations in receipt of support from Irish Aid and the EU, as terrorist entities. Ireland is fully committed to funding civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Palestine as a key part of our support for the Palestinian people.
We are working closely with our EU partners on the issue and EU officials have engaged with Israeli authorities with regard to the basis for these designations. I understand the European Commission's consideration of the information provided by the Israeli authorities is ongoing. Irish officials at the permanent representation to the EU are in close contact with the Commission and Ireland’s representative office in Ramallah and embassy in Tel Aviv are actively engaged with the EU and other stakeholders, locally. Past allegations of the misuse of EU funds with regard to certain Palestinian civil society partners have not been substantiated.
I made a statement on 27 October expressing concern at these designations and directly raised this matter with Israeli officials during my visit to the region between 1 November and 5 November. Ireland supported the holding of a meeting of the UN Security Council on 8 November which addressed the NGO designations, as well as settlement announcements. Ireland also highlighted concerns at the designations and their impact at Security Council meetings on 30 November and 21 December and recalled the importance of civil society at the most recent meeting on 19 January.
Ireland funds Al-Haq, as well as Addameer, which are two of the designated organisations. We, in co-operation and consultation with other donors, maintain a high level of oversight of our civil society partners. My Department has robust controls in place to ensure that funds are used or distributed as agreed, in line with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s public spending code. Ireland will continue to support Palestinian civil society organisations and human rights defenders and the critical role they play in promoting international law, peace, human rights and democratic values.
I assume the Minister is well aware of Israel's intent in this regard, which is to disrupt the activities of these NGOs that have played a critical role in the monitoring, collection and dissemination of information on the apartheid policies of Israel and have been critical in gathering that intelligence for investigations such as those of the International Criminal Court, which is now looking at some of these issues.
The move by the European Commission to suspend the funding to these organisations is very concerning. Indeed, the Commission launched its own investigation to some of these claims that had been reported by Israel and found absolutely no basis whatsoever in those allegations by Israel, yet the funding has still been suspended. Will the Minister join me in calling on the Commission to reinstate that critical funding to those civil society organisations?
I have no reason to believe that funding to those civil society organisations should be cut or removed. My Department and myself are satisfied that the relationship we have with both Al-Haq and Addameer gives us reassurance that these organisations are doing good work and should be supported in doing so. My understanding from our engagement is that the Commission's consideration of the information provided by the Israeli authorities is ongoing. I have not seen that information, but we will continue to talk to the Commission to understand why it is making those decisions. Ireland is open, of course, to seeing any evidence that may be provided by the Israeli authorities, but, as of yet, I have not seen any evidence to suggest these organisations should be designated as terrorist organisations.
Time and time again, these allegations have been made by Israel. Following investigations and despite requests, including calls I have heard from the Minister in the past in this Chamber, for the Israeli authorities to hand over the information they have, if indeed they have it, the silence is deafening. This confirms my belief there is no information and these are baseless allegations designed to undermine the excellent work these organisations do in exposing and highlighting the illegal actions by Israel. The move by the European Commission to suspend this funding has had wide consequences. Other parliaments and organisations are withholding and suspending funding based on the move by the Commission, which is based on these false allegations by Israel. We need to send out a clear, strong, united message from this House that any attack on civil society organisations and human rights groups doing work to expose apartheid policies in Palestine must be opposed and the funding must be reinstated with immediate effect.
My officials have met with Commission officials in Brussels with regard to the designations and the EU decision to suspend funding. Since this debate began on the back of the announcement that was made by Israeli authorities, of course, we have been open to looking at any evidence that may be provided. However, as of yet, I have seen no evidence to suggest that the organisation we fund or, indeed, the others that have been named should be designated as terrorist organisations. That is my view. Of course, we have to be open to hearing or seeing evidence, if it can be provided, but until we see that evidence and are convinced by it, we will continue to advocate for the funding of these organisations.
Ireland has consistently been a strong voice for human rights defenders and for civil society groups across the world, and we continue to be, including in Palestine. Of course, we have to be open to seeing evidence, if it is there, of wrongdoing but, as I say, I have seen no such evidence. We will continue to interact with the European Commission on this issue.