Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

United Nations

10:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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78. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the details of any engagement that he has had with his counterparts in other EU countries regarding the recent draft resolution (details supplied), which Ireland voted in support of, by the UN Special Political and Decolonization Committee requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands since 1967; if Ireland will support the resolution when it comes before the UN General Assembly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [58129/22]

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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My question is very specific. It is to ask what engagement the Minister has had with his counterparts in other EU countries on the recent draft resolution, on which Ireland voted in support, by the UN Special Political and Decolonization Committee requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel's occupation of Palestinian land since 1967. The resolution is very detailed. It is nine pages long and includes serious language.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I am familiar with it because we supported it. We were one of the few EU countries to do so. I believe we were one of only five. Others either abstained or voted against it. I wish to convey my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the families of those killed or injured in the tragic fire in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza a few days ago.

Turning to the Deputy’s question, I welcomed the adoption by the UN Fourth Committee of the Resolution on "Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people on the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem". This resolution addresses a number of key concerns that are consistent with Ireland’s long-standing position, including calling for urgent measures to ensure the safety and protection of Palestinian civilians and demanding that Israel cease all of its settlement activities. It has been supported by Ireland in successive sessions of the General Assembly, including this year.

An important new element in this year’s resolution was a request to the International Court of Justice, ICJ, for an advisory opinion on issues arising from Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territory. The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.

Advisory opinions of the court, while not legally binding, can nevertheless contribute to the clarification of international law and, therefore, given the authority of the court, may carry significant weight.

The deteriorating situation on the ground in the occupied Palestinian territory is deeply concerning and it is important that the international community supports Palestinian efforts in seeking legal responses to the occupation. Ireland is a firm supporter of the ICJ and welcomes the increased recourse of states to its advisory role in clarifying international law. 

In accordance with normal practice, there has been regular and structured co-ordination between EU member states on the ground in New York, on this and other resolutions to be acted upon by the UN General Assembly. While a common EU voting position was not possible for this resolution, I welcome the constructive engagement between the Palestinian observer mission to the United Nations and the EU and its member states on all resolutions related to the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory.

10:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I take it as a forgone conclusion that the Minister will support it when it comes before the UN General Assembly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for clarifying that.

On the matter of Palestine, I know the Minister is on record as being a strong advocate of the Palestinian people but while that is the case, it seems that we wait for Europe on an awful lot of occasions to see what its position is. On this occasion, the position is divided, although I see 98 countries voted in favour of it, 17 against, and 52 abstained.

I ask the Minister, while on the UN Security Council - temporary and all as it may be - to stand up for the Palestinian people. I say this in the context that a year has elapsed since the designation of the six organisations as terrorist organisations. During that time, a joint statement from ten EU member states, including Ireland, said that no substantial evidence has been provided by Israel in respect of designating them as terrorist organisations, yet they remain terrorist organisations.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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As the Deputy knows, I have been and continue to be vocal on that issue. I remain seriously concerned by Israel's designation of six Palestinian NGOs, including Irish Aid and EU partner organisations, as terrorist entities. This designation has the potential to affect not only these six organisations, but civil society more broadly across the occupied Palestinian territory. It could seriously undermine vital humanitarian development and human rights work. This issue continues to be a priority for Ireland. In the context of the UN Security Council, Ireland has repeatedly raised this matter in monthly meetings of the Security Council, stressing our continued commitment to and support of civil society.

We have asked, over and again, for the evidence that forms the basis for this designation and we have yet to see anything credible that links these NGOs to terrorist activity. I think the EU, as in its institutions, has taken the same position. Obviously, different countries within the EU take different positions. I can only speak for Ireland. We will continue to raise this issue. It is so important there is a strong presence of civil society and non-governmental organisations across the West Bank and in Gaza so that people can speak the truth and legally challenge certain decisions. That is how democracies work. We will continue to support the organisations we have been working with.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Democracy is not working when it comes to Israel and the problem is the possible effects of that on the ground. The organisations that have been designated as terrorist organisations have been directly affected. They have been raided, ransacked and forcibly closed, with their equipment confiscated.

How long more are we going to wait before we do something about that designation? It has to be lifted. How long more is the Government going to wait before it gives a response to the Amnesty report that said Israel operates an apartheid system? When are we going to get the considered opinion from the Minister and the Department on our official reaction to that? We were told in June of this year that it was being considered. There has been no substantive response. Correspondence of 21 June states that, with regard to the recommendations and conclusions of the Amnesty report, Ireland will continue to engage with these to influence our approach. If they are not weasel words, Minister. There is an Amnesty report with damning conclusions and findings. What is our official, considered response given the lapse of time since the report's publication?

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is unfortunate the Deputy used a term such as "weasel words" on such an issue.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I withdraw those words in the interest of making progress on this serious issue.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy and appreciate that. Ireland is one of the most credible voices on the planet in regard to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. We continue to be at the centre of debate within the EU, trying to make progress where that is not easy. Getting any form of consensus across the EU on new thinking and action in respect of the Middle East peace process has proven very difficult. Believe me, we have been trying and will continue to do so between now and the end of the year.

I have spoken to several other foreign ministers, who have a similar view to Ireland on these issues, to see if we can build consensus in trying to introduce some new thinking in a way that can support democracy across Palestine and raise serious questions with a new Israeli Government in terms of its responsibilities. That is how we make a difference, rather than making grand statements or issuing press releases in response to reports, by changing something on the ground in terms of the EU's approach on this issue and our relationship with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority.