Tuesday, 21 November 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
34. To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence if his Department intends to continue to purchase goods from Israel and Israeli companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50747/23]
Given the murderous assault by the Israel Defense Forces does the Tánaiste's Department intend to continue to purchase goods from Israel whether they are for defensive reasons or for dual purpose reasons? As the Tánaiste will have seen, Israel is not a normal state. Israel runs on the basis of perpetual violence and oppression. How can any state call itself a democracy while doing trade with a state that has killed more than 5,500 children?
The Deputy will be aware that Ireland has been to the fore. If one travels the Arab world there is huge respect for the stance Ireland has taken and the principled stand we have taken in respect of the Middle East over a long period of time. That was certainly the case in Egypt when I was there last week and with the Palestinian Authority when I met it in Ramallah last week, and when I met with it two months ago when I visited the region. This is in the context of our adherence to UN resolutions around the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the need for a two-state solution, and a recognition of UN resolutions.
On the question around trade, the principle of competitive tendering for government contracts is used by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces for the acquisition of goods and services. This is an EU law requirement and is in accordance with the defence and security directive. Central to those procedures is the requirement to allow fair competition between suppliers through the submission of tenders following advertising of the tender competition on the e-tenders site and on the Official Journal of the European Union, where appropriate. Such tender competitions are open to any company or country, subject to the terms of all UN, Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, and European Union arms embargoes or restrictions. There are no such restrictions or embargoes in place on Israel or Israeli companies, by the EU or the OSCE.
The Department of Defence will continue to carry out its procurement functions in accordance with the legal rules in place and is obliged to follow the established procurement principles for the selection of economic operators with regard to the award of contracts. We do not have unilateral powers here.
Why would the Tánaiste's Department have any sort of trade agreement with the state of Israel? In the last five years, the Tánaiste's Department has procured more than €6 million of Israeli defence equipment. Some of that is for dual use. Will the Tánaiste tell me - or give me a kind of an answer - as to why in the name of hell would this country want to do any sort of trade with the state of Israel? Over the past nine years the EU has exported €4 billion worth of armaments to Israel. These armaments are to kill and oppress Palestinians. Why would this State have any sort of dealings with a state that has killed some 5,500 children in the last six weeks? It is obnoxious. How can the Tánaiste stand over any trade deal with the state of Israel after it has done that?
The Deputy has deliberately ignored my answer and is being disingenuous because, as he is aware, trade policy and market access are largely European Union competencies. In the absence of a general trade embargo of Israel, which there is not-----
That is the Deputy's view, but I am saying that there is not such an embargo across Europe. The Department of Defence cannot unilaterally preclude Israeli companies from participating in tender competitions for military or any other type of goods, under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, and EU procurement law requirements. Under GATT and EU procurement law requirements, the Department of Defence is required, whether we like it or not, to deal impartially with all companies that are entitled to enter tender for competitions, and tenders must be evaluated on the basis of objective criteria.
A small number of Israeli companies have won orders for defensive equipment in recent years as result of tender competitions. This is not a new development. In each case the contract was awarded by way of a tender competition. The question of boycotts and sanctions has been debated on many occasions in the Oireachtas and there is a view that such actions would be ineffective and counterproductive. Again, the point is that we cannot unilaterally do it in the context of the GATT rules and in the context of EU rules.
Ireland needs to take a moral and principled stand against the state of Israel. In the past five years Ireland has spent €6 million procuring Israeli goods and services. Surely the Tánaiste is not saying that given what Israel has done in the past in the last six weeks - and continues to do - that somehow this is business as usual. Surely the Tánaiste does not believe that. Israel is not a normal state. The Tánaiste knows that. We cannot have any sort of trade agreement with a state that continuously oppresses a people and has an almost genocidal policy against the people of Palestine. This is not a normal country and surely in these circumstances we cannot trade with the state of Israel.
I am very clear that I want the war in Gaza to end now. Ireland was one of the countries to come out early to call for a humanitarian ceasefire. We voted for the Arab resolution at the United Nations. When we met the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah it thanked us and appreciated the principled stand that Ireland takes in relation to these issues, and has taken.
We will continue to work to get a humanitarian ceasefire and to get aid and medical supplies in at scale into Gaza, which is critical. We signed up to the GATT rules in respect of trade and the European Commission is competent - as the Deputy knows - on trade agreements. Ireland does not have the unilateral capacity and legally we cannot just extricate ourselves and say, "We want to do it this way", because then the same would apply to other countries that have equally signed up to it.