Seanad debates

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign: Motion

 

10:30 am

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I ask Senator Norris to move the motion.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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There is no Minister present.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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It has been agreed by the group leaders this will be taken as a Seanad debate and I ask the Senator to proceed.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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How much speaking time do we have?

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Five minutes each.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann strongly condemns the Bank of Ireland for its arbitrary and undemocratic decision to close the accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and requests that they immediately reverse this decision.

This motion is about a move by the Israeli Government to close the bank resources of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, IPSC. I was contacted by it to let me know its bank accounts had been arbitrarily closed down by Bank of Ireland. I received the message on 4 October, which stated the IPSC had its accounts closed the previous week by Bank of Ireland without any proper explanation. It looks as if this move was as a result of pressure from the Israeli Government to interfere in the domestic affairs of an independent friendly country. I then wrote to Mr. Boucher, the head of Bank of Ireland, to tell him I was contacted by the IPSC because it is bank account with Bank of Ireland was closed. According to the IPSC no explanation was given and a request for an extension until December 2016 to allow it to transfer to another banking institution was denied. As far as I know, none of these bank accounts were ever used illegally in any way. This is a peaceful democratic movement and the attempt to interfere with it and hamper its operations is a clear attack on free speech.

The reply I received from Mr. Richie Boucher was that Bank of Ireland is a diversified financial services group which adheres to all applicable legislative and regulatory requirements in all countries in which it operates. He included a long list of all of the requirements. He then stated that as a matter of course the group is obliged to monitor and keep under active review all the national and international regulatory and legislative requirements. This is just reciting and parroting out lot of rubbish about statutory requirements. Nowhere in his letter does Mr. Richie Boucher allege the IPSC has breached a single one of these regulations, nor does he state it was involved in any suspicious activity.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I remind the Senator not to name individuals who are not in the House.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Right, okay but I hope I get this in injury time. This is the reply I received. He is the head of Bank of Ireland and a public official. I see no problem whatever about naming him. He signed the letter after all. May I point out his bank was rescued by the people of Ireland and now he acts in this appallingly undemocratic way.

This is a worldwide phenomenon. A German bank recently closed the accounts of a German Jewish organisation, Jewish Voice for a Just Peace in the Middle East, at the instigation of the Israeli Government. Here is another case of the infringement of people's freedom of speech and solidarity with the people of Palestine.

In July 2016, the IPSC received a series of inquiries from Bank of Ireland. These accounts had been in place without the slightest suggestion of any difficulty for 15 years and suddenly, under the impulse of moves from the Israelis, this difficulty arises. The first question asked was what the funds in the account were used for. The IPSC answered honestly and openly the funds were used for campaigning for the human rights of all Palestinians and that it rents an office, employs a co-ordinator, holds public meetings, hosts visiting speakers and prints leaflets.

The second question was what was source of funds in the accounts. It answered that primarily the organisation is funded by membership subscriptions and donations but it also organises fundraising events and gave the example that last year a member organised an amateur boxing night in Croke Park which raised €6,500, a sponsored walk raised €1,169 and a Christmas lunch raised €1,350. It stated it also has a small margin from the sale of solidarity items such as football shirts and Palestinians scarves.

The third question was whether it transfers funds to Palestine and if so to whom. The answer was the only transfer is to the Hirbawi textile factory in Palestine in payment for Palestinian scarves, and that in March this year it transferred $1,209 in payment for a delivery of Palestinian scarves.

The fourth question was whether it transferred any money to political organisations and, if so, to whom and where are they based. The reply was that it was not affiliated to any political organisation and does not transfer money to any political organisations.

These were four clear questions with four clear answers, and nothing for the IPSC to answer. It has done nothing. It is a campaigning organisation. It does, of course, campaign on the basis of the boycott, divestment and sanction motion, which suggests items that come from the settlers and invaded areas of Palestine should be boycotted, there should be divestment of investment in these areas and there should be sanctions. This is a perfectly legitimate campaigning issue. Nobody can quarrel with this. It is precisely the type of thing we did in South Africa. Have people forgotten apartheid? Have people forgotten the way in which the Dunnes Stores workers stood out in solidarity with the people of South Africa? Of course it is correct for people to be able to campaign.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I must ask the Senator to conclude.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, has said he is deeply concerned about wider attempts to pressure NGOs and human rights defenders through legislation and other means to hinder their important work. He stated he has raised this at EU level and directly with the Israeli authorities. He also stated the boycott divestment and sanction policy was a legitimate campaigning objective.What we have here is a clear attack on a civil society organisation in an attempt to muzzle it and stop it doing the work that it is democratically entitled to do in this Republic of Ireland.

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Sinn Fein)
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I commend Senator Norris on taking the initiative. I am very happy to second his motion. This is a stunning situation. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, IPSC, is 15 years in existence and it has had a bank account in the Bank of Ireland for all of those years, during which time there was no problem. The group is immensely respected by all of us in these Houses who care about the plight of the Palestinian people. I am the secretary of the Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group and we testify to the integrity and decency of everybody involved in the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and their adherence to human rights and democracy. That is why I am shocked about this development. What I have learned is that the Bank of Ireland is not unique. Banks right across Europe have been closing down Palestine solidarity campaigns. The Oireachtas Friends of Palestine group wrote to the bank asking for an explanation. As Senator Norris pointed out, the bank rhymed off a list of regulations. We again asked for the specific legislation or directive to which Bank of Ireland was adhering in closing down the account. At that point the bank ended the communication on the pretext that it could not discuss individual accounts. That is utter nonsense. Bank of Ireland received a significant amount of taxpayers' money and it is acting completely against the interests of the overwhelming majority of Irish people who support the cause of justice for the Palestinian people.

What I hope will come from this motion today is not just condemnation of the Bank of Ireland but that serious questions will be put to the bank by the Minister for Finance and the Government as to whether it is acting on foot a campaign which is being orchestrated openly by the Israeli Government to shut down organisations internationally who support the democratic campaign, Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, BDS. We had courageous people in this country who took a stand against apartheid – the workers in Dunnes Stores. We applaud them. These days we salute them. It is the democratic right of citizens in this country if they wish to engage in and support the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign that operates internationally. Is the IPSC being punished?

We received from the IPSC clarification that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, said the rights of citizens across Europe and globally who partake in the BDS campaign have a right to do so and their rights must be protected. I urge the Government to follow up on what I hope will be a successful motion passed in these Houses today and make sure that the Bank of Ireland, and all banks in this State - especially those who were bailed out by taxpayers - are aware of their responsibilities to protect democracy and those who engage in human rights defence and to make sure they are not implementing the policy of a state that is repudiated by most countries in the world because of its failure to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions. Let us be very clear, we do not just need the motion to be passed today, although I am delighted Senator Norris has taken this initiative, but we need the Government to make a clear statement that what has happened does not comply with any legislation or directive of which we are aware but it is implementing by stealth the agenda of the Israeli Government, which is to silence critics of its policy and those who stand by the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign. It is an outrageous attack on democracy and it cannot be accepted by anybody in these Houses or by anybody who believes in human rights in this State. I hope the Government follows up on what I believe will be a successful motion here today, does what is right by the people and confronts those in the banks who are peddling this agenda.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Well done to Senator Mac Lochlainn.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That Seanad Éireann" and substitute:"calls on the Bank of Ireland to meet immediately with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign to discuss the closure of their bank accounts with a view to rectifying this situation as a matter of urgency."

The actions of the Bank of Ireland, which was saved from extinction by the Irish taxpayer, are unfortunately not isolated. From information received from other businesses in Ireland it appears in some instances that it has to do with anybody who has any dealings in the Middle East. I spoke with a company today that had to move nearly 250,000 customers from their accounts with Ulster Bank because 40% of the company was owned by a consortium in Jordan. It had nothing to do with Israel or the Middle East.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Were they Israelis?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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No. All of the banks around Ireland and Europe are arbitrarily closing accounts that have anything to do with the Middle East. The company in question has nothing to do with the West Bank or the Gaza Strip but it had to move 250,000 customers in six weeks from Ulster Bank to another bank just because the company was partly owned by an organisation in Jordan. The company had to spend an amount of time, effort and energy on that. There is no doubt this is happening to anybody who has any whiff of association with the Middle East. To put it mildly, people are being put to inconvenience.

It is very important that Senator Norris raised the issue and I do not think it should rest here. These actions across Europe in connection with Palestine are far more sinister in terms of businesses that are partly owned by or have partners in the Middle East. Actions are being carried out in an orchestrated and co-ordinated way in order to silence those who oppose the settlers and the occupation of the West Bank. As we have seen in Israel itself, draconian South African-type measures are used to shut down dissent and anybody who opposes the occupation. When Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States nearly 40 years ago there were only 30,000 to 40,000 illegal settlers in the West Bank and today there are more than 500,000 and growing. The actions of Israel, unfortunately supported by the United States of America, are exacerbating the problem for future generations of Israelis and Palestinians. General Petraeus, and other senior US army officers, have said that the US policy of supporting unconditionally Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is killing US soldiers in the Middle East. If a country's policy is killing its own soldiers, one would imagine it would change direction. Capitol Hill, which I visit from time to time, is often called Israeli-occupied territory as well because the grip of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, on that piece of ground is overwhelming.

I am drifting from the motion, which I welcome. It deserves a hearing before the finance committee. Perhaps Senator Norris would raise the issue. We are talking to ourselves as we cannot even get the Minister to come in to talk to us. A motion could be tabled for the finance committee.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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We could write to it from the Seanad.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Yes. Its purpose would be to bring in the bank. It is not a case of condemning it or predicating the outcome but I suggest that were a motion put before the finance committee to the effect that the bank would be brought in to explain itself and were that voted on and passed by all members, then-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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That is a very good idea.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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-----without anyone having a view on it, the bank could be held to account. The bank could refuse to show up – God love it if it did – but I am sure Senator Norris would let it know that not showing up would be detrimental to its public relations. Regardless of the fact that we saved the bank from extinction – for good or ill – no organisation should be beyond the scrutiny of the Oireachtas for its political actions, which can be judged to be such when one sees what is happening.This is not isolated instance in Ireland. Members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach should table a motion. If the motion is passed then we can hear what Members have to say. A meeting might only take half an hour and the friends of Palestinian group can be invited to attend. The committee has a huge workload in terms of the budget. I am concerned about the principle behind the motion and not the relatively small amount of money involved.

My party has tabled an amendment. The reason we have not condemned the Senator's motion is because we do not have all of the facts. It would be good if the committee could hear all of the facts. A meeting would allow everyone to hear what the Bank of Ireland had to say for itself and whether it can justify its actions. I am pretty sure that it cannot.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Perhaps Senator Mark Daly will not press his amendment.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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A meeting would allow the situation to be clarified. It would put the Bank of Ireland under pressure. It would also put pressure back on financial institutions or other organisations that might follow a similar route. The risk of being brought before an Oireachtas committee could act as a deterrent.

There is not a lot between the two motions. I like outcomes and the best outcome for us all would be a public questioning of the Bank of Ireland by the Oireachtas committee rather than us all e-mailing, etc. A meeting might get us the answers that none of us can get at present.

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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My party agrees with the sentiments expressed by Senator Norris. A first step would be a meeting with the Bank of Ireland and, therefore, we second the Fianna Fáil amendment.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Is the Senator seconding the Fianna Fáil amendment?

Photo of Kieran O'DonnellKieran O'Donnell (Fine Gael)
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Yes. I support Senator Mark Daly's suggestion for the Bank of Ireland to attend before the Oireachtas committee.

I do not know a huge amount about this matter. I have carried out some research and discovered that a bank account has existed since 2001. Any person who has a bank account for 16 years would find it extraordinary to have it closed without notice or an explanation. The Bank of Ireland needs to give an explanation. I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senator Daly calling on the Bank of Ireland to attend before the Oireachtas committee of which I am a member. AIB has opened a bank account in the organisation's name. It seems unusual that one institution has closed an account while a similar institution has opened one.

Senator Norris holds this matter dear to his heart. My party agrees with the sentiments expressed in his motion. We would like to hear Bank of Ireland give a valid explanation even though the matter may be inexplicable. Nevertheless, I take the point made about taxpayers. I do not like to call them taxpayers and prefer another term of Irish residents. They have supported Bank of Ireland through very difficult times and continue to do so. We need clarity about the matter. We want Bank of Ireland to meet the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign group. A natural extension of that is an appearance before the Oireachtas committee with a view to rectifying the situation, as a matter of urgency. We second the Fianna Fáil amendment.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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As chairperson of the Friends of Palestine cross-party Oireachtas group, I support the motion tabled by Senator Norris. I also support the fantastic Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign group that was set up to highlight the struggle of the Palestinian people. It is totally unacceptable that Bank of Ireland has closed the bank account of the IPSC and refused to comment on the reason for this action.

I would like to make my position clear from the outset. I believe that all violence is wrong and I am sure that we all hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East. I will refer to the great work done by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign group. Yesterday I attended its presentation in the AV Room and what I heard was most upsetting. The presentation was delivered by Ayed Abu Qtaish who is the accountability director for an organisation called the Defence for Children International Palestine. I was shocked to hear details of the arrest, detention and ill treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli Defence Forces. All of this makes it highly unlikely that peace will be achieved in the near future. A children's rights NGO has recorded around 50 deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of Israeli forces since last October that roughly marked the onset of the third Palestinian uprising. The Defence for Children International Palestine organisation reported the fatalities. It said that the absence of transparent and neutral investigation into such incidents had turned the killing of Palestinian children into normality. Ayed Abu Qtaish complained that international agencies and the United Nations had failed to meet their responsibilities in defending the rights of Palestinian children.

The IPSC has worked tirelessly on this issue and provides great support to the Defence for Children International Palestine. The IPSC was set up by a group of established Irish human rights and community activists, academics and journalists who were deeply concerned about the situation in the Occupied Territories. The IPSC works in partnership with Palestinians now living in Ireland. It was originally formed to provide a voice for Palestine in Ireland. The IPSC is an independent, non-party political organisation that is run by volunteers who are all committed to a just and sustainable peace in the Middle East. The IPSC is a member-based organisation that is funded by their members' annual fees, standing orders and donations.

I will outline some facts that the IPSC tirelessly highlights. As many as 11,700 Palestinians are currently imprisoned. The Israeli unemployment rate is 9% while the Palestinian rate of unemployment is estimated at 40%. The US gives more than $7 million per day to the Israeli Government and military. Since 1967, Israel has demolished 18,147 Palestinian homes that has left over 100,000 people without shelter. Israel has been targeted by at least 65 UN resolutions while the Palestinians have not been targeted. All of this shows that the work done by the IPSC is vital and so must be commended.

It is essential that human rights violations are highlighted and that oppressed peoples are supported by us. We have a duty to speak out against the ill treatment of children no matter who is responsible. Again, it is unacceptable that Bank of Ireland has closed the bank account of the IPSC and refused to comment on the reason for doing so. The closure of the bank account is believed to be due to the Israeli Government exerting pressure on banks to close the accounts of organisations that advocate the boycott of Israeli goods similar to the boycott of South African goods during the apartheid era. If this is the case then the closure of the account is interference by Israel in the business affairs of a sovereign country and needs to be challenged. Banks should not have the power to threaten the very existence of organisations unless there is concrete evidence that the organisation has been involved in illegal transactions and then there is an onus on the bank to report these activities to the Garda.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I strongly condemn Bank of Ireland for its undemocratic decision to close the accounts of the IPSC. I believe that the bank should reverse its decision. As my colleague, Senator Mac Lochlainn has said, the action is an outrageous attack on democracy.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator Black. The next speaker is Senator Ivana Bacik and she has five minutes.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I commend Senator Norris for taking the initiative to propose the motion. It has been my pleasure to co-sign his motion as leader of the Labour Party group. I strongly support the motion. It is good to see cross-party support for the principle behind the motion that is to condemn Bank of Ireland for its arbitrary and undemocratic decision to close the accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign group.

Like Senator Black I condemn all violence in the Middle East, particularly the targeting of civilians. I have been a longstanding supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Other Senators have already explained the reasons Senator Norris's motion deserves support. It is of real concern that the account of an organisation and NGO with a long track record of campaigning here in Ireland, is well established and supported by many people here, should have its accounts closed unilaterally in this way.I echo the words of those many writers and others who wrote to the newspapers on 5 November condemning Bank of Ireland's unilateral closure of the accounts and setting out the reasons why this action of the bank should be condemned. They pointed out that the bank has thus far refused to offer any reason for the closure except to say that the IPSC, which had banked with the Bank of Ireland for 15 years, no longer met the bank's risk appetite. As others have said, that is not good enough as an explanation.

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is a voluntarily-run group. It advocates for Palestinian human rights within international law and is in fact in keeping with UN resolutions which have condemned actions of the Israeli Defence Forces in particular and breaches of the human rights of Palestinians. The IPSC is a legally constituted, fully-audited and transparent organisation and it is widely respected in Ireland as a civil society body. The signatories of the letter of 5 November included authors like Dervla Murphy and Seamus Deane, academics like Ronit Lentin, solicitor Michael Farrell, Ruarí McKiernan, Honor Heffernan, Donal Lunny, Betty Purcell, Robert Ballagh and many others. We are going to have cross-party support. I hope we can unite on this motion.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They will not.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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It is unfortunate that we see an amendment. I do not see its purpose and would like to support the motion, which we have co-signed with Senator Norris. It is good to see so much support for it and for the principle it embodies. I do not see the amendment as adding anything.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It diminishes it.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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Yes, it diminishes it.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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It is shameful.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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I do not see the need to put the amendment given that, in principle, we are all in agreement on the point.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I wish to share time with Senator Alice Mary Higgins.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I support this motion wholeheartedly. The purpose of the amendment confuses me. It asks the bank to explain why it has closed a bank account, which is something it has already refused to do. It did not meet the campaign group in question when it wanted to shut its account down. It is a worrying sign that one of our national financial institutions has judged that it has the power to cut off its services to a group engaged in worthwhile advocacy work on an issue of vital importance to the people of Palestine and all those who support the Palestinian people here in Ireland.

Anyone who has ever run a campaign or been involved in advocacy knows the crucial role that adequate and accessible funding plays in determining the successful achievement of goals. One must be able to create a clear route of access to the financial contributions of supporters, a secure place to store funds and an easily accessible method to disperse those funds as required by the financial necessities of the campaign one is running. As soon as this cycle of activity is disrupted, irreparable damage may be caused to the practical activities of the organisation and to organisational reputation. Bills and invoices go unpaid, donations and contributions go unreturned and work comes to a standstill.

This is what the Bank of Ireland has done to the Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. With scant notice, the bank cut off all possible financing to the campaign without even allowing it enough time to make alternative financial arrangements or to notify supporters of the need to change the destination of regular donations. This is unacceptable. I note media reports that the Bank of Ireland's decision was rooted in the view that the campaign's activities did not fit with the bank's appetite for risk due to its designation of Palestine as a high risk country. This was despite the fact that the majority of the campaign's funding is spent domestically here in Ireland to raise awareness. The only money the campaign sent to Palestine was to a factory in the West Bank to buy clothing as a show of solidarity, not to fund directly any activities there at all. That none of this was taken into consideration by Bank of Ireland further underlines the arbitrary and ill-thought-out nature of the decision.

I fully support the motion and I question the motive of Fianna Fáil in putting down an amendment.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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In respect of Fianna Fáil's amendment, if there is a desire to put forward a motion at the finance committee, I urge the party to do that in addition to supporting the very necessary motion put forward by Senator Norris.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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That would be an addition we could support. In terms of the question of Bank of Ireland not showing up and that we would respond at that point, I note that it has already not shown up because it has failed to provide any satisfactory explanation for the closure of the bank account. We have already arrived at the point where it has failed to account notwithstanding that it has had the opportunity to do so. It has chosen not to respond and that is why we need to send a message of condemnation. I urge everyone across the House to send that message. They have the opportunity to do it today.

In the absence of any explanation from Bank of Ireland, we must agree with the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign's conclusion that its firm support for boycott, divestment and sanctions in respect of Israel is the reason for the closure of the account. It is hard to escape this conclusion given the trend across Europe whereby banks have closed the accounts of organisations supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions. Groups in Germany, France, Austria and the UK have faced similar closures. The Jerusalem Posthas reported on the banks that maintain the groups. Several Israeli Government members and officials have spoken about that intent. Amnesty International has noted that senior Israeli Ministers, whom I will not name, have called for Israel to engage in targeted civil------

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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One minute.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Okay. I will not elaborate on that aspect. The key point here is that we are talking about the open work of campaigning on boycott, divestment and sanctions. Boycotting has a strong origin here in Ireland. The IPSC is not only a peaceful organisation, but one with a long-standing record of street stands. There could not be a more open organisation. It has been visible, clear and authentic in its demands and its campaigning. This contrasts with the stealth of the campaign to close accounts.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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It is not like other campaigns which ask banks to divest, but is rather a campaign which is operating by stealth and which is not making itself accountable. It is a deep contrast. While the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is completely legal, as asserted by the EU, the unjustified measures we are seeing now are deeply undemocratic. They raise very serious concerns for all of us, even those who are not passionate about Palestine in the way many of us here today are. Those of us concerned about any aspect of civil society should worry. This comes in concert with other serious constraints that have been imposed in other areas, such as the academic area, which we might discuss in the future.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the motion put down by Senator Norris, which is a very important one. I also welcome the fact that time has been given to debate it today. Those of us who have been to Palestine have seen at first hand the horrors of an apartheid state. It is generally accepted now that Israel is an apartheid state. There is horrific humiliation, imprisonment without trial, torture and death squads. It is horrendous. We should be as clear on Israel as we were in later years on South Africa. Apartheid can never be justified in any way.

What has happened with Bank of Ireland is very sinister. We have a foreign apartheid state interfering directly to pressurise a bank that was bailed out by our taxpayers to close an account to try to undermine this organisation. Let us be clear that this is not a party political issue, or at least should not be. I know many colleagues in the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and they belong to all parties and none. That is why it was so important that it was an independent Senator who brought the motion forward so that it could not be used as a political football of any particular party. That is why I am gutted that Fianna Fáil has put down an amendment.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Absolutely.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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What are we afraid of? Why are we afraid to condemn Bank of Ireland strongly for what we know it has done wrong, in particular when the all-party Palestine support group within the Oireachtas has written on a number of occasions to the bank, which has completely ruled out the meeting the amendment calls for? We should be better than this. We have different politics but we should have shared values on this issue.If this has to go to a vote and we cannot rally behind Senator Norris's proposal, that in itself will weaken the stance that we should take.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I have not heard one good reason to explain why Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael cannot support the Independent Senators' motion, which rightly calls on the Seanad to condemn Bank of Ireland and ask the bank to reverse its decision. The IPSC account is now with AIB, but I have it on good authority that AIB is coming under pressure to close the account.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Of course it is. If we do not stand up, it will give in.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Despite that, Fianna Fáil chooses to weaken what should be an all-party motion. I appeal to our shared values. No one has a monopoly on morality on issues like this. We know what is happening in Palestine. I spoke to Senator Colm Burke, who was particularly passionate about Palestine, a number of weeks ago. This issue does not belong to Sinn Féin, the Labour Party or the civic engagement group. It belongs to all of us. We should do better in this Chamber than to step back and have divisive votes when there is nothing in this motion, which was drafted in good faith by Senator Norris, to which any of us could object. If we cannot stand united on this gross interference with a peaceful campaigning organisation and avoid a walk-through vote, shame on us. That is all that I have to say.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Well said.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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As no other Senators are indicating, I will ask Senator Norris to conclude.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am sad that there have not been more contributors. To take the positive first, Senator Mark Daly's suggestion that we contact the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach was worthwhile, although Bank of Ireland will not turn up. In correspondence from the IPSC, I was told that the bad news was that it had heard nothing from Bank of Ireland despite having written to it twice. The bank will not listen. This is causing disruption to the IPSC's financial operation and is distracting it from its main work, which is lobbying.

As to Fianna Fáil, were former Senators Labhrás Ó Murchú and Mick Lanigan still in the House, that disgraceful amendment would not have been moved. I have been a Senator for 30 years. Not once do I remember Government time being given to a motion from an Independent Member only for the motion to be amended. It has never happened. It is lamentable. It shows us to be gutless, weak, equivocating and mercenary. Consider the motion and what its says. Let us put it on the record to the shame of those two parties. That is, unless at the last minute they are prepared not to force a vote. If they force a vote on this, they can never call themselves friends of Palestine again. My motion reads:

That Seanad Éireann strongly condemns the Bank of Ireland for its arbitrary and undemocratic decision to close the accounts of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign and requests that they immediately reverse this decision.

It has a number of elements, the first of which is condemning Bank of Ireland. Are the parties afraid to do that? Why would they not condemn it? If we allow it to get away with this, it can do it to any of us. Do the parties realise that? My accounts that I have had for nearly 70 years in Bank of Ireland could have been closed because I stood up for the Palestinians, East Timor or Tibet when the Chinese behaved as they did. Be careful with the amendment, which merely "calls on the Bank of Ireland to meet immediately with the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign to discuss the closure". How pathetic is that? The parties will not be forgiven if they force a vote on this.

The Government gave time and we have had a good suggestion and a reasonable debate, but I cannot for the life of me understand why Fianna Fáil will facilitate the Government in running away from this issue. This is nothing other than running away from it. Fianna Fail can talk until the cows come home about bringing the matter to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach but that has nothing to do with the motion. This motion condemns the interference with an Irish bank by the Israeli Government. It will get away with it unless the parties stand in solidarity with us and vote for the motion as tabled. Otherwise, it is indescribably weak, wretched, miserable and contemptible and a reproach to the decent people in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. I referred to Mick Lanigan and Labhrás Ó Murchú. I did not always agree with the latter, but he was a man passionately committed to human rights. Even Fine Gael's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, who God knows is no friend to Palestine, said that he was gravely concerned. The Government is not concerned. It just wants to have a "meeting".

The suggestion about the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach is a worthwhile one. Let us go forward. I appeal to the parties not to call a vote. In my 30 years in Seanad Éireann, never has this kind of amendment been tabled to a motion for which the Government gave time. I will leave it at that.

Amendment put:

The Seanad divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 17.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Mark Daly and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and David Norris..

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 15.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Mark Daly and Robbie Gallagher; Níl, Senators Pádraig Mac Lochlainn and David Norris.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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Ar 10.30 maidin amarach.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 1 December 2016.