Seanad debates

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

10:30 am

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I call on the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to speak first.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Will we receive a copy of the Tánaiste's speech?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Yes, presently.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I certainly hope so.

I thank the Acting Chairman, Senators and, in particular, the guests seated in the Visitors Gallery for being here for this debate. I thank the House giving me for the opportunity to speak about this important subject which means a lot to me. We began debating the Bill in January. I appreciate that the action of Senator Frances Black and other Senators, in facilitating a six-month adjournment, was helpful. As the Seanad will conclude its debate today, I am happy that time has been made available for statements on the situation in Palestine which allows us to further discuss the issues at play.

The Middle East peace process has been a priority for me, personally, since I took up the role of Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. In fact, it is true to say that after Brexit and other EU-related matters, the Middle East peace process has taken up more of my time than anything else. I have visited the region three times. I have visited Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus. I have visited Ramallah and Jerusalem three times and Tel Aviv twice. I will continue to visit the region and try to do everything I can to ensure Ireland can influence the political debate and the decisions being made to alleviate the tragedy and injustice that is continuing. I believe Ireland can play a positive role in the Middle East peace process in working towards an agreed solution to the conflict, with people in the two states involved, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and prosperity. I am convinced that this is the outcome that is in the best interests of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, with whom Ireland enjoys a long-standing relationship with and friendship.

Last January I made it clear that I fully respected the motives and intentions of the proponents and supporters of the Bill. I reject and have publicly opposed attempts made in other jurisdictions to demonise people who sincerely support this political approach and will continue to do so. Sadly, what has happened in the intervening months has only increased the sense of frustration many feel about the Middle East peace conflict. The sense of helplessness and deep sense of injustice that so many Irish people hold about the plight of Palestinians have intensified in recent months and for good reason. The unacceptable shooting of demonstrators in Gaza and the attempted demolition this very week of the homes of vulnerable Palestinian Bedouin have led to a strong feeling we must do more from an Irish perspective. It is a feeling I share.

I agree that settlements are at the heart of the conflict and should be a particular focus for action. However, speaking on behalf of the Government, I am unable to agree that the Bill is the right way forward. I wish to set out carefully for the Seanad why I believe this is so. There are three broad reasons: legal; political and the practical effects. The overriding point that frames the Government's view is that the Bill asks the State to do something that is not within our power. Ireland is part of a single unified EU market. External trade policy - third countries trading into the European Union - as well as trade between EU member states, is an exclusive competence of the European Union. We are not in a position to raise a barrier and declare that goods legally available elsewhere in the European Union cannot be brought into Ireland for sale.

There are other legal difficulties with the Bill, but I shall leave them aside for now. The following is the essential point and it does not just concern how the legislation has been framed or drafted but also the very ability of Ireland to enact such legislation within EU rules. Passage of the Bill, therefore, would be in breach of European law and expose Ireland to potential legal action by the European Commission or affected individuals and, potentially, fines and damages that could continue as long as the Bill remained in force. This is not a course any Government could support. Successive Irish Governments and Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Trade, across the political spectrum - I remind Fianna Fáil of that fact - have taken the same view while in office. I have obtained the formal advice of the Attorney General on this matter. It confirms the view taken by successive Governments that measures of the nature proposed in the Bill would be contrary to EU law, by which Ireland is bound. I have a letter from the Attorney General that contains 52 paragraphs which explain in detail why that is the case.

Senator Frances Black and others have relied on legal opinions, which I accept. I realise this is not a Bill that has been put forward lightly. We spoke about this aspect for up to two hours as late as yesterday. The legal opinions argue that a national ban is possible under EU law by invoking certain exceptions. The central legal issue is whether the Bill would be permitted under a particular exception allowed for in EU law for national action on trade restrictions, specifically the public policy exception. I am advised that the European Court of Justice has shown in previous cases that it will not allow this term to be interpreted as broadly as is being suggested by supporters of the Bill and that, consequently, this exception cannot be relied on to defend the Bill. For all of these reasons, the Government remains clear that a ban on settlement products could only be adopted successfully at EU level. Of course, we will give full and due consideration to any proposal brought forward at EU level. In fact, Ireland contributes actively to that debate.

The political effects of the Bill are also a key consideration, perhaps the most important. Ireland is a small state located far from the region, but it has a strong voice and greater influence in dealing with Middle East issues generally at UN and, in particular, EU level than its size alone would justify. That is where we are able to be of most help to the Palestinian people - indeed, both peoples - in achieving peace.We have achieved this influence by the consistent application and focus of Governments, Ministers and the Oireachtas over a long period, with the support of the Irish people. However it is, and has always been, a matter for careful and sober judgement. If we get too far out in front of the consensus, then perhaps we cease to shape it. If we allow ourselves to be discounted in the calculations that other states make about where the centre of gravity on an issue lies, then perhaps we cease to shape that centre of gravity.

I am in no doubt, from my experience of discussions on this issue at EU level, that a unilateral move by Ireland on this matter would weaken our ability to influence overall EU policy, not strengthen it. In the current climate there are several EU governments that are much less supportive of the Palestinian cause than we are in Ireland. We spend a great deal of effort in Brussels, New York and Geneva arguing for a common EU policy on the Middle East. A position on which the EU can agree may fall short of our highest ambitions but it also ensures that important norms around the final status issues and the two-state solution continue to have a powerful and united global advocate.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but for the purposes of clarification, we are taking statements on Palestine now and the Bill will be discussed directly afterwards.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I cannot speak on the Bill.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I just wanted to clarify that the Minister was making a general statement.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is just a device.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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For the purposes of good order I wanted to clarify that.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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For the purposes of clarity, I understand I cannot speak on the Bill, which is why I am speaking now.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Minister has already spoken on it.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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This is a device as there are only a few minutes remaining in which the Bill can be discussed.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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There are 15 minutes available for debating the Bill. This is effectively the debate on the Bill.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Exactly.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I just wanted to clarify this for all present.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Acting Chairman for that.

Ireland has been a successful advocate for EU efforts on the Middle East, including on settlements. Ireland played a central role in achieving many of the EU measures on settlements, such as product labelling guidelines. There are also differentiated EU tariffs at EU level for goods coming from settlements and Israel. We were among the first advocates of a policy emphasis on differentiation between Israel and the settlements, which has come to be embodied in many EU measures. We continue to advocate for such actions.

Like many here today, I am frustrated that the growth of settlements has not stopped but I am proud that Ireland has been a consistent and influential advocate in support of Palestinians. My fear is that if Ireland is to adopt the course of action in this Bill, we would be choosing instead to be a principled voice in the wilderness satisfied in the righteousness of our course, but largely unable to influence the real action. This is my biggest concern about the legislation.

I ask the House to listen to me on this point. I have spent hours trying to build relationships with people who will be involved in decision making that can bring about peace - Palestinians, Americans, Israelis and others in Jordan, Egypt, Cyprus and many other neighbouring countries. I fear the consequence of Ireland taking a significantly different position from everybody else in the European Union and the world would be to suddenly undermine my capacity to be seen as someone to whom both sides can at least talk, even though I clearly advocate strongly for Palestinians all the time. This is a real fear. I do not say this for convenience because this is awkward legislation or I am being heavily lobbied. I say it because, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, I care about this issue. I have spent a significant amount of time on it and I want Ireland to be at the centre of these discussions, where it matters and we can help a vulnerable and exposed community of Palestinians who are part of a deep injustice that has lasted for decades.

I suspect this Bill will pass today. By passing it, Senators may believe we are striking out in solidarity with Palestinians, which we are and that is how it will be seen, but one week later, where will an Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade be with regard to the relationships we have worked so hard to build up over the past 12 months? I have spent a substantial amount of taxpayers' money funding my travel in these endeavours. We are trying to help Palestinians and to ensure that teenagers in Gaza are no longer shot dead.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It has not worked.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Hear. Hear.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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We are trying. I will address that because I believe we have the potential to influence. I also reiterate the point I made here in January about what Ireland can do to be of practical help to Palestinians in ways that make fewer headlines than this Bill does, but which will change the position on the ground. I have invested a great deal of time and effort in the last year in establishing relationships with the governments of both Israel and the United States on Middle East issues, despite our very different views on these matters much of the time. I am realistic about the chances of success of the peace process, but we have to use all the possible influence we can bring to bear.

On the practical ideas to assist the situation in Gaza, I have reached a much greater degree of understanding in both Israel and Washington for the measures we are now trying to take forward with Palestinians. Ireland is committed to developing a solar energy project to alleviate the energy shortage in Gaza, on which we will spend €10 million.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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So the Israelis can blow it up.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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No. Let me answer that.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They destroyed the solar energy panels that-----

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Please allow the Minister to speak without interruption. All Members will have an opportunity to contribute.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Senators will have an opportunity to have their say.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I ask the Minister and Senators to direct all discussion through the Chair. Everyone will have an opportunity to make a contribution.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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We will not have the opportunity to contribute if speakers do not adhere to the speaking times agreed on the Order of Business.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I thank Senator Ruane for that reminder. Speakers may wish to share time as we will not have sufficient time left to accommodate everyone, unless they share time. Given that eight minutes is a long time, perhaps Senators will agree among themselves to divide their time appropriately.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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It is true that certain solar panel and energy projects in Gaza have been frustrated by the Israeli side. However, we have negotiated with the Israelis to be able to build a solar project in a no-go security zone controlled by Israel, next to the wall in Gaza. This will be a €10 million, 10 MW project, which will power a water purification plant funded by France.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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The Israelis turn the water off.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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These are the kinds of projects we can deliver through engagement that make a practical difference to people's lives. That is what I am interested in.

We are also advancing an expanded programme for scholarships for Palestinians. We continue to advocate strongly for a commercial port for Gaza in the medium to longer term and have placed the issue of pre-checking goods in the EU - in Cyprus - prior to arrival in Gaza as a potential means of loosening or breaking the blockade, which has caused untold suffering. We have managed to place that back on the agenda for consideration by all interested parties. It is not only Ireland working on this but we have advocated forcefully on this issue for a year. We were getting nowhere one year ago. Six months ago, we were getting somewhere and now the Israeli Government is actively talking with Cyprus about how a Cypriot port could be used to facilitate commercial traffic in and out of Gaza port for Palestinians. This would be a breach and breaking of the blockade through diplomacy and politics, which is what I am interested in achieving, as opposed to protest.

These are the kinds of issues on which Ireland is exerting influence and which I have spent my time trying to bring forward. They are tangible, practical projects to improve daily life on the ground, but we need some political space to be able to deliver them. All of this effort could come to naught if we choose to go it alone by isolating Ireland in policy development in this area. The third basis on which the Government must oppose the Bill is the assessment of its practical effects. Targeting settlement products is not a magic bullet. The settlement project is motivated by predominantly political, security and, unfortunately, ideological considerations, not economic. Settlements are hugely expensive for Israel and contribute little. Their exports are not an essential prop, without which the system would collapse. Most settlements produce nothing, except a great deal of hassle for many. It is estimated that almost all settlement goods could be absorbed by the Israeli domestic market, if exports were impossible. The volume of settlement goods reaching Ireland is thought to be very small. The effect of a ban as envisaged in the Bill would be largely symbolic, rather than practical in deterring settlements, as I believe most of us would accept. However, the practical challenges and costs of compliance for businesses would not be negligible. The Bill would risk putting companies based in Ireland in a position where they would face conflicting legal obligations in Ireland and other jurisdictions where they operate. For example, the careful distinction made in the Bill, in focusing only on settlements in the occupied territories, not Israel, is one which is not always reflected in the drafting of anti-boycott legislation at federal and state level in the United States. As we know only too well, these careful distinctions are too frequently lost in reporting internationally on the type of proposal under consideration.

I fully accept that the Bill, if enacted, would provide solace and support for Palestinians at a difficult time. From that perspective, emotionally, I can connect with it. We constantly need to think of ways to do more to protect the Palestinians and raise their cause internationally, but it may only be a moment - a once-off boost to morale and an act of solidarity - that will quickly diminish in effect when Ireland finds on the international stage that it is no longer as influential as it would like to be. I have stated the Government has clear and consistent advice that the Bill would put Ireland in breach of EU law. Even if that were not so, the balance of positive and negative impacts argues strongly against this unilateral move by Ireland at this stage, however strongly it may appeal to our sense of right and desire to act. Believe me, it is a strong sense from my perspective, but it would damage Ireland domestically and, more importantly, in the context of our ability to help Palestinians internationally, to which I am absolutely committed to doing. For these reasons, I am opposing the Bill.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The next speaker is Senator Mark Daly who has eight minutes. I will have to be strict on time. Speakers can discuss among themselves the way they want to divide speaking time. The Minister is to reply to the debate at 3.56 p.m. We can all do the mathematics. It will be challenging to allow everyone time to make a contribution. Does Senator Mark Daly need his full time allocation of eight minutes?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I do. I am sharing time with my colleague, Senator Terry Leyden.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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That is fine.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister and thank him for all of his work on this issue and visits to the region. His understanding of the complex nature of the issue is beyond question. He has a good grasp of the problems facing the Palestinian people when it comes to the settlements, the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In 1980 Ireland was the first state to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state. We were on our own; nobody else supported us as nobody had thought of it at the time. We were seen to be ahead of the European Union and everybody else in the world in leading the way. When Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, there were 40,000 illegal settlers on the West Bank; today, there are nearly 500,000.

I commend the Minister on the issue of having a port, but such access could end at any time. We have been talking about improving conditions the prisoners when they should not be prisoners at all. They should be released from captivity in the Holy Land. The Knesset is putting a Bill through which provides for full annexation of the settlements to be recognised. Does that sound like that anybody is trying to make things better? I know the work the Minister is doing on the issue of a port, scholarships and the solar energy project. I was in Washington the last time the Gaza Strip was attacked. There was the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel and the consequent response was the levelling of every piece of infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Water pumps, sewage treatment plants, factories, schools, and hospitals were levelled and that is what will happen again.

I note the point the Minister made about the politics of the issue, but the practicalities are a peace process has four fundamental elements. It needs stalemate on both sides, but that is not happening. It needs an independent outside actor. The European Union will not even invoke its own human rights clause in Article 4 of the Euro-Mediterranean agreement with Israel. Why does it not do so and state there has been a breach of human rights? Will the Minister answer that question? Another fundamental point is that in a peace process there is a need to ensure there are no third parties acting as outside agitators. Of course, that is what is happening. The timing also needs to be correct. None of the four elements required in a peace process is present in the Middle East. We had all four at the time of the Good Friday Agreement 20 years ago. None of them is present in Israel.

What the Minister is asking us to do is to seek to improve the conditions for people in the Gaza Strip at a time when conditions are getting exponentially worse by the day. The Oslo Accords, for anyone who knows the details, were a disastrous solution. Almost 40% would not be controlled by the Palestinian people, but that would be much better than what they are experiencing. We have letters from the Knesset. I remember Arab Palestinian Members of the Knesset asking us to put this Bill through. They are on the ground and asking for something to be done because something is a lot better than nothing.

Photo of Terry LeydenTerry Leyden (Fianna Fail)
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I thank my colleague for sharing time with me. I welcome the Minister. I am well aware that he is very concerned about and interested in this issue.

In 2002 or 2003 I established the Friends of Palestine group with about 100 people in the Oireachtas. It was chaired by the then Deputy Michael D. Higgins, now President of Ireland. At the time I travelled to Palestine with former Deputies Eamon Gilmore and John Gormley, the late Tony Gregory, Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh, the then Senator John Paul Phelan, now a Minister of State. I led the delegation. We witnessed at first hand the effects of the settlements and saw raw sewage being poured onto small farms in the occupied territories. That is a fact. Is this the right way to assert influence in the settlement of the problems in the region?

When I was a Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing, I travelled to the Islamic Republic of Iran and many other countries to promote trade with this country. We should remember that a boycott is a two-edged sword. If we boycott goods from Palestine, we could boycott the export of goods from Crimea which is occupied by the Russian Federation. We could also boycott goods from Cyprus which is occupied by Turkey. We could boycott all goods from China which occupies Tibet. Ukraine is occupied, as is Northern Ireland. We could go down that road very easily.

In 2017 we exported $868 million dollars worth of goods to Israel, from where we imported $63 million dollars worth of goods. These at the facts I have at my disposal. The World Bank has stated goods to the value of about $1.6 billion have been exported during the years. We should bear this in mind. The repercussions would be serious.The repercussions are serious. Boycotts are serious. I do not recall a Bill being introduced here when South Africa had apartheid. The boycott was carried out by the workers in Dunnes Stores and followed up by the public. I would certainly boycott products coming from occupied territories sold by the Israelis on the international market, but it is a different thing for a state to involve itself directly in this area. I advise caution. Like the Minister, my heart is behind this. I was there and I witnessed the situation at first hand, as did the Minister. We were not allowed into Gaza, which is an open prison. We have no doubt about what is happening in that region, but introducing a boycott would mean one would lose one's influence to go to Israel and make the point to the Israeli Government about what one feels. We will continue the argument in that regard.

In terms of the Bill and the respect and support it will be offered this afternoon, I have been trying to introduce a Private Members' Bill for approximately ten years and I have failed. Senator Frances Black should not bet her bottom dollar that this Bill will ever become legislation. Let us be clear about that. The process in this House is very slow. Very few Private Members' Bills get through. There is a question about the Bill's legality and our responsibility under European Union law. The Attorney General, whom I respect, has given advice in that regard. I issue that health warning. I am very concerned about the effect a boycott could have on jobs in this country. We need every job possible. We are facing a terrible dilemma in relation to Brexit and at this point we can ill afford another trade war with another country which has a legitimately elected government. We are in favour of the two-state solution. The late Brian Lenihan senior was the first Minister in this country and Europe to bring forward the right of Palestinians to self-determination and their own country.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I call Senator Marshall. I understand he is sharing time with Senator McDowell, five minutes and three minutes, respectively. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Ian MarshallIan Marshall (Independent)
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The debate is interesting for me because given where I have lived for 50 years I understand something about divided communities trying to live together. As someone who has lived in a charged and sometimes very toxic environment, when I look at the Bill that has been proposed I struggle with it on the basis that public perception is often key to such discussions. As someone who has lived in Northern Ireland through a difficult time, I know the message that was often portrayed globally was not what I experienced on the ground. Therefore, one has to be careful about the message one gets out of such an area. One man's occupied territory is another man's homeland. One's man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter and one's man's active aggression is another man's act of self-defence. I think we must be cognisant of that, because no one in this building today truly understands the complexity of this discussion.

We cannot attribute blame to one side or the other in this discussion. All involved must be accountable and we must fully understand the objectives of the Bill. In my view, the objectives are to protect the Palestinian people and to lead a change in attitude to this long-running issue to achieve a resolution.

I work part-time in a university environment. As many in the Chamber are aware, universities are judged by output and impact. What will be the output and impact of the Bill? I am not convinced it would deliver the desired outcomes. The Good Friday Agreement demonstrated the value of dialogue and talking and even though that is a long, slow and tedious process, it is the only process that will deliver results.

Ireland's role, as an independent state, should be to support and facilitate dialogue and conflict resolution in the area. If enacted, the Bill would be applicable to many territories around the world, and I do not think that is going to happen. For that reason, I oppose the Bill and support the Government's position of facilitating dialogue and support. An embargo in such circumstances would probably create more problems that it would resolve.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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The group of which I am a member is a diverse one with different views. I fully respect the views just expressed by Senator Marshall. I also take into account what the Minister said today and what Senator Leyden has said on the issue. However, I have a different view. Since 1967 and the subsequent illegal occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and west Jerusalem and the annexation of Golan by the Israeli armed forces, there has been a constant, deliberate and systematic defiance of international law.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I stand by what the United Nations declared in Resolution 242 that this is not Israeli territory and that its annexation is therefore illegal and must end. It violates international law.

If, like Senator Marshall, I took the view that things were progressing in the right direction and we were in the middle of a delicate peace process that could be destabilised by unilateral statements from the outside from people who are not exactly involved in the process, I would hesitate. However, I see a different scenario which I will state emphatically. I see the American intervention in Israel under President Trump. I see Jared Kushner's involvement. I see what has been stated by the American Secretary of State and its ambassador to the UN on these issues and it is all going in the wrong direction. I believe the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has to get a message-----

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

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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-----and that message has to be a very simple one, that is, Israel must respect the rule of international law, go for the two-state solution-----

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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-----and commit itself to an evacuation of the illegally occupied territories. Those are the minimum aims. I do not say this has to be done tomorrow but those are the minimum aims of establishing peace in the Middle East. Therefore, no matter how complicated our position is by virtue of our membership of the European Union and no matter how ineffectual the passage of this Bill may be economically on the state of Israel, as somebody who has always supported the right of Israel to exist, I believe the passage of the Bill may begin to set off similar gestures and stances in other countries across the world to give a message to Benjamin Netanyahu that the annexation of the occupied territories must stop and be reversed and that Israel must commit itself to doing so. That is why I am supporting the Bill.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I understand Senators O'Reilly, Feighan and O'Mahony are sharing eight minutes - four minutes, two minutes and two minutes, respectively. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome An Tánaiste and salute him on his real engagement with this issue. I do not think anyone in the House is disputing that. I commend Senator Black on introducing the Bill. In essence, there is not a person in this House, and very few outside it in this country, who in any way countenance the settlements. They are a horror to all of us. They are illegal and they are wrong on every front. There is discrimination in the supply of water and energy. There is 40% unemployment in Gaza. The list goes on. It is a horror and it is wrong. There is no ambiguity about that. We are unequivocally of that view. That is the Tánaiste's view and the view of every Member of the House. I am sure that is the view of the great majority of the people outside this House. We are all unambiguously clear on the issue. It is also a horror that 130 Palestinians have been killed in recent weeks during protests. The Israeli reaction has been deemed to be excessive by the UN.

The questions before the House are how to respond to that and what is the proportionate and wise response. There is no question about the horror involved and we could all speak for an hour on that. I would like to have spoken much more graphically on the issue.The question presented today is whether we take the Tánaiste's advice based on the advice he received from the Attorney General, his experience internationally and, more important in this context, his experience of visiting the Middle East on a number of occasions and interacting on this issue with colleagues at all levels in the European Union. The Tánaiste's advice is to hold off on this because he believes its impact will be minimal and it will diminish Ireland's moral authority and the possibility, as a small neutral state, to politically impact on the situation. It will not, therefore, have a proportionate effect. The question is which position which will have more impact. Should we continue to make progress and work strenuously as a neutral state with moral authority and a tradition of respect for the human being, freedom, independence and justice or, by doing this against the Tánaiste's advice, should we put ourselves out of that frame in respect of the same kind of moral authority and politically impactful role? Coupled with that, we have the legal advice from the Attorney General, which does not need further elucidation. The real issue is the first question I posed.

I appeal to my good friend and colleague, Senator Black, in this instance. She showed great maturity and political cop-on in previously accepting the Tánaiste's advice to wait. I know it is hard to do so twice but that advice has not been given lightly. Perhaps it would be more impactful to comment and protest but to see whether we can deal with the question diplomatically and keep it under review. My colleagues have two other specific points they want to make. That is, in essence, the question before the House.

Photo of Frank FeighanFrank Feighan (Fine Gael)
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The Government has a very clear and strong position on illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. It is completely opposed to the construction of settlements and has consistently condemned their expansion. On an emotional level, the Bill has a strong appeal and I respect the motives of those supporting it. However, the Minister has made clear that the Government does not support boycotts of Israel believing such actions would be ineffective and counter-productive in respect of those who agree with the resolution of the conflict and would potentially isolate Israelis from interactions in which diverse views on these issues are expressed. Successive Ministers for Foreign Affairs have taken this view. Taking the Bill forward would isolate Ireland in terms of dialogue. The Government believes Ireland would find it much more difficult to maintain dialogue, which currently provides opportunities to raise these very difficult issues and press for action towards peace. Some may dismiss this dialogue but, ultimately, how are we to achieve peace in the Middle East?

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge the deep passion with which everybody on all sides of this debate has spoken, including the Tánaiste. As noted by previous speakers, we are unified on the need to improve the position and conditions of the Palestinian people. That is the first thing. The question is whether this can be done by continued diplomacy and work by Ireland led by the Tánaiste. I was highly impressed by the passion he displayed in setting out how he intends to do this and the other arguments.

I had not intended speaking at all and I thank Senator O'Reilly for sharing time to allow me to contribute for a couple of minutes. The question I must ask is whether we can keep both avenues on the table. I know the Bill has been postponed since January. This is not about trying to kick anything down the road. I ask the Tánaiste whether there is any possibility of tangible progress being made by September or October. If there is no prospect of progress, I would support this statement being made by this House at that stage. I would have no problem with that. Could the Tánaiste give some assurance that progress is possible in the next few months? We could then ask both sides to keep both avenues on the table in order that we can reach a conclusion on this matter. As Senator Marshall said, at the end of the day, it is dialogue that solves most problems.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire agus cuirim fáilte roimhe. Cuirim fearadh na fáilte croíúil roimh iad siúd atá sa Ghailearaí linn don díospóireacht freisin. I thank the Tánaiste for his contribution. Listening to him, I could not help but think of Einstein's definition of insanity, which involves doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. The Tánaiste spoke about the issue of solar panels, electricity and water for the occupied territories as if Israel would not continue to shut off and control people's water and electricity. He spoke about advocating strongly for a commercial port in Gaza knowing full well what happens to fishermen in Gaza and what happens to children when they are playing soccer on the beach in Gaza. I do not doubt the Tánaiste's bona fides in this regard but based on fact and reality, I do not share his hope in that regard.

The Tánaiste also cited the peace process as cause for the State not to support this Bill. He then outlined the litany of executions, slaughter and mass murder, the imprisonment of children in military courts, the continued demolition of homes and further illegal incursions into Palestinian lands. There is no peace process in the Middle East and it is a flag of convenience, a cloak and a cover to try to use that as an excuse not to support this Bill.

The Tánaiste said he does not want to place himself on a particular side or be accused of being partisan. As I stated during the previous debate on this issue, sometimes in peace processes, we need to place ourselves in a particular partisan position. Sometimes we need transformative decisions to be taken on the international stage. The most glaring, obvious and relevant example in our own peace process was when the British Government, the European Union and the US domestic and foreign intelligence agencies told President Bill Clinton not to grant Gerry Adams a US visa. All of the great and the good , all of the so-called experts and all of those who were opposed to the advance of dialogue and a peace process said, "Don't do this." What was required, however, was a decisive and definitive political decision. We have seen the fruits of that decision play out and the impact it had on our peace process. I put it to the Tánaiste that he needs to take a definitive decision in this regard and support this Bill.

The Tánaiste also cited legal, political and practical effects as reasons not to support the Bill but to oppose it. It struck me that he did not once mention the morality of this issue.

(Interruptions).

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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May I be heard?

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am trying to ensure the Senator is heard. It is quite noisy in here.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Not once was the issue of the morality of this Bill-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I think the Leader was discussing the possible extension of the debate. I asked him to extend the time provided.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I welcome that if that is the case.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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When the Leader is given the opportunity, he will interject on that but we must have silence in the room when Senators are speaking.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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The Tánaiste goes on to cite what is and is not within his legal gift to do. Senator Black and those of us who support the Bill contest what is and is not within his legal power to do on this issue. Even if we were to take the Tánaiste's words on this matter at face value, it is within his legal gift to adhere to the will of both Houses of the Oireachtas and recognise the state of Palestine, as the Government is mandated to do. Given the slaughter he correctly and factually outlined, it within the Tánaiste's legal gift to expel the Israeli ambassador from Ireland, particularly in light of his quick decision of late to expel the Russian ambassador.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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On a point of clarification, the State did not expel the Russian ambassador at any point. It is important in a debate of this import for us to be accurate. We have just heard a series of inaccuracies from the latest speaker.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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There has not been a series of inaccuracies from me.However, I will say this: even if I were to take the Minister at his word-----

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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There is no need to exaggerate for effect on something of this import.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but could we please have just one speaker?

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I am not exaggerating, Minister. There is no need to exaggerate on this issue because it is already exaggerated, given the level of slaughter being perpetrated against the people of Palestine. The intention of the Bill that we will be discussing is not to put the Minister under political pressure or make him uncomfortable. It is to stand in the proud lineage of the Irish people in opposing apartheid.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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To be fair, this Minister has done that the whole time. The Senator should give him credit for that.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but can we have Senator Ó Donnghaile without interruption, please?

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Acting Chairman. I appreciate her guidance.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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The Senator only has one minute left.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I will finish on this.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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The Senator should give him credit for the work he has done already.

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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Stop.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I have recognised that in this debate and previously, but I will not get into a ding-dong with the Leader because, with the greatest of respect to him, this issue is far too important for that.

Photo of Jerry ButtimerJerry Buttimer (Fine Gael)
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You will just change the-----

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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Listen. Through the Chair-----

Photo of Catherine NooneCatherine Noone (Fine Gael)
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I am sorry, but I will have to insist on just having whoever is on his or her feet speaking. Senator Ó Donnghaile will have to conclude.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Acting Chairman. Through the Chair, we have acknowledged, as has the Minister, that people have deeply held and passionate views on these issues, so the Leader should at the very least afford us the courtesy of an opportunity to express those views without the kind of interruption we have seen.

Nelson Mandela attended a joint sitting of the Houses in the early 1990s. He said that what had made the practical difference on the part of the Irish people was definitive action in the form of their boycott and solidarity. That can make the difference in the Bill that will be before the House today. The Minister asked where supporting that Bill would leave him as an Irish Government Minister. It would leave him on the side of right. It would leave him on the side of Mandela. It would leave him on the side of justice. I encourage the Minister, the Government and colleagues in Fine Gael to reconsider the Bill and what is happening in Palestine and to look at the will of the House and the majority of Irish people, who want to see us take this mode of solidarity.