Seanad debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018: Report and Final Stages

 

Question put: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

The Seanad divided: Tá, 29; Níl, 16.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Frances Black and Niall Ó Donnghaile; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.

Question declared carried.

10:30 am

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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Now.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

Photo of Helen McEnteeHelen McEntee (Meath East, Fine Gael)
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I would like to make a short statement on the Government's overall position, addressing the Bill as a whole. While understanding the motivation and intentions of the proponents of the Bill, the Government is opposed to the Bill for the reasons set out in detail by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when he spoke on Second Stage. The first and essential reason is that the essential purpose of the Bill is contrary to EU law and requires the State to do something which is not in its power. External trade rules are an exclusive competence of the European Union, so goods from settlements can only be excluded at an EU level, not by an individual member state. This is the essence of the EU Single Market. While it is noted that various legal options have been put forward to argue that the Bill is compatible with EU law, the clear and comprehensive advice of the Attorney General is that it is not. The Government has not been convinced by arguments to the contrary. We have every reason to believe the enactment of this Bill would expose the State to legal action, not only by the European Commission but also by the parties claiming to have been adversely affected by the Bill. We expect that the State would be liable for significant and recurring damages so long as the law remained on the Statute Book. This is not a course into which any Government would willingly enter against its own legal advice as provided by the Attorney General. This is not the only cost that the Bill would entail since the creation of new offences also carries a cost, but it is likely to be the largest.

The Bill would create real difficulties for business in Ireland and for Irish businesses in the United States, which could find themselves placed between incompatible legislative demands. I do not say this is right or justified but it is the case. It is also clear to us that Ireland's voice and influence on the Israel-Palestine issue in Europe and wider international circles would be lessened by a unilateral action of this nature. Far from leading the way, we would be marginalised and less influential in those places where we can be of most use to the Palestinian people. Finally, while the Government absolutely shares the objectives of ending the Israeli settlement project, we do not believe the Bill would have any significant effect on this. The volume of settlement goods reaching Ireland is not large. No other EU country has shown any interest in taking a similar step. Even the symbolic gesture of support for the Palestinians would be turned into yet deeper disappointment if the European Court of Justice, as we would fully expect, determined the Bill to be in breach of EU law. In the end, we would give a psychological boost not to the Palestinians but to the settlers. Taking these factors together, the Government must oppose the Bill. Since it is the fundamental basis of the Bill that we must oppose, the Government has not offered any amendments.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I am going to keep it very short until the Bill is passed, at which point I would like to make a final speech and thank a few people. I have to disagree with the Minister of State on what the Attorney General said. At some point I would like to see what the Attorney General said. We have opinions from the top legal people in Europe - Michael Lynn, Professor James Crawford and Professor Takis Tridimas from King's College London, who will disagree with the Attorney General. We even have a former Attorney General in the Seanad, Senator McDowell, who will disagree with the advice. I do not really have much more to say about that.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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We are supporting the Bill. It is our hope that in voting for the Bill, we will enable peace to be brought forward some little way in the Middle East. I acknowledge the genuine concerns of the spokesperson for the Israeli people who have legitimate concerns, I believe, about the Bill. They must be listened to. As I said in my Second Stage speech, no nation in the history of mankind has suffered like the Jewish people. Any decisions we make here should always bear that in mind. It is quite conceivable that there will be legal opinion which will counteract what is being done here tonight. It is quite conceivable that, if and when the Bill reaches Dáil Éireann, certain amendments may be put down by all parties. We will look forward to that with interest.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I welcome the Bill, which will obviously pass. There is no question about it. It is a great day for this country. We are the first country to break ranks and I hope we will not be the last. One will never get unanimity in the European Union as the Minister knows perfectly well. The Germans have such a conscience about the Holocaust that they will never do anything. That is one thing. The other thing is that there is a nasty campaign by the Israeli Government against the Bill. I have noticed it and been made aware of it. I record something a constituent of mine contacted me about recently. He was watching a Facebook video which was interrupted by an advertisement depicting a young Palestinian girl stabbing repeatedly as a voiceover said Palestinian children were trained to hate. It lasted ten minutes. My correspondent contacted Norman Finkelstein who is Jewish but an authority on Arab-Israeli affairs and discovered that this is a web campaign established by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs. This kind of interference is unacceptable behaviour. Several other people who have taken positions on the Bill have had this advertisement pop up too. I point out this kind of Goebbels style operation going on from the Israelis which is really to be condemned.

Photo of Niall Ó DonnghaileNiall Ó Donnghaile (Sinn Fein)
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I take the opportunity to say a few words and respond to some of the remarks of the Minister. As Senator Norris was right to say, this is a landmark day, not just for the Palestinian people but for all of those who adhere and aspire to international justice and solidarity. As a team, Sinn Féin in the Seanad is proud and happy to facilitate these Stages of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 via our Private Members' time. Sinn Féin has supported Senator Black's legislation on all Stages. We support it in practical terms and its outworking and we will again when it reaches the other House. The Bill has the noble and just aim of prohibiting the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories. It is not extreme and seeks only to establish a legal framework to ban imports from settlements which are already illegal under international humanitarian law and, most important, domestic law. The Bill is important as it seeks to prohibit the sale of goods and services originating in illegal settlements on occupied land. Those goods and services are only available because of gross human rights abuses and violations of international law and they should not be available in Ireland.

A clear example of how the legislation would work is by stopping goods and services from illegal Israeli colonial settlements from entering the State. For decades, Israel has attempted to destroy the two-state solution by increasing massively the construction of illegal colonial settlements in Palestine. The building of these illegal colonial settlements violates international law and is a war crime, yet Ireland continues to trade freely with them. As long as we continue to hand the Israeli Government impunity to impose apartheid, continue its illegal occupation and violate international law, it will never make the necessary compromises to create a just and lasting peace settlement. The Irish Government must make a strong and unambiguous statement that there can be no impunity for Israel's continued illegal occupation of Palestine. Nothing will change in Gaza or the West Bank until the international community moves on from empty rhetoric to place real pressure on Israel.

The Government must stop sitting on the sidelines wringing its hands. When concrete and tangible steps are proposed, the Government is afraid to show leadership. Thursday, 29 November was the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. What a great message it would have been for the Palestinian people living under occupation and apartheid had the Government given unanimous support to the Bill in the Seanad on that day. The Government is hiding behind supposed legal advice from the Attorney General. I am sure other Members would, like me, love to see that advice. Senator Black has legal advice from Professor Takis Tridimas, an expert in EU law at King's College London and a practising barrister with an extensive record before the European courts, that the Bill is fully compatible with EU law. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade should publish the advice of the Attorney General so that all parties could see the legal perspectives and make up their own minds. I am in no doubt that the Bill complies fully with EU trade rules and that we should, as a matter of urgency, pass it tonight.

The Bill does not focus on one occupation or country, its focus is solely on respect for international law. The legislation would apply to occupations and breaches of international law anywhere in the world on the basis of evidence and legal consensus. As mentioned on a previous Stage, there is a strong case for Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara to come under the remit of the Bill also. Colleagues will be aware that Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara is completely illegal under international law. The Sahrawi people have a right to self-determination and to decide their future democratically, but this has been denied them by Morocco. Morocco's occupation has been affirmed as illegal by international courts, most recently the Court of Justice of the European Union in February. In July 2018, the court further ruled that the EU's fisheries agreement with Morocco must not extend to Western Saharan waters. The EU is attempting to undermine the judgment of the court and to push ahead anyway. Sadly, the Irish Government has been silent. Sinn Féin opposes the fisheries agreement's application to Western Saharan waters as it opposes illegal occupation of Western Sahara itself.

I hope the Bill will be a vehicle to challenge both violations of international law outlined and, indeed, any others where they exist. I am proud Sinn Féin is able to facilitate the Bill which we support.

Photo of Ned O'SullivanNed O'Sullivan (Fianna Fail)
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On a point of order, while I have the height of respect for Senator Norris, I am shocked at what he said. Is it appropriate that he would invoke the memory and image of Joseph Goebbels to make a point against the Israeli people? It is absolutely inappropriate and perverted. It would be a disgrace if someone in the Chamber failed to make that comment. I know Senator Norris will reflect on the remark and I hope he will withdraw it.

Photo of John O'MahonyJohn O'Mahony (Fine Gael)
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My information is that the Senator was entitled to make the point but he may want to reflect on it himself and withdraw it. However, he was entitled to make the contribution.

Photo of Michael McDowellMichael McDowell (Independent)
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I support the Bill. I understand fully that the Government has the advice of the Attorney General. Unlike a certain other country close to us, it is not possible for the Parliament to demand to see that advice for very good reasons which I respect fully. Senator Black has taken the step of publishing legal opinions to the contrary and I have had the opportunity to read them. I agree with them. That is not to say there is always one infallible view on these matters.

I agree with Senator O'Sullivan. I stand for the right of Israel to exist and in supporting the Bill, I am not taking an anti-Israeli position. The right of Israel to exist within internationally accepted borders is an absolute right which the country is entitled to defend. I make no bones about that. I do not believe it is an illegitimate state and I want that to be very clear. It has been suggested in public discourse by a former Member of these Houses and by a senior Israeli Minister that the motivation behind the Bill is anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. In that regard, I was the person who, as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, inaugurated Holocaust Memorial Day. I supported the Irish Holocaust commemoration committee and apologised in public for the way in which Ireland failed Jewish refugees during the Second World War. I have taken a lifelong interest in the appalling atrocities involved in the Holocaust and I object deeply to anybody saying my motivation is anti-Semitic. It is scandalous and wrong that it should be stated. I take particular solace from the fact that not merely is the Bill supported by international lawyers like those whose opinions Senator Black has published, it is also supported by a considerable number of people in Israel.This Bill is by no means anti-Semitic.

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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It is not opposed to the existence of Israel or the legitimacy of the Israeli state. It is merely saying that international law must mean something and that this Chamber of the Irish Parliament is determined to make it clear that international law cannot be flouted with impunity. We are not obliged to accept de facto annexation of land in a manner that infringes international law.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Independent)
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On behalf of Labour Party Senators, I welcome the Minister of State to the House and congratulate Senator Black and colleagues on this Bill which is just about to be passed by Seanad Éireann. As others have said, it sets down an important marker about the need to uphold and respect international law. It is a Bill about respecting international law and ensuring that we control and restrict imports from occupied territories, that is, territories that are recognised as illegally occupied under international law. I am proud to support it on behalf of my Labour Party colleagues because my party has a proud record of standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people, particularly in the context of the ongoing campaign of illegal settlements and demolitions, about which many of us on the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade have heard evidence and about which we have been highly critical. The committee has made representations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, about same and he, in turn, has made representations on behalf of the State about the continuing illegal settlements and demolitions. This Bill is entirely in keeping with that record of criticism of, and challenge to, illegal activity by any state and, in this case in particular, by Israel.

I agree with Senators McDowell and Ned O'Sullivan that this is not in any way an anti-Semitic Bill. It is important to stress that all of us who support this Bill see it as an important step towards recognition and respect for international law but also as setting down a marker to try to bring about a peaceful resolution of the ongoing Israeli Palestinian conflict, one that recognises and respects a two-state solution. Currently, we are at an impasse. There is no apparent international impetus or momentum towards any sort of settlement and we need to move things forward. One of the ways in which we can do that is to prevent the ongoing obstruction of a peace process by the continuing campaign of illegal settlements and demolitions. This Bill is an important part in bringing about a peaceful resolution in the interests of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples who are living currently in a state of conflict.

Finally, I am proud that the Labour Party has such a strong record in defending Palestinian rights. The former Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, exemplified that in his recognition of the rights of Palestinian people. At the same time, the Labour Party supports and facilitates the annual Holocaust memorial event which is held in the Mansion House in Dublin. I have been proud to attend that event over many years. It is also an important marker in terms of respect for international human rights law, respect for the Jewish people and recognition of the enormous wrong done to them and the terrible crimes that they suffered in the past.

I reiterate my party's support for the Bill and commend Senator Black.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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It is my pleasure to welcome my neighbour, the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee to the House. I applaud the effective way in which she represents our country on the international stage and particularly in Europe.

I am impressed by the way in which we are going about this business today because this is an extraordinarily sensitive topic. We are talking here about a very difficult situation. I will try to adhere to the respectful tone with my own contribution. The people who support the Bill are rightly anxious to establish that they are not anti-Semitic. Those of us who do not support the Bill are similarly anxious to establish that we are not anti-Palestinian. Quite the contrary, in fact; we are conscious of Palestinian suffering and are supportive of the Palestinian people. Like colleagues who spoke earlier, we are also acutely and profoundly aware of the history of the Jewish people over centuries and the extraordinary suffering and unspeakable barbarism inflicted on them. However, that cannot, by extension, make us not want to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people now.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade has made the middle eastern question a Government priority, second only to Brexit. He has made numerous visits to the middle east and to the occupied territories. He is genuinely committed to doing something about the conflict. I believe that the Tánaiste has the respect of Members on both sides of the House and I doubt that anyone would question his bona fides or his competence. He is of the view, which he expressed previously in this House, that it would be more effective for us to stay within the framework of the EU efforts to resolve the problems in the middle east and not to act unilaterally. We must take account of what he has said in that regard. I reiterate that those of us who do not support the Bill have the same objection to illegal settlements as those who support it. Ireland is a participant in the Europe-wide regime of sanctions at the moment. Those sanctions relate to tariffs and labelling. We are supportive of them and were to the forefront in trying to achieve them.

Senator McDowell, who is a distinguished former Attorney General himself, accepts that a Government in office cannot not ignore or fail to take account of the advice Attorney General. The entire apparatus of government could not function were that premise set aside because it would suggest a lack of confidence in the Attorney General. That in itself would raise another set of questions. The Minister of State has made the point that the Attorney General is of the view that there is a risk of dangerous legal actions for the State in this regard. Were they to be taken and to be successful, that would set back the Palestinian cause rather than helping it.

There are practical difficulties to implementing this legislation. Goods could be imported from a third country, goods that were manufactured by another EU trading partner, for example, parts of which originated in the settlements. How will this law be implemented by Ireland unilaterally? How do we do it, business by business? It raises difficult administrative questions.

Finally, this has been an extraordinarily mature debate and never once have those of us who oppose the Bill doubted the bona fides, good motivation and sincerity of Senator Black and those supporting her. However, we must do our job by drawing attention to the perspective of the Tánaiste in achieving a peace process, the considered legal opinion of the Attorney General and the fact that this will present practical difficulties in its implementation.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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One of the things that disappointed and upset me following the previous debate we had was an email I received suggesting that I am anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not see this Bill as being about Israel and Palestine but about people profiting from what they steal. Quite frankly, we simply cannot allow one country to infringe the border of another, as has happened in the occupied territories, and to profit from that. That is why I support Senator Black's Bill. I am in no way anti-Israeli. I have met the new Israeli ambassador, who is a very fine man. I supported the Holocaust memorial event when I was president of the Teacher's Union of Ireland and will do so again. I am always interested in hearing the Israeli side of the story, in terms of what it is like to go to bed at night unsure as to whether a missile will land in one's back garden or on top of one's house.There is an Israeli story to be told and I believe everybody is open to listening to that story and to doing whatever we can on an individual basis and a collective basis as a nation to try to find a solution that will allow these two countries to live side-by-side in harmony.

This is not pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli or anything like that; it is simply about doing the right thing. I fully accept what the previous speaker, Senator O'Reilly, said about the difficulty in implementing the Bill when it is passed, as I believe it will be. These problems can all be overcome in time.

Senator Black is to be commended on this initiative, which she backed up with solid legal advice. The important message is that a country cannot use aggression to take land belonging to another people and then profit from it. I urge the Government, even at this stage, to change its position, accept the Bill and allow it pass through this House. It must still go before the Dáil.

I will support Israel in any way I can; I will equally support Palestine in any way I can. I have no beef with either country. When I lived in Limerick, I was proud to see the refurbishment of a Jewish graveyard which had been wrecked in the 1940s. The community in which I lived supported ensuring the headstones were re-erected and the graveyard was put right. There is nothing anti-Israeli about this. I support the Bill and commend Senator Black.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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I wish to clarify something for those who might have been concerned after hearing the earlier speeches on European law. The legal advice which has been given to us is clear. While the Attorney General may have given advice about cases, it is clear in European and international trade law that cases would be taken under this. For example, the EU trade agreement with Israel, which is in no way affected by this Bill, is explicitly clear that settlements are not included and not covered by the provisions of that.

This is not a unilateral move; this is a move in support of international law as agreed by the UN and by the countries of the world together through the standards we collectively try to set for ourselves.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Alice Mary HigginsAlice Mary Higgins (Independent)
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In that sense this is a move in favour of multilateral diplomacy and in favour of the use of tools of diplomacy, rather than the rule of might, power and alliances. It shows we can instruments put in place. It reaffirms international diplomacy and is important not simply for Israel and Palestine but, as was rightly mentioned, for Western Sahara and the Sahrawi where trading by Irish companies is currently being pursued and should not be. This is an important marker of Ireland's leadership in international law and should be embraced by the Government.

Question put.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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In accordance with Standing Order 72, as the required number of tellers have not been appointed for the Níl side, I declare the question carried.

Question declared carried.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I want to thank a few people. I am so delighted and I feel so emotional. I am so proud to see Seanad Éireann pass this Bill in full today. It is an historic and momentous occasion and I know how much it means to the Palestinian people to know that someone out there cares. Today, we send a strong signal that Ireland will always stand on the side of international law, human rights and justice.

I am deeply thankful to Sinn Féin which has been so committed and principled on this issue for decades and gave up its Private Members' time to facilitate the Bill. I thank it sincerely from the bottom of my heart. I also acknowledge the fantastic support from Fianna Fáil, in particular the party's foreign affairs spokesperson, Deputy Niall Collins, who was just amazing and has worked tirelessly on the issue. I am so delighted he will bring the Bill into the Dáil early in the new year and I wish it a quick passage through the Lower House. I am deeply grateful for the support for this Bill from right across this House. I thank the Labour Party, the Green Party, Independent Senators and my wonderful colleagues in the Seanad Civil Engagement group. I am delighted that we have the support of every political party in the Oireachtas bar the Government. From listening to the thoughtful contributions of colleagues in Fine Gael and the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, I remain hopeful that they will hear us out and come on board as the Bill progresses.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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The huge level of cross-party support for this Bill is a testament to the fact that it is not a radical ask. We are simply saying that if we know certain goods have been produced as a result of war crimes, we should not be trading in them. This is the bare minimum that should be expected of a country with a deep commitment to human rights. If not, there is a clear hypocrisy. How can we keep condemning the settlements as illegal, as a theft of land and resources and as a barrier to peace but happily trade in the proceeds of this crime? It is not acceptable and it is our duty, as legislators, to change it.

I thank the amazing groups of people who have worked so hard in support of this Bill. My God they have been absolutely amazing. People have been fundraising, holding public meetings and sending their support from all over the country. The people of Ireland are amazing and I am just blown away by the support. Bringing brave Palestinian farmers, Mona and Fayez, over to meet them in July was one of the best experiences I have ever had. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing solidarity in action. I recognise the years of work on this issue from SADAKA, particularly by Marie Crawley and Gerry Liston, without whom we would not have reached this point. They are two geniuses. I also recognise the fantastic supporting organisations Trócaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the Global Legal Action Network and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign, IPSC. The Palestinian ambassador is also here tonight and I thank him so much for all his support.

Ultimately I am pursuing this initiative because I want to see Ireland take a stronger lead on issues of human rights and social justice. I do not believe such stances hinder our international standing. I believe they greatly enhance it. I saw the impact of settlement expansion myself when I visited the West Bank earlier this year. I saw the restrictions on movement, the separate roads, the destruction of people's homes and the devastating human rights conditions, which are worsening daily. We cannot in good conscience look at this situation, the unforgiveable human cost and say that decades of empty condemnation are enough. It should summon in us a deep sense of injustice and anger that demands meaningful action against occupation.

Today marks only the halfway point. The Bill has been agreed by the Seanad and it now must be agreed by the Dáil. I am calling on all of those who have supported us so far, both the political parties and the amazing activists all over the country, to keep going with their backing. We can make this Bill law. Go raibh míle míle maith agaibh everybody. Thank you so much for all your support.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I am happy to congratulate Senator Black on bringing forward a major Private Members' motion in her first term in the Seanad. It is a great achievement as a legislator and I wish her well. We approach this from the best perspective and, as a Government, we will work every day to bring peace and justice to the Middle East.

Photo of Paul CoghlanPaul Coghlan (Fine Gael)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow at 10.30 a.m.

The Seanad adjourned at 7 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 6 December 2018.