Seanad debates

Tuesday, 20 February 2024

Situation in the Middle East: Statements (Resumed)


1:00 pm

Photo of Mark WallMark Wall (Labour)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am taking this debate on behalf of my colleague, Senator Moynihan, but I put on record again my own call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which is badly needed and urgent. Senator Currie spoke of helplessness and that is reflected by so many people I meet day-in and day-out in Kildare. It is reflected by the figures cited this evening by the Tánaiste: 136 long days of war, 100,000 dead or injured, 1.9 million displaced and 90% facing acute hunger. It is terrible to be using statistics but I will cite another very important one. Some 625,000 children are being deprived of education. Where else is this happening in the world? Nowhere. It is unbelievable that this is being carried out in full view. When we turn on our TV news every night, what we are seeing is incomprehensible. The figure that has stuck with me since it was mentioned in the House earlier is that there are 17,000 unaccompanied children. A new acronym, WCNSF, is being used for "wounded child, no surviving family". This is what Israel is doing in full view of the world.

The Tánaiste was right to intervene and say this is wrong and should not be happening and that there is a future, but that future has to start shortly. I welcome his statement tonight but the helplessness the Irish people feel has to be acknowledged and supported.I welcome the Private Members' motion tabled by the Civil Engagement Group, which we will debate tomorrow night. That debate will give us another opportunity to discuss these issues and I totally support the contents of the motion.

It is important to say tonight, when we have the opportunity, that we need to do more. The Government, in fairness, has done a lot. The Tánaiste and the Taoiseach have been to the forefront but more can be done. I encourage the Government to look again at Senator Black's Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill. It is beyond time that we adopted that legislation. It has been talked about and has been included in programmes for Government but we need to enact it. I urge the Minister of State to bring that back to his Cabinet colleagues with a sense of urgency.

The upcoming trips to the US by members of the Government have been mentioned and it is very important that we use those trips to the best of our ability. It is beyond time that we called out the US for its support, both financial and by way of arms, for Israel. As has been said previously, one cannot bomb one's way to peace. That simply cannot happen in any state and it needs to be called out. I join colleagues in encouraging all of those travelling to the US to use their time to call out what is happening in front of our eyes in Gaza. We see it every evening on the news and it is simply not good enough if we use that time for anything else. Right now, 17,000 children have no parents and unfortunately that figure, as Senator Clonan said, is increasing by the minute. That is what we are facing at the moment.

I also welcome the Tánaiste's announcement last week of additional money for UNRWA. That is essential. The work that UNRWA has done, and continues to do, is essential for the people of Gaza and it must be supported. We must continue with that investment and call out those who have stopped providing funding. It is essential that the investment in UNRWA's work on the ground is continued. The Tánaiste said earlier that the scale of civilian casualties that we are witnessing, with vast swaths of the Gaza strip reduced to rubble, leads him to the conclusion that Israel's actions have violated international humanitarian law. There is absolutely no doubt that he is correct. We all know what is happening before our eyes, as has been said by contributor after contributor tonight. It needs to be called out at every opportunity and I add my voice to that. The last poll I read found that 80% of people in Ireland have called out what is happening in front of our eyes as genocide and I have to concur. There is no other way of saying it. That is what we are seeing day in, day out. What we are watching is abhorrent, criminal, immoral and vile. It is time it stopped. It is time it was called out. The entire international community, including the US, must call it for what it is.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to contribute to the debate I look forward to supporting the Civil Engagement Group's motion tomorrow night. This cannot continue. I repeat, for the third time, that 17,000 children are without a parent. It is just not right.

Photo of Frances BlackFrances Black (Independent)
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I welcome the Minister of State to the House and I thank the Cathaoirleach for organising this debate. However, I am disappointed that the Tánaiste is not here as I intended to address my contribution to him. We have not had statements on the situation in Palestine for some time and it has become so much graver in the intervening months. Coincidentally, the Civil Engagement Group agreed to use our Private Members' time tomorrow to submit and debate a motion on the situation in Palestine. I am hopeful that these back-to-back debates will give Senators the opportunity to put their views on the record. The huge numbers of people protesting, contacting their public representatives and raising funds and awareness demonstrates the depth of public feeling on this issue and the desire for a stronger response from Government.

The past four and a half months have been an absolute nightmare. Every day there is a new horror. The scale of the destruction can be quantified but it is impossible to comprehend. Children are starving to death right now. The WHO has found that there is an exponential increase in the transmission of infectious diseases among these young, starving children. Child mortality could increase rapidly if the situation does not change immediately. This is how famine works. It is deliberate. People are enduring Caesarian sections and amputations without anaesthesia right now. Most hospitals have ceased to function. Hospitals have been bombed, invaded by Israeli soldiers and medical staff and patients have been abducted, tortured and murdered. Nowhere in Gaza is safe. An American doctor who recently returned from working at a hospital in Gaza spoke about how he saw several small children on a single day brought to the hospital, having been shot in the head by Israeli snipers. None of them survived. This is not a war. It is a murderous rampage by the trained killers of a rogue state. It is the ultimate expression of impunity.

I want to give credit where it is due. The joint Spanish-Irish statement calling for a review of the EU-Israel association agreement is an important, albeit incomplete, step. A review is unnecessary. The evidence on social media and in the International Court of Justice proceedings clearly shows Israeli soldiers documenting their war crimes for public consumption. Israeli political leaders are making unequivocal statements about their genocidal intentions. The televised events speak for themselves, rendering a review redundant. We should insist on immediately initiating the process of suspending the agreement by invoking Article 82.

I commend the Tánaiste on the extra €20 million in funding for UNRWA. It is a meaningful expression of confidence in an essential aid organisation during a time of unprecedented catastrophe. I also applaud him for being one of the few western political leaders willing to call out the baseless Israeli smear campaign against UNRWA. This campaign is as central to Israel’s assault on all Palestinian life in Gaza as the aerial bombardment of civilian infrastructure and its imposition of starvation conditions. It is in clear violation of the ICJ's interim measures and it is despicable that many western governments have gone along with it.

I feel compelled to address certain misleading and disingenuous statements I have heard from the Government since the beginning of the recent conflict in Gaza. Those of us in opposition have appeared weekly in both Chambers pleading with the Government to live up to its stated commitment to universal human rights and the equal application of international law. All efforts to urge the Government to implement substantial measures and take tangible action have not been successful, unfortunately. Thankfully, there is a consensus regarding Palestine's right to self-determination within these Houses but there is a divergence between those of us advocating for concrete steps to actualise that right and those who have refrained from action and yielded to the influence of US and EU leaders who are providing financial support, weaponry and diplomatic backing for Israel's actions in Gaza. It is clear that the Tánaiste possesses a deep understanding of this division. He has crossed the Parliament floor and under his leadership, Fianna Fáil contested the 2020 general election on a manifesto pledging to enact the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill. In 2018, the then Government rejected my legislation using the flimsy pretext of confidential legal advice. This advice was leaked and was comprehensively refuted by several eminent lawyers. The Tánaiste was sufficiently convinced of the legality and necessity of the Bill to include it in his party's election manifesto, but now that Fianna Fáil has returned to government, the position has changed. Unfortunately, Palestinians and their allies are accustomed to broken promises. Local authorities all over this country are passing motions of solidarity with Palestine. Many of those motions include support for the enactment of the Control of Economic Activities (Occupied Territories) Bill and have received support from councillors belonging to coalition parties. The grassroots are being much more faithful to the promises made to the electorate then the Tánaiste has been.The international community is united behind a two-state solution but Israel has done everything in its power to make that outcome impossible. It refuses to recognise the legitimacy of the ICJ which is currently ruling on the legality of its 56-year long occupation. Israel has expanded illegal settlement construction since the Oslo Accords, making daily life in the West Bank impossible for indigenous Palestinians. There are four times more settlers in the West Bank than there were before the Oslo Accords and those settlers receive state subsidies and are defended by the IDF even when they murder, pillage and steal from Palestinians, driving them off the land. I know the Tánaiste knows this. The question is what the Irish Government is going to do about it.

I keep hearing from Government figures that Ireland’s response to the crisis in Gaza has been strong. Our response fares well when compared to countries such as Germany, the UK and the US, which are actively complicit in the genocide through arms sales to Israel. However, we should not be comparing ourselves to the colonial powers arming a rogue state. We should reckon with the anti-racist, anti-colonial responsibility that our history imbues in us. When Ireland took up its seat at the UN in 1955 we distinguished ourselves from the competing geopolitical blocs through our firm independence and our consistent support for decolonisation, disarmament and peacebuilding. Our diplomacy reflected our values. We should be asking how we compare to countries such as South Africa which are being brave and steadfastly standing with their Palestinian brothers and sisters. It is inspiring to see the people who defeated apartheid in their own country coming to the aid of the Palestinians who are subjected to Israeli apartheid. South Africa understands that its liberation creates an ongoing moral responsibility to the oppressed people of this world. We have forgotten that but its not too late to correct our course. The people of Palestine, who are enduring unimaginable torture, deprivation and cruelty, need more than empty words of consolation. They need action. They need real tangible solidarity; nothing else will do.

Photo of Alice-Mary HigginsAlice-Mary Higgins (Independent)
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Right now all eyes are on Rafah and all hearts are with Rafah. There are 1.5 million people consolidated into a small area with each night bringing new terror. It is not only the people of Rafah under assault. Those who watch around the world know that what is being tested is the vision we have heard about for international human rights and humanity. Also being tested is the core principle, on which we are stronger because we are a neutral nation, that all lives matter, that human rights apply to everyone and that we are not in a world of big powers and interests but in a world where principles must apply.

Ireland has some actions that it can take to give leadership. These actions are strengthened by the fact of us being a neutral nation. These are actions that do not require us to wait for Europe but allow us to be first leaders. By the way, in the Tánaiste's speech he mentioned Operation Aspides. Apparently EU naval forces are heading down to protect commercial shipping going through the Red Sea but meanwhile the EU has not taken any action in respect of, for example, suspending the EU-Israel association agreement, something that does not require a review from the Commission. It is an action that can be taken immediately. We need to do better. We need to have this on the table at the EU Council meeting and call for immediate suspension. Even the ICJ preliminary ruling is enough.

We have legislation before the Houses that can be used. We have the occupied territories Bill. Failing to move forward on that legislation contributed to the international impunity which has seen such horrendous consequences. It needs to be acted on. We need a money message. The Irish Strategic Investment Fund should in no way be applied to the occupied territories. We should immediately take real action on UNRWA and call for an immediate ceasefire. We should also look to see what are the concrete pieces we can do. As with apartheid in the past, we do not need to wait for others in the EU to take the initiative and give leadership. The time for action is here. We will table some real proposals for actions tomorrow and we hope the Government will agree to them.

Photo of Fintan WarfieldFintan Warfield (Sinn Fein)
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The Palestinian ambassador to Ireland told a huge crowd in the Europa Hotel in Belfast a few weeks ago that the Palestinian people will rebuild Gaza out of the rubble, they will never give up and they will have a Palestinian homeland. She asked that people never stop talking about the Palestinians and Palestine. Not only have the Irish people never stopped talking about Palestine, they have never stopped marching for the besieged people of Gaza and the Palestinian people of the West Bank. They have never stopped marching for an end to the Israeli Government's genocidal campaign which has claimed the lives of more than 28,000 men, women and children. They have never stopped marching for a ceasefire. They have never stopped supporting the right of the Palestinian and Israeli people to live in peace with secure and credible borders, as neighbours, in two homelands for Palestinians and for Israelis.

Let us be in no doubt about what we are witnessing in Gaza. It is not a war of defence against Hamas. It is absurd to claim so. It is a war of offence against the civilian population of Gaza, some 2 million people. A total of 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, 68,000 Palestinians have been injured and 210 Israeli soldiers have been killed. In addition, the Israelis have destroyed homes, hospitals, schools and mosques. Israel has deprived people of food, water and electricity. The deaths and injuries and the systematic destruction of Gazan society are not, in the military parlance so loved by warmongers, "‘collateral damage". The civilian population and its infrastructure are the chosen targets. The truth is obvious and simple. It is a state-sponsored murder gang with all the amoral values you would expect.

What military prowess or bravery is involved in a genocidal campaign which kills men, women and children with casual disregard? The Israeli Government and its murderous gang has turned Gaza into a ghetto. From the air, on the ground and by sea, it preys on the defenceless population. It has used its superior military might to demonise, humiliate and strip the Palestinian people of their human rights and dignity. Yet, while this slaughter is playing out daily on our mobile phones and TV screens the EU dithers and plays political games with the lives of the people of Palestine. It had no difficulty spending long hours speaking about the need to support Ukraine, and rightly so, but why does Gaza warrant so little of the EU's serious time? The EU has failed to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. Why so? It is outrageous that the EU has failed this basic humanitarian test with respect to the people of Gaza.

The Irish Government should take the lead and set the example for the rest of the EU in the way that South Africa has shown the world with its case against Israel in the International Court of Justice for crimes of genocide. The Government has taken very welcome initiatives. It has shown the lead in calling for a ceasefire, the first country in Europe to do so. It has shown the lead in giving UNRWA an extra €20 million for its relief work for 6 million Palestinians at a time when other states withdrew their aid due to unfounded claims by the Israeli Government. I call on those states to reverse their decision and continue to fund UNRWA. It is a lifeline for Palestinians.

The Government has shown the lead in the joint letter from the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, sent to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, asking the EU to assess whether Israel is violating the provisions of its trade deal with the EU. I agree with the comments of the Taoiseach that the Israelis look as if they are involved in revenge and not defence. I also agree with the comments of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, that Israel is behaving like a rogue state. Taken in the round, it is clear that the Irish Government has the potential to go beyond where it currently is and I believe that in the face of the slaughter in Gaza, it should go beyond where we are and what we are seeing from it. It should recognise the state of Palestine. It should enact the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill and the occupied territories Bill. It should join South Africa with its case at the ICJ. It should expel the Israeli ambassador. It should use its influence in Washington this St. Patrick's Day to be a voice for the Palestinian people.

It is well past the time for European states, Britain and the US to stop arming Israel's genocide. It is time for the Arab nations, the US and the EU to impose their political will on the Israeli Government and set about a creating the conditions not only for a permanent ceasefire but for a negotiated settlement which will allow the Palestinian people to rebuild their shattered lives and society and live in a Palestinian homeland, as described by the Palestinian ambassador to Ireland last week in Belfast.

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I need to call the Minister of State in ten minutes. As there are two speakers left, I suggest five minutes each.

Photo of Aisling DolanAisling Dolan (Fine Gael)
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It is very clear that the Seanad is calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and for the unconditional release of hostages. The Minister of State is here and the Tánaiste spoke earlier. All the contributions we have heard have been shocking. It is hard to take in the scale of the absolute disaster unfolding before us. It is very clear that the funding for UNRWA is crucial. The €20 million that has been allocated directly from the Government to that agency is crucial. The Government will continue to work within the EU to ensure that the EU is also allocating funding to UNRWA.

Last week. Josep Borrell confirmed that that agency is supporting nearly 2 million people in Gaza alone. The scale of the support that has been offered in a humanitarian disaster, when people who are going in as emergency responders are also under attack, is absolutely incredible. I very much appreciate that immediate action was taken in respect of those staff. Of course, that is how that should have happened. However, such is the level of support required here that it deserves huge focus by our Government and by our Government working within the EU and at an international level.

A humanitarian ceasefire is required immediately in order for people, including children, to survive. The Tánaiste mentioned that 17,000 children who are left with no families have a new acronym. The funding for UNRWA is crucial in the time ahead when it will be needed more than ever. I appreciate the efforts made on our behalf by the Tánaiste and Department of Foreign Affairs officials who are doing excellent work on this but we need to see action. The Government needs to work with the US to come up with a resolution that will work at the UN. That involves the Government using its voice with the US to ensure that comes to pass.

Photo of Barry WardBarry Ward (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State. We have had an important discussion. What is extraordinary about this is that there is now worldwide recognition that what Israel has been doing is illegal, unjustifiable, disproportionate and contrary to all international law. That is the consensus that has grown in sensible countries. Of course, there are countries, many of which have a very particular history with Israel, that have not yet come to accept that. In the context of the ICJ, what has been said by European Union states and even in some of the utterances from the White House and from American politicians, albeit without real concrete action, there is realisation that what is happening here is totally unacceptable and beyond what is reasonable.

I acknowledge what the Government has done. Ireland has been a thought leader on this subject in Europe particularly. It was the first government to really call out what Israel is doing and has been followed by Spain, Malta, Belgium and others. I recognise that there are other states within the EU that, for particular historical reasons, feel they cannot come to the realisation that what is happening is wrong.

Based on the reaction of Israel, we can see the desperation with which it is fighting this in the international court of opinion. The Israeli reaction is always zealous and over the top. It always seeks to play ethnicity politics in response to criticisms of it. Anybody who criticises Israel, whether it is legitimate or not, is called antisemitic. That is the standard line that comes from Tel Aviv and from the Israeli embassy here. Anybody who disagrees with Israel, criticises Israelis or calls them out for what they are doing is branded as anti-Jewish. I have always distinguished between the State of Israel and Jewish people; they are different things. We have many Jews living here in Ireland, fewer than we had in the past, who do not agree with what Israel does. The two are not the same. It is entirely legitimate to criticise Israel and also have great respect and admiration for the Jewish people because what Israel is doing is entirely at variance with what most right-thinking Jews around the world think.

I reject what Israel has done in its interactions with other states, particularly Ireland. If Israel claims to be part of the international community, Israelis should behave like that. They should behave with a little bit of reason and diplomacy rather than having its first port of call to sling mud. Rather, they should engage with the issues and accept there are issues they need to address and questions they need to answer. I agree with many of the comments that have been made in this Chamber specifically about the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. It is not a reasonable or right-thinking government. It is a government that is pursuing its own agenda.

I accept there are lots of reasons from the Palestinian side. Hamas has behaved appallingly. It has sacrificed its own people, including women and children, on the altar of its political ambition. It has created a situation now whether directly or indirectly where tens of thousands of perfectly innocent children, women and families in Gaza and elsewhere in the occupied territories are suffering for its misstep, its misjudgment, its abuse and its terrorist activities. Let us be absolutely clear about that. Neither side is right here, but we can all recognise that the individual innocent civilians in Gaza, who are now being beaten down upon by a massive military aggression, are not at fault; they have done nothing wrong. It is really important that as a member of the international community we speak the truth about what is happening and do not shy away.

I recognise that there are wider political implications; I see that absolutely. I also recognise that a quarter of trade that came out of Israel last year went into the European Union. Maybe now is the time for us to think at EU level that we can do something to leverage that significant portion of Israeli trade to force them to behave in a reasonable and lawful way. Israel claims to be part of the international community and to be a proper, real, democratic state, although often when the word "democratic" is in the name of a state it means it is anything but. Israel claims to be part of the international community and functional in that regard when, in fact, its attitudes and actions completely belie that.

While what has been happening since 7 October is appalling, it is not new. Israel has been breaking international law for decades and for generations. The settlements in the West Bank and the occupied territories are totally illegal and recognised as such. Israel has continued to walk in there with impunity and breach international law. The reality comes down to the issue of appeasement. If they are not stopped, they keep doing it and keep taking more and more. The question is when we will lay down a line to say this far and no further.

Photo of Seán FlemingSeán Fleming (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senators for their statements, which have addressed many of the pressing concerns of the Irish people on the horrific situation in the Middle East. We know the devastating human loss that the war in the Gaza Strip has caused. Since October, 100,000 people have been killed or injured, or are missing. The vast proportion of the population of Gaza is displaced and international organisations are speaking of the potential for famine conditions.

I have heard Senators' comments about the way that the unfolding tragedies of the conflict have had an impact on them, on the people we have all met in recent months and on the whole country here in Ireland. Families are suffering the most horrific pain any of us can imagine. We have all seen the images and read the stories of children orphaned, people horrifically wounded and people dying from injuries that should be treatable. Supplies of food and medicine are nowhere near adequate.

This has also had an impact here in Ireland and indeed in this House. People whose families have been killed, injured or displaced are among us, living with the extraordinary trauma these events bring. I take this opportunity to extend my condolences and those of the Irish people to them.

Earlier, the Tánaiste made clear that the Government’s position remains focused on urging an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of hostages and the delivery of humanitarian aid at scale for people so desperately in need.The Government has been firm in its commitment to a ceasefire. The Tánaiste made this point strongly to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council this week. He and the Taoiseach also spoke of the importance of stopping the violence in their interactions with leaders from around the world at the Munich Security Conference.

We also made it clear that the Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip in response to the horrific attacks by Hamas has been disproportionate. I think everybody accepts this point. Ireland has repeatedly called on Israel to conduct itself in line with international law, including international humanitarian law. Israel must comply with the provisional measures delivered by the International Court of Justice in the case taken by South Africa under the genocide convention. The measures are clear and the authority of the court must be respected. In a separate case regarding the policies and practices of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Attorney General will travel to The Hague this week to deliver Ireland’s analysis in the advisory opinion case at the court, which resulted in the vote Ireland supported in the United Nations General Assembly in 2022.

At the meeting of European Union development ministers last week, I discussed the humanitarian situation with the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Philippe Lazzarini. I commended the actions of UNRWA, which helps almost 6 million Palestine refugees across the region and the support of which is absolutely vital in the Gaza Strip now more than ever. Since 7 October, 158 UNRWA staff have now been killed in Gaza, an appalling loss of life of people trying to help those in need.

There remains a huge problem with humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip. Plainly, not enough of the basic necessities of life are getting through to where they are needed most. Water, food, medicine and fuel are all needed in vastly greater quantities than are currently getting into Gaza. Over 2 million people are now at imminent risk of famine, with reports of almost 400,000 people now extremely lacking in food. Only one of the three water pipelines from Israel into the Gaza Strip is currently functioning and there is no access to clean water at all in northern Gaza.

We raise humanitarian access at every opportunity and this remains a focus for the Government in all our interactions. No hospital in Gaza is fully operational; maternity services are overcrowded, resulting in a reported massive increase in miscarriages; people are undergoing procedures without anaesthetic; and there is also a huge risk from the spread of disease. The impacts of this terrible crisis will go on and on for decades or even generations. Children have been left behind, physically and mentally scarred by the conflict. The cost, economic and human, is huge and the ripples will be felt for many years to come.

When Commissioner-General Lazzarini visited Dublin last week, he laid out starkly the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza, the necessity of ensuring that UNRWA is properly provisioned and that aid can reach those who need it most. I welcome that the Commissioner-General took the immediate and necessary step to terminate the contracts of 12 UNRWA staff accused of involvement with the attacks on 7 October. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has also appointed a review group, led by the former foreign minister of France, Catherine Colonna. This is a welcome step that will assess UNRWA’s ability to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations. The Commissioner-General did say at the meeting I attended that he hopes he will have this work finalised by 20 April, which is not too far away, all things considered and given the difficult nature of carrying out this work.

UNRWA is absolutely essential in ensuring Palestinian refugees are able to have the services they need. In the Gaza Strip, no other organisation, including any other international body, would be able to fill the role currently played by UNRWA. It is vital, not only in the context of the immediate humanitarian crisis in Gaza, but also for Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as in the occupied West Bank, all of whom rely on UNRWA for basic services every day. In total, UNRWA provides services for around 5.9 million people in need of international support and enjoys widespread support internationally, as evidenced in the vote on its mandate, with 157 states in favour and only one against, at the UN General Assembly at the end of 2022. I also made the point at a meeting I attended last week, representing every one of the EU countries, with Commissioner-General Lazzarini, that there was general acceptance that no NGO or other organisation could fill the shoes of UNRWA, even if there was a desire to do so. All those other organisations, even in the work they currently do, undertake it with the assistance of UNRWA's facilities and the infrastructure it has in place. For those people who suggest this approach might be an alternative, it is not at all practical. This has generally been accepted by so many people.

As Minister of State with responsibility for international development, I was pleased that last week we announced a further €20 million in funding for UNRWA. The decisions taken by other states, including some of our European partners, as well as the United States, to suspend funding, is deeply unfortunate. It is imperative that UNRWA has the resources necessary to be able to do its vital work and I urge the countries that have suspended funding to reverse their decisions now. Again, Commissioner-General Lazzarini, when asked about this point, said that UNRWA has funds to carry out its work right up into March but that the organisation will have a severe cash flow problem for its work come 1 April unless some of this funding is reinstated. I wish to make it clear as well, and this point may have been lost on some people, that some of those who have announced the suspension of funding meant they were suspending new funding proposals. They were continuing their previous commitments, while making their position clear regarding new funding proposals.

We appeal to those countries to keep the existing committed funding flowing until they are, hopefully, satisfied with the report forthcoming on 20 April. They can then reassess their position regarding future commitments. I ask them, though, to please not suspend funding they have previously committed to providing. Who are the victims here? They are the families and the children in the Gaza Strip. Nobody wins in this situation; everybody will be a loser, especially the people who depend on that aid for their daily lives. A large portion of people's incomes in the Gaza Strip, even before this conflict, has been supported by UNRWA and other relief agencies. Without that support, there will be a catastrophe. I ask those nations that have suspended funding to immediately reconsider. The people in the Gaza Strip cannot wait longer. The European Commission should also commit to releasing its planned funding for UNRWA on time. Ireland will continue to work with like-minded member states to insist that the Commission does so, and does not hold back funding it has already committed to providing in the near term.

The EU has a significant role to play in the region, both in terms of the provision of aid and in advancing practical measures. Ireland has been to the forefront of pressing for a common EU position that supports an immediate ceasefire. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have raised this matter with their EU counterparts and have explored ways to advance the position with our most like-minded partner nations. It is now past time that the EU speaks clearly, as so many member states have done individually, to urge a ceasefire. Only a ceasefire can begin to bring about an end to this horrific conflict. The letter by the Taoiseach and Prime Minister Sánchez of Spain to the President of the European Commission requests a review of Israel’s compliance with its human rights obligations as part of its association agreement with the EU and that the Commission should respond quickly. This agreement deals with trade issues, but it also deals with these issues under review now.

It is clear the EU should also follow the example set by the United States, the UK and France in sanctioning violent settlers in the West Bank. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports there have been 552 settler attacks against Palestinians or their property in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 7 October. In total in the West Bank, almost 400 Palestinians have been killed in recent months, 100 of whom have been children. We are all aware of the ways in which this horrific conflict has spread, and has the potential to do so further. It is imperative that in the West Bank settler attacks and incursions by the Israeli military do not create conditions for additional violence.

On 7 October, the Government swiftly condemned the actions of Hamas. The mass killing of civilians, including Kim Damti, an Irish citizen, and the taking of hostages was appalling. I know Kim’s family personally as they are from my own constituency. Kim had visited her mother’s birthplace in County Laois for almost two weeks to celebrate her cousin’s wedding not too long ago. All hostages must now be released, immediately and unconditionally.It is worth recalling that adherence to international humanitarian law is the responsibility of all partners, including non-state actors.

We are raising the issue of the inadequate volume of aid reaching people in Gaza. They cannot wait any longer for the absolute essentials of life that need to be delivered to them. The violence must end now.