Fianna Fáil bill is dunce diplomacy wrapped in human-rights clothing

Fianna Fáil bill is dunce diplomacy wrapped in human-rights clothing

The unfolding farce of British exceptionalism, unmoored either to actual British interest or any plan for practical application, will be imitated in miniature today in the Dáil.

Niall Collins, the Fianna Fáil spokesman on foreign affairs, will move the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill authored by and steered through the Seanad by Frances Black.

Relatives arrive to a morgue to see the body of a woman killed by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel this month.
Relatives arrive to a morgue to see the body of a woman killed by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel this month.

It prohibits and criminalises economic activity between Ireland and “occupied territories”. It’s a catch-all provision which relies on international law to legally qualify targets.

Politically, it is focused on Israel alone. It is dunce diplomacy wrapped up as a human rights campaign.

It begs the fundamental question of how did a mainstream party, which keeps alive the hope of becoming again the main party, get caught up in something so wacky.

Apart from its political purpose which is Israel only, there is the issue of actual consequences.

The bill completely undermines effective management of foreign affairs by the executive, enshrined in the Constitution, to which the party advancing the bill in the Dáil today claims to be the political heir.

It proscribes not just Israeli settlements now, but, in situations we cannot foresee, requires future governments to go to the brink, economically and politically, with other countries regardless of our political judgment then on what would serve Ireland’s interest best. It seeks to write our playbook politically before we know what either the issues or the stakes will be.

At the moment we rely absolutely on solidarity from the EU27 to stand with us against Brexiteer exceptionalism, to protect open borders on this island and unfettered free trade between all of the island and the EU. We would create a precedent for Irish exceptionalism in trade relations beyond the EU with Israel alone in the first instance, but ultimately with as many countries as may be caught in the maw of the criteria of this bill.

In terms of Irish interests, this is dangerous nonsense. Right now, it is lunacy that leaves us open to criticism from allies in Europe who are absolutely clear that on this issue, as on others, we should act as 27 together.

We looked askance on Monday when the Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, suggested a five-year limit for the backstop, intended to preserve the integrity of EU trade on this island, if the UK leaves the customs union and an overarching trade deal fails to effectively address the salient issues.

One can only imagine the diplomatic note from the Polish embassy in Dublin, if barring a procedural block, this bill is passed into law. Let’s be clear, with Fianna Fáil in harness with Sinn Féin on this, this has the numbers to go all the way legislatively.

Perhaps an embarrassed apology to Czaputowicz might be more appropriate than a rebuke. What it says in Brussels, at absolutely the wrong moment, is that the integrity of the customs union is not so high a priority that we can refrain from a quixotic adventure in virtue signalling internationally.

It will serve nothing except extreme politics in the Middle East. It will gift the Brexit press in Britain an Irish joke that puts past paddywhackery in the ha’penny place. But that is only the start of the farce. Whatever about principles and politics, there is enforcement.

Here you must delve deep into the dark cave of Brexit fantasy to find answers.

Unsurprisingly in this Irish story, as on the border with Northern Ireland, there is a technical solution that separates grapes from the West Bank from produce of Israel.

Even assuming science that performs this minor miracle for produce, what about products that are intrinsic to manufacture sent all over the world?

If you have heard the barmiest Brexiteers bang on about technology and borders, just replay the tape. Because what is proposed today in the Dáil, is that Ireland imposes unilaterally on Israel what we oppose here because trade is an integral matter for the EU.

That’s not to talk of Star Trek stuff that would somehow make it work in practice anyway.

There is tawdriness about the politics of leapfrog being played to get to the top of the queue to promote this bill. Collins, like Fianna Fáil on water charges, won’t be outflanked by Sinn Féin.

It is expected that the Government will send a money message to the Ceann Comhairle asking him to disallow the bill under Article 22 of the Constitution, which confers on it alone power to raise taxes or spend money. That will then be a matter for Seán Ó Fearghaíl to decide.

That is brinkmanship with the national interest, for petty party advantage and especially cynical game-playing in real time, with a very complex political issue.

But it is not a bolt from the blue. Some criticism aside, and water charges is the obvious issue, Fianna Fáil has been remarkably sure over the nearly three years since the last election.

It arguably has the most difficult hand politically of any opposition in the history of the State. Most of the self-doubt inside and the derision outside has been misplaced. On December 18, however, there was another extraordinary demarche.

Only a tied vote in the joint committee on communications, climate action, and environment ensured for now at least that a bill sponsored by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith but robustly supported by Fianna Fáil energy spokesman Timmy Dooley, was stymied. It provided for a complete stop of further Irish exploration for oil and gas, not already licenced.

Fianna Fáil energy spokesman Timmy Dooley.
Fianna Fáil energy spokesman Timmy Dooley.

Even as we must sharply reduce carbon dependency, it would have the effect of hugely increasing dependence on Russian gas and Middle East oil for decades. In the space of a month, there have been two complete breakdowns in political judgment and effective political leadership in Fianna Fáil. If this is the cabin fever of opposition, it is a bad case.

A cure should be sought.

There is still the fact of a fraught political situation for Palestinians. The occupation which is the actual object of this bill, was caused by an Arab invasion in 1967 intended to totally eradicate the state of Israel. And there is an example of Israeli withdrawal. It’s called Gaza.

Regrettably the lesson for most Israelis is that it isn’t a policy that is working. President of the Palestinian Authority is Mahmoud Abbas. At 83 he is in the 15th year of a four-year term of office. His writ doesn’t run in Gaza, which Hamas controls. Hezbollah, supported by Iran, is now a significant presence in Syria, as well as Lebanon.

So? Give land for peace to who exactly?

This requires addressing the actuality on the ground, not play-acting in Dublin.

In a week when we are defending our own vital national interest, and are shocked to have been reminded in Derry of the real consequences of conflict, we should take greater care. Gestures send people to the grave.

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