Elaine Loughlin: Ireland's stand on Israeli 'annexation' pushes Palestine up the EU agenda

Cross-party and international support built into an extraordinary declaration which may have ripples far beyond Ireland's shores
Elaine Loughlin: Ireland's stand on Israeli 'annexation' pushes Palestine up the EU agenda

THERE was united support for a historic Dáil motion condemning Israel’s annexation of Palestine territory, but the vote has caused ripples across the world.

In becoming the first EU nation to pass a motion declaring Israel’s actions as “de facto annexation” of Palestinian land, Ireland sent out a clear message.

“You can guarantee that there isn’t a foreign ministry in the European Union that hasn’t written a report on this for their minister in the last couple of days,” said one senior source. “So that’s where the pressure will come on in other European countries.”

The annexation motion was picked up by the likes of Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Radio New Zealand, the EU Observer, and a number of Israeli media outlets.

Building support 

A vote of this nature, with such international implications, doesn’t just receive cross-party support on a whim. The Government, led by Simon Coveney, the foreign affairs minister; opposition politicians; non-governmental organisations; and legal experts — all had been working for a considerable period to get the language and the timing right.

At home, Trócaire was among the organisations that provided an online facility to encourage supporters to lobby their local politicians, which resulted in around 2,000 emails being sent to those in Leinster House.

Life carries on in Gaza among buildings destroyed in an Israeli airstrike prior to the recent ceasefire.	Picture: Khalil Hamra/AP
Life carries on in Gaza among buildings destroyed in an Israeli airstrike prior to the recent ceasefire. Picture: Khalil Hamra/AP

Sinn Féin, in tabling the motion, consulted with long-time campaigner senator Frances Black and the likes of Al-Haq, the independent Palestinian non-governmental human rights organisation based in Ramallah.

International contacts

When the motion passed, it did not come as a major surprise, but that does not dilute its significance.

While Sinn Féin put forward the motion — which was passed with the addition of a Government amendment condemning the actions of Hamas — officials had been plugging away in the background.

The change of government last year, which added Fianna Fáil and the Green Party to the mix, undoubtedly had an impact.

In the six days leading up to the motion, Mr Coveney met French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Dublin, spoke to Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov by phone, and met Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, as his plane stopped over in Shannon.

The situation in Israel and Palestine featured very highly on the agenda with all three men.

'Significant moment' 

When the motion secured Dáil time, Mr Coveney contacted a number of his counterparts across Europe to give them a heads-up that there would be a “significant moment” with a vote in the Dáil the following week.

“The foreign ministers at EU level, they are a group of people who are in text contact with each other. They are quite collegiate with each other,” one source said.

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney worked with his own Government, opposition parties, NGOs, legal experts, and his international counterparts to deliver the motion which may yet prove influential with other European countries. 
Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence Simon Coveney worked with his own Government, opposition parties, NGOs, legal experts, and his international counterparts to deliver the motion which may yet prove influential with other European countries. 

While last week’s vote will not change the EU’s overall stance on Israel, the action taken by Ireland informs discussions and pushes the subject up the agenda.

“Because Ireland has been leading on pro-Palestinian moves, it has generally concentrated minds on the issue,” said Euronews Europe correspondent Shona Murray. She added that the passing of the motion had been “noted”, but that there was a recognition that the Irish electorate was very conscious of the Palestinian situation and, as a result, that its parliament had taken a strong stance on it.

Peace process

Politicians from Solidarity-PBB, Sinn Féin, and Fianna Fáil have been pushing a two-state solution, and the issue of the occupation of Palestinian land for many years.

Within Europe, and in the US under Joe Biden, there is considerable momentum around delivering a peace process, and there are minor concerns that EU countries getting ahead of the narrative could affect the progress.

“I think there could have been jitters behind the scenes in Brussels that, if Ireland takes this unilateral move, they may scare off the Israelis,” Ms Murray said.

Historical roles

Given the direct historic involvement of particular EU states in the region, many countries opt to silently observe developments, according to Fianna Fáil MEP Billy Kelleher.

He said there had been engagement from a number of his European colleagues in the vote, and that they were especially interested in how it might impact Ireland’s stance as a neutral nation observer.

“Overall, it was seen as a brave decision, it was well-received,” Mr Kelleher said. 

Sometimes they look at us through historical lenses and they see a little bit of us in Palestine in terms of a bigger neighbour being dominant and aggressive, and they say: ‘Well, maybe Ireland has the right to voice these issues on behalf of smaller nations'.   

While there is no indication that other countries will immediately follow suit, the likes of Sweden and Luxembourg, which are sympathetic to the Palestinians, will be encouraged by Ireland’s action.

Ireland 'an outlier'

However, Green MEP Grace O’Sullivan said Ireland’s views were not widely shared or expressed by colleagues throughout the European Parliament, and there was a reluctance to even engage in public debate.

“Ireland continues to be an outlier on this issue, but I hope that other EU countries will join us in calling out this devastating situation for what it is — an unacceptable, ongoing humanitarian scandal, happening before our very eyes,” said Ms O’Sullivan.

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Did you know?

 Tras Honan photographed in 2001. Elected a senator in 1977, and becoming the Seanad's first female cathaoirleach in 1982, Ms Honan shares a particular distinction with Carrie Acheson as the first sisters to sit in the Oireachtas at the same time. Picture: Photocall Ireland
Tras Honan photographed in 2001. Elected a senator in 1977, and becoming the Seanad's first female cathaoirleach in 1982, Ms Honan shares a particular distinction with Carrie Acheson as the first sisters to sit in the Oireachtas at the same time. Picture: Photocall Ireland

Carrie Acheson and Tras Honan made history as the first sisters to be members of the Oireachtas at the same time.

Ms Honan was elected to the administrative panel of the Seanad in 1977 and was re-elected in 1981, the same year as her sister won a Dáil seat for Fianna Fáil.

However, their time together in Leinster House was short-lived, as Ms Acheson lost her seat in the general election of 1982.

However, Ms Honan made history again when she became the first female cathaoirleach of the Seanad in 1982. 

What to look out for this week

Tuesday

After last Friday’s big reopening announcement, the Cabinet will meet again, this time to agree on a range of measures to support those businesses and workers who have yet to get fully back up and running. Members of the Government have already indicated that there will be no cliff edge, and PUP and other payments will be phased out, but will be retained in full until the Autumn.

Tuesday

The regulation of the sale and supply of pets and animal welfare will be discussed when Dogs Trust and Horse Care Ireland come before the agriculture committee.

Wednesday

While all aspects of the health service were impacted by the pandemic, significant concerns have been raised about cancer care and screening services. The health committee will get an update from the Irish Cancer Society, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, and the Irish Medical Organisation about cancer care and screening services.

Wednesday

The controversial Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) will be trashed out by the joint committee on EU affairs. Members will have plenty of questions for the European Commission's acting deputy director general of trade, Rupert Schlegelmilch.

Wednesday

Martin Fraser, the top official in the Department of An Taoiseach is to be pressed on the remuneration of senior public servants by members of the finance, public expenditure and reform committee. Given the criticism of an €81,000 salary increase for the new secretary general of the Department of Health, Robert Watt, it should make for a lively discussion.

Thursday

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar will have an early start when he takes questions in the Dáil from 9am.

Friday

The Seanad will debate housing minister Darragh O'Brien's controversial Affordable Housing Bill in the morning session. 

While you are here, why not sign up to our 'On The Plinth' political newsletter? Delivered direct to your inbox every Tuesday. Sign up here exa.mn/OnThePlinth

 

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