Call for EU and US to be informed of ship's situation

Thu, Jun 3, 2010, 01:00

THE 'RACHEL CORRIE':FORMER UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday has called on the Government to highlight the situation of the Gaza-bound Irish aid ship Rachel Corriewith US president Barack Obama’s administration and the EU.

Speaking by satellite phone on board the Rachel Corrieyesterday several hundred miles from Gaza, Mr Halliday said it was imperative that the Obama administration and the EU supported Ireland’s call on the Israeli authorities to ensure safe passage for the ship, which is carrying aid supplies.

“We feel that, like the UN, the EU has failed the Palestinians and we feel that the EU could exert more pressure in terms of trade links, which the Israelis are very dependent on,” he said.

Mr Halliday, a Connemara resident, confirmed that Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin had been in phone contact with the ship over the past two days .

“We are very grateful to the Minister, who has been completely supportive, but we need more,” Mr Halliday said.

“We also feel there is a role for the Irish diaspora here, in the US and elsewhere to lobby politicians over this continued illegal blockade of Gaza, which is causing such hardship to the Palestinian people.”

The 1,200-tonne Rachel Corrie,registered in Cambodia but owned by the Free Gaza Movement in Ireland, was half way between Crete and Libya yesterday and still several days’ steaming distance from its destination.

The estimated time of arrival off the Gaza coast yesterday was tomorrow night or early Saturday.

The ship would refuse an offer of an Israeli escort that involved impounding its cargo of construction and educational materials, Mr Halliday said.

“We are the only Gaza-bound aid ship left out here. We are determined to deliver our cargo, which includes 1,000 tonnes of cement and 20 tonnes of educational materials and toys, along with vital medical supplies.”

However, the 15 crew and passengers would not put up any resistance if the ship is boarded, he added. “We will inform the Israeli authorities by VHF radio that we have put up our hands,” he said.

“We are an unarmed, harmless, cosy, friendly group of Irish and Malaysians, including a Malaysian politician. Perhaps we can give Israel an opportunity to show that it does have some respect for human rights.”

Mr Halliday admitted that the ship’s passengers had been “very shocked” by Monday’s raid by Israeli commandos on the main aid flotilla, which resulted in at least nine deaths and the detention of more than 600 activists, including several Irish.

Due to technical problems, the Rachel Corriehad been steaming several days behind.

“The killings in international waters took our breath away, but the shock wore off and after some discussion on board it made us more determined to continue,” Mr Halliday said.

“Everyone is in good spirits, but apprehensive. When we are 100 miles off, we will be skywards.”

Mayo electrician Derek Graham, a fellow crewman and a member of the Free Gaza Movement, said that “if this aid is not delivered, then Monday’s deaths will have been in vain”.

Mr Halliday, a Trinity College Dublin graduate who resigned from his position as UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Iraq over the impact of sanctions on the population, has more than 30 years’ experience with the UN.

Since his resignation, he has devoted his time to working with non-governmental organisations, including Perdana, the Malaysian global peace movement which is supporting the Rachel Corrievoyage, and Action from Ireland (Afri).

The other Irish on board the ship with Mr Halliday and Mr Graham are Free Gaza Movement activist Jenny Graham, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maireád Maguire and Dundalk film-maker Fiona Thompson.