Minister has criticised aid agency in the past

In public comments on Twitter in recent years, Charlie Flanagan accused Trócaire of ‘bias and partisanship’

Charlie Flanagan, receiving the seal of office for the Department of Foreign Affairs  yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Charlie Flanagan, receiving the seal of office for the Department of Foreign Affairs yesterday. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

Aid agency Trócaire was one of the first to congratulate newly-installed Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, who was critical of the group’s views on the Middle East in his time on the Fine Gael backbenches.

In public comments on Twitter in recent years, Mr Flanagan accused Trócaire of “bias and partisanship”.

After Mr Flanagan took charge yesterday of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trócaire said it would continue to seek a ban on trade with illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

“Our position is that we shouldn’t be trading with the settlements. We’ll be engaging with the Minister on the matter,” said a Trócaire spokesman.

Mr Flanagan made no secret of his disdain for Trócaire’s Middle East policies when he was chairman of the Fine Gael parliamentary party. In a succession of tweets in 2012 and 2013, he took issue with the organisation.

“Trócaire is a charitable organisation, not a political force. It’s Middle East campaign is unbalanced, biased and partisan,” he said in October 2012.

He also accused the agency of being “unduly political” in what he described as its “anti-Israel campaign”, and later said its policies damaged its credibility and influence.

In a statement yesterday Trócaire executive director Éamonn Meehan congratulated the Minister and said there should be no further cuts to overseas development in the October budget “after six consecutive years of cuts” .

Christian Aid Ireland, another agency which calls for an import ban from Israeli settlements, also congratulated Mr Flanagan, and noted his interest in Middle East issues.

The biggest foreign policy challenge for the Minister is the prospect of an in/out referendum in Britain on its membership of the EU.

This is in addition to unsettled questions in the Northern peace process, the campaign for US immigration reform and Ireland’s unresolved claim in Europe to improve the terms of the banking bailout.

British premier David Cameron has pledged to conduct an EU poll by 2017, and the debate there is set to intensify in the run-up to the general election due next year.

Amid a worsening of Cameron’s relation with his European counterparts, it is readily recognised in Dublin that the prospect of his country leaving the EU “could introduce profound uncertainty” into Anglo-Irish relations.

On the more immediate horizon is the referendum in September on Scottish independence. The Government has avoided public comment on this poll, saying it is a matter for the Scottish people alone.

Still, it is acknowledged within the Government that the referendum could lead to an element of instability in the North.