Shatter to pay official State visit to Middle East


Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter will visit both sides of the border between Lebanon and Israel during a trip to the Middle East next week.

Mr Shatter’s itinerary will include meeting members of the joint Irish-Finnish battalion serving as part of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon.

He will later travel to northern Israel where he will be briefed by Israeli defence forces stationed at the border.

Mr Shatter will hold meetings with senior Lebanese, Israeli and Palestinian officials, including his ministerial counterparts, during his week-long trip.

It is understood he will meet Israel’s outgoing defence minister Ehud Barak, its outgoing justice minister Yakov Neeman and Mr Neeman’s designated successor, Tzipi Livni, who previously served as foreign minister. Also on the itinerary is a visit to Ramallah in the West Bank, where he will meet with Palestinian Authority officials and visit an EU programme aimed at supporting Palestinian police.

“As Ireland has peacekeeping interests in the region, the principal purpose of the visit is firstly to visit the Irish troops who are serving on peacekeeping duties, secondly to receive briefings from the mission commanders in the region, and thirdly to meet with representatives of governments in the region and learn their perspective on the challenges facing the region,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Defence said.

Mr Shatter is also due to meet the UN special co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry.

The Minister’s schedule in Israel includes meetings with representatives of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and NGOs engaged in humanitarian work in the region.

The Minister, who was a vocal supporter of Israel as a TD, will represent Ireland at St Patrick’s Day events in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. He will attend business and trade events in Israel, including an IDA meeting on drawing Israeli investment to Ireland.

Previous visits by Irish ministers to Israel have attracted negative commentary in Israel, with columnists describing Ireland as “hostile” to Israel.