Government may ‘do everything in its power’ to block occupied territories Bill

The legislation would ban imports from illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas

Palestinian farmer Muna al-Taneeb with Irish Senator Frances Black outside Leinster House  for a vote on the occupied territories Bill. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/AP Images for Avaaz

Palestinian farmer Muna al-Taneeb with Irish Senator Frances Black outside Leinster House for a vote on the occupied territories Bill. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/AP Images for Avaaz

 

The Government is likely to “do everything in its power” to block a Bill that would ban imports from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories, sources familiar with the issue say.

Two sources raised the prospect of the Taoiseach’s office declining to supply a “money message”, a note that is procedurally necessary to allow Private Members’ Bills to proceed through the Oireachtas. The use of such a device to block the Bill would be disputed but the minority Government used it last year to halt a Fianna Fáil Bill on judicial appointments.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill , which passed its first vote in the Seanad this week, is opposed by the Government but is backed by Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Labour and some Independents.

Campaigners expect the Bill to pass through the Dáil and Seanad as the Government does not have a majority in either house. However, the Bill still has many parliamentary hurdles to clear before becoming law.

Fine Gael is opposed to the Bill after seeing advice from the Attorney General stating that, as trade is an exclusive competence of the EU, Ireland could not institute a unilateral ban on goods from the settlements. Campaigners in favour of the boycott argue that they have legal advice that says an exemption is available for countries in cases of “public policy”.

Further complication

Another complication for Fine Gael is that their Government partner, the Independent Alliance, supports the Bill and may seek a free vote should the Bill reach the Dáil in the autumn.

Minister of State Finian McGrath of the Independent Alliance reacted strongly to comments from Israeli defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said Israel should immediately close its embassy in Dublin in response to the Seanad vote.

“There are no Israel haters here. You can’t go around shooting 15-year-old unarmed protesters. We support the Palestinians and we support a peace in the Middle East,” Mr McGrath said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also rejected Mr Lieberman’s comments.

“I totally disagree with that position. Israel and Ireland have had diplomatic relations for a very long time now. We’ve an embassy in Tel Aviv, they’ve an embassy in Dublin. There are Israeli citizens in Ireland, Irish citizens in Israel, sometimes they need consular assistance ... I think it is important that we continue to have diplomatic relations,” he said.

Western first

The result of the Seanad vote received widespread coverage in both Arab and Israeli media this week, with most reports acknowledging that it was the first time a western parliament had voted in favour of such a law.

Arab media reported that Hamas “hailed” the vote, quoting a spokesman who described it as “an important step towards criminalising the behaviour of the occupation and its policy of illegal settlement-building on Palestinian land”.

The European Commission said it was watching developments in Ireland regarding the Bill but a spokeswoman would not be drawn on the commission’s view on the Bill before it passes into law. She insisted that trade policy remained a unique prerogative of the commission.