Focus on Independent Alliance over occupied territories Bill
Proposal to make it an offence to import or sell goods from territory deemed illegally occupied
A wall separates Palestinians (right) and the side to be used exclusively by Israelis in a settlement near Jerusalem. Photograph: Getty Images
All eyes will be on the four Independent Alliance Ministers when a Bill to ban the import of goods from illegally occupied territories comes before the Dáil on Thursday.
The Bill seeks to make it an offence in Ireland for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in a territory deemed by UN agreements and international courts to be illegally occupied.
Minister for Transport Shane Ross and Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath expressed their support at Cabinet for the Fianna Fáil-sponsored Bill which the Government opposes. Butit is expected to pass because most other parties and TDs back the legislation.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney is understood to have asked the alliance Ministers not to vote against the Government but will accept if they abstain, which sources on Wednesday suggested they are likely to do.
The Irish Times reported Mr Coveney intimated that four Ministers supporting the Bill could lead to Israel closing its embassy in Dublin, provoking concern about a knock-on effect for Irish-US relations.
The Government objects to the legislation on the advice of the Attorney General that it would contravene EU law and lead to substantial fines being levied on the State.
However, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said other legal opinion would disagree with this and the legislation should be sent to the European Court of Justice or the European Commission to be tested.
“Let’s test the Bill in the European Commission or the European Court of Justice,” he told the Dáil during a debate on the legislation which has already been passed in the Seanad where it was championed by Independent Senator Frances Black. The Government is in a minority in the Upper House.
Mr Howlin said there may well be legal challenges. But “it’s a regular part and feature of government that the Attorney General points out a list of potential legal challenges to legislation”.
What response from Israel?
Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Niall Collins introduced the legislation in the Dáil and said that by passing the Bill “Ireland and our parliament will be sending a strong message that we condemn the occupation of territories which are deemed illegal under international law”.
He said the Bill should not be seen as a radical departure but “as the right thing to do”.
Mr Coveney acknowledged the Bill as a “sincere attempt to address a real issue” but he stressed that trade was the “exclusive competence” of the EU as whole not individual states. Ireland could not ban the sale of products in the State that legally enter the EU and could face fines ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions or euro.
He said a money message would be required to move the Bill to committee stage. A money message is required from Government where a Bill can result in a charge on the exchequer.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan warned the Government to be very careful with the use of the money message mechanism. “It is being used on a whole range of legislation now to stymie further debate and the progress of that legislation.”
Socialist TD Paul Murphy claimed that if the Tánaiste feared the Israeli embassy withdrawing from Ireland then the “real story” was the pressure being put on the Government by the Israeli state.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Coveney of dishonouring Ireland and the State’s international standing by ignoring that Palestinians were “victims of a process of colonisation and an onslaught of building of illegal settlements”.