Seanad passes ‘historic’ Bill to ban sale of goods from occupied territories

Tánaiste described Bill as not ‘legally sound or capable of being implemented’

 The Bill was supported without a vote Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

The Bill was supported without a vote Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

The Seanad has passed legislation banning the importation or sale of goods or services from settlements condemned by the United Nations and European Union as illegal.

There was sustained applause and a standing ovation by Opposition Senators as the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill was supported without a vote in what has been described by Independent Senator Frances Black who championed the legislation as “historic”.

Ireland is the first EU member state to push such legislation but it has yet to be introduced and passed by the Dáil and even then the Government is likely to refuse to implement it.

The Government was defeated by 28 to 16 in an earlier vote about receiving the Bill for final consideration.

Palestinian ambassador Ahmed Abdelrazek, lawyers who worked on the drafting of the Bill and the legislation’s sponsoring organisations Trócaire, Christian Aid and Ictu (Irish Congress of Trade Unions) were among those in the Seanad visitors’ gallery who applauded the Bill’s passage.

Not EU compatible

The legislation now goes to the Dáil. The Government is reluctant to progress the legislation in the lower House but Fianna Fáil has indicated it will introduce the Bill early in the new year.

While the Dáil may pass the Bill. Tánaiste Simon Coveney said last week that he would not be bounced into anything and “we do not believe it to be legally sound or capable of being implemented”.

His word were echoed by Minister of State Helen McEntee who told the Upper House before it passed the Bill that the legislation was contrary to EU law because external trade rules were an exclusive competence of the EU.

Ms McEntee said “the clear and comprehensive advice of the Attorney General” is that the Bill is not compatible with EU law.

No other EU country has shown any interest in taking a similar step and the Government fully expected the European Court of Justice would determine the Bill to be in breach of EU law.

Ms Black said however published advice from “top legal people in Europe” which disagreed with the Attorney General.

Independent Senator and former attorney general Michael McDowell also said he disagreed with the AG’s advice but he acknowledged that there was not “one infallible view”.

He insisted the Bill “is not against the existence of Israel or the legitimacy of Israeli state.” and he noted that many people in Israel supported the legislation.

International law had to mean something and “we are not obliged to accept the de facto annexation of land”, he said.

‘Genuine concerns’

Fianna Fáil Seanad foreign affairs spokesman Ned O’Sullivan said he hoped the passage of the Bill would contribute to peace efforts in the Middle East.

He acknowledged the “genuine concerns of spokespersons for the Israeli people who have legitimate concerns about the Bill”.

Independent Senator David Norris said “I think it’s a great day for this country because we’ve broken ranks and maybe we won’t be the only ones.”

Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said Morocco’s occupation of western Sahara could come under this legislation which Ms Black insisted applied to any territory deemed by international law to be illegally occupied.

Labour Seanad leader Ivana Bacik said the Bill was “setting down a marker” and important in moving towards a peace initiative.

Trócaire chief executive Caoimhe de Barra said afterward “it is now time for TDs from across the Dáil chamber to take a stand by supporting legislation that furthers the cause of peace in the Middle East”.