There was sustained applause and a standing ovation in the Seanad after the Upper House voted in support of a Bill banning the importation to Ireland of Israeli goods produced in settlements in the Palestinian territories.
Senators accepted by 25 votes to 20 to support second stage of the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill which makes it an offence to purchase goods and services from Israeli settlements which have been condemned by Ireland and the EU as illegal.
Palestinian representatives and farmers affected by Israeli controls of the settlements who were in the Seanad visitors’ gallery applauded the result and Senators in turn stood to applaud them in a sustained ovation.
A series of impassioned speeches were given during statements on Palestine and subsequently in debate on the Bill sponsored by Independent Senator Frances Black.
Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fáin, Green and Independent Senators supported the Bill.
She had suspended action on the Bill in January at the request of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney but re-introduced the Bill in the wake of the deteriorating situation in the Middle East.
Ms Black said over 42 per cent of the land in the West Bank had been confiscated.
“Though these settlements are continually condemned as illegal by EU, UN and Irish Government,” they continued to extract valuable assets.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank are war crimes, she said.
“For 25 years Ireland and the EU have issued statement after statement of condemnation but settlement expansion has continued,” she said.
Ms Black said the Bill would not end trade in Israeli produce and this distinction was truly important, she said. It was the products of the illegally occupied territories that were being blocked.
Mr Coveney said he understood the motivation of the Bill but warned however that “if Ireland were to adopt the course of action in this Bill we would be choosing to be a principled voice in the wilderness, satisfied in the righteousness of our course, but largely unable to influence the real action”.
He said that “if we get too far out in front of the consensus then perhaps we cease to shape it”. He said “I am in no doubt a unilateral move by Ireland on this matter would weaken our ability to influence overall EU policy and not strengthen it.”
Mr Coveney added that the Bill was asking the Government to do something “we do not have in our power to do”.
He had 52 paragraphs of legal advice from the Attorney General that trade by third countries into the EU is an exclusive competence of the EU. The advice also stated that the measures would be contrary to EU law to which Ireland is bound.
But in a highly emotional speech Independent Senator David Norris said the importation of goods from those settlements was illegal under international law.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334 from 2016 “reaffirms that the establishment of settlements has no legal validity”.
He became emotional when he said “if you want to know what the people of Palestinians want, talk to the Palestinian farmers in the gallery”.
Labour leader in the Seanad Ivana Bacik said the case for the Bill had become more compelling since January when the Bill was suspended, because of the appalling atrocities and the killing of Palestinians.
She said there had been no progress on the peace process and in fact there had been a rowback and Ireland “now has no choice but to take a leading role”.
Ms Bacik, a professor of law, said “we’re seeing multiple violations of international law”.
She said former tánaiste and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore led the way in 2011 in his UN speech supporting Palestinians’ bid to become a full member of the UN.
Sweden had led within the EU by its unilateral action to support Palestinian statehood.
“It is time for us to lead again in asserting the rights of Palestinian people.”