Taoiseach calls for Israeli restraint over Irish aid vessel


TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen has called on the Israeli government to use “absolute restraint” in relation to the Irish aid ship MV Rachel Corrie, which is en route to Gaza.

He also said the Israeli government did not consider the cement on board the vessel as having a “simply humanitarian” purpose.

When Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny referred to The Irish Timesreport that Government departments and gardaí recommended the expulsion of a security official in the Israeli embassy following the use of forged Irish passports, Mr Cowen said Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin would bring proposals to Government shortly about what action should be taken. He said, however, “it will not become mixed up with the events off the coast of Gaza”.

The Israeli attack on the flotilla heading for Gaza dominated much of yesterday’s Dáil proceedings. Mr Kenny asked the Taoiseach about the plight of Irish citizens detained by the Israelis and what assurances he had sought and been given about the MV Rachel Corrie“being allowed to enter Gaza waters and discharge its cargo of humanitarian aid”. He also asked: “Has the Taoiseach been given a specific and clear assurance that there will be no repetition of the recent violent action which resulted in death?”

Mr Cowen said the Irish Ambassador and deputy head of mission had visited each detainee on Tuesday, and the six remaining were to be released yesterday.

Mr Cowen said the Government was in constant contact with those on board the MV Rachel Corrie, which was in international waters. “We are in constant contact with the Israeli government on this matter, advising absolute restraint in relation to the vessel as it goes about its humanitarian purpose. Cement on board the vessel is not regarded by the Israelis as a product that is simply humanitarian. We await what emerges from the definition Israel has put forward.” Israel has warned that it will intercept the vessel, with five Irish citizens on board, if it tries to reach the Gaza Strip.

Mr Kenny asked about the reports of the investigation into the use of forged Irish passports in the murder in January of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.

He asked the Taoiseach to confirm that the report recommended the expulsion of a security officer from the embassy and that it “states clearly that a security official in the Israeli embassy was involved in this incident, particularly in regard to sourcing numbers for the illegal use of Irish passports”.

Mr Cowen said the Government will “soon decide what action to take on the use of forged Irish passports in the assassination of Mr al-Mabhouh in Dubai. The Government is anxious that this important matter be given the attention and focus it merits and does not become mixed up with events off the coast of Gaza. It remains the Minister’s intention to shortly propose to Government what action he believes appropriate in this case.”

Later he told Labour leader Eamon Gilmore that it was “absurd” for Israel to suggest it would conduct an inquiry into the attack on the flotilla and that “this will satisfy international opinion as to its objectivity and transparency”. He said “we must not take Israel’s first answer as being its final answer on this matter”.