Dáil shows its colours with widespread TD support for Palestine

Government echoes EU position in seeking to be even-handed and attempting to reflect both sides of dispute

Sometimes politics is about the simplest of questions: whose side are you on?

In the Dáil on Wednesday night as TDs debated the latest conflict in Israel and Palestine, most of the speakers were very clear about whose side they were on. Some opposition TDs wore the keffiyeh, the distinctive Palestinian Liberation Organisation scarf, once beloved of teenage radicals.

Nobody wore the colours of Israel.

The simmering powder keg in the Middle East exploded last week with a sudden attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas militants. That has been followed by a merciless assault on Gaza by the might of the Israeli military and — though it got hardly a mention in the Dáil — the continuing bombardment of Israel by Palestinian rockets. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens by the hour.


Support for the Palestinian cause across the chamber was widespread, enthusiastic and at times uncompromising.

Condemnation of the bombardment of civilian areas in Gaza, and the apparent indifference of Israeli leaders towards innocent Palestinian casualties, frequently accompanied it.

It is said that Israel regards Ireland as the most pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel State in Europe. Diplomats watching tonight and sending their reports to Israel will have seen little to change their minds about that.

But there were differences, significant differences at times between Government speakers (though not all of them) and opposition representatives. That division has simmered since the conflict erupted last week — the Government, echoing the EU position once it settled on one, is seeking to be even-handed, to reflect both sides of the dispute, to support both Palestinian rights and Israeli security. The problem is these two things are in conflict right now.

The Opposition position has much greater clarity: it takes the side of the Palestinians against Israel. There wasn’t a hope that the Dáil would come together.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin opened for the Government and, in the course of a lengthy speech, reiterated the expected lines — recognising Israel’s right to defend itself but simultaneously insisting this could only be legitimately exercised in accordance with international law.

He gave a lengthy and detailed condemnation of the actions of Hamas, but said the rules of war that bind Israel are “not optional”. The Israeli order to evacuate Gaza, he said, is “unworkable and wrong”. The power and water should be turned back on, he said.

He also called for a reinvigoration of the Middle East peace process. Good luck with that!

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald began by saying that “our hearts break” for the Israeli deaths at the hands of Hamas.

“But be very clear,” she added, “that Israel’s offences against Palestine pre-date that night.”

McDonald articulated what many Irish people feel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — that Ireland, because of her history, has a special affinity with the Palestinians. TDs say they have been inundated with communications from the public in support of Palestine.

“We in Ireland know all too well the pain and tragedy of colonisation, occupation and dispossession. We have known conflict and suffering. We have known war. We know peace,” said McDonald.

Ireland understands, she added, “the playbook of the coloniser, the occupier and the oppressor”. McDonald did not say the Jewish people have more than a little experience of dispossession and oppression, conflict and suffering. Nobody else did either.

Opposition speeches were fierce in their defence of Palestine and criticism of Israel. “How come we never hear of Palestine’s right to defend itself?” demanded Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman Matt Carthy. Several others echoed his words.

Few, however, reached the intensity of Richard Boyd-Barret, Paul Murphy and their comrades in People Before Profit (PBP).

“The Israeli regime,” said Boyd-Barrett, “is not a legitimate actor. It is a terrorist regime … The war crimes and the barbarism that Israel is now inflicting on Gaza are not the exception in the state of Israel, they are the rule.”

The PBP contributions were of a kind of bellicose rhetoric that is rarely heard in Leinster House.

Murphy defended the right of Palestinians to conduct “armed resistance”, adding hastily, “of course not targeting civilians”. Of course.

Politics Alerts

Sign up for push notifications on your phone to stay connected with our Politics coverage

  • Download The Irish Times app from the Play or App stores - see tile below
  • Navigate to the MyTimes page found at the of the app’s homescreen
  • Press Notifications under the SETTINGS heading
  • Select Top Stories, Politics or any combination of alerts and start recieving notifications
  • Download the app Download on the App Store   Download on Google Play