Gaza: Europe could do a ‘hell of a lot more’ to exert pressure on Israel for ceasefire, says Harris

Taoiseach says human rights clauses in trade association agreement between EU and Israel would not be discretionary

Taoiseach Simon Harris has said Europe could be doing a “hell of a lot more” to exert pressure on Israel for a ceasefire in Gaza.

He said Ireland had recognised Palestinian statehood along with other countries not in the expectation that it would lead to a cessation in bombing of the enclave, but to build momentum towards a ceasefire to which he hoped other countries would now subscribe.

Speaking to reporters before Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting in Dublin, the Taoiseach said that Europe had influence over matters and “could be doing a hell of a lot more, and Europe needs to do a hell of a lot more”.

Mr Harris said it was “welcome” that the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) had discussed sanctions on Israel in its meeting on Monday and that the first port of call on that front should be a trade agreement between the country and the EU.

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He said there was now progress being made on the examination of a trade association agreement between the EU and Israel. Ireland and Spain sought a review of this agreement in February, but progress has been slow. Belgium, which holds the European Council presidency, has now called a council to review it.

Mr Harris said human rights clauses in the agreement were not for “padding” or “discretionary”, arguing that the meeting should take quickly. He said he called for all countries to use every lever at their disposal to exert maximum pressure for a ceasefire.

He said he was “very confident” that an “overwhelming majority” of people in Ireland want to see the agreement reviewed from a human rights point of view.

“If everybody says they want to see a cessation of violence – the United States says it, the European Union says it – it’s not enough to just say it,” he said. “We have to challenge ourselves: what more can we do to make it effective,” adding that steps to date have been “ineffective” with children and their parents who are fleeing to some degree of safety “found themselves then bombed in that location of safety”.

Mr Harris said Ireland, Spain and Norway were taking the step “to keep the two state solution alive at a time when others are sadly trying to bomb it into oblivion”. He said that there was an ongoing human catastrophe unfolding in Gaza and Rafah, adding that hunger was being used as a “weapon of war”. He said there was a “new, despicable and disgusting trend” where Israel described bombardment of non-combatants as a “tragic mistake”. In April, he said this was the case with the bombing of aid workers, and in May, an air strike this week which resulted in “children being blown to death”.

“What will June’s ‘tragic mistake’ be? And more importantly, what does the world intend to do to stop it happening,” he said, adding that he had been arguing that all means at Europe’s disposal had to be used to stop the onslaught.

Mr Harris was asked about pushback from Israel against Ireland, with the ambassador to Dublin suggesting tech investments could be endangered arising from the move. He said Dana Ehrlich was entitled to say what she wishes but he was proud of the decision and Ireland would not be “distracted” from its move.

Elsewhere, at Cabinet, Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan will brief ministers on the national biomethane strategy to produce zero carbon gas, primarily from grass and organic waste.

The Government says that this will give Irish farmers a new and “potentially lucrative” way to generate additional income. They will tell Cabinet of steps to progress towards the ambition of increasing biomethane production in Ireland to 5.7 terawatt hours, equivalent to 60 per cent of Irish homes usage. The Coalition says the plan could lead to 50 per cent of Irish gas usage coming from this source within 15 years.

The strategy is Ireland’s first big policy statement on biomethane.

Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys is also expected to bring a memo on Tuesday about a “Pathways to Work” strategy that is focused on bringing long-term unemployed people back into the workforce.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times