Irish decision on whether to back genocide case against Israel is ‘months away’

Coalition not suspending State funding for UN Palestinian relief agency while inquiry into Israeli claims takes place

It will be months before Ireland takes a decision on whether or not to make an intervention in South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, the Government signalled on Tuesday.

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin dismissed opposition calls to declare support for South Africa’s case under the Genocide Convention at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week.

During a debate on a Sinn Féin motion that would to mandate Ireland to support the case against Israel Mr Martin said: “We will consider whether to make an intervention in the right way and at the right time.”

Previously Sinn Féin’s spokesman on foreign affairs Matt Carthy said a notification to the ICJ that Ireland intended to join proceedings would send “a huge message to the world”.


There will be a Dáil vote on the Sinn Féin motion on Wednesday night.

On Friday the ICJ found that South Africa’s accusation that Israel has breached the genocide convention was plausible enough for it to order emergency measures to protect Palestinian lives.

It also ordered armed groups in Gaza to release all hostages seized in the Hamas-led attack on Israel of October 7th that precipitated the Gaza war, and for Israel to allow sufficient humanitarian aid to reach the coastal strip.

The full case as to whether Israel has breached the genocide convention will be heard at a later date.

As the ICJ rules against Israel, Gaza remains an issue in Irish politics

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During Tuesday evening’s debate Mr Martin said he and the Government would take a “serious, rigorous, and informed approach” to South Africa’s case.

“We will not be distracted by political posturing or one-upmanship,” he said.

“The Government will analyse the issue thoroughly and then make its decision.”

Mr Martin added that officials from his Department of Foreign Affairs had already consulted with their South African counterparts while he had spoken to a number of European Union partners.

“Indeed our South African counterparts are indicating four to five months before they will be submitting their substantial case.

“We will consider whether to make an intervention in the right way and at the right time,” he said.

The Irish Times understands that a decision on whether or not Ireland will intervene is unlikely to be made before South Africa has submitted a document called a memorial which sets out its substantial case in detail.

The avenue for such any such intervention would be under Article 63 of the Court’s statute which would allow Ireland to offer its legal interpretation of the Genocide Convention in the context of the case South Africa is taking against Israel.

Mr Martin told the Dáil that an intervention under Article 63 “must satisfy a number of criteria to be deemed admissible by the Court.”

He added: “The Court has also interpreted the term ‘genocide’ very narrowly, so that what might in ordinary parlance be described as ‘genocide’ does not correspond with its definition under the Genocide Convention and its interpretation by the Court.

“These are the facts... they are important, because any credible – any admissible - intervention in this case, or any other case, must respect them.”

Earlier in the Dáil Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said it is “shocking” that UN staff could have been involved in a terrorist attack and the matter needs to be “investigated thoroughly”.

Mr Varadkar said the Government has taken the decision not to suspend State funding to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa).

Several countries have suspended financing for the agency after Israel accused a dozen employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7th attack, during which it claims 1,200 people were killed and 253 abducted.

The United States, United Kingdom, Finland, Italy, Australia and Canada have all suspended their funding for the relief agency while an investigation into the allegations takes place.

Mr Varadkar said: “I was really shocked and appalled that it was even possible that UN staff would have been involved in the terrorist attack on October 7th and if it turns out to be true, I think it will do damage to the agency and to the UN.

“It’s a very serious matter, even if it is a small number of staff in a very big agency. I think it is shocking to think that UN staff could be involved in any form of terrorist attack and it does need to be investigated thoroughly.”

The Taoiseach added that people in Palestine needed humanitarian aid, healthcare and education and the Government believed it would be “a disproportionate response” to suspend funding.

“For that reason we were among a number of countries, indeed perhaps one of the first countries to say that we would continue to fund the agency, providing €36 million this year to help Palestinians, 18 of which through Unrwa and we have confidence Philippe Lazzarini [commissioner general of Unrwa] to immediately terminate the contracts of a small number of employees suspected in terrorism.”

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times