Bill to ban investment in illegal Israeli settlements could see Ireland become international outlier, committee to hear

Party has proposed legislation to compel Ireland Strategic Investment Fund to divest assets in firms operating in settlements

The Ireland Strategic Investment Fund has invested in 11 companies on the UN’s database of companies operating in West Bank settlements. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A proposed law which would ban State investment in businesses operating in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank could result in Ireland becoming an “international outlier”, an Oireachtas committee will be told today.

Sinn Féin has proposed the Illegal Israeli Settlements Divestment Bill 2023, which would compel the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) to divest itself of all current assets and stop future investments in any of the entities included in a United Nations database of companies operating in the settlements.

Assistant secretary in the Department of Finance Oliver Gilvarry will tell the Oireachtas Committee on Finance that it does not appear that the UN database was intended to have a particular legal status.

“The adoption of the full UN list in domestic legislation would make us an international outlier – to our knowledge no other State has adopted this list into primary law,” he will tell the committee.


Mr Gilvarry will say the Bill would need to be amended so that the reference list to which investment exclusions are made is a list which would instead be developed by the Irish State.

“The cross-reference to the UN list which is included in the Private Members’ Bill would be insufficient. The State would have to develop its own investment and divestment list based on its own analysis.”

The Government last year passed an amendment that delayed progress on the Sinn Féin Bill to allow for further consideration among officials.

Mr Gilvarry will tell the committee that Minister for Finance Michael McGrath “understands the motivation and intentions” behind the proposed legislation, and that there has been cross-departmental contact over the legislation as well as advice from the Attorney General.

Representatives from ISIF will also appear before the committee and detail how ISIF has invested in 11 companies that appear on the UN’s database, to a value of €4.2 million.

“Turning to our investments in companies listed on the UN database, it is important to be clear that these arose through the manner in which external investment managers select global investments on our behalf,” According to the opening statement due to be delivered by director of ISIF Nick Ashmore.

“No inference should be drawn from these investments – they are neither an endorsement by ISIF of the companies in question nor any form of political statement by ISIF.”

Mr Ashmore will also say he is “aware of concerns in the investor community around certain companies disputing the basis for their inclusion” in the UN database, adding that “such an exclusion could be the subject of legal challenge”.

“This would align with the legal advice received and referred to by my finance colleagues which indicates that there needs to be a solid basis on which to include companies on a list to mitigate possible legal challenge.”

He will also say there could be a “practical challenge that could arise from our interactions with external investment managers, particularly those who manage collective investment vehicles on behalf of a large number of investors”.

“In such instances, where ISIF has such investments, it is likely to represent a very small percentage of the overall invested funds and therefore our ability to require that the investment manager to apply bespoke exclusions is likely limited. This potentially limits our investment universe.”

Meanwhile, ceasefire talks are resuming this week in Qatar after Israel rejected a Hamas counterproposal last week. An Israeli delegation travelled to Qatar on Monday, although an Israeli official said any agreement would take at least two weeks to finalise.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has rejected a plea from US president Joe Biden to call off a planned ground assault of Rafah, the last refuge in Gaza for more than a million displaced people, where Israel believes Hamas militants are hiding. Mr Netanyahu told Israeli legislators on Tuesday he had made it “supremely clear” to the US president “that we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah, and there’s no way to do that except by going in on the ground”.

The war was triggered when Hamas fighters crossed into Israel on a rampage on October 7th, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Nearly 32,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israel’s retaliatory onslaught, according to Palestinian health officials, with thousands more feared lost under the rubble.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times