Taoiseach stresses need to distinguish ‘between Hamas and innocent Palestinian people’

Clear differences emerge between Government and Opposition on events in Israel and Gaza

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told EU leaders that Israel must make a distinction “between Hamas and innocent Palestinian people” during a teleconference on Tuesday evening, stressing the “dire humanitarian situation unfolding in Gaza”, officials said.

Mr Varadkar said the EU must seek to avoid escalation of the conflict, and also work to alleviate the plight of Gazans caught between Israel and Hamas.

The leaders discussed the situation in Gaza, and agreed that Israel had the right to defend itself, but this right must be exercised in line with international humanitarian law.

Earlier in the Dáil, there were clear differences between the Government and Opposition on events in Israel and Gaza.


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald strongly criticised Israel’s response to the killings of its civilians by Hamas – which she also briefly condemned – repeatedly rejecting the suggestion that Israel’s actions were “defensive”.

“Israel’s actions are not defensive,” Ms McDonald said. “They are an offensive attack against a beleaguered and impoverished civilian population. It is the horrible crescendo of occupation, annexation and apartheid. This is not defence. These are crimes against human rights perpetrated in full view of the world.”

In response Mr Varadkar asserted Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international law – including, he said, the right to go after Hamas in Gaza. “Israel has the right to defend itself and to pursue Hamas terrorists who attacked its civilian population,” he said, “and we accept that right.” However, he added: “Israel’s response must be exercised within the parameters of international humanitarian law; even wars have rules. Collective punishment should not be inflicted on the population in Gaza.”

Opposition TDs echoed the language used by President Michael D Higgins in his criticism of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, when he asserted that she “does not speak for Ireland”.

Both Ms McDonald and the Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns told the Dáil that Ms von der Leyen “does not speak for Ireland”, repeating the words used by Mr Higgins.

Mr Varadkar said some of Ms von der Leyen’s statements had “lacked balance” and he had told her this. But some of her more recent statements, specifically talking about the tripling of EU humanitarian aid for Gaza and attempts to organise a UN humanitarian air bridge through Egypt were “more balanced”.

In Rome, where he is attending a UN food security conference, Mr Higgins said the Israel-Hamas conflict is “the consequence of diplomatic failure”.

“One of the biggest differences between, let us say, our own progress in relation to Northern Ireland and Palestine is there had been no continuous effort of a diplomatic kind in relation to Israel-Palestine,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “People have flashed in and flashed out. There is usually an American interest in the first two years of an American presidency.”

He again criticised the UN, saying that its structure did not correctly represent the world’s population, and that the nations most responsible for climate change were shirking their commitments while those least responsible suffer the severest impacts. “The credibility of the United Nations has been damaged by some of the richest and most powerful, who are not meeting their commitments.”

Meanwhile a spokesman for the President played down comments he had made when a TD about Hamas. Speaking in the Dáil in 2007, Mr Higgins criticised the decision of the EU to make Hamas a proscribed organisation.

“The legacy of proscribing Hamas has damaged the EU’s credibility,” he said. Amid comparisons between the situation in Israel-Palestine and in Northern Ireland, Mr Higgins said: “Hamas is more advanced than the IRA.”

Asked about the comments, a spokesman for the President said: “President Higgins has expressed his utter revulsion at the murder of innocent civilians – including young people at a music festival, children and older citizens – by Hamas...The comments to which you have referred were made by the President in 2007 in his capacity as Labour Party spokesperson on foreign affairs, and related to the circumstances of the time. The President has made clear his views with regard to the present events.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times