Lack of proof for Israel’s claims against UN agency vindicates Ireland’s stance, says Martin

Tánaiste speaking in Cairo after independent panel finds Israel has yet to provide evidence to support its allegations against UN relief agency for Palestinians

There was a “very sudden rush to judgment” of the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (Unrwa) following Israeli allegations of infiltration with terrorists, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, was speaking to reporters in Cairo as he begins a two-day trip in Egypt and Jordan on Tuesday, which includes a visit to the Rafah border crossing.

An independent panel, which released a report on Monday about the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa), said Israeli authorities had yet to provide proof of their claims that some UN staff were involved with terrorist organisations.

Several countries suspended financing of the Unrwa after Israel accused a dozen employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7th attack which saw 1,200 people killed and 253 abducted. Ireland did not suspend funding to the organisation.


Mr Martin said the report vindicated Ireland’s stance – it had taken “an opposite view to most countries”.

“We actually increased aid at that time and I’m hoping now as a result of the publication of this report that some countries who paused their support will now allow their support [to return],” he said.

The Fianna Fáil leader added that following the claims, Unrwa had taken action that “most organisations wouldn’t take”.

“They sacked the employees there and then, or suspended them without any evidence being brought forward. Their individual assessment is still going on I understand in respect of the individuals and specific complaints.

“But I think what the most worrying aspect of that was, there was a very sudden rush to judgment in terms of the entirety of the Unrwa organisation and I think some failed to grasp the absolute centrality of Unrwa to providing aid to the Palestinians, not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank in Jordan, and Syria and in Lebanon.

“There’s a political element to this as well, because Unrwa in many ways, reflects the principle of the right of return for Palestinians in the event of a final solution in terms of a two-state solution.

“So if you undermine Unrwa and essentially remove Unrwa you remove the right to return. There is, in our view, both a desire to undermine Unrwa, to take Unrwa out of the equation for both political reasons and other reasons, which we found unacceptable given the role that it plays on the humanitarian side.”

Mr Martin met Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on Tuesday morning and will meet Jordanian deputy prime minister and foreign minister Ayman Safadi in Amman on Wednesday.

He will also meet humanitarian partners at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and visit Unrwa programmes supporting Palestinian refugees in Jordan.

Speaking after the meeting with Mr Shoukry, Mr Martin said he believed there would be “much worse” found “buried under the rubble” in Gaza when conflict in the Middle East eventually concluded.

Mr Martin also said the world “cannot go on” with the type of warfare being seen.

“There seems to be a new trend from Aleppo onwards where you just level the place, level residential houses, you level civic offices, you level universities, you level schools,” he said.

“This has become the new norm in the waging of war. We see it Syria, we see it Ukraine, we see it in Gaza and the world has to call a halt, the world will not be able to sustain this.”

Mr Shoukry described Ireland’s stance of the conflict as a very noble and courageous. He said verbal calls and requests for a two-state solution were not enough and actions were required.

The UN appointed former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna to lead the Unrwa review of Unrwa’s ability to ensure neutrality and respond to allegations of breaches in February after Israel accused 12 Unrwa staff took part in the Hamas-led attacks on October 7th last which triggered the Gaza war.

A separate investigation by internal UN investigators is looking into the Israeli allegations against the 12 Unrwa staff.

The review said Israel had not raised any concerns with Unrwa, based on those staff lists, since 2011. Then in March 2024, “Israel made public claims that a significant number of Unrwa employees are members of terrorist organisations.”

“However, Israel has yet to provide supporting evidence of this,” the review said.

Israel stepped up its accusations in March, saying over 450 Unrwa staff were military operatives in Gaza terrorist groups. Unrwa employs 32,000 people across its area of operations, 13,000 of them in Gaza. – Additional reporting Reuters

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times