Tuesday 16 July 2019

Fianna Fáil say law to boycott goods from occupied territories 'the right thing to do'

Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil's Niall Collins. Photo: Tom Burke
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

A PROPOSED law that could see a boycott of goods originating from the Occupied Palestinian Territories should not be viewed as “radical” rather it should “be seen as the right thing to do”.

That’s according to Fianna Fáil foreign affairs spokesman Niall Collins, whose party is backing the Bill originally put forward by Independent Senator Frances Black.

It used its private members’ time this afternoon for a debate on the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 which is due to be voted on tomorrow.

With all of the main opposition parties supporting the Bill, the government - which is opposing it - is likely to be defeated in the Dáil vote.

Mr Collins said that if it is passed it will “be sending a strong message that we condemn the occupation of territories which are deemed illegal under international law. “

He said the Bill applies to illegal occupations anywhere in the world, not just Israel and Palestine.

He added that it would not ban trade in Israeli goods, only those produced in illegal settlements built beyond its borders.

Mr Collins said Fianna Fáil support Israel’s right to self-determination and to self-defence and has long supported a two-State solution to the dispute in the Middle East.

However, he said his party has become “increasingly concerned about the actions of Israel and its continued and blatant disregard for international law.

“We are deeply frustrated about the imbalance in power; the lack of progress in achieving a two-state solution, the non-existent peace process, the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and the West Bank”.

He argued that a two-state solution will soon be unachievable because of the manner in which the settlements are interwoven throughout what is internationally recognised as Palestinian land.

Mr Collins said: “If change is to come then we must make the settlement project a less desirable policy for Israel.

“This Bill is an example of a different but I believe a moderate approach and one that I hope will be a vehicle for change in some small way.”

Tánaiste and foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney set out why the government is opposing the Bill.

He said the government has been involved in keeping up consistent pressure at EU and international level against the expansion of settlements.

He added: “No member of this house attaches greater importance than I do to bringing Ireland’s influence to bear to help end the occupation of Palestinian Territories, to promote a two-State solution that works for Israel and for Palestinians and to deliver a sustainable peace after decades of conflict.”

However, he added: “speaking on behalf of the government I do not agree this bill is the right way forward now”.

He gave three broad reasons – legal, political and practical.

He said the overriding point is the Bill asks the government to do something that is not within its power.

Mr Coveney said Ireland is a member of the EU Single Market and trade is an exclusive competence of the European Union.

“We are not in a position to raise a barrier and declare that it is prohibited to bring to Ireland for sale or personal use goods that enter the EU legally and are freely circulating elsewhere in the single market.”

He said the Attorney General has confirmed that passing the Bill would put Ireland in breach of EU law.

This could lead to legal action and “potentially very significant fines” of up to tens of millions of Euro.

Mr Coveney said: “No government nor any responsible opposition in my view could support intentionally breaking EU law and exposing the State to such significant penalties.”

He suggested the Bill could be challenged by companies or individuals claiming to be adversely affected by it.

He also said it would create new offences that would lead to costs for Customs, the Gardaí and potentially the Prison Service.

Mr Coveney argued that this would breach a constitutional provision on the passing of Opposition Bills with cost implications or a so-called “money message”, though Fianna Fáil disputed this.

Mr Coveney said political effects are also an important consideration.

He said: “Ireland has a stronger voice and greater influence on Middle East issues generally at UN and EU level than our size would alone would normally justify.”

He said that’s where Ireland can be most helpful in the goal of achieving lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

He argued that a unilateral move like that proposed in the Bill would weaken Ireland’s ability to influence overall EU policy.

Mr Coveney also said that a practical effect could see US companies in Ireland and Irish companies in the US “placed in an impossible conflict of jurisdictions”.

He said legislation was under discussion in the United States Congress last year that would forbid companies based in the US from cooperating with trade bans on Israel and Israeli settlements.

Mr Coveney said: “Ultimately despite being well and sincerely intentioned by its original authors this Bill will do serious damage to Ireland and bring only momentary consolation to Palestinian citizens. And we owe them more than that.

Members of Sinn Féin, Labour and Solidarity-People Before Profit spoke I favour of the Bill and it is likely to pass a Dáil vote tomorrow.

Online Editors

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