By Kevin Squires.
As the new Israeli government moves to illegally annex yet more Palestinian land, anyone who has been following the fate of the Occupied Territories Bill will have seen it emerge as one of the principal sticking points in the ongoing Irish government formation negotiations.
If made law, the Bill would ban trade with illegal settlements in recognised occupied territories. In terms of Palestine, this would see an end to imports from Israeli entities in occupied Palestine and Syria.
The long journey towards justice
It’s been quite the journey for the Bill, first introduced by Senator Frances Black in 2018.
At present the Bill is supported by all parties in the Oireachtas, with the sole exception of Fine Gael, which has been a consistent opponent of the Bill during the term of the minority government – despite the bill being approved by the Seanad, and passing both its initial reading in the Dáil and the Committee Stage.
Despite this overwhelming support, in order to prevent it becoming law, Fine Gael put the kibosh on the Bill by using the obscure Money Message mechanism; an undemocratic process by which the government of the day can refuse to enact any piece of legislation if it is deemed to require the use of state finances – in other words, any law that has been voted for by the majority of TDs but which the government does not wish to pass.
That’s where the Bill stood as we headed into the 2020 general election, and during that election all parties, Fine Gael excepted, pledged to enact it if in government.
And this is where we find the Bill today – one of several points of contention in the negotiations between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party. It is opposed only by a party that garnered barely 20 per cent of the popular vote.
So far, both Fianna Fáil and the Greens have remained firm in their commitment to making it part of the Program for Government, while Fine Gael has continued its flat-out rejection – while continuing, at least formally, to acknowledge that both the settlements and Israel’s plan to annex yet more Palestinian land are illegal and that something must be done.
Legislation is a legal necessity
The argument Fine Gael uses is primarily that the Bill would be in violation of EU trade laws. To make this argument this they rely on the unpublished opinion of the current Attorney General, Seamus Wolfe – and have denied parties or the public access to this opinion for over two years.
However, several eminent jurists and legal scholars argue the exact opposite, including Michael Lynn SC, James Crawford SC, Professor Takis Tridimas and former Attorney General Michael McDowell.
Indeed, legal scholars maintain that this legislation is actually a legal obligation required to bring Ireland into compliance with its duty to non-recognition of and non-assistance to serious breaches of international law. It is for this reason that the Bill is supported by current and former UN Special Rapporteurs for the Human Rights in Palestine Michael Lynk, John Dugard and Richard Falk.
There are secondary, more political, arguments that Fine Gael use – such as the Bill lessening Ireland’s influence with Israel (leverage which has been so immense in the past, apparently) – but the mainstay of their opposition is ostensibly based in perceived legal problems, and particularly that of the current Attorney General.
Of course, as we know from the experience with Ireland’s ban on imports from apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, the advice of one attorney general can be overwritten by that of their successor. Then-Attorney General Peter Sutherland argued that a ban would contravene European Economic Community law, but his successor AG John Rogers argued the opposite. Ireland in fact became the first EEC country to introduce such a ban, setting a major precedent.
Today in Ireland we have a real chance to pass this equally historic legislation in support of oppressed peoples.
A strong collective campaign got the bill this far
Of course, the Bill didn’t get this far on its own – its progress is down to two and half years of amazing work by Senator Frances Black and her office, and Niall Collins TD who introduced it into the Dáil. It is a testament to the tireless lobbying and mobilisation work of civil society organisations such as Sadaka, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trócaire, Christian Aid, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and Palestinian groups like Al Haq and BADIL.
But most of all, the main driver of this Bill’s progress has been the general public, who have made their support widely known – so much so that the Bill was coming up on the doorsteps during the general election.
Despite Fine Gael’s continued opposition, all of us who have worked on this campaign firmly believe that we can still push it across the line – but we need to up the political pressure on Fine Gael in particular. We also need to let Fianna Fáil and the Greens know that their stance is popular and supported.
Indeed, with Israel’s plan to annex some 30 per cent more of the West Bank next month going virtually unopposed by the international community, we cannot abandon the Palestinian people at this critical time.
More action is vital to push the Bill over the line
So we are asking people to take a few minutes to engage the party leaders, Foreign Affairs and Trade spokespeople, and your local FF/FG/Green TDs to let them know that this legislation is an issue for you – thank the Greens and Fianna Fáil for holding firm, and call on Fine Gael to alter their rejectionist stance and bow to the democratic will of the people.
Write to party leaders
The relevant email addresses are below.
Fine Gael: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Fianna Fáil: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Green Party: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
You can find your local TDs’ email addresses here by searching by constituency.
Experience has shown that it’s more effective to write your own messages – no matter how short or long – rather than copy and pasting a generic text, but if you need some tips they can be found here.
It is important to stress that no matter what you personally may think of any of the parties involved in these negotiations, if you care about Palestinian rights at all, you should try to send a message to them because, at the end of the day, this is not a legal battle, it is a political one.
Even if you think Fine Gael will not be moved, just remember that two years ago Fianna Fáil said they couldn’t support the Bill – and last year they introduced the legislation into the Dáil.
There is always hope – let us be guided by it to make history!
Kevin Squires is national coordinator of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign. For more information about the work of the IPSC and the latest news, views and analysis from and about Palestine you can visit www.ipsc.ie or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and all major Podcasting platforms.