search

Ireland’s Government is an Embarrassment

Other EU states should ignore its campaign to recognise State of Palestine 

Ireland’s government is an embarrassment and it is undermining its political credibility within the capitals of some EU states. Ireland’s new Taoiseach ( Prime Minister), Simon Harris ( 37), on March 24 became the uncontested leader of the Fine Gael party which leads Ireland’s three party coalition government. Since then he has prioritised and repetitively publicised, ahead of all other issues, a promise that Ireland will soon declare its recognition of the State of Palestine and repetitively urged other EU states to join it in doing so. Harris has no foreign affairs or Middle East experience or expertise, was never a member of the Irish Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee nor to the best of this writers knowledge has visited in any political capacity Israel, the West Bank or Gaza nor engaged with any Israeli, Palestinian or Arab leaders, ministers or politicians. His hyperactive soundbite pronouncements relating to the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict, as he settles into the office of Taoiseach, have left in their wake serious questions about his knowledge, political skills and capacity to credibly contribute to policy development and decision making by heads of state in the European Council. 

From early on in the Israel/Gaza war the Irish government has been out of kilter with many EU states. Initially condemning the murderous attack of Hamas on October 7 and calling for the release of all hostages, as time passed such commentary became a ritual condemnation and demand preceding repetitive trenchant criticism and demonising of Israel. While there has been legitimate criticism and concern voiced relating to humanitarian aid reaching all who need it in Gaza, when repeating calls for a further ceasefire and hostages release, Ireland has refrained from criticising Hamas for repetitively rejecting reasonable ceasefire proposals which include such releases  and which would facilitate the speedier flow of aid. It’s central focus, articulated by its Foreign Minister and Tanaiste ( Deputy Prime Minister) Michael Martin, its previous Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and now elevated by Harris, has been to blame Israel alone for continuing conflict.

The Irish government’s focus, as elsewhere, has also been on the number of Palestinian casualties in Gaza and the extent of the destruction. It is not alone in accepting as accurate the Hamas Health Ministries number of fatalities as exceeding 33,000 nor in ignoring that no distinction is made between terrorist combatants and civilians nor between those killed or injured due to missiles misfired at Israel falling short. Ireland, like many throughout the world, continues to adopt these figures unquestioned, despite the Hamas Ministry a few days ago acknowledging that its figures may not be reliable due to a deficit of information relating to over 11,000 claimed fatalities. While it is perfectly legitimate to regret all civilian casualties, to be critical of the tragic number of dead and injured innocents, including children, and the level of destruction in Gaza, it is neither legitimate nor honest to ignore all context and blame Israel alone as does Ireland.

When addressing the Israel/ Gaza conflict, unlike most EU governments, the Irish government adopts a restrictive narrative. Whilst it acknowledges 3,000 missiles targeted Israel on October 7, Irish government commentary never acknowledges that in the first six months of the conflict 16,000 missiles targeted Israel from Gaza and such missiles still continue to do so. It’s critical rhetoric portrays that Israel for some time has had no defensive needs and is just engaged in a war of revenge and destruction. 

There is never any acknowledgement or criticism of Hamas’s use of civilians as human shields nor mention made of tunnels used for terrorist activities located under schools, mosques, homes, hospitals and both under and powered by UN facilities. No criticism is voiced of Hamas promising to repeat its atrocities of October 7 if given the opportunity, murdering hostages, denying Red Cross access to them and providing no proofs of life. Nothing is expressly said about women being raped, bodies dismembered, people tortured or burnt alive on October 7 nor reference made to Hamas stealing humanitarian aid . As for Hizbollah, it is as if it does not exist.

Neither Harris nor his predecessor as Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, nor Ireland’s Foreign Minister, Michael Martin have ever voiced any express criticism of Hizbollah for daily targeting Israel with missiles, resulting deaths and destruction nor is any reference ever made to the 60,000 Israelis who for safety have had to vacate homes close to the Lebanese border or the over 100,000 whose homes are close to Gaza having to do so. The failure to critically address Hizbollah’s continuing belligerency, drone and missile fire is particularly extraordinary as Ireland has 330 peace keeping troops currently part of a UNIFIL force based in Southern Lebanon, placed in harms way by Hizbollah’s actions which violate UNSC Resolution 1701, adopted in 2006, and other resolutions applicable to UNIFIL’s role. 

Ireland’s selective narrative critical of Israel, until last Sunday morning, also excluded all mention of a four letter word- Iran. Neither Harris, his predecessor nor any Irish government minister has throughout the six month conflict nor at any time in the past acknowledged that Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizbollah, the Houthis and other groups in Iraq who target Israel are terrorists engaged in Iran’s shadow war against Israel and Iranian funded, trained and armed proxies who co-ordinate and consult with Iran on their terrorist activities, nor criticised Iran’s very public dedication to Israel’s destruction and spread of terrorism throughout the Middle East. 

Having been appointed his party’s leader, three days before being elected Taoiseach in the Dáil, Ireland’s primary parliamentary chamber, Harris spoke about the Israel/ Gaza conflict at his party’s annual weekend conference which coincided with the six month commemoration of the slaughter of 1,200 on October 7. Having  repeated the usual ritual condemnation of Hamas’s massacre and call for the release of hostages, voicing no other criticism of Hamas and not mentioning Iran, Hizbollah or Iran’s other proxies, he swiftly moved on to demonise Israel.

 “ Reason” he asserted “ has been replaced by revenge and by the bombing, maiming and death of children”, a seductive, emotive, deceptive sound bite lacking all context. Then accusing Israel of countenancing “ deliberate starvation” of Palestinians in Gaza and of having lost its “ humanity, he continued

“ Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Irish people could not be clearer. We are repulsed by your actions”. 

No expression of repulsion was directed by him at Hamas for its barbaric atrocities and for initiating the conflict nor at Hizbollah nor Iran.  After a standing ovation embracing his soundbite. he continued, “ Ceasefire now and let the aid flow safely. We need a two state solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side, in peace and security. I reiterate Ireland stands by to recognise the state of Palestine”.

Linking “ Northern Ireland” to “Middle East” he asserted “ And we know what we are talking about. This island has one of the most successful peace processes on earth”. An exaggerated claim to knowledge by someone who not only was not involved in the Irish peace process  but who has never made any substantive input to any such process in the Middle East or elsewhere. 

The superficial nature of Harris’s  knowledge was illustrated by his theatrical demand” Ceasefire Now” a slogan  popularised in street protests and on social media, such as Tik Tok on which he has almost 100,000 followers and used by him regularly for self promotion. Deployed by a political party leader it revealed a mere soundbite knowledge of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and a total absence of any real understanding of its complexity. He presented as not knowing that “ Ceasefire Now” would simply facilitate Hamas regroup and reinstate its brutal rule of Gaza, not guarantee the release of any hostages and that continued Hamas rule of Gaza renders impossible the two state solution he advocates. Apparently he is yet to learn that Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s destruction, violently opposed to any such solution and has publicly expressed no interest in permanently abandoning its destructive genocidal objectives should the agreed implementation of a two state solution become a real possibility.     .

Central to the success of the Irish peace process was an inclusive not an exclusive approach, engagement by mediators with all sides, an understanding of the fears, grievances and aspirations of those engaged in and affected by conflict,  knowledge of Irish history, a capacity to civilly engage, listen and assess the feasibility of solutions and an understanding of the need to build trust, end terrorist violence, encourage adversaries to talk, compromise and achieve permanent peace. Harris’s first major speech as the new leader of his party betrayed no such knowledge or understanding as illustrated by his publicly abusing Israel’s Prime Minister and cancelling the invitation of Israel’s ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich to attend his speech while facilitating the attendance of Iran’s Chief of Mission in Ireland. Her attendance at the event was “ deemed inappropriate” on the weekend coinciding with the six month commemoration of the slaughtered of October 7. On April 16 in his first live CNN interview, having repeated to Christiane Amanpour the sound bites of his conference speech, Harris angrily and derisively dismissed the ambassador’s response to it, solely criticised Israel for the absence of a ceasefire and starkly again portrayed that neither he nor the Irish government have any credible role in any peace process.   

This was also illustrated the weekend following Harris’s conference, when Martin’s party, Fianna Fáil, which is part of Ireland’s coalition government, held its own annual conference. Martin’s speech on Saturday evening April 13, repeating the Irish government’s intention to recognise the State of Palestine, substantially replicated that of Harris, including its omissions, as did his conduct. Iran’s Head of Mission in Ireland was a welcomed invited presence amongst the diplomatic corps and Israel’s ambassador was excluded. The day before on RTE, Ireland’s state funded national television and radio service, the Iranian diplomat had promoted Iran’s expected attack on Israel, evaded condemning Hamas’s atrocities of October 7, depicted Hamas as “ the resistance” and, unsurprisingly,  approved the Irish government parties boycott of Israel’s ambassador. Martin had likely not yet returned home after his conference speech before IranIan suicide drones targeting Israel took off to be later accompanied by cruise and ballistic missiles.  

The following day, Sunday April 14, for the first time since October 7 Irish government leaders critically mentioned the four letter word-Iran. Harris condemned “Iran’s reckless and large scale attack on Israel”  and urged “ all sides to show restraint “ Exhibiting greater insight Martin not only condemned Iran’s attack but empathised with “ the Israeli people”, depicted the attack as “ utterly unacceptable” and as “ doing nothing to help the cause of the Palestinian people or bring us closer to an end to the suffering in Gaza”. Their calls for de-escalation omitted any mention of Hamas and Hizbollah, each of whom continue to target Israel with missiles at the time of writing.

Ireland is a small country and while it is clearly incapable of playing a meaningful role in advancing any Israeli/ Palestinian peace process, its ill judged actions  can have a disproportionate impact within the EU and undermine progressing any such process. Ireland’s together with Spain’s current enthusiasm for declaring recognition now of Palestinian statehood is, no doubt, perceived by Hamas, its Iranian masters and other Iranian proxies as a reward for terrorism, encourages further terrorist atrocities and incentivises a continuation of the current conflict. It is also of no help in securing the release of hostages. Such declaration, if made, will enhance support for Hamas and its rejection of any two state solution among Palestinians and undermine the EU wide approach of encouraging the revival of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians and refraining from any such declaration pending agreement between the protagonists. It also distracts from addressing the fact that there currently exists two separate Palestinian Territories, one partially ruled by President Abbas and his Fatah party, the other partially ruled by Yahya Sinwar and Hamas and no externally independent, readily identifiable territory, ruled by a single effective government, to validly recognise according to international law principles. It also gives false hope of contributing to a permanent end to conflict when such declarations in recent years by 139 other states have had no such impact. 

What may not be understood outside Ireland is that Harris’s and Martin’s high profile personal campaign to encourage EU states to join with Ireland in declaring recognition of the State of Palestine is less focused on reigniting an Israeli/Palestinian peace process than on Ireland’s June European Parliamentary and local elections and should not be taken seriously.

 Irish media hostility to Israel, its predominant, selective, unbalanced coverage of the Israel/Gaza conflict, obsessive political hostility to Israel displayed by most opposition politicians in Ireland’s parliament, nearly all of whom failed to condemn Iran’s attack, and tens of thousands marching on Dublin streets chanting “ From the river to the sea” and  “Ceasefire Now” led by speakers who depict Hamas as freedom fighters and the resistance, has spooked the Irish government parties into chasing votes by appeasing the protesters, replicating the conduct of the parliamentary opposition, abandoning any appearance of a balanced approach to Israeli/ Palestinian conflict and attempting to outbid opposition parties in its vilification of Israel.  Other states when reflecting on Ireland’s campaign urging that they join Ireland in a declaration of Palestinian statehood should not attach credibility to the initiative. They need to remember that all politics is local, even on the international stage, and not ignore the Irish government parties poorly hidden self serving agenda.

Alan Shatter

18 April 2024

About the Author
Alan Shatter is a former Irish Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, a former chairperson of the Irish Parliaments Foreign Affairs Committee, a former member of the EU’s Council of Justice & Home Affairs Ministers & Council of Defence Ministers, a Fellow of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Chairperson of Magen David Adom Ireland, a retired solicitor advocate, author of academic legal works, novels and occasional and an occasional lecturer and broadcaster on legal issues and contemporary Irish domestic and international politics. The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs is included amongst the publications for which he has written.