Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Sasko Lazarov

Varadkar says Ireland would lose influence by going 'too far' in response to Israel motion

Opposition TDs have called for sanctions on Israel in response to its treatment of the Palestinian people.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 15th 2023, 1:58 PM

IRELAND WOULD RISK losing influence by going “too far” with sanctions on Israel, the Taoiseach has said in response to the Social Democrats’ motion to expel the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon during Leaders’ Questions, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar criticised Social Democrats’ leader Holly Cairns in relation to her party’s motion on Israel.

Cairns asked the Taoiseach if he was “satisfied that Israel will face no economic or diplomatic consequences for its massacre in Gaza” and asked what actions the Government is willing to take in relation to Israel.

Her questions come following a motion tabled by the Social Democrats in the Dáil calling for the Irish Government to place economic and political sanctions on Israel.

In response to Cairns, Varadkar said from his experience he has learned that there is a “way to lead in international affairs, and a way not to lead”. 

“If you go too far on a limb you lose influence. You get put in the category where you don’t get listen to anymore.

“As Tony Blair would have said, If you lead so far in front, nobody can see you. And that’s not an approach that works in international affairs,” The Taoiseach said.

He added: “You have to make sure you use your influence in a way that’s effective, not in a way that just makes you look good on telly or makes you look good in front of protesters.

“That’s not how you conduct grownup politics or international affairs.”

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon on the conflict more broadly, Varadkar said any state has “the right to self defence when civilians are attacked”.

“That’s what happened on October 7th. But what’s happening in Gaza is beyond self defence. In my view, it constitutes collective punishment. I said so, and I was one of the first to say so and I stand over that,” Varadkar said.

“I also believe that the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation, of course they do,” he said.

“All of us, I think, in this House deplore what is happening to children in Gaza at the hands of the IDF. It’s deeply wrong and deeply unacceptable,” the Taoiseach said.

Varadkar added that he is “concerned that people are already forgetting what Hamas did to children in Israel”.

“[It] went out of its way to kill and torture as many children as possible and kidnapped others, including one Irish citizen Emily Hand. So we should already remember that the lives of all children are equal.

“When we talk about the lives of Palestinian children, which we should, we shouldn’t forget what happened to the Israeli children, too, and what’s still happening to those children in the tunnels in Gaza,” he said.

The motion and the Government’s countermotion

The Social Democrats’ motion comes as TDs receive ‘thousands’ of letters in support of the Palestinian people amid Israel’s war with Hamas.

Among the proposed sanctions, backed by other opposition TDs, the Social Democrats want to see the human rights clause in the EU-Israel trade deal enacted. 

This clause means that either side can unilaterally suspend the agreement in response to serious breaches of human rights.

The Taoiseach said in the Dáil today that he would make enquiries about this clause and seek legal advice on it.

The Social Democrats also want Ireland to put its name to a report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations by Israel and want to see the Occupied Territories Bill enacted. 

The Government has however deemed expelling the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland a bridge too far, considering the impact it would have on communication channels, and put forward a countermotion in response.

The countermotion does not call for the expulsion of the ambassador, referral of Israel to the ICC or the imposition of economic sanctions on Israel.

In its countermotion, the Government reiterated that Israel’s response to the terrorist attack by Hamas on October 7 must be done in a proportionate manner and in respect for international humanitarian law.

It also noted that an investigation into the situation in Palestine has been underway in the ICC since March 2021.

The Government’s countermotion will be voted on in the Dáil today. If it does not pass, TDs will then be permitted to vote on the Social Democrats’ original motion. 

Speaking on the Social Democrats motion this morning, Gary Gannon TD accused the international community of ‘enabling’ Israel’s actions.

“There is an impending genocide taking place in Gaza as we speak.”

He said that it is “unconscionable” for the Irish government to maintain ties with Israel.

Today, thirty Irish citizens and immediate family members were cleared to evacuate Gaza began leaving through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. 

Gannon said the Government wants the Irish people to “avert their gaze” from Israel’s actions, which he believes are “an affront to human dignity”.

The Social Democrats’ Cian O’Callaghan began the debate earlier today by condemning the use of the conflict by some people to justify antisemitism and islamophobia.

“The life of a child in Gaza is the same as a life of a child in Israel,” he said.

“We must take a stand against this forced displacement of the Palestinian people and we must name it what it is. This is a barbaric act of ethnic cleansing.”

Comparisons were made with the conflict in Ukraine, but Minister of State for the Department of Justice James Browne said that this war is fundamentally different.

The Government is calling for a ceasefire and the unconditional release of hostages, he said.

The Fianna Fáil TD welcomed continued engagement with the issue “which is deeply important to the Irish people”.

“The Government strongly condemns any act which violates international humanitarian law,” said Browne.

“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind about the gravity of the situation.”

He said that expelling the Israeli ambassador “underplays the value of international and multilateral engagement”.

“Cutting off diplomatic relations with a country means cutting off communication channels.”

He added that it is during conflict when diplomacy is most important.

Referring Israel to the the ICC “would run contrary to legal advice”, Browne said, and would risk ‘politicising’ the issue and undermining the court’s independence.

A referral “would simply repeat an action that has already been taken”, he added – an argument the opposition does not accept.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore agreed with Minister Simon Harris’ description of the conflict as a “war on children”.

However, she added: “Strong words have not prevented a single bomb from dropping. They have not prevented a single child from being killed.”

“When it is over we each will have to look at what we did at the face of what’s happening in Gaza,” she said.

“I really hope for the sake of the people in Gaza, and indeed for yourselves on the Government benches and the people in  power, that you did everything in your control … and you didn’t just shout strong words from the sidelines and turn a blind eye to genocide.”

Additional reporting from Jane Matthews.