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Varadkar says he is abused on the street about Gaza, as Tánaiste says sanctions not ruled out

Varadkar said Israel has become “blinded by rage” and is not even listening to the advice of its close ally the United States anymore.

SPEAKING DURING LEADERS’ Questions today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he thinks it is “irresponsible” for opposition parties to spread the idea that there is something that Ireland can do to change Benjamin Netanyahu’s course of action in Gaza. 

He also shared that he has been “shouted at and abused” by the public over the Government’s response to Gaza.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said Israel has become “blinded by rage” and is not even listening to the advice of its close ally the United States anymore.

Responding to Labour leader Ivana Bacik, who urged the Government to do more to support Gaza, Varadkar said people need to be realistic about what Ireland can do and said it is clear to him that Israel is “not listening to any other country in the world”. 

“I don’t even think they’re listening to the Americans anymore,” he added. 

“We need to be honest with people about that too, because I am concerned that there are people who shout at us in the streets – maybe they don’t do it to you but they certainly do it to me and to my colleagues here – who believe there’s some action that we can take that will change Benjamin Netanyahu’s mind. I think that’s incorrect. 

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“And I don’t think people should spread that idea. I think it’s actually irresponsible.”

Varadkar said it is Ireland’s “strong view” that Israel and Hamas should accept the ceasefire that is on the table.

He defended the Government’s response to the situation in Gaza and said it is very clear Israel is not listening to other countries.

Not ruling sanctions out

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Micheál Martin told reporters today that Ireland won’t rule anything out when it comes to sanctions that Ireland can impose on Israel.

Speaking to reporters at the Dublin Chamber this afternoon, he said EU member states are “very limited” in acting unilaterally, stating that generally it tends to be EU-wide measures that are taken.

Martin has previously spoken of the need to progress EU sanctions against “violent” settlers in the West Bank, specifically mentioning how Ireland would be “very open” to imposing a travel ban on West Bank settlers.

When asked about whether that will be progressed given the situation facing those in Rafah, Martin said it would be very important for the EU to impose travel bans as a bloc, but stated that Ireland may “call it” at the time if EU states do not take the step together.

Martin is due to travel to Brussels on Monday for the Foreign Affairs Council, where it is expected a decision on such a move could be made.

The US has already imposed travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in recent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, such a move by Europe or Ireland would not be seen as out of step.

In terms of recognising the state of Palestine, something the Taoiseach has already indicated he would prefer Ireland to do along with other other EU member states, Martin said today he has held discussions with Arab nations as to what would be the “optimal timing” for Palestine to be recognised.

Martin said the consensus was that the “best time” would be when the Arab Peace Initiative is agreed, adding that it would be the “optimum time” for Ireland to recognise the state of Palestine as it would “give a sense to the Palestinian people that there are a number of countries with you on this, as we begin a journey towards a peace process”.

In terms of action taken by Ireland, Varadkar also pointed to the fact Ireland has increased funding to the United Nations and UNRWA when other countries have suspended their funding. 

UNRWA chief travelling to Dublin 

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini is due to meet the Tánaiste in Dublin on Thursday. Earlier today, Martin signalled that Ireland could pledge additional funding to the UN agency, above the €18 million by the end of the year. 

He also noted that Ireland has called for the EU-Israel trade deal to be suspended based on Ireland’s view that Israel may be in violation of the human rights clause of the agreement. 

Varadkar told the Dáil today that he spoke to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen yesterday on suspending the deal with UNRWA stating that it would require unanimity in the European Parliament.

“There is not unanimity at EU level to do so,” the Taoiseach said.

He added that Ireland is currently in discussion with other EU allies on recognising Palestine as a state. 

Calls for government to do more 

His comments come as opposition parties continue to call on the Government to do more.

Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns said Israel’s actions in Rafah since the weekend should result in a massive change in response from other countries, including Ireland. 

Cairns, who was speaking to reporters at Leinster House this morning, said the Irish Government needs to match its “very strong words of condemnation” with action. 

Yesterday, Israel conducted a predawn raid in Rafah that freed two hostages and killed around 100 people. This came after it rejected Hamas’s terms for a truce last week.

Israel has come under mounting international pressure as it prepares for an incursion into the southern Gaza city.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the military to prepare a plan to evacuate the population of Rafah ahead of further attacks but the United Nations has said it is “simply not possible” to do so due to the destruction already caused in Rafah and beyond.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, over half the territory’s population, are trapped in Rafah.

Cairns today called for the Irish Government to push for trade sanctions against Israel, make a referral to the International Criminal Court and to support South Africa’s genocide case against Israel. 

She added that at a national level the Government should support the Occupied Territories Bill and the Illegal Settlements Bill. 

“I don’t know what exactly they’re waiting for but I think it’s very clear to everybody, that there’s a huge, huge discrepancy in the Government’s approach to the brutal invasion of Ukraine, compared to the brutal invasion of Gaza,” Cairns said.

She added: “Now is the time for the Government to change its approach.”

Cairns also welcomed comments from the Taoiseach last week when he said Ireland is seeking the support of fellow EU member states for a review of the EU-Israel trade agreement, something the Social Democrats have been demanding for months. 

“It’s a shame it took so long but of course, it’s really, really welcomed,” she said. 

Cairns added that comments made this morning by Minister Simon Coveney were welcome, but now need to be followed up with action. 

On his way into Cabinet this morning, Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney accused Israel of acting like a rogue state. 

“They’re ignoring the International Court of Justice,” said Coveney, a former foreign affairs minister.

“They seem now to even be ignoring their closest allies in countries like the United States and the UK, who are clearly calling for restraint, looking for the basis of a ceasefire, wanting to work with Israel to bring an end to this savagery that is continuing in Gaza,” he said.

With reporting from Christina Finn.