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'Not sitting on the fence': How the government wants backbenchers to explain Ireland's UN abstention

Charlie Flanagan issued advice to government TDs and Senators to deal with queries over Ireland’s controversial decision to abstain from a UN vote on Gaza.

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan
Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

GOVERNMENT TDS AND SENATORS have been given a template response to questions they might get about Ireland’s controversial decision to abstain from a UN vote on establishing an inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Gaza last month.

The template response to queries was issued at Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan’s request by his special advisor Sarah Kavanagh in an email to all Fine Gael and Labour Oireachtas members last Tuesday afternoon.

It came six days after Ireland, along with other EU countries, abstained on a UN Human Rights Council vote to establish an inquiry into whether there were breaches of international law in Gaza.

Ireland wanted references to all violent acts, including those by Hamas against Israel, to be included in the resolution. But there was criticism of the government, including from some Labour backbenchers.

The template response, seen by TheJournal.ie, points out that Ireland “did not oppose the resolution” but says there were “a number of problems” with it that were the subject of negotiations with the Palestinian delegation.

It states that Ireland wanted the resolution to “clearly condemn all relevant actions, including firing of rockets at Israeli civilian targets; that any investigation should cover all alleged breaches of international law, by either side; and that the existing UN mechanisms should be used to carry out the investigation, rather than setting up a new mechanism”. 

‘Not sitting on the fence’

The advice also stresses that “it is important to be aware that abstention on a resolution in an international forum is not the same as a ‘no’ vote, and nor is it simply ‘sitting on the fence’”.

“Countries who abstain are, in most cases, signalling that they are not trying to block the resolution, but they have specific difficulties with it which prevents them supporting it.”

The advice states that had the EU not decided on a common abstension than it is “quite likely ” that some EU countries would have oppose the resolution – as the United States did – and “this would have resulted in a worse voting outcome for the resolution, and have weakened the EU at the HRC for future occasions”.

Despite having abstained on the vote, the advice states that given the resolution passed “as we knew it would be” Ireland will now “fully support” the Commission of Inquiry being set up.

It adds that the government’s focus will on “trying to add to international pressure” for an immediate ceasefire.

The template response adds: “Ireland will also continue to stress, as we have consistently done, that a ceasefire on its own is insufficient, without a resolution of the underlying problems of Gaza and above all the opening of the border to normal civilian activity.”

Background: Why did Ireland abstain from a UN Human Rights Council vote on Gaza?

Explainer: What is happening in Gaza?

About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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