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Mick Barry TD Sam Boal/Rolling News
israeli trade

Occupied Territories Bill in limbo amid calls for unions to back workers refusing to handle Israeli goods

Leader of the Labour Party Ivana Bacik said that the Labour Party also fully supports any workers in their opposition to handling any Israeli goods.

OPPOSITION PARTIES HAVE called for trade unions to support workers who refuse to handle Israeli goods, but moves towards a legislative ban on goods from Israeli-occupied territories appears to have stalled. 

The deadly Israel-Hamas conflict has shed fresh light on the Occupied Territories bill, which passed a number of stages in the Oireachtas but has not become law.

Senior government sources have said that while support may be there for the bill to pass, it is the government’s view that now would not be the time to renew it. 

It remains the view of the government that the bill would not be compatible with European Union law and would not be implementable.

Government sources have also indicated that, if there was a push for the bill, it would be seen internationally as an attack on Israel while they are dealing with the recent attacks on its civilians by Hamas. 

The Bill, which was brought forward by independent senator Frances Black, seeks to prevent Ireland from trading in goods and services imported from Israeli-occupied territories.

Although it does not mention Israel or Palestine specifically, it aims to prohibit “the import and sales of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied territories”.

It passed in the Seanad in December 2018 despite government opposition, before passing second stage in the Dáil in January 2019, when Fianna Fáil and some members of the Independent Alliance abstained from the vote.

Fine Gael repeatedly outlined its opposition to the Bill, with then-Tánaiste Simon Coveney repeatedly saying that he could not support the Bill based on advice from the Attorney General.  

Despite the Green Party advocating for the bill in government negotiation talks in 2020, it was ultimately dropped from the Programme for Government. 

Following the dissolving of the 32nd Dáil, the bill lapsed, but Black succeeded in having the bill restored to the same stage in December 2020.

The bill is now stalled at Second Stage in the Dáil. In February of this year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said it remains the view of government that trade is an EU competence.

While in September, Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the government has “clear legal advice on this matter. The Government will, therefore, not be taking it forward”. 

Leader of the Labour Party Ivana Bacik pointed to the Occupied Territories Bill which has been stalled since 2020 and said it is “now more urgent than ever” that the Government moves to enact it. 

“We have all watched closely with great distress the tragic events ongoing in Israel and Palestine following the horrific and brutal attacks by Hamas upon Israeli civilians, which I condemned when they were carried out,” she said. 

Bacik said the Irish people, and the Labour Party, have shown strong support for Palestine and said: 

“We want to see that level of support reflected in Irish Government policies. It has been well over a year and a half since the Dáil voted to condemn the de facto annexation of Palestinian land by the Israeli state.

“The Occupied Territories Bill has passed through both Houses but despite receiving support from Fianna Fáil and the Greens, it has yet to be enacted by Government.”

She added: “the time for Government to act is now”.

With the government not progressing with the proposed legislation, opposition members believe it falls to workers to take the initiative now. 

Trade unions

People Before Profit Mick Barry yesterday urged trade unions to support workers who refuse to handle Israeli goods in protest over the Israeli government’s response to last week’s attack by Hamas. 

Barry expressed his frustration that the Irish Government has not enacted the Occupied Territories Bill and said it’s “shameful” that the Government won’t act on this but that he “hopes workers will”. 

Speaking to reporters outside Leinster House, Barry drew a comparison between the Israeli state’s treatment of Palestinians and the apartheid state of South Africa.  

He pointed to the action taken by Dunnes Stores workers in Henry Street in Dublin in 1984 when they refused to handle South African produce. 

Barry said: “After three years of striking, Government here implemented a ban on some apartheid produce in the state.

“So I want to say today that I think that any worker…who has the courage to refuse to handle Israeli goods, they deserve the full backing, the full support and solidarity of the Irish trade union movement.”

“The need to speak up against the injustices that are taking place,” he added.

 Bacik told The Journal that the Labour Party also fully supports any workers in their opposition to handling any Israeli goods. 

“There is power in these actions,” she said. 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has reiterated his support for a two-state solution, and the opinion of the former Attorney General that the Occupied Territories Bill is contrary to EU law and at risk of constitutional challenge.

With reporting from Christina Finn, Hayley Halpin and Stephen McDermott.