New Irish government reneges on Occupied Territories Bill

By Roddy Keenan/ PNN/ Dublin/

The programme of the newly-formed government of Ireland does not include the Occupied Territories Bill that has been awaiting passage through the lower house of the Irish parliament (Dail).

Speaking at a press conference in Dublin earlier today (Monday), the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, claimed the bill ‘wasn’t implementable’.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill, originally proposed by Senator Frances Black, was passed in the Irish Senate back in January 2018. The bill was subsequently introduced by Fianna Fail party TD (member of parliament) Niall Collins in the Dail, where it passed by a margin of 78 votes to 45, with three abstentions. However, since then, the governing party Fine Gael has dragged its feet in bringing forward the legislation for final passage.

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The bill seeks to ‘give effect to the Irish state’s obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and under customary international humanitarian law.’

In so doing, this law would ‘make it an offence for a person to import or sell goods or services originating in an occupied territory or to extract resources from an occupied territory in certain circumstances.’
Penalties for breach of the law can lead to fines of up to 250,000 euros ($285,000) or five years imprisonment.

In the general election in February, the governing party, Fine Gael, suffered significant losses and was unable to form a government under its leadership. Supporters of the Occupied Territories Bill subsequently hoped that a new government would commit to finally passing the bill in the Dail.

Furthermore, supporters of the bill recently received encouragement when Fine Gael’s claims that the Irish state’s Attorney-General (AG) had advised them privately that the bill would contravene EU law and lead to fines of ‘tens of millions of euros per year’, were exposed as being a complete fiction.

Last week, Sadaka, an Irish-based Palestinian support group, received a leaked copy of the Attorney-General’s actual determination on the Occupied Territories Bill. The document not only undermined the Fine Gael argument, but showed that their assertions were diametrically opposed to the reality.

While the EU decides what goods can and cannot be imported by member states, the latter can unilaterally ban imports of certain goods on grounds of ‘public policy’. Supporters of the Occupied Territories Bill have argued that the bill is consistent with these ‘public policy’ arguments due to the fact that it applies to goods produced in illegal settlements, which constitute a ‘grave breach’ of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime under International Criminal Law.

The Attorney-General indicated that, having studied numerous European courts’ decisions on the matter, the Irish government is free to adopt unilateral measures on these ‘public policy’ grounds. Furthermore, he made no reference to anything in the opinion about exposing the Irish state to any fines or compensation claims, let alone liabilities of ‘tens of millions of Euros’.

The AG’s opinion could not have been more timely, coming at a time when negotiations were taking place regarding the finalising of a programme for a new government. It was therefore hoped that Fianna Fail and the Green Party, two of the parties involved in negotiations along with Fine Gael, would press for its inclusion in the final programme. However, the new governing coalition of these three parties has shamefully omitted the Occupied Territories Bill from the final programme for government. While the programme has to be ratified by the membership of the parties involved, it seems likely it will be accepted and form the basis of coalition government policy.

At a time when politicians across the political divide in Ireland, particularly those in the Green Party, are declaring their support for those currently protesting against racism, prejudice and injustice, this reprehensible action exposes their words as nothing more than hollow rhetoric. The hypocrisy of those who speak of justice but at the same time tacitly condone the oppression, maiming and murder of Palestinians, is beneath contempt.

Thankfully, in stark contrast to the political class that bends the knee to apartheid Israel, the Irish population has demonstrated and continues to express its support for the people of Palestine.

While the events of today may be a setback, the struggle for justice goes on.

And it will continue to go on, until every single Palestinian man, woman and child is free, from the river to the sea.

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