Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Irish politicians warned of 'retaliation' for settlement goods ban

Irish Current Affairs Blog of the Year

Senator Frances Black celebrating with supporters after the Seanad
voted in favour of the Occupied Territories Bill in July of last year

Corporate lobbyists have issued a strong warning about the potential for “retaliation” by the United States if Irish politicians press ahead with a bill to outlaw goods and services from the illegal Israeli settlements in Palestine.

In a document which was “leaked” to me last week, the lobbyists warn that there could be significant consequences for the Irish economy if the Occupied Territories Bill becomes enacted into Irish law.

Although strong majorities in both houses of the Irish parliament have already voted in favour of the bill, members of the Foreign Affairs Committee were warned that there could be severe implications for the Irish economy when they discussed the bill on Thursday afternoon.

The briefing paper, commissioned by members of the Irish parliament, warns that the proposed ban could undermine diplomatic links between Ireland and both the US and Israel.

“Passing the Bill could remove Ireland’s objectivity in discussions on the peace process in the Middle East, as well as undermine the influence of the Irish Government in direct interaction with the Israeli Government,” warn the authors of the document.

“The Bill could undermine economic and diplomatic links to both the US and Israel. Israel has been outspoken in its criticism of any measures taken against the occupied territories. Some form of response by Israel or the US is a possibility.”

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

The document points out that more than 155,000 people are directly employed by over 700 US-owned businesses in Ireland, while these companies support a further 100,000 jobs – accounting for approximately 20% of all employment in Ireland.

Three of Ireland’s ten largest companies, in terms of annual turnover, are US businesses (Apple, Google and Microsoft) and any form of sanction by the US Government would have a serious impact on the Irish economy, they warn.

However, Gerry Liston of Sadaka Ireland, who drafted the Occupied Territories Bill, told me that it was an “absurd assertion” that the legislation could bring about the withdrawal of US foreign direct investment in Ireland.

He pointed out that the bill only relates to the illegal settlements beyond the internationally recognised 1967 border.

“The authors refer to the presence in Ireland of companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft but omit to note the critical point that these companies have no dealings whatsoever with Israeli settlements and that the Occupied Territories Bill would therefore be of no concern to them,” he said.

Mr Liston said he was surprised that there was no reference at all to three separate legal opinions, obtained by Sadaka Ireland, which have found that the bill is compatible with EU law.

Indeed, Sadaka strongly assert that Ireland is fully entitled to press ahead with the bill to ban goods from the settlements which are deemed to be illegal according to international law. 

A talk about the Occupied Territories Bill in Galway last year

Israeli Government officials have condemned the legislation and it has attracted lobbying from a group of ten US Congressmen, the German-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, the Jewish Agency in Israel, and the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland.

Indeed, the briefing document presented to the Irish Foreign Affairs Committee this week echoes claims made by the group of ten US Congressmen, led by Peter King (Republican, New York) in a letter to Irish parliamentarians earlier this year.

The minority Irish Government, led by Fine Gael, has consistently opposed the bill in both the Dail and Seanad, but it has passed through both houses of the Irish Parliament thanks to the support of the main opposition Fianna Fail party, who are keeping the Government in power via a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement.

It was first moved by Independent Senator Frances Black in July 2018 and has received support from a wide range of groups, including Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein, Labour, Independents, plus NGOs Trocaire and Christian Aid Ireland.

The Irish parliament hired consultants John Spicer and Abdul Malik, of Europe Economics; and Mirja Gutheil, Quentin Liger and Harry Heyburn, of Optimity Advisors, to summarise the positives and negatives of the bill before it is scrutinised by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade.

They point out that the immediate economic impact would be quite small, but that the bill could have a “domino effect” and that backers of the bill were inspired by the international boycott campaign which helped to bring about the downfall of the Apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s.

“It is likely that the State of Israel would impose retaliatory measures which would have a larger impact,” says the briefing document. “The largest potential negative impact of the Bill would be retaliation by the US. It is unclear whether this would materialise, but if they were to, the impact on the Irish economy would be important.”

Congressman Peter King has warned the Irish not to go ahead with the bill

The Fianna Fail spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Niall Collins TD, accused the authors of the policy document of using “inappropriate language” by claiming that “retaliation” to the Occupied Territories Bill would damage the Irish economy.

“The threats which have already been articulated by US Congressman Peter King and Richard Neal, in terms of how corporate America would act in the future towards Ireland, are overstating it in my opinion. I think they are out of touch with the moral and social responsibilities of corporations, their ethics, and how they have to act,” said Mr Collins.

He said that, despite being the Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman for Ireland’s biggest opposition party, he had not received any correspondence from US multinationals based in Ireland.

“As public representatives, we get lobbied about all sorts of stuff, but nobody from Google, Facebook, or anybody else has contacted me to make their views known.”

With Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh last week.
He spent five months in prison for his art.

An edited, and shortened, version of this article was published by Electronic Intifada, the largest Palestinian news site (in English) in the world, last week. The article has been shared 950 times on Facebook at the time of publication. The Occupied Territories Bill is due to be discussed again in May. You can find the link to my article at https://electronicintifada.net/content/business-groups-pressure-ireland-drop-ban-israeli-settlement-goods/27066

Please help to support INDEPENDENT journalism in Ireland by hiring Ciaran Tierney to write your business blog or content for your website. Contact Ciaran via ciaran@ciarantierney.com

* Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award at the Tramline, Dublin, in October 2018. Find him on Facebook  or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com. A former newspaper journalist, he is seeking new opportunities in a digital world.  

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