‘Highly likely’ more EU countries will recognise Palestine - Harris

Taoiseach says ‘clear view’ emerging on need for end to violence in Gaza following meeting with Ursula von der Leyen

It was “highly likely” that more countries in Europe would follow Ireland and Spain in planning to recognise the State of Palestine, Taoiseach Simon Harris has said.

Speaking in Brussels, the new Fine Gael leader said there was a “very clear view emerging” that there needed to be “an immediate cessation of violence” in Gaza.

Mr Harris said he raised the issue during a meeting with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday afternoon, where the pair also discussed the war in Ukraine, asylum reform and agriculture policy.

During the meeting, Mr Harris said he outlined the Government’s view that there needed to be an immediate halt to Israel’s war in Gaza, which started following attacks by Hamas militants on October 7th.

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“I think there is an onus on everybody to use every lever at their disposal to help bring [about] that ceasefire … I hope that European institutions would reflect on Ireland’s viewpoint,” he said.

Mr Harris added Israeli hostages still held by Hamas needed to be released.

The Taoiseach said the Government would work to try to convince other EU countries to follow Ireland in formally recognising the state of Palestine.

“It’s up to every country to decide this, whether they wish to be a part of a potential coalition of European member states that would recognise the state. But I believe it is highly likely there’ll be more than just Ireland and Spain,” he said.

“I don’t believe there’ll be an EU approach, I believe different member states will adopt different positions in relation to recognising the state of Palestine. But Ireland won’t be waiting for that to be a European approach,” he said. “Ireland wishes to recognise the state of Palestine, I’d like to do that with a number of other countries,” he said.

While there was a range of positions on the conflict across the EU, he said it appeared a “clear view” was emerging in favour of a ceasefire.

Mr Harris reiterated that Ireland would be opting in to all elements of a new EU-wide asylum policy voted through the European Parliament this week, as he supported a “firmer system” on migration.

The reforms will toughen up Ireland’s approach to asylum policy, with decisions being made on cases in shorter timeframes and quicker deportations of unsuccessful applicants. “I think the pact will be transformational for migration policy in Ireland in the years ahead because it will give us an ability to make decisions quicker, but also to return people quicker,” he said.

On his first overseas trip since becoming Taoiseach earlier this week, Mr Harris also met Roberta Metsola, the Maltese politician who is president of the European Parliament.

Following the meetings in Brussels, Mr Harris is travelling to Warsaw, Poland, where he is due to attend an informal dinner with several other EU leaders on Thursday evening. He will meet European Council president Charles Michel and Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, as well as the leaders of Spain, Greece, Finland, Estonia and Luxembourg.

Earlier, the Government rejected a denunciation of Mr Harris by the Israeli foreign ministry over his first speech to the Dáil as Taoiseach for not specifically mentioning Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

The ministry also expressed “fury” over the intention of the Irish Government to give formal recognition, along with several other EU countries and Norway, to a Palestinian State.

The foreign ministry issued a statement on Thursday in which it contended Mr Harris neglected to mention the Israeli hostages captured by Hamas on October 7th during his maiden speech to the Dáil as Taoiseach.

A spokesman for Mr Harris told The Irish Times on Thursday that the Taoiseach has been even-handed at all times in his response to the conflict, and that included condemning the taking of the hostages and calling for their release.

“By any fair analysis Ireland has always condemned the atrocity Hamas committed on October 7th and called for hostages to be released. The Taoiseach has repeatedly said it,” said the spokesman.

Fianna Fáil has said it has not invited the Israeli or Russian ambassador to its ardfheis which is being held in Dublin this weekend.

In a statement, a party spokeswoman said: “We do not believe it would be appropriate given the war on the people of Gaza and the war on Ukraine.

“Fianna Fáil has continuously condemned Hamas and its attack on the Israeli people on October 7th.

“However, more than six months on, we truly believe that the ongoing response from Israel is completely disproportionate and the fact that aid is being held back while children and others die from famine cannot and will not be condoned,” said the spokeswoman.

Fine Gael did not invite either ambassador to its ardfheis, which was held in Galway last weekend.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has rejected suggestions that US military aircraft may be carrying weapons through Shannon Airport en route to Israel.

Speaking in the Dáil, the Fianna Fáil leader insisted that nobody was “using Shannon Airport for any weaponry to go into Gaza or into Israel for that matter” and stressed that restrictions were enforced “stringently and robustly”.

Mr Martin was responding to People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith, who pointed to a huge increase in US military flights passing through Shannon since October and documented by Shannonwatch.

She asked the Tánaiste how he could be so confident there was no weaponry on board these flights as “we don’t inspect them” and “if you can’t do that well God help us and God help Gaza”.

But Mr Martin said there were no applications last year or this year to transport munitions of war on civilian aircraft to Israel through Irish airspace.

In reference to his plan to bring a formal proposal to the Government for Ireland to recognise a Palestinian state, Mr Martin confirmed he had held talks with the Spanish foreign minister on the issue. He said he planned to speak to the foreign ministers of Norway, Slovenia and “other like-minded Eu countries”.

Mr Martin, who is Minister for Foreign Affairs was responding during Leaders’ Questions to Labour leader Ivana Bacik, who called for the enactment of the Occupied Territories Bill and said there was a legal provision to allow Ireland enact it.

But Mr Martin said that trade was an EU competency and their advice was that it would be unlawful to enact the legislation to end trade and purchase of Israeli produced goods in the territories.

The Labour leader referred to the remarks of UN special Rapporteur for the Occupied Territories Francesca Albanese who called for Ireland to act on its words.

The Tánaiste said he had written to Ms Albanese and that she was “unaware of certain measures we had taken.” He also said “we regretted the fact that she had sought no meeting with us”.

Mr Martin also said that more than 70 Irish citizens and dependents had been evacuated from Gaza and the importance of diplomatic channels could not be overstated. He told Ms Smith if the Government had followed her party’s proposal to expel the Israeli ambassador at the start of the war “those 70 will not be here in my view”.

He also said it was an “absurdity to suggest that any amendment to the triple lock is about ditching neutrality”.

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