Ireland will urge countries to restore funding to UN Palestinian refugee agency, says Martin

Tánaiste says UNWRA has been ‘key humanitarian intervention’ to help Palestinians and withdrawing support ‘would be catastrophic’

Ireland will be urging countries which have suspended funding to the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees to restore the support, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Mr Martin, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he will be advocating for support to be restored to UNRWA, the UN relief and works agency, “with whomever I meet”.

Several countries have suspended financing of the UNRWA after Israel accused a dozen employees of involvement in Hamas’s October 7th attack which saw 1,200 people killed and 253 abducted.

The United States, UK, Finland, Italy, Australia and Canada have all suspended their funding for UNRWA while an investigation into the allegations takes place.


The head of the agency, Philippe Lazzarini, vowed to hold “accountable, including through criminal prosecution” any UNRWA employee found to have been involved in “acts of terror”.

Ireland and Norway are continuing to fund UNRWA – which provides services like schooling and healthcare as well as aid – amid the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mr Martin said UNWRA has been the “key humanitarian intervention” to help the Palestinians and withdrawing support now “would be catastrophic in the context of a terrible war”.

Mr Martin said he understands the concerns about the alleged involvement of some UNRWA staff in the October 7th attacks and he believes Mr Lazzarini will deal with the matter.

He added: “In my view given the size of the organisation – 30,000 people altogether in UNRWA, 13,000 working in Gaza – there has to be a sense of perspective in terms of what’s been alleged and the numbers involved.”

Asked if he will be calling on the United States, the UK and others to restore funding to UNRWA he said: “I will be advocating with whomever I meet, yes, for the restoration of support to UNRWA.”

On whether the issue funding of UNRWA will come up during Irish ministers’ St Patrick’s Day missions abroad, Mr Martin said: “I would hope it will be restored before then.”

Separately, Sinn Féin has tabled a Dáil motion calling for Ireland to join South Africa in its genocide case against Israel.

Mr Martin said he will discuss Ireland’s approach to the case with Opposition parties here saying the issue is “complex” and “They need to be apprised I think of what actually is involved here.”

On Friday the International Court of Justice found that South Africa’s accusation that Israel has breached the genocide convention was plausible enough for it to order emergency measures to protect Palestinian lives.

It also ordered armed groups in Gaza to release all hostages seized in the Hamas-led attack on Israel of October 7th that precipitated the Gaza war, and for Israel to allow sufficient humanitarian aid to reach the coastal strip. The full case as to whether Israel has breached the genocide convention will be heard at a later date.

Mr Martin said there is a “strong unified position” in Ireland in the call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

He said: “likewise, we want to hold Israel to account and Hamas to account for the conduct of the war in Gaza, and also in terms of the Hamas attack on October the 7th.”

Mr Martin said he has had a preliminary briefing on the case from Department of Foreign Affairs legal advisers adding: “This is complex. It’s not at all simple.”

He also said Irish officials in The Hague – where the case is being heard – have met South African government representatives.

Mr Martin said South Africa hasn’t “filed any substantive case yet and the indications are that it will be some months before they do that.

“The fundamental point with intervention [by Ireland] is the basis upon which one intervenes in a case of this magnitude and gravity.

“So there’s a lot of work to be done yet.”

The war in Gaza has killed more than 26,000 people since an Israeli bombardment and invasion was launched in response to the October 7th terror attack.

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Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times