Simon Harris to raise Ireland’s intention to recognise Palestine with Von der Leyen

Opposition accuse Fine Gael leader of ‘no show’ in Dáil amid preparations for first foreign trip in office

Taoiseach Simon Harris will raise Ireland’s intention to formally recognise the State of Palestine when he meets European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels today. Government sources said yesterday that Ireland believes it is best to take that step in concert with other countries, and not unilaterally.

A group of European Union member states, including Ireland, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia and Malta, will put the matter on the agenda of both the next European Council meeting in April and also on the agenda of the next meeting of foreign ministers.

“We want to keep the momentum up. There is a growing determination to do this tied to the peace initiative. We want a concrete proposal [for recognising Palestine] to be put,” said the sources.

The formal EU position is that it will recognise the Palestinian state when it is established as part of the two-state settlement set out by the Oslo Accord three decades ago. This would provide for two states within the territory, with the borders being those that were there pre-1967, the year Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza during the Six-Day War.


A Cabinet meeting that saw the completion of a reshuffle of ministers, calls with Rishi Sunak and Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and preparations for Simon Harris’s first foreign trip as Taoiseach dominated his first full day in office as he was heavily criticised by the Opposition for not taking questions in the Dáil.

The situation in Gaza is also expected to be “high on the agenda” during his meeting Ms Vonder Leyen and also during meetings with European Council president Charles Michel and the prime ministers of six EU counties, including Poland’s Donald Tusk, at a gathering in Warsaw later in the day.

The new Taoiseach chaired Cabinet, where it was agreed that three Fine Gael backbench TDs, Alan Dillon, Emer Higgins and Colm Burke, would be promoted to the ranks of junior ministers.

It was also agreed to establish a new Cabinet committee on Children, Education and Disability – an area Mr Harris has pledged to prioritise, and the committee on Ukraine has been expected to cover Migration, Integration and Ukraine.

With no Leaders’ Questions scheduled in the Dáil, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald accused Mr Harris of being a “no-show” and “as láthair [absent]” on his first full day as Taoiseach.

Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton said that Mr Harris was unavailable to take Leaders’ Questions citing phone calls with British prime minister Mr Sunak, Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Ministers, and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

A spokesman for Mr Harris later defended the Taoiseach saying he had been in his office from 7:50am; attended pre-Cabinet meetings and Cabinet when junior ministers were appointed a week earlier than usual; and had briefings in advance of a phone call with Mr Zelenskiy and his Brussels meetings with Ms von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.

The spokesman said Ireland’s intention to recognise the State of Palestine is a “massive priority for the Irish people” and “high on the agenda” when Mr Harris meets Ms von der Leyen on Thursday.

Mr Harris unveiled his new Ministers of State on Wednesday afternoon.

Mayo TD Mr Dillion has been appointed as junior housing minister with responsibility for local government and planning.

Ms Higgins, a Dublin Mid-West TD, is now Minister of State for Enterprise, replacing Dublin Rathdown’s Neale Richmond who has been appointed as junior minister in the Department of Finance.

Cork North Central TD Mr Burke has been appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Well Being and the National Drugs Strategy.

Former Cabinet minister Michael Ring, meanwhile, told Midwest Radio that he declined offers of a junior minister roles he said were made to him by Mr Harris.

The veteran TD said this was because he was yet to make up his mind on whether he would run in the next election – something he will do in the coming weeks – and that neither of two roles offered to him “had any spending power”.

Mr Ring later declined to say which roles he was offered, telling The Irish Times he did not want to cause the Taoiseach any embarrassment, while standing over remarks that he was offered two jobs.

Asked about Mr Ring’s comments, Mr Harris’s spokesman said: “I’m not privy to the conversations the Taoiseach had with members of his parliamentary party.”

Mr Harris was said to be “extremely happy with the team that he appointed” and “all those appointed have earned their place”.

At Fine Gael’s parliamentary party meeting Mr Harris told TDs and Senators that Fine Gael can win the next general election and “have a major role in the formation of the next Government”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times