Tánaiste insists banning imports from illegal Israeli settlements breaches EU law

Christian Aid and Labour question if Government’s position has changed following legal submission to ICJ case

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has reiterated the Government’s insistence that a proposed law aimed at banning imports from illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories would breach European Union legislation.

It comes after humanitarian organisation Christian Aid and the Labour Party questioned whether the Government’s position had changed given Ireland’s recent submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case on Israel’s policies and practices in the Occupied Territories.

The Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018 was first put forward by Independent Senator Frances Black.

The Government has long said it cannot be implemented as trade is an EU competency.


In the Government’s February submission to the ICJ, Attorney General Rossa Fanning said: “States are obliged not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by Israel’s breach of its obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

“In Ireland’s view, these obligations require all States, as well as international organisations with external trade competence (in Ireland’s case, the EU), to review their trading relationships with the settlements in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory].

“It requires them to take steps to prevent trade that assists in the maintenance of the situation created by the settlement activity, or that implicitly recognises or serves to entrench or legitimise Israel’s settlement or annexation of that territory.”

Christian Aid’s head of policy Conor O’Neill highlighted this sector of Mr Fanning’s statement to the Labour Party. He argued that Mr Fanning’s statement means the Government is saying there is “a conflict between international law obligations (cease trade immediately) and EU law obligations (don’t cease trade alone), and Ireland is picking EU law”.

“In such a situation international law must surely come out on top,” he said.

Mr O’Neill told The Irish Times: “We would be within our rights to pass this bill” and “then let the question on EU law be ventilated and decided by the EU courts”.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said “the Attorney General’s intervention in February copperfastens just how untenable it is for the Government to continue relying on his old advice as a means of blocking the Occupied Territories Bill”.

She said Ireland’s ICJ statements “jar with what the Government continues to insist remains the position [on the Occupied Territories Bill]”.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman said Tánaiste Micheál Martin addressed the issue in the Dáil, pointing to a written response from a question by Ms Bacik.

In his reply, Mr Martin said Ireland’s ICJ submission “concluded that settlements and related activities have violated international law in a number of significant ways, and that settlement activity is being used to annex Palestinian territory and deny the Palestinian people their right to self-determination”.

“Drawing on the Court’s case law, the submissions argue that states and international organisations like the EU that have legal competence to regulate trade with third countries should do this by reviewing their trading relationships with the settlements.”

Mr Martin added that “competence for external trade policy lies exclusively with the European Union”. He said the EU already “applies a policy of differentiation to distinguish trade with Israel from trade with the settlements”.

This policy does not ban the import of goods from the settlements but they are not entitled to benefit from any preferential treatment under the EU-Israel Association agreement.

“Once the Court delivers its Advisory Opinion, which we expect will be in the coming months, we will engage at EU level to consider whether any further actions are necessary,” he said.

Mr Martin said the “clear legal advice” is that the bill, in its current form, “is not compatible with EU law”.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times