The Irish Government must now push against the flow of arms to Israel

Journal Op Ed Arms Embargo Bill
Journal Op Ed Arms Embargo Bill

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins welcomes the recognition of the State of Palestine but says now we must cut other support streams from Israel.

THE LONG OVERDUE recognition of the State of Palestine this week is a moment of hope in what has been what has been a very dark time.

The recognition is important not only from a symbolic perspective but also as a building block for future peace. However, as the children of Gaza face further brutal assault and Israel ignores calls to stop from the highest International courts, Ireland can and must do far more.

Crucially, at a time when Israel is blocking and limiting the flow of water and the necessities of life to a civilian population, it is essential that the Government take a clear position against the flow of arms to Israel.

Unfortunately, right now we cannot be sure that Ireland itself is not complicit in the direct or indirect transfer of arms and other materials that may be used to kill and maim in Gaza. That is why myself and other Senators in the Civil Engagement Group will be bringing the Arms Embargo Bill to the Seanad this week.

The Shannon question

Many will be aware of the longstanding campaign to end the use of Shannon Airport and Irish airspace by planes transporting weapons and troops, an issue which came to the fore during the Iraq War – when people rightly questioned why we were helping to facilitate an illegal war which caused so much death and destruction.

Under the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Orders 1973 and 1989, the carriage of “weapons, munitions and dangerous goods” in civilian aircraft passing through Ireland is supposed to be prohibited. However, the regulations allow the Minister for Transport to grant exemptions, while also giving them the power to order inspections.

No inspections have taken place since 2020, while over 1,000 exemptions were granted in 2023 alone.

The greatest number of exemptions were granted to the United States and Germany, two of the largest suppliers of arms to Israel.

The United States has sent at least $14.5 billion in military aid to Israel, while German arms sales to Israel last year increased tenfold from €32 million worth of arms exported in 2022 to €303 million exported in 2023

Records from the Department note that many exemptions are for the “unloaded personal weapons of troops” and the Minister of State has claimed this means rifles or pistols of troops. But without inspections, we cannot actually know for certain what weapons are being transferred and of course we cannot know which troops may end up using them. Will one of those rifles be turned on a civilian in Gaza? Will weapons or dual use goods which have passed through Ireland be used in other breaches of human rights? Those are risks we cannot take.

Demands for oversight and for reform of these policies have been around a long time but they acquire an even greater urgency at a time when the International Court of Justice has ruled there is a credible risk of genocide in Gaza.

The power of embargo

The call for an arms embargo is coming from the highest level. In April, the United Nations Human Rights Council called for an arms embargo on Israel. The resolution called on countries “to cease the sale, transfer and diversion of arms, munitions and other military equipment to Israel… to prevent further violations of international humanitarian law and violations and abuses of human rights”.

That is why, tomorrow, myself and my Seanad Civil Engagement Group colleagues – Senator Lynn Ruane, Senator Frances Black and Senator Eileen Flynn — will bring the Air Navigation and Transport (Arms Embargo) Bill to the Seanad.

Our Bill would ban the granting of exemptions for the carriage of weapons, munitions or dangerous dual use goods on civilian flights going either directly to Israel or to or from the countries which export weapons to Israel or where there is a significant likelihood they could end up in Israel.

The importance of tackling indirect transfers was highlighted in February when the Dutch courts ordered the Dutch Government to block the export of F-35 fighter jet parts because of the clear risk that it could contribute to severe violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The Bill would also make inspections of flights requesting exemptions mandatory rather than optional, and require that any weapons found in contravention of the arms embargo would be seized.

Importantly, the Bill also seeks to restrict the transit of dangerous dual-use goods to Israel. Dual use means that something which can have both a military and a civilian use. Irish exports of dual-use goods to Israel are increasing with a near sevenfold increase from last year’s €11 million worth of exports to this year’s over €70 million worth of exports.

Economic ties

The Government claims such goods comprise mainly of technology, while refusing to specify which goods are actually being exported. However, international experts have repeatedly highlighted the intensive use of technology by Israeli Forces, who regularly employ artificial intelligence and algorithms in the surveillance and targeting of people and civilian infrastructure in Gaza. Questions are clearly raised by the recent massive escalation in Irish exports of dual-use goods to Israel.

Over the last few horrifying months, we have seen expressions of condemnation too often undermined by a business-as-usual approach. This includes the shocking failure to end trade or investment in illegally occupied territories and the EU’s continued granting of preferential market access to Israel despite clear breaches of the human rights clauses in the EU-Israel Association Agreement.

In the case of the global arms trade, it is worse than business as usual. At a time when global military expenditure has escalated to $2443 billion in 2023 according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a recent Act in Support of Ammunition Production from the European Union will be channelling €500 million of public money, including approximately €12 million from the Irish public, directly to arms manufacturers, some of whom are supplying tank shells and other weapons to Israel.

As a neutral country with a proud history on disarmament, Ireland needs to match our political language on this issue with practical action. That has to include an end to the “eyes wide shut” approach to the transfer of military materials through our state.

We have all seen the horrific images from Gaza of entire families killed, buildings full of people destroyed and children shredded by explosives.

The old excuses and evasions never stood up to scrutiny but now the Irish Government need to show the same leadership they’ve shown in recognition of Palestinian statehood by accepting our Bill and immediately ending the dangerous granting of exemptions.

Senator Alice-Mary Higgins is an independent Senator on the National University of Ireland Panel and leads the Civil Engagement Group in the Seanad. The Civil Engagement Group comprises of Senator Lynn Ruane, Senator Frances Black and Senator Eileen Flynn. The Civil Engagement Group were co-sponsors of the Occupied Territories Bill introduced by Senator Frances Black.

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