On Wednesday, Ireland, along with the rest of the member countries from the European Union, abstained from voting on a UN Human Rights Council resolution to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate war crimes in Gaza. An initial statement from the European Union countries was issued, and then Ireland released a supplementary statement outlining its particular reasons for abstaining.
On Thursday, Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Patricia O’Brien, appeared on RTE’s News at One radio programme. She gave a lengthy explanation of the diplomatic considerations behind the decision to abstain. It was a strange appearance. You might wonder why a diplomat should be giving an account to the public of an abstention that ultimately reflected the government’s political viewpoint. The crucial part of Ireland’s cited decision to abstain –the feeling that the resolution did not give adequate condemnation to rocket fire from Gaza- did not come from Patricia O’Brien, but from the Fine Gael-Labour government.
Listening to the interview, it was hard not to get frustrated with O’Brien’s circumlocutions and qualifications, but it was also hard to shake off the feeling that she had been called upon to do the dutiful thing in the absence of willing government figures.
O’Brien’s rationale for voting along with the rest of the EU was that Ireland, as a small country, was best served when it was in a position to articulate an agreed position, and that “twenty-eight states are louder and more persuasive than one”. Moreover, “our voice is more powerful, as I say particularly in negotiations, when we speak as twenty-eight countries, and this is reflected in the EU statement that was delivered yesterday”.
Well, it was certainly a powerful and persuasive course of action: it was a powerful repudiation of efforts to hold Israel to account, and a persuasive green light to Israel to go on massacring, safe in the knowledge that its privileged status under EU agreements would remain unaffected if it decided to bomb some more hospitals and schools.
This morning, Charlie Flanagan appeared on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme. Called upon to justify Ireland’s decision to abstain from the UN vote, he voiced the same position as O’Brien, but was hesitant and incoherent where O’Brien was assured and fluent. It sounded like someone anxious to keep his documented sympathies for Israel at a distance from Ireland’s abstention. He emphasised, where O’Brien did not, the “right of Israel as a democratic State to defend itself”, thereby smuggling in as self-evident the ideas that Israel is a democratic State and that Israel’s actions vis-à-vis Gaza are normally the actions of a democratic State. That is, Charlie Flanagan, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, was reciting Israeli propaganda at its purest. Flanagan also suggested that Ireland’s abstention was down to the fact that the resolution did not condemn rocket fire from Gaza. In fact, it did.
O’Brien was more accurate here, saying that the resolution did not “adequately” condemn rocket fire. O’Brien was careful enough to allude to the political judgement involved; Flanagan simply lied. In Charlie Flanagan’s mind, do facts appear as one more enemy of the State of Israel?
I cannot help but wonder, however, if Ireland would not have abstained at this juncture if someone else from the Fine Gael-Labour government were Minister for Foreign Affairs, even someone without any record of public sympathy for Israel. My feeling is that it would still have abstained, because the government would not do anything to disturb relations with other EU member states, not least Germany, whose chancellor Angela Merkel wavers even less in her support for Israel than Charlie Flanagan does.