Israeli ambassador’s comments accusing President Higgins of misinformation 'were not helpful'

President Michael D Higgins (PA)
President Michael D Higgins (PA)

Ireland’s Enterprise Minister has said the Israeli ambassador’s comments accusing the Irish president of misinformation were not helpful.

Dana Erlich told the Sunday Independent at the weekend that she was frustrated at what she said was “misinformation” shared by President Michael D Higgins in relation to whether Israel had breached international law.

Ms Erlich also said that Ireland was not a neutral country in relation to Israel-Palestine.

Asked about the comments on Monday, Simon Coveney, who is a former foreign affairs minister, told RTE Radio: “I don’t think that’s helpful.

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“President Michael D Higgins is somebody who for many years has taken an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“He, like many others in Ireland, is deeply concerned about what is currently unfolding in Gaza.

“I don’t think it’s helpful when an ambassador starts to make pointed comments in relation to our president.

“I think Michael D Higgins has reflected the view of many in Ireland.

“The Government’s position on this is that we unreservedly condemn the atrocity that Hamas is responsible for in terms of the killing of 1,400 innocent Israelis.

“But we are also deeply concerned about what continues to unfold in terms of human suffering in Gaza.

“We want a ceasefire, and we want humanitarian aid corridors open, and Ireland will continue to advocate for that at a European level and at a UN level.”

He added that the comments did not warrant the Israeli ambassador’s expulsion, saying: “We need to continue to talk to the Israeli government, even if we disagree with them at times.

“I don’t believe that when you disagree with a country, that you are quick to call for the expulsion of ambassadors. I just don’t think that’s how international diplomacy should work.”

In comments made in Rome last week, Mr Higgins criticised European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s reaction to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Ms von der Leyen has been criticised for declaring her support for Israel without stating the importance of abiding by international law.

“It may not have been meant to have malevolent consequences but certainly we need a better performance in relation to European Union diplomacy and practice,” Mr Higgins said.

Asked about the EU’s varying response to the latest cycle of violence between Israel and Hamas militants, Ireland’s deputy premier said the EU has become more unified in the past week.

Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin was speaking from Luxembourg where the EU’s foreign affairs leaders are meeting to discuss tensions in the Middle East, the invasion of Ukraine, and Armenia-Azerbaijan.

“I think over the last week or so we have witnessed the emergence of a more coherent and unified European Union response, and I think that will continue, hopefully today and into the leaders’ council at the end of the week,” he said.

He said the focus also needed to turn to a resolution to the Israel-Palestine question.

“We can’t lose sight of the need to get this on to the political track as well, to get an overall resolution, because that ultimately gives you the security that everyone requires,” he said.

He said he “made it clear” to the Iranian foreign minister that he should use his influence to urge restraint and prevent an escalation of violence in the region.

He added: “We understand Israel’s need to deal with Hamas because it was an appalling attack, but the degree of suffering now that innocent civilians in Gaza are suffering, it’s not acceptable at all.

“That’s why we believe a humanitarian pause is required to, at a minimum, get aid and supplies in there.”