Israel diplomacy harder if Sinn Fein had been in government, says Donohoe

Palestinians check lists with the names of people allowed to cross to Egypt from the Gaza Strip in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP)
Palestinians check lists with the names of people allowed to cross to Egypt from the Gaza Strip in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP)

Diplomatic efforts to get Irish citizens out of Gaza would have been a lot harder if Sinn Fein had been in government and had expelled the Israeli ambassador, Paschal Donohoe has said.

The public expenditure minister suggested the outcome would have been different if Ireland’s main opposition party had been in charge of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In response, Sinn Fein TD Eoin O Broin accused the minister of playing politics with a very serious issue.

Mr Donohoe made the claim when asked to comment on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s weekend remarks that he would find a Sinn Fein minister of justice, foreign affairs or defence “repugnant”.

About 50 Irish passport holders have so far made it through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.

There were emotional scenes at Dublin Airport over the weekend as some of them were reunited with loved ones after they arrived in Ireland on flights from Cairo.

Sinn Fein has called on the Irish Government to expel the Israeli ambassador in Dublin, Dana Erlich, in protest at her country’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza.

Mr Donohoe questioned his rival party’s stance as he fielded questions from reporters in Dublin on Monday.

“I would ask the Irish people to consider really seriously what impact Sinn Fein might be having, for example, on our role with regards to Middle East if there had been a Sinn Fein minister for foreign affairs over the last number of weeks,” he said.

“They’ve been calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador exactly at the time in which the Government has been engaging with the Israeli government to further the interests of Irish citizens and to advocate for a peaceful solution.

“That’s just the latest example of what I would be making the case for people to consider.

“And, likewise, with regard to law and order, I would be asking people to consider what could be the consequences of a Sinn Fein minister, given all of the sensitive issues that the minister for justice has to consider on a regular basis.”

When pressed for his comments on the Middle East, he added: “I make two predictions based on what has happened recently.

“So, I do believe if Sinn Fein had been in government and if they had gone ahead and expelled the Israeli ambassador, I believe the Irish ambassador would have been expelled shortly afterwards, and I believe that’s a reasonable expectation to have regarding how these things tend to happen diplomatically.

“Which leads on to the second point that I’ve made – that if we didn’t have an Irish ambassador in Israel, I believe it would be a lot harder to do two things.

“Number one, to deal with the kinds of issues that we have developed in Gaza at the moment and to help get our citizens home.

“And, secondly, how could you advocate a peaceful solution, how could you advocate a two-state solution, if you’re saying you’re not going to speak to one of the governments that’s central to it?”

Mr O Broin said his party would be making “no apologies” for calling for the expulsion of the ambassador, saying every form of diplomatic pressure should be exerted on Israel to call a ceasefire.

“The situation in Gaza is very serious,” he told reporters outside Leinster House.

“I don’t think any political party in Ireland should be playing electoral politics with that issue. I think we all need to try and have the maximum degree of consensus.”