Situation in Gaza and Ukraine: Statements

I welcome the opportunity to address the House on two major crises confronting the international community, namely, the horrendous conflict which has erupted in Gaza and Israel in the past three weeks and the crisis in Ukraine, including the recent downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Our approach to both crises has been to work proactively, not only bilaterally but also with our European Union partners and internationally through the United Nations to urgently address these issues as effectively as possible.

I will begin with the situation in Gaza and Israel. I fully share the horror and revulsion of Senators and very many citizens at the horrendous scenes we have witnessed since the start of the Israeli military operation, Operation Protective Edge, on 8 July. The bare statistics for the conflict make for grim reading. An estimated 1,300 Palestinians have been killed in that period, of whom the vast majority have been civilians. More than 240 children have lost their lives, including eight innocents slaughtered on Monday in what should be any child's sanctuary, the playground. Over 200,000 people have been displaced, more than 10% of the population of Gaza.

The horror has not been confined to the Palestinian side only. Millions of Israelis have been forced to seek shelter on a daily basis from the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel. Some 55 Israelis, of whom the vast majority have been IDF personnel, and one Thai national have died.

This is truly appalling and the Government has throughout the crisis been categorical in condemning both the unacceptably high civilian casualty rate resulting from disproportionate military action on Israel's part, as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas and other militants into Israel. The violence must stop and an immediate ceasefire must be instituted. Everyone, whether Israeli or Palestinian, has the right to live in peace and security and without the threat of indiscriminate violence being visited upon him or her.

In many ways, the real tragedy of the crisis is that we have seen all this horror and death before.

This is the third Gaza conflict in less than six years, following similar cycles of violence in December 2008 to January 2009, and in November 2012. The level of casualties we are now seeing is rapidly approaching that which arose from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9 when 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis died.

The reasons for this recurrent and utterly futile violence are quite clear. First, there is an unjust blockade imposed on Gaza which has served only to impoverish the territory and its people and promote extremism. Ireland has consistently called in recent years for the blockade to be ended and Gaza's crossings to be opened up to normal human, commercial and humanitarian traffic. The UN Security Council has also called for this in Resolution 1860 and repeated that request only last Sunday.

The blockade of Gaza must be ended. So too must the indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and other militants, including Islamic Jihad and also the building of tunnels for the purpose of attacking Israelis. Hamas must renounce violence as a means of achieving its political objectives. While fully accepting that Israel has the right to defend itself against such rocket attacks, this right cannot negate the rights of others. As was clearly set out in our statement to the UN Human Rights Council last week, any use of military force in self-defence must be in accordance with international humanitarian law, and in particular must be both discriminate and proportionate. In view of the unacceptable casualty figures, it is quite clear this has not been the case.

There is no military solution to the problems confronting Gaza. These problems can only be resolved by dialogue, negotiation and genuine involvement. Ultimately, Gaza is merely a symptom of the overall malaise which is the persistent failure to achieve a just and comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians, based on the two-state solution.

This has been a major priority for successive Irish Governments and I am determined that Ireland will remain wholeheartedly engaged in the international efforts to address and resolve the underlying issues preventing peace between Israel and the Arab world. Since becoming Minister, I have been active in clearly setting out the Government's position on the crisis and condemning the huge number of civilian casualties resulting from Israeli military actions as well as the rocket attacks on Israel carried out by Hamas and others. This position is fully consistent with the long-standing approach pursued by successive Governments to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

That position, and my central message that the violence and terror being inflicted on ordinary civilians is utterly unacceptable and must end was clearly spelled out in Dáil Éireann in a debate on 16 June and in response to Deputies' questions. I have also written directly to a number of Deputies and Senators, some of whom are here, who have been in touch with me to brief them more fully on the Government's efforts to try to resolve the crisis. These efforts will be focussed on a number of fronts, including bilaterally, at EU level and internationally.

Earlier this week, I spoke at length by phone with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon about the crisis. I praised the Secretary General for the very strong leadership he and the UN are providing and for his articulating so clearly the very great anger and deep sense of anguish people feel about what is happening in Gaza. I condemned the appalling attacks which we have seen on UN and civilian facilities in Gaza and we agreed that both sides have to cease violating international law.

Secretary General Ban briefed me on all the intensive efforts in which he has been engaged in recent days to secure a ceasefire. Regrettably, these efforts have largely fallen on deaf ears to date although the Secretary General was not deterred and believes that some form of extended humanitarian truce would eventually be secured. We agreed that the underlying issues of security and an end to the blockade must be addressed urgently, as soon as a ceasefire is secured. The Secretary General was also fulsome in his praise of the Government's humanitarian efforts to date. I acknowledge the work of my colleague at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, in this regard, and that of his predecessor, Deputy Costello. The current humanitarian situation in Gaza is a catastrophe. Israel's military actions have greatly compounded what was already a very grave situation resulting from the effective closure of Gaza to the outside world.

I and Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, on 21 July authorised the provision of €500,000 in response to the urgent appeal launched by the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, for assistance to cope with the dire humanitarian circumstances on the ground.

On Tuesday of this week, I spoke directly with Pierre Krähenbühl, the director-general of UNRWA, to receive his assessment of the current humanitarian needs within Gaza. Members will be aware that Ireland has long been a steadfast supporter of UNRWA's efforts to provide essential services to the millions of Palestinian refugees throughout the region. Ireland's direct financial support to the Palestinian people currently amounts to over €10 million per annum. Mr. Krähenbühl made clear that UNRWA is virtually at the limits of its ability to cope with the situation now prevailing in Gaza. He warned of the grave dangers of any further military escalation by Israel and I fully agreed with him that international pressure needs to be stepped up on the Israeli Government not to precipitate an even more calamitous and unimaginable human crisis. I expressed my praise and appreciation for UNRWA for all its work and its heroic efforts, both in the current crisis and over many years, in attending to the welfare and needs of the Palestinian population, some 80% of whom within Gaza are dependent on international assistance in order to survive. I reiterated Ireland's full commitment to continue supporting UNRWA's efforts to provide further assistance as may be required. It is clear that once a durable ceasefire has been achieved, a major reconstruction effort will be required to remedy the damage that has been inflicted on Gaza and to renew its basic infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and other vital services.

I have also been active throughout the crisis in addressing urgent appeals on both sides to end the violence. I have met and spoken on several occasions with the Israeli ambassador in order to make clear the very grave concerns and the very grave unhappiness of the Government at the disproportionate military response of Israel to Hamas rocket attacks which has resulted in an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties and I have warned against a further escalation. These very clear messages to Israel to end the violence and to agree to an immediate ceasefire have also been directed, through our ambassador in Tel Aviv, to the Israeli foreign ministry. On my instructions, the Irish ambassador to Israel, Mr. Eamonn McKee, yesterday visited the Israeli foreign ministry. During the course of a lengthy meeting he again made clear the Government's grave concerns and our particular appeal that there should be no escalation of the military campaign under way and the need for all violence to cease with immediate effect.

I have also kept in very close touch with the Palestinian ambassador and with our partners in the region, including Egypt, which is centrally involved in current efforts at mediation. I spoke again this morning with the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Shukri, to be briefed on current ceasefire efforts and to commend the vital mediation role which Egypt is playing in the current crisis and to encourage him to continue his endeavours to achieve a sustained humanitarian truce.

I also met last week with the Palestinian and other Arab ambassadors resident in Dublin to discuss the crisis in Gaza, to receive their assessment of the situation. I will continue to keep in close touch with all sides as efforts intensify to end the carnage.

In line with Ireland's long-standing position I firmly believe that the EU must be centrally involved in all efforts to end the conflict and to promote peace within the Middle Eastern region. This means not just supporting current efforts to achieve a ceasefire but also actively addressing the root causes of this conflict.

I attended the EU Foreign Affairs Council meeting on 22 July in Brussels where both the Ukraine and Gaza crises were extensively discussed. Over many months, Ireland has sought a substantive discussion on the Middle East peace process at the Council in order to review the very negative recent developments on the ground, including the appalling murder of four teenagers in June and to press for a stronger, more active EU role in addressing the growing impediments to the achievement of a two-state solution and not least, Israel's continued expansion of illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The eruption of the crisis following the launch of Operation Protective Edge inevitably means a focus at the Council on the violence in and from Gaza. Nevertheless, the Council adopted conclusions which not only addressed the immediate crisis but also made it quite clear that the preservation of the viability of the two-state solution must remain a priority for the EU. We dealt in some length on what needs to be done to promote a resumption of substantive peace negotiations.

These are important Council conclusions, in the negotiation of which Ireland was centrally involved. Indeed, during the discussions I successfully pressed for conclusions which, for the first time, saw an explicit condemnation by the EU of the very high number of civilian casualties resulting from current Israeli military actions in Gaza. I am determined that Ireland will continue to play the distinct and respected role it always has within the EU in actively seeking the promotion of the two-state solution which ultimately offers the only remedy to the conflict we are regrettably witnessing. There also must be accountability for what has transpired during the past three weeks of conflict. Too many innocent people have died and international law has undoubtedly been flagrantly violated time after time.

There has been much comment on Ireland's decision last week to abstain, along with all other EU partners, in the vote on the Palestinian resolution at the special session of the UN Human Rights Council seeking the establishment of a commission of inquiry into events in Gaza. I wish to make it absolutely clear, as was emphasised in our national statement to the Council session last week, that Ireland fully supports international law and wants all breaches of the law that have occurred to be fully investigated. Ireland and our EU partners negotiated intensively and in good faith with the Palestinians to agree a resolution we could all support. In the end, we could not resolve differences over the most effective way to conduct the investigation. The EU believed it important that any resolution would comprehensively address all the violations of international law which have occurred in the region. The decision to abstain was a collective EU decision, taken only after prolonged deliberations and negotiations lasting for most of the day. One day after the adoption of important EU conclusions on the peace process, it would have sent a very negative signal and would undoubtedly have weakened EU leverage if we could not agree on a common purpose to this resolution.

Rubbish. Would it not have been better to have one right than everybody wrong?

The cold reality is that had a common abstention not been agreed, there was a very high likelihood of a number of our EU partners voting with the United States against the resolution, thereby reducing overall EU influence even further.

What we are now witnessing in Gaza is a brutal and utterly futile conflict. Ultimately, both sides will have to talk to each other and engage in negotiations of some kind to address the underlying issues. The world has been rightly appalled by the violence we have seen and the intransigence both sides have shown towards the repeated entreaties - most recently and tellingly, by all 15 members of the UN Security Council - to end the violence and declare an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire. I fear, in particular, for the damage its continued military operations against innocent civilians is doing to Israel's international reputation and the credibility of its repeated commitment to wish to negotiate a just peace with its Palestinian neighbours.

As I stated earlier, this is not the first crisis in Gaza, but we must earnestly hope it is the last. We must hope the underlying issues contributing to such widespread violence and appalling suffering, including, in particular, the long-running blockade of Gaza, and the faltering peace process are now addressed and advanced in a decisive manner. I assure the House that this immediate crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue to receive my highest priority as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. This morning I had the opportunity of speaking again to the Egyptian Foreign Minister. I will continue to work vigorously to bring about the earliest possible ceasefire and address the humanitarian crisis in the region. I also will continue to condemn strongly all violence and all civilian casualties.

I turn now to the other major crisis being addressed by the House today, namely, the situation in Ukraine. What we have witnessed in eastern Ukraine in the past number of months represents the most serious crisis in Europe in recent years. I deplore the violence and bloodshed we have witnessed and, in particular, the suffering that is being wreaked upon innocent civilians.

As Members of this House will be aware, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report this week that estimates that since April more than 1,100 people have been killed in the conflict and more than 3,400 injured. It also states that over 100,000 internally displaced persons have been forced to flee the violence in the area. This is totally unacceptable in 21st century Europe.

An early resolution of the crisis, based on a peaceful, inclusive and negotiated settlement, is an urgent priority for the entire international community. The concerns of the Irish Government have been widely reflected by the Irish public. Indeed, this country was directly touched by the tragedy when an Irish-born citizen lost her life in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July, allegedly by a surface-to-air missile.

Last week in Brussels I had the opportunity to convey the Government's condolences and the sympathies of the Irish people to my Dutch counterpart, Mr. Frans Timmermans, on the tragic loss of so many of his fellow citizens. I take this opportunity to convey my deepest condolences to the people and the governments of all affected countries and, in particular, to the families of the innocent victims. Throughout every phase of this crisis we have worked closely with our partners in the European Union and internationally through the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, OSCE, to address these issues as effectively as possible. All EU member states are united in the view that what has happened in Ukraine is completely unacceptable and that it will have serious consequences for our relations with Russia.

From the outset, the EU has played an active role in trying to facilitate a resolution to the crisis in Ukraine. On 6 March EU Heads of State and Government decided on a three-phase approach to restrictive measures against Russia in view of its actions in respect of Ukraine. Until now the EU has limited itself to the first two phases - essentially involving the suspension of some negotiations with Russia and a series of asset freezes and visa bans on named individuals. I very much regret that this has been necessary but, despite our repeated calls, Russia has failed to use its influence on the separatists to have them end the violence and lay down their weapons. Instead there has been a continued flow of militants and material over the Russian-Ukrainian border. Indeed, rather than de-escalating, the situation has worsened and there are credible reports that Russia is once again massing troops on the border. This is a deeply destabilising move in an already highly volatile atmosphere.

Vital opportunities, including the terms of President Poroshenko's peace plan and the unilateral ceasefire that accompanied it, have not been taken up in any serious manner. The European Council took stock of the situation on 16 July and agreed to further expand the restrictive measures with a view to targeting entities, including entities from the Russian Federation, that support actions undermining or threatening Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence. On 22 July I attended my first meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council where we engaged in a lengthy discussion on the situation in Ukraine. The tragic loss of the Malaysian Airlines aircraft on 17 July, with the loss of 298 innocent lives, was obviously uppermost in our minds. Together with my EU partners, I called on the separatist groups to ensure full immediate, safe and secure access to the site and surrounding area. We emphasised the need for a viable security corridor to proceed with victim identification, recover the remains and possessions of victims and to aid the professional and dignified repatriation of those remains. I have publicly called for a full investigation and expressed the Government's support for UN Security Council Resolution 2166, which Ireland co-sponsored in New York earlier this month.

Those directly or indirectly responsible for bringing down the plane must be held accountable and brought to justice and I am sure that everyone in this House will join me in insisting on this level of accountability. The difficulty that international investigators have experienced in gaining access to the crash site is scandalous and an affront to the grieving relatives of those who perished. I know that the Prime Minister of the Netherlands has also asked President Poroshenko to do everything possible to bring about a sustainable cessation of hostilities that will allow the important and necessary humanitarian work to proceed and I fully endorse that call.

Against this background, my fellow EU foreign ministers and I agreed last week on a further expansion of restrictive measures targeting individuals supporting or benefitting from Russian decision makers responsible for the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.

We also agreed to accelerate the preparation of sectoral sanctions which would impact on Russia's access to capital markets, arms supplies, dual use goods and sensitive technology, including in the energy sector. For my part, I stressed in Brussels that Russia must demonstrate by "deeds instead of words" that it is committed to resolving the crisis. I also indicated that the EU must take strong action on sanctions if it is to remain credible and that it must remain united.

What about imposing sanctions on Israel?

I stated that failure to take decisive action could embolden others-----

Hear, hear. Like the Israelis.

-----to take further destabilising steps and indicated that we were ready to support strong action, something which our citizens expect.

The proposals on sectoral sanctions were discussed by EU ambassadors in Brussels on Tuesday of this week. In its intervention, Ireland indicated that it could agree with the package as proposed because it believes it to be effective and balanced. The measures were agreed and are expected to enter into force from today. They are carefully measured and can be intensified or lessened according to how developments unfold in the region. Provision is also made for a review after three months. As the situation evolves, we will discuss with our EU partners what adaptations or further measures, in the circumstances, might be necessary. We believe that these measures send a strong signal that the EU is ready to take further determined action if and when required.

Despite the clear deterioration in the security situation and the steps we have taken in response, from the outset of this crisis, Ireland has consistently stressed the need for dialogue and the importance of maintaining open channels of communication with the Russian Federation. We continue to hold that view. Given that we all agree there can be no military solution to the situation in Ukraine, we need to see serious engagement from all sides and a positive, constructive contribution to the lasting peaceful resolution to the crisis we all wish and hope to see.

As I said at the outset, the reconvening of the Seanad today is a welcome opportunity to consider two major crises confronting the international community at present, namely, the conflict in Gaza and Israel and the crisis in Ukraine. The Irish Government has worked extensively and constructively in seeking to address both conflicts on a bilateral basis with our European partners and internationally through the United Nations. I stand by those actions and I believe we have made, and continue to make, an important, distinct and worthwhile contribution. I look forward to listening to statements from Members of the Seanad and, if it is in order, to replying to them at the end of the debate.

I thank the Minister for making himself available for this debate. I also thank Members for the interest they have shown with regard to this very important matter. Up to 40 Senators have indicated a desire to speak on this issue. As a result, I am will ensure strict adherence to the time limits which have been set by the House.

Perhaps the Cathaoirleach might indicate when five and a half minutes of my time have elapsed.

I dtosach báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Seanad chun an díospóireacht tábhachtach seo a phlé. Ba mhaith liom freisin comhghairdeas a dhéanamh leis as an bpost tábhachtach atá bainte amach aige. Go n-éirí go geal leis mar Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha sa bhliain amach romhainn.

The recall of the House has given rise to some questions. One of these relates to why we are not engaging in a debate on the plight of the innocent people and children, particularly Christians, who are being persecuted and killed in Syria, Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq. Prior to 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, whereas now the number stands somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000. That is a decrease of 90% and very little focus has been placed on it by the media, particularly in Ireland, and the political establishment throughout Europe. The Christians to whom I refer have been the victims of extremely Muslim fundamentalists and particular regimes in the region.

That is a fair criticism. The truth is that today we are not debating the situation in Gaza or the situation in Ukraine. Most speakers will have two and a half minutes to talk about Gaza and two and half minutes to talk about Ukraine.

You can ignore Ukraine.

All that will allow is a truncated time for soundbites.

By way of background in regard to Palestine, it is worth recalling that it is almost 100 years since it was invaded at the end of the First World War by the British under their commander, General Allenby. Interestingly, if one researches this one will find that an Irish division, which had come down from Macedonia at the end of that war, was charged and dispatched to take over the holy city of Jerusalem. The British held it under after the Second World War. With the consequences of the Holocaust and the huge numbers of Jewish refugees, and with the US not wanting to take in such a large influx, they were encouraged to re-establish their homeland in Palestine. The Israelis then drove out many of the Palestinians and killed very many of them in the process. Consequently, the displaced Palestinians have been scattered throughout the Middle East and elsewhere for almost a century now.

It is striking that anyone who visits the refugee camps there cannot but be touched by the predicament and the humanitarian crisis there is within those camps. I would encourage people who have not been there to visit the camps. One generally views refugee camps as a temporary arrangement until there is a resolution of whatever is the conflict and crisis. People have been living in some of these camps since 1948 in the most appalling of conditions. I have seen families living in one room, sleeping on the floor, in dangerous derelict buildings. In one instance in a refugee camp in Lebanon a shell hit the roof of a building during the Lebanese war and it had collapsed and people have been living under that in terrible conditions. It is a shame on society and particularly on international organisations such as the UN.

Those who live in Gaza and in the West Bank, and those of us who have been there will have witnessed this, suffer constant harassment from the Israeli authorities. This can only serve to radicalise particularly young Palestinians-----

-----and provide a breeding ground for recruits for Hamas. It is difficult for those people to see any future when they are reared in a camp and see their parents and grandparents with no prospect other than to try to survive day in day out in harsh conditions with nothing and no future to which to look forward. It is no surprise that the situation would end up as it is.

This is the third outbreak of the conflict in Gaza in recent years - I understand the first was in 2008. We have had much communication particularly from people who have a pro-Israeli disposition and I have no difficulty with that. I concur with and have no hesitation in condemning Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israeli territory, thereby endangering civilians.

The Israeli bombing of Gaza and the slaughter of children and innocent civilians in playgrounds, on the beaches, in their homes, in schools and in hospitals is deplorable. It is a stain on the Israeli state. There is no justification for it and there are no excuses. Gaza is an area 10 km by 40 km approximately. It is like having a 10 km strip down the side of my county of Wexford on the east coast. With 1.8 million people living there, there is no way that indiscriminate bombing can do other than achieve the murder and the slaughter of innocent civilians.

While I am unhappy with the decision taken at the UN, it does not surprise we.

We took an anti-family position at the United Nations recently where, in the Year of the Family, we voted against a motion supporting the family. What goes on at the UN, therefore, does not surprise me.

Ireland's voice on this issue should be unambiguous, and I call upon the Minister to pursue the following six points as priority policy for Ireland. First, hold Israel and Hamas accountable under international law for war crimes; second, encourage and call for a comprehensive ceasefire that puts into action a plan for decommissioning Hamas and other militant groups; third, call for the immediate lifting of the blockade and siege of Gaza; fourth, I call for Ireland to play its part in leading a campaign to secure worldwide imposition of sanctions, including arms, against Israel until such time as Israel withdraws to pre-1967 borders. Sanctions should be incremental, planned and identified; fifth, I call for effective measures to be implemented to safeguard Israeli territory based on those pre-1967 boundaries; and, sixth, I call for international aid to be mobilised and for Ireland to play its part to help the beleaguered Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank.

The first casualty of war is the truth. With regard to Ukraine, I note that on the last day of May a surface-to-air rocket was signed out of a military base near Moscow where it had been stored for more than 20 years. A weapons Russian defence ministry logbook seen by Reuters showed that it was destined for a base in Rostov. In that area lies a camp for training Ukrainian separatist fighters. Three weeks later the rocket and its logbook turned up in eastern Ukraine where government troops seized them from pro-Russian separatists. That is just one indication that weapons are flowing. They have flooded into the region since May fuelling the current violence. In an interview with Reuters last week, a separatist leader said that Russia may have supplied the separatists with Buk rockets, which were used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The destruction of that plane on 17 July killed almost 300 civilian passengers.

These are crimes on which Europe needs to step up to the plate. The United States has shown some leadership on this particular case against Russia, but we need to do the same across the European Union. Rather than serving self-interest let us serve the humanitarian cause of people who live in Ukraine, Gaza and Palestine. It is our duty and our responsibility. Historically, we have done that and I urge the Minister to leave no stone unturned in pursuing that policy, which has served Ireland so well in the past.

At the outset I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to the Seanad today and thank him for his readiness and willingness to attend the House and hear the views of Senators.

I will begin by addressing the situation in Ukraine. It is shocking that Europe, and indeed the world, is once again back in a situation where the relationship between Russia and her western neighbours has become deeply troubled. Fear and distrust appear to have become deeply entrenched.

The recent downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight with its catastrophic loss of life brought home to me the severity of the situation in Ukraine and the threat posed to Europe by developments in eastern Ukraine in particular. I am acutely conscious that among the many victims of that appalling act of terrorism, one casualty was an Irish woman on her way back to Australia, where she had lived for many years, following a visit home with family here. I take this opportunity, as Leader of the Seanad, to offer my deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.

The shooting down of a civilian aircraft was an appalling act of violence and savagery which has been compounded day in and day out by the totally unacceptable manner in which the crash site has been treated. The treatment of the victims' remains and possessions has been particularly disrespectful. We have truly moved into a most disturbing phase in the relationship between Russia and the West.

The sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union send out a strong message that we will not tolerate the systematic destabilisation of Ukraine. In the meantime, violence persists in eastern Ukraine and casualties are mounting, among them many children.

We must hope the sanctions will achieve their goal, that Russia will come to her senses and that stability will be restored to the region.

I move to the situation in the Middle East. Like many colleagues and others around the world, I am appalled and distressed by the rapid deterioration of the situation in Gaza and the shockingly high level of civilian casualties. Flare-ups of violence, destruction and death recur in the region with depressing regularity and frequency. I am sorry to note that they will continue to recur until we see a meaningful peace agreement put in place. Ireland's position is clear that a long-term solution means a two-state solution. It means the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, addressing the humanitarian situation in Gaza and an end to all violence, including rocket attacks and military offensives. Given the frightening speed at which the latest round of violence has escalated, Ireland's desire to see a fast and effective investigation led by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is well grounded. This was articulated clearly as the Irish position before the meeting of the Human Rights Council even took place.

My personal view is that war crimes on both sides have taken place and must be investigated. The international community must ensure we will have accountability, otherwise international law is meaningless. This a neutral country and we take great pride in this. We have a clear record of neutrality in Middle East matters and must guard our reputation for impartiality. Bombs and rockets will not build peace and security. It is only through hearts and minds and dialogue that a secure peace can be established. We can only hope and pray that the latest efforts to deliver peace will be successful.

I am sure many colleagues will refer to the situation in Syria where it is estimated that the death toll has exceeded 200,000 in the devastating civil war. Syria has disappeared from our television screens, as have Iraq and many other conflict zones in Africa. The UN mission to Iraq estimated that in the first six months of 2014 more than 5,500 civilians had been killed and almost 12,000 wounded. These are frightening developments which represent an acute humanitarian crisis. Our world is a fragile place. We are privileged to live in a peaceful Ireland and it is incumbent on us to play our part on the world stage to encourage the peaceful resolution of these various conflicts. Part of that contribution involves debates, including this one.

I hope all Members who have something to say will speak and that we will have a constructive debate. I hope the comments made will be more constructive than those of the leader of Sinn Féin on Waterford City and County Council who said when asked on local radio about whether he wanted the Israeli ambassador to Ireland to be sent home, "I'd prefer if the UN started shelling Israel to bring him [referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu] to heel because you can't let them butcher women and children." When the interviewer asked what that would achieve if people would not sit down and talk, the Sinn Féin councillor replied, "I know, but you have to get them to the table: the English were never coming to the table until Canary Wharf happened and then they saw they were losing International Banks, it all came down to money." Is this the type of foreign policy and diplomacy we can expect from Sinn Féin if it is ever in government? When the mask slips, this is an example of what lies beneath the surface. The people need to be made aware of it. This type of advice from Sinn Féin will certainly not help the suffering people of Palestine or advance the cause of peace in any way.

I extend my personal congratulations to Deputy Charles Flanagan on his recent appointment as Minister for Foreign Affairs - comhghairdeas leis an Aire. I welcomed his statement yesterday on his desire to resume all-party talks in the North on issues such as flags, parades and the past. He is trying to get talks going again in September and I support him in that regard. It is a reminder to us in the Seanad not only of what we have gone through in our troubled and turbulent past but of what has yet to be achieved and resolved. Bizarrely, I see an increased number of Palestinian and Israeli flags being used in the North to consolidate the ethnic divisions which continue there.

I also welcome and acknowledge the presence of the ambassador of the State of Palestine, Ahmad Abdel-Razek, in the Distinguished Visitors Gallery.

There has been a lot of slagging about why the Seanad should even sit today and what it can do to shed further light on the Gaza and Ukraine situations. None of us here is stupid or arrogant to even pretend that we might have power or influence. Modestly, however, we are trying to fill a political void where the global political class has left a leadership vacuum which has led to this terrible conflict, particularly in Gaza. The UN, the EU, the US, Israel, Palestine, Russia and the Arab states have let the people of Palestine and Israel down with their inert equivocation and continuation of the policy of vague appeasement that has us sleepwalking into a massacre of civilians, including families and children.

When I mentioned I was speaking in the Seanad today on this issue, a friend asked me on which side I stood. That is the point. I do not want to be on any side. I want to stop the death, destruction and the war crimes committed by both sides over the past 23 days. I do not hear our global leaders intervening in the slaughter of innocent children. I do not hear the greatest bystander in international politics, the US President, Barack Obama, move swiftly to broker a ceasefire in Gaza in the way he has delivered with alacrity financial sanctions on Russia.

The genesis of today's conflict in Palestine and Israel goes back to an iconic year in our own history, 1916, when the Sykes-Picot agreement in May of that year paved the way for the British mandates in Palestine and Iraq alongside the French mandate in Syria-Lebanon that lasted until 1948. The five-minute arrangement between the French and the British at the 1919 Paris peace talks sealed a dirty deal which has impacted on the Middle East to this day. The enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in a sense unfinished business from that era with the major eruptions, the establishment of the state of Israel, or the Nakba of 1948, depending on whichever side one is on and, of course, the 1967 war. So when we debate the fate of Palestine and Israel today, we have to be mindful of the whole region, including what is happening in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Egypt. However, while this geopolitical context of the Gaza crisis is crucial, we do not have time to go into it today.

I mourn and condemn the illegal killings of civilians on both sides but, in particular, the shelling and massacre of innocent civilians in the most densely populated, prison-fenced ghetto in the world. They have nowhere to hide, nowhere to escape. Gaza is home to 1.8 million Palestinians, 80% of whom are classified by the United Nations as refugees. The blockade of Gaza has further impoverished the people who live there, contributing greatly to the sense of desperation and hopelessness that has acted as a breeding ground for extremists. According to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, as of last night, 1,263 people have been killed, of which 852 were civilians, including 249 children and 135 women. OCHA also informed us that there are over 245,000 displaced people hosted in UNRWA, United Nations Relief and Works Agency, and registered government schools. The people killed and displaced are paying the price for a lethal combination, as Christian Aid states, "of political impotence and indifference to decades of Palestinian dispossession and displacement". Again, this is due to a lack of global political leadership.

This is where Ireland, as a neutral country, can play an important and influential role not for the sake of EU unity but to resolve the underlying conflict in Palestine. I have visited Palestine twice over the past nine months, once with Senator Marie-Louise O’Donnell. The one common emotion I have experienced on both sides is anxiety and fear, borne out of the memory and outcome of terror. The Israelis are terrorised by the threat of and fear of their personal safety, along with the rockets being fired by Hamas from Gaza. This fear is built on by further skewed and controlled information from the Israeli Government and further exacerbated by the fact that Israeli citizens are forbidden by law to enter into the occupied territories.

The fact remains, though, that Hamas has also committed war crimes in this current phase of the conflict. At a recent press conference, the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said, "I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan".

Israel's intention is clear. It wants permanent control over Palestinian lives and people.

This is a fact and if one is a Zionist or a moderate Israeli, one believes this. The consequence of this, however, is the atmosphere of psychological terror and oppression which I witnessed in the West Bank in Palestine - control of movements and jobs and restriction on housing, water, education and roads. Palestinian lives are determined by permits, permission and surveillance. I have seen the illegal settlements, the controlling zones of A, B and C, and the Kafkaesque wall, which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004 and declared illegal by several UN resolutions. These were ignored by Israel and the US and no action has been taken by the EU other than the continuing appeasement of Israel.

The growth of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the infrastructural network that links them has reduced Palestinian communities to a series of disconnected enclaves. The occupation of 60% of the West Bank by the Israeli military has created a discriminatory regime with two populations living separately in the same territory under two different systems of law. That is apartheid. While 500,000 settlers enjoy all the rights of Israeli citizens, Palestinians are subject to military law. Israel must be made realise that the failure to comply with international law will not last forever and that the occupation will begin to exact an economic price but that it also needs the benefits that it can derive from peace.

The terrible shelling of the UNRWA school in Gaza on Tuesday is a serious violation of international law. It is unusual for the acquiescent UN and the Commissioner General of UNRWA to be so strong in their condemnation. The Commissioner General said, "Today the world stands disgraced." He stated:

Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame.

Next Monday, on 4 August, we commemorate the outbreak of the First World War. There are lessons in history. There is a lesson that we need to realise. The unity of the EU at Council of Ministers level is not good enough for us to undermine the continuing humanitarian crisis.

I support the Seanad in calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict, the complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza and the immediate and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons from the Gaza Strip in line with the UN Security Council Resolution 1860. I also affirm the Irish Government's commitment to a long-term political solution based on structural change to the status quo. Finally, I publicly support the introduction of an EU-wide trade ban on settlement produce from the illegal Israeli settlements. It is a fallacy to believe that cyclical military invasions of Gaza will bring security to Israel. This policy will only lead to more violence and death on both sides. Until the international community begins to address the underlying causes of this conflict, we are doomed to repeat the tragic and utterly needless loss of human life we have seen over recent days.

I welcome the Minister to the House, congratulate him on his appointment and thank him for facilitating this recall. On behalf of the Labour Party group of Senators, I welcome today's special sitting of the Seanad to debate the situations in Gaza and Ukraine. Our group particularly welcomes the recall of the Seanad to debate the crisis in Gaza on which I will focus this afternoon. As Labour Party group leader, I was in contact with the Leader about this over the weekend and I fully support and welcome his decision to recall the Seanad. I am very glad we did this. It gives us an opportunity in this House to scrutinise the record of the Irish Government on Gaza and review the recent appalling events there.

I note that Oxfam and others have pointed out that in recalling the House at this critical juncture, the Seanad has already made a significant statement to the international community so I hope that in some small way this recall can assist in seeking some sort of resolution. I particularly hope that the Israeli Embassy in Ireland will report back to Israel the revulsion expressed by all of us here today at the horrific loss of civilian life in the Gaza Strip.

Like all Irish citizens, my Labour Party colleagues and I are horrified at the numbers of Palestinian civilians who have been killed in the bombardment by Israel of Gaza. We now know that over 1,300 Palestinians have been killed. Others have commented that over 80% of them are civilians, including about 250 children. Two weeks ago, we saw four boys slaughtered on a beach. Since then, we have seen eight Palestinian children killed in a playground which, as the Minister noted, was a particularly heinous attack. We have also seen heinous attacks on civilian populations in UN premises fleeing from bombardment. Again, these are appalling war crimes. As the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign has said, what we are seeing is a collective punishment of a captive population - horror and terror for the people of Gaza on a unimaginable level.

About 240,000 people have been displaced, with nowhere safe to go. UNICEF has stated there is nowhere safe in Gaza - an area that is only 25 miles long and seven miles wide, with closed borders. These borders are not only closed by Israel but also by Egypt which, of course, must accept some complicity in the slaughter of the Palestinian population in the enclave. I am particularly glad to hear the Minister say he spoke this morning to the Egyptian Foreign Minister about this.

It is important to be even-handed in the debate. I stand with my Labour Party colleagues, Government colleagues and all others in condemning not only the bombardment by Israel of Gaza but also the rocket attacks launched by Hamas which directly target civilians of Israel and are also an offence in international law. I condemn any use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by Hamas and respect the right of Israel to defend itself against rocket attacks. However, any defence must be conducted in a proportionate and lawful manner. I am appalled at the lack of respect for international law and the rules of law as shown by the Israeli Government in the bombardment in recent weeks. I have already spoken, as have others, about the horrific attacks on UN schools where Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of women and children, have been sheltering. I wrote to the Minister about the matter last week. As the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, has said, the shelling by Israel of schools being used as shelters for displaced Palestinians is outrageous and unjustifiable and demands accountability and justice. However, as the Minister has said, his words do not appear to have had any effect on the Government of Israel or its supporters in the United States who continue to arm them.

Perhaps the saddest thing of all, as we watch with increasing horror the mounting death toll, is the sense of helplessness and déjà vu. I found earlier on my computer a copy of a letter I had sent to a newspaper in 2009, nearly five years ago, explaining my support for the call by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign for a boycott by consumers of Israeli goods and services. I was writing then in the context of a bombardment by Israel against Gaza in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed, at least one third of whom were children. The comments made then could be repeated about the bombardment we have witnessed in recent weeks. Five years ago Mr. John Ging of the United Nations spoke about the humanitarian tragedy that was unfolding and today we hear the words of United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff and medics also talking about a humanitarian tragedy. UNRWA has stated it is at breaking point in trying to cope with the crisis that has unfolded.

What can we do about this? I welcome the Government's provision of aid for the Palestinians. I welcome the statement of the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, calling for an immediate ceasefire and emphasising the need to lift the blockade on Gaza and its people and ensure a credible international process to deliver a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. I am glad that the Minister has met both the Israeli and Palestinian ambassadors to Ireland to again express to them that this is the Government's position.

I also appreciate that Ireland has a strong record of working on this issue within the European Union. I am very proud that the former Labour Party leader and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, stated full support from Ireland for the recognition of Palestine at the United Nations in September 2011. Therefore, we have led on this issue within the European Union. I appreciate that we have the strongest influence in international affairs when we work within the European Union. As the Minister has outlined, that approach informed our abstention in the United Nations vote last week. Like many others, I was disappointed at how that appeared, but I appreciate that we need to preserve unity within the European UKnion. I also appreciate that given the strong US support for Israel, the European Union is the only power bloc that can effectively take it on at international level. There is an international quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. Ireland is strongest when working within the European Union. However, we need to push more strongly within the European Union for some form of censure for Israel. The Minister attended the last EU Foreign Affairs Council on 22 July, before the attacks by Israel on two separate UN schools and the attacks on children in a playground and on a beach, which clearly cannot be justified on any basis in any international law or rules of war.

We should seek a further meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. We should look to our Italian colleagues who now hold the EU Presidency to see if the European Union can now use its strong links with Israel, particularly in trade and science, as leverage to put more pressure on it to achieve a resolution and, in particular, an immediate ceasefire. We have a direct interest in seeking a resolution. The Minister has pointed out that Ireland sends approximately €10 million per annum to support Palestinian development and infrastructure. For a long time the European union has contributed significant funds to develop Palestinian infrastructure, as is appropriate. However, we have seen that infrastructure systematically destroyed by Israeli bombardment in the 2008-09 period and also in recent weeks.

I believe we need to work more strongly within the EU to achieve this resolution. The Labour Party has long supported the aim of achieving a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law, and we support the aim of delivering for the Palestinian people a secure viable state of their own. The priority now is for an immediate ceasefire to prevent any further Palestinian or Israeli civilian death or injury. We believe the international community must then work with Israel and Palestine to deliver a peace agreement which will bring about the lifting of the blockade on Gaza, which is the root cause of this devastating conflict, to end illegal Israeli settlements and to deliver a long-lasting peace to the region based on the two-state principle.

I have not spoken of Ukraine, although the Minister and Senator Cummins have very eloquently done so. There is a message here given that, on Ukraine, we see the EU taking strong action in terms of sanctions on Russia which, again, is backing the separatists in Ukraine just as the US backs Israel. We need to see similar strong action being taken by the EU in order to end the appalling conflict in Gaza.

To end on a hopeful note, at such a bleak time for the Middle East I believe the Irish peace process can serve as some sort of useful indicator that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved peacefully in the end and that there is never a military solution to this sort of conflict.

I would like to express my gratitude to the Cathaoirleach of Seanad Éireann, to the Minister who, as a Laois man, I congratulate on his appointment, and to Senator Averil Power for marshalling the forces on this side to respond to my request for a recall of Seanad Éireann.

People ask, "What for? What can Seanad Éireann do?" The answer in the international context is "Nothing", because nobody will pay that much attention to what Ireland does. I remember being in Palestine some years ago in an area that was heavily controlled by the Israelis, and I said to my Palestinian hosts, "You know there is nothing I can do, I will have no effect", and they said, "But at least you will be a witness, you will be a record to our suffering, and we will not go unnoticed". It is for that reason I called for the recall of the Seanad.

I am very sad. I am not anti-Israeli; I am not anti-Semitic. I supported the State of Israel. However, in the 40 years that I have known the State of Israel and sometimes had a home there, I have seen it completely change. It changed from a left wing, socially directed country to an extreme right-wing regime that is behaving in the most criminal fashion, defying the world and unscrupulously using the Holocaust to justify what they are doing. It is time that rag was torn away from them.

Israel is afraid of Palestinian unity. That is what all of this is about. It has nothing to do with the appalling murder of those three Israeli kids. The Israeli police knew that Hamas had nothing to do with it before this war started. Israel created Hamas in order to split Fatah, so it is responsible for Hamas. I had this confirmed at the highest level in the foreign ministry in Jerusalem some years ago. It is astonishing to me that those in the West prate about democracy, yet every time an Islamic government crops up around the Mediterranean, they refuse to deal with it, they subvert it and they destroy it. Where is the democracy in that? We may not like it. They may be antagonistic. My Jewish friends and Israeli friends sometimes say to me, "How would you fare, as a gay man, in any of these?" I know exactly how I would fare, but it does not mean it is correct to deny people the right to choose their own government. What self-respecting or sane people would allow their enemies to choose their government for them? Can anyone imagine it happening in this country? I certainly cannot.

America has played a shameful role in this. Israel could not get away with these disgraceful acts of international piracy and brigandage if it was not for the protecting shadow of the United States of America. I condemn President Obama for his utter inaction. I have to say I was a bit taken aback when I saw Ukraine had been added to the statements as it is irrelevant. It is a bit of "whataboutery". What about Syria? What about the Congo? What about Iraq? What about everything? However, the one thing it does is to show the extraordinary discrepancy here. On the instructions of the Americans we are prepared to boycott, go after the Russian banks and do this, that and the other. What do we do about Israel? We do not even mark a protest note with our vote at the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

That is shameful - absolutely shameful. I would have interjected that it had been better to be one country in the right than be with all the rest of them in the wrong.

There are no words to describe what happened yesterday in Jebalyia where there were six attacks on schools. They are deliberate, I have no doubt, because 3,300 people were sheltered there. They had been directed there by Israel. The co-ordinates were given 17 times. How could anybody claim that they did not know what they were doing? Israel's policy is shoot first and weep afterwards saying, "Oh, did we hit children? What a terrible tragedy". Nobody believes Israel anymore. It is doing this to exert pressure on Hamas. It will not resolve this problem until, as we did in this country, it involves both of the participants.

There is no point in having any kind of an alleged truce when it only has one side. The rubbish produced by the Israelis, the Americans and the Egyptians was laughable. They did not consult Hamas, which is madness. Tony Blair was involved. My God, that man is shameless.

He should keep his face out of the Middle East after what he and George W. Bush have done to the region.

On the other side, three moth-balled schools were used to store weapons. That was discovered by the UN and reported by it, not by the Israelis.

Entire families have been obliterated and in one case, 20 members of the same family were slaughtered. Also, a disproportionate amount of women and children have been killed in this situation, which is a violation of all the spiritual beauty that Judaism stands for - the respect for life and the fact that if one saves one life then one has saved the universe. All of that is blown out of the window and done so, as I saw, by the arrival of 1,200,000 extreme right-wing former citizens of the Soviet Union.

It is time people told the truth about what is being said in Israel.  For example, the interior Minister, Eli Yishai, stated in 2012 that Israel would send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.  Defence deputy Minister Matan Vilnai stated that it would visit the Holocaust on the Palestinians.  That is Nazi talk.  I am not saying that he is a Nazi but what he is saying makes him sound like a Nazi.

What should we do?  First, we must remove the embargo.  Then there is the Euro-Med agreement, to which human rights protocols attach.  Time after time on the foreign affairs committee, I have asked for the situation to be monitored.  People will not even monitor the human rights agreements.  What human rights are there when thousands of women and children are being killed and injured?

Israeli goods, particularly those from the settlements, should be boycotted and there should be an expulsion of the Israeli ambassador.  I delayed in saying this, but he always has his fingers in his ears and just repeats slogans from Jerusalem.

I have received a considerable volume of correspondence, 90% of it in support of the Israeli side.  I respect all of my correspondents but it is clearly an organised campaign.  They all thank Ireland for voting the way we did at the UN.  That tells the story.  The Israeli spokesmen, all with South African, English or American accents, referring to the land of Palestine, also congratulated us.

The UN should accept full and permanent responsibility for the welfare of the people of Gaza.  If that means the deployment of an international force, fine.  This country should explore the possibility of using our civilian services, for example, the ESB, to rebuild the only power station in Gaza.  Cutting off electricity to people who are being squeezed into an appalling punishment camp, only to then cut back on food imports and claim - this is where I say "Nazi" - that Israel is placing the people of Palestine on a diet shows contempt for human beings.

We should stand against that contempt and in favour of human rights. I am in favour of human rights, whether one is Israeli, gay, a woman or black. I am not changing my position. I am not anti-Israel or anti-Semitic, but I am pro-human rights for every human being.

I thank the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins, for arranging this discussion. In welcoming the Minister, I congratulate him on his recent appointment and wish him well in what is a very challenging role.

It is essential that we give these matters - the situations in Gaza and Ukraine - the time and consideration necessary, which is why I very much supported the recall of the Seanad. I compliment the Minister on the update he has given to us. It is a very comprehensive and detailed account of his efforts at national, European and international level in dealing with the two very serious matters we are discussing.

As a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade and foreign affairs spokesman, I am very conscious of the very unstable situation in many countries that border the European Union. We are witnessing what appears to be the disintegration of Iraq, with almost 6,000 civilians slaughtered by ISIS and other insurgents in the first six months of the year. At least 1.2 million people have been displaced from their homes by violence. France is now accepting Christian refugees from Iraq after ISIS issued Christians in Mosul with a 24 hour ultimatum to convert, pay a tax or be put to death. Houses of Christians are being daubed with the letter "N" to denote Nasrani - Arabic for Christians - reside there.

ISIS has also been active in Syria which continues to implode with a sustained civil war. The death toll is into staggeringly high figures and estimated to be in excess of 200,000 in the past three years, at least one third of whom are thought to have been civilians.

In this context, the resurgence of violence in Gaza, always a source of grave concern in this country, takes on a whole new dimension. Ireland has a very special link with Gaza and, historically, maintained close links with the Palestinian people. There is a long-standing relationship between Irish Aid and the United Nations in the region and I welcome the recent additional allocation of €500,000 in emergency aid for Gaza by the Minister of State, Deputy Sean Sherlock, with the €10 million Ireland gives to the Palestinian people annually through a range of partners agencies. For this aid to be effective, we must see an immediate ceasefire. The Minister has made very clear his demand that the violence in the region should cease and that attempts to broker a peace deal should be actively pursued and supported.

The civilian casualties, in particular the appalling deaths of the children referred to, are deplorable and have rightly been condemned by the Government and the European Union. I support the very strong statement made by the Coalition for Children's Rights, chaired by Plan Ireland, which has expressed its deep concern about the current human rights abuses and the severe and lasting impacts the ongoing attacks in Gaza are likely to have on children. I call on both sides in the conflict to call an immediate ceasefire.

Ireland has maintained a strong voice on this issue in the European Union, through the Council of Ministers, and at the UN Human Rights Council, through the strongly worded statement of our permanent representative, Ms Patricia O'Brien, who has been very eloquent both in Geneva and on the public airwaves in giving voice to Ireland's intolerance of the indiscriminate violence.

While the need for an end to violence in Gaza is the single most pressing matter, we also need to see a longer term solution to the conflict, a lifting of the blockade on Gaza, progress towards a two-state solution, an end to terrorist attacks on Israel and a process put in place and a plan to prosecute those suspected of ordering or carrying out war crimes.

The obstruction of relief for the civilian population of Gaza must be halted and sufficient medical and fuel supplies must be allowed in. Humanitarian workers who are doing an amazing job there must be guaranteed safe passage.

We are living in very dangerous times and cannot take our peace and security for granted. The rapid deterioration of the situation in eastern Ukraine has made this clear.

While developments in that region have perhaps moved at a slower and more low-key pace than the various conflicts in the Middle East, the shooting down of a civilian airliner with almost 300 people on board brought it forcefully home to us that we cannot ignore conflicts that seem geographically distant. As an active member state of the EU, Ireland must acknowledge that the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the various conflicts in the Middle East are happening on its doorstep. Peace in Europe is a fragile gift that we cannot take for granted.

I would like the Minister and this House to deal with another conflict when it returns in September. I refer to the situation in Syria, which has been mentioned by many speakers. The Assad regime, with the support of Russia and Iran, is continuing its onslaught on opposition areas. Almost 200,000 people have been killed and over 12 million people have been displaced. A recent report from Human Rights Watch suggested that the Syrian Government is continuing to barrel-bomb civilians in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2139 of 22 February last.

I welcome today's useful debate. We need to work together, with our Ministers and with our EU counterparts to help to broker a lasting ceasefire in Gaza that will ultimately lead to lasting peace. I hope the words of former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said yesterday that it was time to stop the 23-day war, will gain support. I hope no more innocent children will die in Gaza and no further lives will be lost in Israel. I hope we can see the commencement of the rebuilding of the schools, homes and hospitals that have been severely damaged in recent times. I urge the Minister to keep up his work at Government and EU levels to help the appalling situation in Gaza and Ukraine.

I sought this debate because like many Irish people, I have been horrified by the violence in Gaza and disappointed by our Government's response. Over the last three weeks, Israel has massacred more than 1,300 Palestinians, including over 300 children, in their homes, hospital beds and mosques, and even in UN schools and emergency shelters. It has injured a further 7,000 people, including many children who will be crippled for life. Not only do they have horrific physical injuries, but they are also psychologically scarred because the rest of their families were blown up in front of them. Israel has levelled thousands of homes and destroyed Gaza's basic infrastructure, leaving people without water or power.

The Israeli authorities have tried to justify all of this by pleading Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups. I condemn here, as I have elsewhere, the firing of rockets at residential areas of Israel. I also condemn the killing of three Israeli civilians in recent weeks. However, international law is clear. It requires Israel to respond in a way that is proportionate, is directed at military targets, rather than civilian ones, and takes adequate precautions to ensure the safety of civilians. Israel has wilfully ignored these requirements in executing a murderous campaign that is designed to instil terror among the entire Palestinian population. It is not just immoral; it is a war crime. The international community must hold Israel to account for this.

I was shocked last week when the Irish Government chose to abstain in a UN vote on the establishment of an inquiry into Israel's war crimes in Gaza. As a country, we have always prided ourselves on using our voice in international institutions like the UN to promote human rights and stand up for the oppressed. Last week, we were shamefully silent. The Government hid behind a collective EU statement which claimed that member states were abstaining because the motion did not criticise violence on both sides. The fact is that the motion did contain such criticism. It simply levelled greater criticism at Israel because it has been responsible for a long and horrific catalogue of human rights violations that is simply without comparison on the Palestinian side. It targeted its planned investigation at Israeli war crimes because at that point, Hamas had killed two civilians while Israel had murdered hundreds.

I know the Minister has been an ardent supporter of Israel for a long time. He has a responsibility to represent the views of the Irish people as a whole, most of whom are horrified by what Israel has been doing. The Minister has a duty to do what he can to put pressure on Israel to stop its current assault on Gaza, to lift its blockade and to end its illegal occupation of Palestine.

A return to the situation that existed before the current assault is not good enough. When I visited Palestine last year with Christian Aid I saw first hand how Israel's siege of Gaza has made life hell for its inhabitants, half of whom are children. I saw how Israel is continuing to extend its occupation of the West Bank and east Jerusalem confiscating Palestinian land and planting thousands more Israelis on it.

While the international community has been talking about a two-state solution, Israel has been doing everything in its power to make such a solution impossible. A spokesperson for the UN relief agency for Palestine criticised Israel yesterday for killing children as they slept next to their parents in a UN designated shelter. He said, "children killed in their sleep - this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame." He went on to say that the world stands disgraced. I say that the world stands disgraced for standing idly by while Israel has ignored countless UN resolutions since 1967. America stands disgraced for arming the Israeli war machine.

The international community stands disgraced for not backing up our condemnation of Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine with real action and we stand disgraced for expressing faux surprise and horror as Israel attacks Gaza for the third time in five years. The experience of the last 47 years has shown us that condemnation of Israel is not enough. Ireland, the EU and the UN must take real action. For a start, we must use our economic power to force Israel to stop its current attack on Gaza and end the occupation of Palestine. The EU must immediately suspend its trade agreements with Israel and impose economic sanctions. It should also ban outright the importation of goods from the illegal Israeli settlements. It is simply not good enough to condemn the ever-expanding settlements while tacitly supporting them by buying goods produced there. It is time to put our money where our mouth is. If Europe as a whole is not prepared to do this, Ireland should step up and show leadership by doing it ourselves.

We must also insist on proper international monitoring of any ceasefire agreement. Hamas complied with the 2012 agreement until last month but Israel did not, refusing to lift its blockade on Gaza. An international force must also be put in place along the border between Israel and Gaza to monitor the ceasefire and investigate alleged breaches of it, and an international body must be given the task of monitoring the lifting of the siege. As Christian Aid has pointed out, both sides must also be held to account for their violations of international law so that a message goes out that no party to any conflict can target civilians with impunity. In the medium term we must also ensure that UNICEF and other aid organisations have the money they need to respond to the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza and help to rebuild homes, schools and vital infrastructure. Aid for Palestine is not enough. Only a proper long-term solution will provide all Palestinians and all Israelis with the peace and security they deserve.

I regret I have only five minutes as I would like to speak about the situations in Iraq, Syria and Ukraine but I will push those issues when we return in September.

I congratulate the Minister on his appointment and thank him for taking this special debate which I think all Senators across the House agree is necessary and timely.

In relation to the Minister's contribution, we all have very strong views on this emotional issue, to be fair to him his contribution has been exceptionally balanced.

The actions he has taken have been exceptionally positive in trying to seek a resolution to this issue. Quite regularly in the past, I have condemned the EU for not standing together. It is important that we build an EU consensus around foreign policy issues because only by standing together can the EU be strong.

Stand together and do nothing.

As Senator Ivana Bacik said, there is a very positive role the EU can play in the resolution of the crisis in Gaza and, particularly, a very strong role that Ireland can play as a neutral country, a country that has been strongly supportive, dare I say, of Palestine in playing a very positive role in the resolution of this crisis. I do not accept that the Minister has evidenced any prejudice in this matter.

American President William Taft decided against the US intervening in the Second World War arguing the European war was the product of national and racial animosities that had existed for centuries and would continue to exist for centuries to come.

Ireland has not gone to war in almost 70 years. Europe has not gone to war in almost 70 years. Political scientist, Richard Rose, said of the conflict in Northern Ireland: "Many talk about a solution to Ulster's political problem but few are prepared to say what the problem is. The reason is simple. The problem is there is no solution". There are no solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts until there are, as we know from our experience in Northern Ireland. There needs to be a willingness on the part of both sides to come up with a solution, even if it is less than perfect, and to uphold it.

Undoubtedly, the situation in Israel and Palestine seems insurmountable. Israel, in its view, is surrounded by enemies. Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank feel oppressed by an Israel that far outweighs them militarily. Until we have a solution to the overriding issue of securing both populations - we must acknowledge this is about securing the interests of both populations - and can allow them feel safe from attack in the future, we are going nowhere.

The long-standing position of the Labour Party on the Middle East is informed by three principles: the need for a comprehensive multilateral peace agreement between Israel and Palestine which respects international law; the need to deliver for the Palestinian people a secure, viable and contiguous state of their own; and the recognition of the legitimate interests of the people of Israel to live in peace, prosperity and security with their neighbours.

It is understandable that Israel, which has a right to defend itself from attack, believes that Hamas building tunnels into Gaza is a legitimate threat that should be dealt with. The people of Israel deserve to live without fear of the day that Hamas acquires a truly destructive arsenal in the form of missiles capable of reaching Ben Gurion Airport or, heaven forbid, chemical or nuclear weapons. I believe that day is far off, as do a number of political experts.

Hamas has as its stated goal a mission to destroy Israel, yet both sides know that this is not possible.

That is no longer true. That is ten years out of date.

Senator Hayden, without interruption please.

Israel has far more military might. It surrounds Gaza and the West Bank. It has argued that Hamas has as its plan, the provocation of Israel to kill enough Palestinians in order to start another Palestinian uprising or to turn the international community against Israel so as to put political pressure on it. Israel argues that this is why Hamas has been shooting rockets from heavily populated areas and there is some justification for that position.

Hamas is a wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organisation which has recently suffered huge losses in Egypt. It has been broken and backed into a corner. Some suggest that the recent rocket strikes are part of a longer term strategy. Each time Israel is provoked into disproportionate responses, Hamas gains more support and retains its political hold on Gaza. When Israel shells schools or UN camps, when it causes unnecessary deaths or makes disproportionate military responses, this lends credence to the Hamas line that violence is the only answer and that Hamas is a necessary evil for the Palestinians. The question remains, of course, as to why Israel uses disproportionate force - 1,245 Palestinian deaths to 56 Israeli deaths. In Palestine, many of these deaths have been deaths of women and children. We have all had a significant moment in following this crisis. I found the day four children were shelled on a beach a cathartic moment for me.

While many Palestinians do not support Hamas or its goal, they do not have many political alternatives. Israel's pressure in the West Bank has weakened Fatah in the eyes of the Palestinian public, increasing support for Hamas and shattering the national unity government. The Israeli Government must work with moderate parties within Palestine in order to remove power from extremists. This process could start by the lifting of blockades on Gaza and a halt to all settlements in the Left Bank. Additionally, Israel could do more to crack down on extremists in its camp and on general anti-Palestinian sentiment. It holds the upper hand and should exercise it responsibly.

So far, the Knesset has paid little more than lip-service to the so-called "price tag" attacks on Israelis, Arabs and Palestinians, despite the outcry from the international community. These attacks target mosques, Arab homes and properties and military bases, suggesting that this is the "cost" for anti-Israeli violence. It is not healthy to have Gaza as a pressure cooker which, as Senator Bacik said, vents violently every few years. Hamas retains power, Palestinian citizens die and Israeli-Palestinian problems remain even harder to resolve as extremism increases.

Yet, when the fighting dies down and the world stops caring and the impetus to solve the situation dissipates until the next time, the death toll on both sides invariably climbs with each round of violence. We need to do something and we need to do it now. I suggest Ireland should step up and play a much stronger part within the European Union in leading a resolution to this conflict. I believe it suits Israel to present the situation we face currently as one of self defence against rocket attacks.

I do not believe Israel has any intention of negotiating other than to return to the situation before the current crisis started. The goal of any future negotiation has to be a long-term resolution of the Palestinian crisis based on the principles I have set out which remain the Labour Party position.

I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and I wish him luck in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I welcome the ambassador for the State of Palestine and our other guests.

All of us here in the Upper House of the Oireachtas are supposed to be parliamentarians. That is why we are here and why I had the privilege of being appointed here. We are supposed to uphold, create and develop a democratic society which values life and peace. If that is so, it is entirely right that we discuss, question and abhor the violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We are either parliamentarians representing a democratic society while at the same time watching the annihilation of a nation in front of our eyes, or we are not.

Since I came into the Seanad there has been an incessant, daily and sincere questioning of our own human rights in Ireland, our sexuality, our partnerships, direct provision, the quality of our educational opportunity, penal reform and our right to life. They all pale into a kind of different significance, if not a privileged insignificance in respect of the human rights in Gaza. All human rights are supposed to have the same value but it also seems to me that one Israeli soldier is worth 500 Palestinian children. How about that for the great new buzz word, “proportionality”, for fair play and the rules of war? In this war we know there are no rules.

I had the privilege of being in Palestine six months ago in peace time. I travelled through it. I was, as Senator Norris said, a witness to the greatest violation of human rights by one country over another, Israel over Palestine. It is, as my colleague has said, the greatest example of apartheid. The wall is higher, bigger, thicker and more evident than the Berlin wall. It runs through people’s homes, yards, farms, houses, business premises, olive groves and water, if the Israelis decide to leave the water on or turn it off. It runs through people’s fields, hills, trees and lives. Wherever Israel wants to put, push or further the wall, that will happen. It gets bigger, thicker and fatter every day, as they build it. The Palestinians have to go round it because they cannot go over it. They cannot have access or cross it. They queue for four hours to go to work and to leave work. They queue to come home and to leave their homes, if they have work. They cannot drive on the Israeli motorways without a pass. They cannot live, as my colleague said, without permits. Every Palestinian I met was living normally in absolute captivity. They live in refugee camps and outside those camps their lives are militarised beyond any normal existence. They live despite themselves.

As a parliamentarian in this Seanad I believe that if a child has to be killed to get to the core of a war it is a crime against humanity. It ranks as a deliberate crime against humanity. The Israeli mantra that all bombs, mortars, shells and ammunition are hidden in schools, hospitals, international areas, safe places and UN organisations is a clichéd lie. The Israeli mantra that members of Hamas are using their own children as human shields is an affront to the heartbeat of every child who has been rushed into Palestinian hospitals where all they have is a saline drip.

One of the greatest culprits in all of this is the toothless and insular Europe, which can only ever come to the fore when it is talking about the great god, the euro. God is the euro and the euro is God. We can do nothing else. Add to that the dysfunctionality of the UN and throw in the culprit of the great free world, otherwise known as the United States of America, and we get the finest combination of onlookers, ignorers and wilful powerlessness.

However, there is one extraordinary exception and he is Irish - John Ging of UNRWA. I suggest to the Israelis and the Palestinians that they begin with him as a broker of peace.

What can the Seanad do? We can do something. We can be a witness, if we call ourselves to be so. Personally I would like to see extraordinary and real sanctions against Israel for crimes against humanity. Above all nations, it should know what that means.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his comprehensive overview. I commend him for his efforts to date and wish him well in his further ongoing constructive efforts.

I had hoped - I communicated with the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins on the issue - that Syria and Iraq would be included in the debate today, that we would deal with the wider Middle East region. I know that these countries will be dealt with when we return in September, but in Syria alone 170,000 people have been killed, 3 million have fled their country, 9 million have been displaced internally and half of the population are in need of humanitarian aid. In Iraq sectarian tensions are continuously being inflamed. ISIS, with allied Sunni groups, largely controls northern Iraq and the city of Mosul which it captured. This does not in any way take away from the appalling atrocities which have occurred in Gaza and Israel. It goes without saying an absolute priority, as the Minister indicated, is an immediate ceasefire, an end to all violence. We all condemn the upsurge in violence by both sides; it is tit-for-tat and it seems there is no end to it. There has been an especially high number of civilian casualties resulting from-----

The tat is a bit smaller than the tit.

We respect the Senator's position and I listened to him intently. I agree with much of what he said and it may be that I do not disagree with much of it.

The situation has been caused by the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel and, of course, the extreme military might of Israel in response. Of course, I accept, as has been said, that it is not proportionate. It has been said that for every Israeli soldier who has been killed, a far greater number of people in Gaza have been killed. Some of what has happened is horrific and tragic and it is ongoing. I agree that we are all deeply upset about it. Both peoples have a basic right to live in peace. Here we are all democrats and peace-loving.

As a first step there must be an end to the blockade of Gaza. As the Minister indicated, without substantive peace talks, we are going nowhere and talks will not take place without the lifting of the blockade. The conflict is utterly futile and in no one's interest. I do not understand how the parties do not see this. There must be accountability. There have been breaches of humanitarian law. At its most basic level, they share the land and must respect one another's culture and traditions. That is not impossible to achieve. I refer to the example of the North. One does not have to go back too far to discover that such respect was totally absent. I am not saying it is evident to the extent we would wish, but we had a relatively quiet 12 July. It is welcome that the Minister was there yesterday and encouraged the parties to engage in talks in September on flags, parades and the past.

As the Minister has outlined, the two-state solution is the only answer and the sooner both sides accept that, following a ceasefire, and get down to talks, the better.

Turning to Ukraine, it is appalling what has happened there, including the downing of the Malaysian aircraft with the loss of 298 lives, among them an Irish citizen. Again, the Russian influence has been hugely destabilising and I hope the EU will be able to exert greater influence on that country. It is only through Russia's efforts that the crash site will be secured. It is appalling to see how it has been trampled over. Without Russian influence, we will make no immediate headway in Ukraine.

I welcome the Minister and wish him well in his post, including his role in Northern Ireland matters. I thank the various organisations and individuals who submitted information to Members in advance of this debate. I begin by pointing out that Israel's GDP per head is US$42,000 while the Palestinian figure is US$2,431. That is a differential of 17:1 and, in my view, it holds the key to this conflict. Can the ingenuity, enterprise and talents that have made Israel such a prosperous country be the growth engine for the rest of the region? Certainly, it is unsustainable to have people living side by side with such massive income differentials.

I do not support the calls by some for the expulsion of Ambassador Boaz Modai, to whom I wrote last April expressing my concern at his opposition to proposals for joint government for Palestine. In January 2006, the Palestinian Authority, at the urging of George W. Bush's Administration and with the grudging support of the Israelis, held elections in Gaza and the West Bank. To the surprise of some, Hamas won a majority of seats in those elections. One might say that Hamas is in the same situation as Sinn Féin was as it evolved into a political party. Israel must recognise the reality that Hamas was democratically elected.

The ambassador said in his letter to Senators yesterday: "In none of the exchanges have I heard anyone propose a realistic alternative to the current policy of Israel." I hope a copy of the Official Report will make its way to President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu showing the alternatives we are proposing today to what is an unsustainable situation. The ambassador also said, in a statement issued yesterday: "Since 2007, time and time again President Abbas has rejected generous offers of peace with Israel." I wonder what these generous offers were. It is a view held by many that in his defining speech at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Bar-Ilan University on 14 July 2009, Mr. Netanyahu scuppered the two-state solution by his demands for full demilitarisation of the Palestinian state - that is, no army, no rockets, no missiles and no control of its airspace - Jerusalem to be undivided Israeli territory and Palestinians to recognise Israel as the Jewish national state. In addition, Mr. Netanyahu rejected a right of return for Palestinian refugees, saying that any demand for their resettlement within Israel would undermine the country's status. He further rejected putting a halt to settlement building on the West Bank. In effect, the two-state solution has been killed off by Israel's settlement policy in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.

What Mr. Netanyahu outlined would impose an utter inferiority of status on the second part of the proposed two-state entity.

Some historians point out that Mr. Netanyahu has form, having previously opposed the Oslo Accords. The former United States peace envoy, Dennis Ross, has observed: "Neither President Clinton nor Secretary Albright believed that Bibi [Netanyahu] had any real interest in pursuing peace."

The opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, said the same. He does not really believe in a two-state solution.

What can we do? Armed actions must cease and the United States must energise and become involved. President Obama indicated this in the speech he made in Cairo, to which Mr. Netanyahu responded. We must end the blockade as the 50 miles of coastline could act as a dynamo for economic growth in the region in tourism, fishing and so on. We should engage in trade as Israel's growing wealth would enrich the rest of the region. The war damaged buildings and infrastructure must be reconstructed and the settlements and the wall removed. There should be free movement across the frontiers between Egypt, Israel and Palestine. We can make the situation better.

I am delighted that the House was recalled to have this discussion and that the Minister has appeared for it. The record of Seanad debates will show positive solutions to bring to an end an appalling few weeks in the Middle East.

I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and commend him for making himself available for this important debate. His presence adds weight and I wish him every success in his new ministry.

I echo the sentiments of my colleague, Senator O'Donnell, in acknowledging the role and efforts of another Laois man at the centre of the crisis in Gaza, Mr. John Ging of the United Nations. The Minister is now at the fulcrum of the issue and we use the opportunity to reach out to him to present the Irish perspective in a more distinctive and robust fashion. We need not take our lead from the United Kingdom, the European Union or the United States as their foreign policies on the Middle East are in tatters and they do not know whom they support. As Senator Barrett said, they called for elections, but then undermined elected governments in Egypt and Gaza and on the West Bank because the outcomes were not to their liking.

We have been sneered and scoffed at in certain quarters as people wonder who do we think we are and why Members of the House have been recalled for this discussion. Our silence would shame us even more than our inaction disgraces us - at least we can express solidarity. I do not take either side in this horrendous and harrowing horror story in Gaza, but I am not neutral, nor are the Members of this House, when it comes to the slaughter of women and children in schools, hospitals and UN shelters. There was a time when the UN emblem was sacrosanct and precious and no one would dare lay a finger on the wearer of the blue beret. There was a time when no one would countenance threatening or harming a person who had been offered refuge and protection by the United Nations. If we were speaking about Srebrenica or Serbia, would we stand back and say what was going on was okay? We have the gall to seek to admonish Russia and impose sanctions to put manners on it for its proxy war in Ukraine, but we do nothing in the face of worse outrages, although one cannot compare the loss of one life with the loss of another. We are comparing losses in terms of headcount.

We ask that Ireland now distinguish itself and take action, rather than simply express sympathy and solidarity. We must take an independent position. Did we sell out our foreign policy prerogative in the Lisbon treaty or the Nice treaty? I do not think we did. We must take a stand and show leadership. We must initiate sanctions because that is how to bring the factions to the table. We must use all diplomatic avenues available. I agree with Senator Sean D. Barrett and other Senators on all sides who have made powerful contributions. We must indicate that we will not accept this situation any longer. We cannot wake again to hear that children were killed in their sleep. We must initiate sanctions and urge the United States to impose an immediate arms embargo in the region that encompasses the Israeli side. It is not possible to talk about peace while arming Israel to its teeth with $3 billion worth of military hardware every year.

We know how powerful and effective a simple boycott by a number of workers at Dunnes Stores - whom we lauded in this House earlier in the year - proved to be in the past. If necessary, we should boycott all goods and produce emanating from Israel. The Israeli Defence Forces do not recognise the normal rules of war, if such things actually exist. They are a law unto themselves and have perpetrated war crimes and slaughtered children. We implore the Minister, who made an incredibly valid contribution, to go forth from this House and get the message across that what is required is more action and fewer words in order to stop the slaughter in Gaza.

I welcome the Minister and echo his words to the effect that this is a welcome opportunity for Senators to take part in the debate on this matter. I appeal to him to support a recall of the Dáil. If, as has been stated, this is a welcome opportunity for Senators, then Members of the Lower House should also be given the chance to have their say on the appalling human catastrophe taking place in Gaza.

I fully understand why some people want to achieve what they perceive to be balance and proportionality in respect of this issue. However, this matter does not involve either of the latter. Rather, it relates to the truth, facts and reality with regard to what is happening in Gaza. Since 8 July last some 1,300 Palestinian people have been slaughtered by the Israeli state and its military. The vast majority of those individuals were innocent civilians - men, women and children. A total of 22,000 homes have been destroyed and 130 schools, six hospitals and a number of UN shelters have been attacked. On Monday last 100 innocent civilians were killed. Entire families have been wiped out. Yesterday, we witnessed the targeting - deliberately, in my view - of a shelter which resulted in the deaths of 17 people. Despite the fact that the co-ordinates of the shelter in question were made known to the Israeli Defence Forces, they still decided to bomb it. Some 3,000 individuals who had been forced to flee their homes by those same forces were in the shelter when it was subjected to this indiscriminate attack. That is the reality of the catastrophe and the human suffering taking place in Gaza at present. This is not a war, it is a massacre that is being perpetrated by the State of Israel and its military forces.

There was a humanitarian crisis in Gaza long before the events we have witnessed since 8 July began. The 1.8 million citizens of Gaza live on a tiny strip of land measuring 10 km by 40 km. They are hemmed in and obliged to survive without basic supplies, shelter or accommodation. They also lack access to proper food and medical supplies. Then there is the wall, which prevents them from leaving Gaza and others from entering it. In addition, Gaza is the subject of an illegal blockade or siege. Its 1.8 million citizens are the subject of humiliation, torture and oppression. Gaza is both a living hell and the biggest open-air prison in the world. As already stated, the humanitarian crisis to which I refer has been in existence since long before 8 July. It will continue to exist for the next five, ten or 20 years unless the Israelis change their policy and accept a real peace process. That process must involve justice for the Palestinian people.

The events of recent weeks, including the killing of so many innocent people by the State of Israel, do not relate to Hamas, rocket attacks or tunnels. Rather, they relate to the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories and the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people, including the citizens of Gaza. The events to which I refer also constitute a form of collective punishment on the people of Gaza as a result of how they voted in an election and represent an attempt on the part of the current Israeli Government to break the national unity government in Palestine.

That is what the killings are about. They are not about Israel defending itself. We all accept that any state has a right to defend itself, but this is about the state of Israel slaughtering innocent people in Gaza because it believes it can. In the face of that human suffering, what was the response of the Minister and the State at the Human Rights Council of the United Nations? The Minister, shamefully and cowardly, abstained in the vote. He hides behind the fact that the resolution did not condemn the killings on all sides, but it did. He also hides behind the fact that he wanted to have a collective European Union response. What is the point in having a Minister for Foreign Affairs or a Department of Foreign Affairs if we cannot act independently, make up our own minds and stand on our own two feet? The Minister had a responsibility to represent the views of Irish citizens and failed to do so. That is shameful and a matter for him to answer. What he needs to do is to support an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. He needs to make sure there is a proper peace process. The unity government in Palestine has called for Gaza to be declared a disaster zone. That is something to which we should force the United Nations to agree.

The Senator is way over time.

We should be supporting a peace process which, with respect, is about justice, but the Minister knows that there will be no justice, peace process or peace unless there is justice for the Palestinian people.

I welcome the Minister and fully support him in Ireland's decision to abstain in the recent vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva. Similar to other EU countries, Ireland abstained in the vote. Our position was and still remains that during the recent hostilities there have been clear breaches of international law on both sides. The resolution before the Council did not include a reference to an investigation of all breaches. In addition, the resolution, as passed, does not provide for use of existing structures within the United Nations to allow an investigation to get under way as speedily as possible.

What has been occurring in Gaza in the past four weeks is a replica of what occurred in 2009. Between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, 1,440 people died, including 333 Palestinian children. I visited Gaza in February 2009, four weeks after the hostilities had ceased when I saw for myself the damage that had been caused. In addition to the 1,440 people who had been killed, thousands had been injured. During the period I was there I met many individuals and groups. It was evident to me that there had been many human rights breaches and breaches of international law. Together with other MEPs, I reported back to our individual groups in the European Parliament.

At the time we met Mr. John Ging who was head of UNWRA in Gaza. It is important to quote what he said at that meeting in 2009 because what he said then is as relevant today as it was then. He stated:

...the mind sets of the people here, and they are minded at the moment to go the civilised path, but they are being pushed down another path by their circumstances. Who is fighting the extremism and who is helping the extremism? So many kids were killed, so let's focus on them; we don't have to talk about, you know, whether it was ... [302] or 402, but hundreds of children are dead in three weeks; they were undisputedly innocent, nobody disputes that, undisputedly innocent children, but the mothers and fathers here, they want accountability for the deaths of their children and they don't have to beg for it; they're entitled to it; ultimately it is the responsibility of the International Community of the high contracting parties to the Geneva Convention to take effective action to ensure ... there is accountability coming out of this conflict. If you are a mother and father and you have lost your child, how are we to hold them and say "Hold on, hold on, there will be justice" because their answer is "Where, where is the mechanism'! The Israeli answer to the death of a child is "Oh they were being used as human shields"! So we have no accountability for that wrong in the civilised world; we don't shoot the hostage to get the hostage taker; on the face of it, there is a case to be answered and if there is ... [no] credible accountability, how are we going to say to people "Don't go over to getting your own justice."

That is a quote from Mr. John Ging in 2009.

Five years on we are witnessing the same atrocities. The same atrocities occurred in 2012 and over the past four weeks, and we are further away from getting a lasting solution to the conflict.

The United Nations has just confirmed that over 450,000 people have been displaced; that was broadcast in the last hour. In 2009, Israeli forces used white phosphorous, which burns not only the skin but right into the bone. I visited areas where it had been used. They also used cluster munitions, which are the same as the nail bombs used in the conflict here. The use of those materials in 2009 was a breach of international law. No action was taken against Israel, despite the fact that 1,383 Palestinians were killed, including 333 children. If action had been taken at that time, the hostilities that have occurred in the past four weeks may not have happened.

It is important to set out for the record of the House what Amnesty International has recommended. It recommends an immediate cessation of all attacks by all sides that are indiscriminate and disproportionate; direct attacks on civilians, their homes and other civilian property; the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, which amounts to collective punishment of the people-----

-----an immediate arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and armed Palestinian groups; Israel to halt the obstruction of relief for the civilian population of Gaza and allow sufficient medical and fuel supplies into Gaza-----

The Senator is way over time.

-----and humanitarian workers to be allowed safe passage into Gaza. Amnesty International has set out clear points that should be implemented immediately. The international community had the opportunity to do that, and now is the time to implement it.

I wish to first deal with the issue of the Seanad recall. I welcome the Minister here and congratulate him on his appointment. I say to those who questioned the effectiveness of the recall that at least one House of the Oireachtas is discussing this issue.

True. Hear, hear.

I call again on the Taoiseach to instruct the Ceann Comhairle to recall the Dáil. I thank the Cathaoirleach who, under the Standing Orders of this House, was able to recall the Seanad. The Seanad, at least, is discussing this issue and the Dáil should do likewise. None of us are under any illusion about the influence or power of this Chamber but as Senator Norris and others said earlier, for us to remain silent on this issue would further the disgrace the European Union has brought on itself.

In his opening remarks the Minister stated that he dealt with certain aspects of this issue by way of Dáil questions on 16 June - six weeks ago. That was the last time this issue was discussed in the Irish Parliament. On 23 July 2014, this resolution was proposed and adopted by the UN Human Rights Council. It states that 350 Palestinians were killed at that stage and two Israeli civilians. That number has doubled since then in terms of children, women and innocent people killed both in Palestine and in Israel.

My own view, and the official view of my-----

It is 16 July, by the way.

Sorry, this is when it was printed; 16 July.

I hesitate to correct but the Senator said 16 June.

In regard to the Minister's Dáil questions.

No, in regard to the questions. Please be fair and reasonable about it. It was 16 July.

I take the Minister's point. I had written down 16 June because that is what the Minister said in his opening statement.

It is not correct; 16 July.

I am sorry if I am getting to the Minister. In fairness, if it is 16 July it is 16 July, but that still does not change the fact that the Dáil should be recalled to debate this issue, and the only person who can do that is the Taoiseach.

To deal with the Government's abstention on the vote, I do not just blame the Government, or the Minister, in that regard. There is no question that the EU's response to this crisis has been tepid, pathetic and weak because the vast bulk of people the Minister represents, and the vast bulk of Europeans, roundly condemn what has been happening in Gaza and in the West Bank. All of us condemn it.

While I support Israel's right to exist and defend itself, I also support a two-state solution which leaves the Palestinians with something they can build a nation state on. Since the siege of Gaza commenced, the people in Gaza, as Senator Cullinane said earlier, have lived in the largest open prison in the world. I plead with the Israeli Government by saying that in our own country we had to deal with what were termed at the time and what were "terrorist organisations". The British and Irish Governments had to sit down with them and talk. Trying to impose a peaceful solution when one does not even respect the dignity of the people in the Gaza Strip and West Bank and continues with illegal development and settlement of Palestinian land is not going to work. Many of my colleagues have dealt with what continues to happen, including the targeting of six UN schools and the murders of the innocent. I also regret terribly the killing of many young Israeli soldiers who were sent in there and the mobilisation of 86,000 additional soldiers this week in the reserve forces. What is Israel trying to achieve here? It is not in any way, shape or form protecting its state. The Israeli Defence Forces are not acting as a defence force. They are an attack force in this regard.

The Minister dealt in his opening statement with the situation in Ukraine. The five minutes each speaker has is not enough to deal with it. One must look at the difference between the sanctions against Russia and the inaction in respect of Israel for what it is doing. There is absolute inaction. The Minister made that very clear in his own opening statement. The Irish people understand through our ancestors what it is like to be an oppressed people. That is why I put it that the Irish people have a specific affinity with the Palestinian people. I make no apology for saying that. We understand through our own history what it is like to be oppressed by a big neighbour and a bully supported in effect by the rest of the world.

Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade working to bring about a revised UN human rights resolution notwithstanding the one that was passed? Is the Government holding in reserve the potential to bring about sanctions on Israel, particularly in respect of goods that are produced in illegal Israeli settlements? All Members condemn all deaths and atrocities but we must be clear that what has happened in Gaza is tantamount to collective punishment of the citizens of Gaza and of innocent people. War crimes have been perpetrated and people's human rights have been grossly violated. The Government must stand up if the rest of Europe will not, as happened in the case of Srebrenica when the EU stood by for months. We have been standing by since 8 July. I ask the Minister to redouble his efforts in that regard.

I congratulate the Minister on his new portfolio. I thank the Leader for recalling the House. I cannot understand why the Dáil did not see it fit to return. If it had, it would have sent a strong message to the EU, the Israelis and the USA that we care and will speak out about this.

I came to the Chamber with facts and figures but all Senators have made powerful contributions and I will not regurgitate everything they have said. I will note, however, that there is no doubt that the situation in which the innocent people of Gaza and Israel find themselves is a terrible one. Today is not about who is right and who is wrong. Some believe that depends on whether one is a Muslim or a Jew. This is about the death toll among innocent people and the oppression of the Palestinian community by Israel as outlined in clear detail by Senator O'Donnell. She has left the Chamber but made a powerful contribution on the oppression and what it is like to live in Gaza. I congratulate the Senators who visited the area and the communities over there and found out for themselves what life is like. However, Bashar al-Assad has killed more than 180,000 Syrians, most of whom were Muslims, in two years, which is more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. In Iraq and Syria, thousands of Muslims have been killed by ISIS while elsewhere tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban.

Up to 500,000 black Muslims have been killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. Why has the world only woken up to how many people are dying now? The answer is children. Since graphic pictures and stories of the death of children in Palestine have emerged, the world has woken up and is at last saying, “Enough is enough”. Innocent children cannot continue to be persecuted and murdered. It must stop. These children did nothing wrong, did not cause the conflict but are the victims of a religious war and war crimes.

It has struck me and moved me how a 16 year old girl, Farah Baker, has put into words how terrifying life is in Gaza via social media, tweeting at night what life is like for her and her six year old sister whom she is trying to protect. Her words could not but have a profound effect on the people of the world. In one tweet, she stated, "Whenever my 6 yrs old sis hear the rocket falling she covers her ears and shout while crying in order not to hear the bomb". Another tweet read, “I AM CRYING AND CAN'T STAND BOMBS SOUND! I'M ABOUT TO LOSE SENSE OF HEARING”. The most heart-wrenching of all was a tweet that read, “This is in my area. I can't stop crying. I might die tonight”.

No child, be they Palestinian or Israeli, should ever be subject to such terrorism. No child should ever be trapped in a situation with no escape route. No child should have to live in fear of not surviving the night. This is the message coming out of Gaza from a 16 year old girl. Can we back away from this and not take a stand? Should we remain silent? I do not think so.

In 2013, a 16 year old boy from Kerry, Donal Walsh, lost his battle with cancer. Before he died, he promoted the message to live life to the full and spoke about the devastation of suicide. Since his death, he has undoubtedly saved lives through his message which has done more to prevent suicide than any other campaign. The 16 year olds of this world can easily tell adults exactly how it is from their eyes. Yet we do not open ours enough. We cannot stand by and let the amazing youth of this world suffer. We must act and protect their future. When I was 16, I worried about romance, music and pocket money, not cancer, suicide, being shot or bombed, or worrying would I die at night. Of course it is not just the children but every man, woman and child that must be protected.

In 2008, Egypt brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas which provided for an immediate cessation of hostilities on both sides and that Israel should move towards ending its blockade of Gaza. Had the terms of that agreement been honoured, there could have been peace across the border to this day without any of their people dying. What can we do? We are one House of Parliament. We can let the world know that Ireland does care, can and will speak out. The message must go out of here today that Ireland is calling for an immediate ceasefire of hostilities and hostile activities on both sides; that diplomatic talks take place and both Hamas and Israel honour the obligations of these talks; that we, as the people of Ireland, condemn war crimes by both sides, the deaths of innocent children, women and men; and that we commit to help rebuild the devastated territory in Gaza, rebuild their schools, hospitals and their community plundered and torn asunder by war.

I am not naive in thinking that our debate here today will be the difference between continuing conflict or lasting peace. However, it would be grossly negligent, particularly with respect to the worsening humanitarian crisis, for one of our Houses of Parliament not to make a definitive statement in a formal capacity as we have done on previous occasions, most recently with regard to the abduction of Nigerian schoolchildren.

I support and commend the statement made earlier by my colleague, Senator Mac Conghail. I will elaborate in my personal capacity solely to urge Israel to show much greater restraint in the exercise of its right to self-defence. The Iron Dome missile shield, which Israel fortunately has protecting its citizens from the full extent of Hamas rocket fire, affords it additional time for it to exercise a more concerted and targeted attack in eliminating rocket fire and destroying tunnels than it is currently showing.

The growing number of civilian casualties, the vast majority of whom are defenceless women and children with nowhere to go and no safe retreat, is entirely unacceptable, is in flagrant contravention of international law and must stop. Hamas must stop its bombardment of Israel. In targeting civilians, it is also committing war crimes and is putting its own people at disproportionate risk. As soon as this conflict can be stopped, we must as an international community strive towards lasting peace and an immediate and significant improvement in the ordinary everyday lives of the people in Gaza.

The Minister and fellow Senators have documented the situation surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. I fully support UN Security Council Resolution 2166 which calls for safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the crash site for international investigators. I welcome the fact that Ireland co-sponsored this resolution. I offer my condolences to all the families affected, particularly our Dutch colleagues, some of whom I know.

The recent report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights paints a bleak picture of the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine. The report estimates that between mid-April and mid-July, over 1,000 people have been killed in eastern Ukraine. Yesterday, Reuters reported that on Monday evening alone, 17 people, including children, were killed in fighting in a rebel stronghold town north of Donetsk. In the city of Lukansk, officials say that five civilians were killed when shelling hit a retirement home. In a report released last Thursday, Human Rights Watch documented four instances of the use of unguided Grad rockets which killed at least 16 civilians in and around Donetsk in nine days. While both rebels and Ukrainian forces use the rockets, the investigation strongly indicates that the Ukrainian government forces were responsible for the four attacks. We know that Russian troops are still massed near the Ukrainian border keeping alive the possibility of a Kremlin-sponsored humanitarian intervention in defence of its co-ethnics. The tense situation in the east and disturbances elsewhere have stoked antagonisms of a previously unsuspected intensity lending substance to the spectre of civil war.

The reality, as I found in preparing for today, is that objective information is difficult to get hold of and assess. Trust has been replaced with hate. This escalating situation reminds me of the Balkans where we can hardly see where the enemy is or what is going on. It is clear that eastern Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. Rebuilding the towns will be costly and lengthy, not to mention rebuilding trust. I am not an expert but I am extremely concerned for the outlook of democracy and peace in the region which I believe can only be rebuilt by the independent investigations of both sides' conduct and the immediate cessation of hostilities. I welcome the steps that have already been taken by Ireland but surely Ireland with its experience of conflicts and resolution can play a stronger role?

I also welcome the Minister to the House. In my short period in this House of three years, I have got to know the Minister and I respect him highly. In terms of being a politician with integrity, he is head and shoulders above most of his peers. From that point of view, we are fortunate as an Oireachtas to have somebody of that capability leading the charge in this regard.

The people who voted to retain the Seanad will be very pleased that we are here debating this extremely serious issue. I have had e-mails and correspondence from a surprisingly large amount of people who are very pleased that we are doing this because the Irish people are a decent people and they abhor what is going on in Gaza. They abhor how the Palestinian people have been treated over many years, particularly the past seven years where the oxygen has effectively been sucked out of them. They cannot go about their daily lives the way we can. They cannot travel the way we can.

They cannot go to work with the same freedom we have. They are constantly under a black cloud of threats, hostility, aggravation and intimidation which no society or people should face. There have been many calls for the expelling of the Israeli ambassador and so forth; I would much prefer to have a negotiated settlement to these issues, which ultimately is the only way to achieve progress.

I was somewhat surprised when the European Union abstained in the vote at the United Nations and welcome the Minister's clarification and explanation. That said, I always believe that just because the European Union adopts one position does not mean that we should agree. Sometimes consensus is not what we should seek; we should always do the right thing. I have no doubt that the Minister and his officials believe they did the right thing in abstaining. Personally, I have a different view. I believe Ireland has a significant role to play above and beyond our European colleagues when it comes to peace-making.

For decades Irish missionaries have travelled all over the world promoting religious tolerance, freedom and peace. The Defence Forces have been peacemakers in very troubled parts of the world. The Government and the people have a unique role to play, given that neutrality is enshrined in the Constitution. We have international respect above and beyond that given to most of our European colleagues. We should assert it and, where necessary, get involved and negotiate to do the right thing. I have utter and absolute faith in the Minister. Were he to step above the European model and perhaps take a direct approach in trying to play a role, whether through back channels or otherwise, to help save lives in Gaza, I am very confident that it would be welcome and successful.

Just because this is a small country does not mean that we are not influential. As small countries go, Ireland is incredibly influential. Meeting today might be considered a pebble in a massive ocean that has no effect. However, when a pebble is thrown into a lake, it can have a serious ripple effect. I hope we will see something positive emanate from this debate. If nothing else, we are giving a voice to the thousands of Irish people who are horrified and disgusted at how the Palestinian people are being treated. Some 50 or 60 Israelis have needlessly lost their lives, but so have 1,300 or 1,400 Palestinians. It seems to be a conflict that is heavily weighted on one side.

We have achieved something significant today, even though we may think we have not. As an individual, I would welcome the recall of the Dáil in order that Deputies have the opportunity to express their views, as we have. I thank the Cathaoirleach agus the Leader for what they have done. I thank the Minister for a comprehensive response.

I welcome the Minister. We have not had a chance to welcome him until today and are very pleased to have him here.

I was born in 1936, a long time ago. I have lived in an Ireland that, with the exception of Northern Ireland, has not had a war in all that time. We have been able to stay out of it for various reasons. Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 and there has been no war in the European Union since, although there have obviously been wars outside. Peace does not happen by accident. It happens because many committed, dedicated and determined people say they will make it happen and work hard to do so.

One hundred years ago Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. It was a crime.

However, the end result of that crime was that, a week later, war was declared. Some 9 million people lost their lives in that four years of war and there was far more damage than that. It is a reminder of how things can happen very quickly through just one incident. We had such an incident very recently where the Malaysian aeroplane came down not with two people but with 298 people killed. Picture what can happen in that regard. We could find ourselves in a situation where there is an East-West divide and a war. We have to be very careful how a death in a faraway country can result in something like a world war - one incident and millions can die. It is easy for matters to get out of control.

I believe the horror of events in Ukraine, Gaza, Syria and Iraq remind us of the terrible outcomes of war. What can we do about it? We are doing something about it here today. We have been told that this Chamber is often regarded just as a talking shop and that we cannot achieve anything. I believe we are achieving something today in our own minds and those of the people of Ireland and, hopefully, as Senator Conway said, it will have a ripple effect around the world.

My concern is how we are going to help to get peace in the Holy Land. I remember in the Far East some 20 years ago listening to a man talk about how to solve the problems in Northern Ireland, and I did not regard it as something serious. It seems that when one is a long way away, one can come up with solutions. On that basis, I asked myself whether we could actually achieve anything here today, and I believe we can. If we look at the difficulties in Northern Ireland over the years, even ten years ago we would not have believed it possible to get the peace we now have there. How did that happen? It came about not just when two sides were willing to talk but through outside help, particularly from people like Bill Clinton and George Mitchell.

I do not know how we are going to achieve it here but, if we are going to achieve anything, it will probably come about through the United Nations and through Europe. Therefore, I support the decision the Minister made last week to abstain because I believe it is important that Europe speaks with one voice with regard to Gaza. I believe he did the right thing. We have to speak with one voice but that one voice can be very strong and I believe it can achieve something.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to the House. Senators should be aware that Ireland was the first EU member state to declare back in 1980 that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign state of Palestine independent of and co-existing with Israel, and that remains the case today. The Government fully supports the two-state solution.

For this to come about, however, there needs to be political will and that is currently not present. What we have at the moment is recurring Hamas attacks on Israel followed by an overwhelming and disproportionate Israeli response. In that regard, I would note The Times of Israel reported in June that Hamas had actually arrested a splinter group for firing rockets into Israel. There is also the developing possibility that another splinter group, or at least one not acting with the authority of the Hamas leadership, was responsible for the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers in recent times, a crime which did much to trigger the Israeli military action.

The Government, through the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, has expressed through the Israeli ambassador the grave concerns of the Irish Government and people at the escalation of violence in Gaza, and at the atrocity which saw a UN-run school hit and at least 15 civilians killed and more than 200 wounded, including many children. The Minister conveyed to the ambassador that the attacks on civilian institutions such as schools and hospitals are utterly unacceptable and contrary to international law, and must stop immediately.

Senators will remember in our own history the radicalisation of many young people in Northern Ireland by the unjust and often times brutal treatment that was meted out to the Nationalist and Catholic communities. This manifested itself in ways both political and militant. Among others, the atrocity that was Bloody Sunday did nothing but fuel hate and suspicion for decades.

Rather than ending alleged Hamas terrorism against Israel, the last two weeks of assaults on the civilian population of Gaza and Israel's previous treatment of its inhabitants have done more to fuel radicalism in that part of the world than any other event. Israel and the Palestinian authorities will eventually have to demilitarise, talk and agree to live in peace. That will involve accepting difficult truths on both sides. That willingness to accept is far away at present. We are and have been absolutely supportive of the State of Israel and I am sure all of us condemn the firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas or by any other group. The firing of such rockets, given the hugely effective Iron Dome defence system operated by Israel is, in my view, intended to provoke the State of Israel into its usual disproportionate response, thus ensuring that Israel's actions are seen to be unjustifiable.

As I indicated earlier, while we fully support the State of Israel, that does not mean we should be uncritical in that support. No member state of the European Union would ever countenance any act that would imperil the existence of the State of Israel. Ireland certainly will not. However, neither will we accept the barbarity of the recent Israeli response. It is in breach of international law and utterly counterproductive and destabilising.

There has been much loose talk and unwarranted criticism of the Government's abstention on the Human Rights Council's vote to establish and send an investigatory team to Gaza. The position in international fora of this nature is absolutely clear - an abstention is not seen as a blocking vote but as agreement with the principle but an expression of dissatisfaction with the method by which the principle is to be carried out. The Government was happy with the idea of such a mission but was not convinced it would be effective given the time it would take to become operational and the presence of other existing methods such as by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This existing mechanism would have achieved an inquiry without all the additional baggage. Additionally, there was understandable disquiet among the EU group, including Ireland, with the language in the text of the resolution.

The Human Rights Council's investigation and report by Richard Goldstone, on the previous Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008, remains controversial. Of course the Israeli authorities should co-operate with any investigation. However, in circumstances where the text of the resolution does not even mention Hamas, they will not. The purpose of any such mission should be the speedy and impartial investigation of human rights violations in the area and by all sides. If, as suggested in some quarters, that Hamas was not responsible for some of the rocket attacks or the killing and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, surely the Human Rights Council should have provided terms of reference that would have allowed an investigation of these matters also. The accusations - some supported by UN agencies - that Hamas is hiding weapons in schools and hospitals should also have been investigated. The resolution did not propose any of that.

Notwithstanding all of that, and to be clear, I echo the comments made yesterday by the UN Secretary General that the Israeli actions, particularly the outrageous shelling of the UN compounds where civilians were sheltering, were outrageous. The actions were unjustifiable and demand accountability and justice.

Go raibh maith agat, a Chathaoirligh, agus cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. I welcome the Minister to the House and thank him for his statement today outlining the Government's position on Gaza. A vein ran through his statement which reflects and echoes the sentiments held by the Irish people in regard to what is happening in Gaza and the sheer savagery of Israel in this regard. Ireland has always enjoyed the status of an honest broker in international affairs. It is very important that we not just protect same but exercise it, when an opportunity arises, in any way that we possibly can.

The bottom line in all of this is that the Palestinian people are entitled to independence. The Palestinian people are entitled to sovereignty and they are entitled to all the human rights which go with same. Human rights is not for barter and are not to be given or taken away at the whim of a powerful foe. When Senator Norris spoke earlier he did so without the shackles of pseudo-diplomacy and that is what we need to do. We must express what we feel. We must express what we are hearing from the citizens of Ireland, much of which is against the backdrop of our own history. We do not have to go too far back in history to realise that many of the same elements exist.

Any time I have spoken in this House on Gaza, I have promptly received a missive from the Israeli ambassador. I received one when the power-sharing Government was formed in Gaza. One could see immediately a parallel with the Northern Ireland situation. Instead of Israel welcoming that development, which has to be a first step in conflict resolution, it went on a diplomatic offensive to undermine it. That tells me it does not want a united approach from the Palestinian people. When it condemns Hamas, it will have to remember that Hamas put itself before the people for election and received a majority of the votes. I was disappointed when, prior to the election, the President of the United States welcomed the fact an election was taking place but hours after the result went on the offensive to undermine it.

There is no question but that the Israelis listen to us, otherwise we would not get these prompt responses from the Israeli Embassy. What I will say, when it comes to the debate we are having today, is that Israel can be left in no doubt whatsoever as to our views because what we have witnessed is barbaric, savage, has a blood lust attached to it and has, above all else, a genocidal thrust behind it. That is what worries me most of all.

I do not believe that the Israeli people are to be blamed; it is the leadership in Israel that has to answer the questions. Unless we take a stand internationally, we will not progress this issue. The UN will be the biggest casualty at the end of the day because it did not do what was expected of it when it came to human rights. We must have immediate sanctions against Israel. It must be brought before a war crimes tribunal and it must be held responsible for what it has done to an innocent, defenceless people who live in the largest concentration camp in the world and who are bombarded. Every bit of progress they make is once again knocked so that they are not able to help their own people. They do not have medical services and access to education. The reason is that Israel has made up its mind that there is no way it will tolerate the Palestinian people achieving what Israel itself achieved.

That is why we should have voted for the resolution because all that was requested was that an investigation would take place. It did not take place and that is why there is a stalemate currently.

I join with my colleagues in wishing the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, the best of luck in his new position and welcome the opportunity for this debate. As others have said, it is good to see the power of the Seanad when we stand together and to see a united House on one fact, namely, that we are all against crime, killing and the unnecessary suffering in Gaza at the moment.

The situation in Gaza is appalling. More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, the vast majority of whom were civilians, while 65 Israelis have been killed, 62 of whom were soldiers. That sums up the disparity between the two sides. In saying that, all killing on both sides is dreadful.

The pictures we have seen on our screens and in social media in the past three weeks have, frankly, made me sick. I believe this view is shared by my colleagues, judging by the strength of the comments they have made today and in other interviews they have given. Innocent children were killed while they were sleeping. Homes and schools have been destroyed. I have spoken previously about the power of social media and television. Now that we can actually see what is going on, we cannot use the excuse that we do not know what is going on. After it emerged that many Jews had been killed during the Holocaust, people said they did not know what had been going on. However, we can see what is going on now. The youngest victim of the current conflict, an innocent child who was five days old, died yesterday. She had battled for survival for five days, having been born ten minutes after her 23 year old mother unfortunately died from her injuries.

I do not doubt that the crimes being perpetrated in Gaza are crimes against humanity. The shelling of the UNRWA school in recent days which resulted in the deaths of innocent sleeping children who had moved into the school on Israeli instructions was wrong on every level. It has to be considered a crime against humanity and a war crime. The firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel is also wrong. As I said, we need to look at what is happening on both sides. Israel is in a much stronger position. As I have said, there is no parity between the two. Israel has the power to render many of the rockets ineffective and there have been very few casualties on the Israeli side.

What can we achieve on foot of the reconvening of the House? How can we encourage both sides to stop this dreadful conflict? I suggest we call for the approval of an immediate ceasefire, monitored by the United Nations. As Senator Feargal Quinn said, we should look at the similarity between this conflict and that in Northern Ireland. Those of us who lived near the Border when we were growing up witnessed certain things and were afraid of what might happen, even though we had a sanctuary on this side of the Border. Every time one went to the North, one was afraid one might be caught up in some of the violence there. This is violence on a much greater scale. If someone had said 20 years ago that this country would be in the situation we are now in which has resulted from external communication and conversation, we might not have believed it. The key is to get others to sit down and speak. If we look at this, I hope we can have some influence. That is why it is important for us today to call for a ceasefire.

Israel, like every country in the world, has the right to defend itself. However, this right does not negate the rights of others. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to debate this issue today. We need to send a message that all violence is to be condemned. We must call for an immediate ceasefire. By convening today, we have shown that we are willing to stand up and be counted. I agree that we must look at enforcing sanctions, as people have to be held accountable. We cannot stand by, sympathise and do nothing. There has been too much of this; it is time to take action.

I welcome the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and wish him well in his ministry. He has started by having to contend with one of the most difficult issues in the world today. It is one of the most serious to have arisen for a very long time and it has been a baptism of fire for him. I commend him for his work to date.

Before I speak about the situation in Palestine and Gaza, I would like to respond to the statement made by the Minister on the situation in Ukraine. His detailed examination of the issue will be widely accepted by everyone in the House. I will not dwell on it, other than to comment on the past role of the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Catherine Ashton, in this regard. Too much of an effort was made to bring Ukraine into the sphere of EU influence. It was provocative, to say the least, and led to many difficulties in the region.

I commend my colleagues, Senators Averil Power and Darragh O'Brien, who proposed last Sunday that the Seanad be recalled to debate these issues. We fully stand over the proposal to recall the Seanad. We took the initiative because we felt it was appropriate in the circumstances to give people, including the Minister, an opportunity to outline to the Oireachtas their views on the ongoing crisis in the region.

I am delighted the Cathaoirleach decided, at our request, to recall the Seanad. That is appropriate. We may be the only parliament in the world that has come together to discuss the issue. We are a voice crying in the wilderness but at least we are taking some action in this particular regard.

Some years ago I established the Friends of Palestine in the Oireachtas which was supported by all parties and none. During that time we endeavoured to bring both sides together, recognising the right of self-determination of the Jewish people to the State of Israel and Palestinians in a two-state solution. This was a policy laid out by the late Brian Lenihan senior in the 1980s when he stood alone in calling for the two-state solution. He did not get consensus from the other Ministers in the European Union but decided that Ireland, an independent state, would make this point and made it very clearly. Throughout the whole Middle East, his work has been well recognised. Even though I recognise Palestine and the right to self-determination, I take a very critical view of the approach of Hamas which has been extremely provocative in sending missiles on a regular basis into southern Israel and putting lives and civilian lives at risk. Let us be clear about it. Hamas will not recognise the right of self-determination of Israel. Politically, it is benefiting to some extent from the hardship imposed by Israel and the over-reaction to a situation that has now developed where thousands of lives are being lost, mainly women and children. The situation is changing by the hour and the minute. At this stage about 1,360 civilians have lost their lives, 90% of whom are women and children, and a further 7,700 are injured. Thousands of people are displaced. Hospitals and schools have been attacked. As the power station has been attacked, power is limited in that whole region.

There is no outlet for the people in Gaza and there is no outlet for the people of Palestine. I call on the Egyptians to open the border with Egypt to allow humanitarian aid to pass through the region-----

-----and for innocent victims to flee to the west. The world should put ships on the seas in the Mediterranean to rescue those under attack at this time. As far as the whole region is concerned, Israel's approach is to divide Hamas and Fatah. President Abbas is doing his utmost in this regard but he is not getting recognition. It is rather hypocritical for the Americans to condemn the attacks by Israel and then open their arms stores to provide additional arms, additional ammunition to attack Palestine and Gaza. To my mind, that is extremely hypocritical. I do not understand why our American friends throughout America and Irish-Americans do not take a stand. I note there is 90% support for the Israeli Government within Israel in this regard. As far as I can see this is a fight to the death of innocent victims throughout Gaza and the region. Israel, which has lost 62 or 63 soldiers, and three civilians, has also suffered but it did take action. To be fair and honourable about the situation we must take a stand.

I disagree with the Minister in abstaining in the UN Human Rights Council resolution. That was not a good move. I have declared my interest on particular issues in this House. Everyone who speaks should say if they were involved in different support groups in this House. I disagree totally with the Minister's stand in this regard. There is a change of political direction since the Minister came to the Department which was not there under Eamon Gilmore.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus go dtí an díospóireacht tábhachtach seo. I also welcome our distinguished guests.

This is one of the most important debates we have had or will have in Seanad Éireann and it must be balanced. I congratulate the Minister on the balance he has shown in what he has said since he took office and in working with others on this issue. It is important that people work and discuss the issues together and that they sing from the same hymn sheet, particularly in the European Union.

There are wrongs on both sides. I condemn the atrocities taking place and the dropping of tons of explosives by Israel on people trapped in Gaza, the shelling of homes, schools, hospitals and children playing on football pitches. None of us could say this is right. There are now over 1,300 Palestinians dead, mostly non-combatants, and from 36 to 40 Israelis dead, two of whom were civilians.

There are two sides to this debate and we have heard some of what both sides have to say. Israel must defend itself and cannot sit idly back and wait for missiles to land without doing anything about them. It, too, is under deadly fire because it does not know when mortars will be launched, but it is better protected than Gaza, through its orange shield and dome and is supported by the United States. However, two wrongs do not make a right. Perhaps the United States should also place a shield around Gaza to provide for some fairness.

We cannot ignore the daily realities of the occupation by Israel of Gaza. Senator Averil Power spoke about the same issues arising five or six years ago. Therefore, it is not today or yesterday that this problem started. We cannot go back to the beginning, but we cannot ignore the daily issues that result from the occupation of the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza - curfews, house demolitions, deportations, population registers, Jews-only roads and land appropriation. All of this has been happening and has not arisen today or yesterday. Other instruments are also employed, including military enforced racial segregation. All of these issues need to be debated, but the sad fact is that there is no debate. Everyone who has spoken has called for a ceasefire. It is vital there be a ceasefire on both sides in order that both sides can sit down and talk together, but this will not happen unless there is a ceasefire. People in Israel are suffering also, although not as much because they have protection. One reporter described the situation in Israel as the politics and psychology of occupational denial.

Many have said Israel did all it could have for peace back in 1994 when it signed up to the Oslo agreement and handed back the West Bank. However, the problem is that the West Bank was never really handed back to the Palestinians and people in the parts of Gaza under Palestinian control are under siege. The siege of Gaza predates the Hamas takeover in 2006. The number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories has soared since the Oslo Accord was signed and risen from 281,000 to 534,000. This reality must be faced. The Minister and other Members have mentioned the trade with the illegal settlements. On the other side we have Hamas and the tunnels, but the indiscriminate shelling is a disproportionate response from Israel. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Gaza is suffering badly and we must do something about it. We cannot sit idly by. Much of the suffering provides satisfaction for Hamas because it gives it greater publicity. However, it has replaced the 1936 criminal code with Sharia law. As a woman, I point out that the women of Gaza are suffering as a result, with honour killings, female genital mutilation, the stoning of adulterers, and the imprisonment of gay men and lesbians.

I was listening to someone from UNICEF on radio speaking about the work it was doing. Talking is good, but a little action is needed also. UNICEF is looking for help. People can dial 7830000 to give a little help. Every little counts.

I welcome the Minister and thank the Leader for facilitating this debate. We are lucky that we have been on holiday and had a spate of good weather; some of us might have been on the beach and had a “99”. Two images have stood out for me in the past couple of weeks which highlight the disparity in power. One was the murder of the children on the beach in Palestine, while the second was a picture tweeted by the Danish journalist Allan Sørensen of Israelis on a beach clapping and cheering as Gaza was hit by air strikes. That demonstrates what is going on. Some may ask what the Seanad can do, but we are parliamentarians and it is important that we come back from our jolly holidays to discuss these important issues.

We can all agree that none of this had to happen. After Operation Pillar of Cloud in November 2012 an Egyptian brokered ceasefire included an agreement from Israel that it would cease attacks on, and invasions of, Gaza and work towards lifting the siege. Hamas agreed to stop its rocket fire. According to the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Hamas fired no rockets from Gaza from 21 November 2012 to 1 July 2014. The latest escalation occurred after three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped in an illegal settlement on the West Bank and killed. The Palestinian Government rightly condemned this, yet the Israeli Government, without proof, stated Hamas had done it and would pay. That happened over seven weeks ago and now more than 1,300 Palestinians are dead and Gaza has been reduced to rubble.

The Government abstained in the vote at the UN Human Rights Council. I strongly disagree with that decision. There are other practical moves the Government can make to help the Palestinian people and those being slaughtered in Gaza. I have a quote which highlights that we have power and should use it in one guise or another:

I hated the brutality, the sadism and insanity of Nazism. I just couldn't stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That's all there is to it really, nothing more.

That was Oskar Schindler speaking about his metamorphosis from Nazi Party member to saving Jews after witnessing at first hand the genocidal practices of the “final solution”. In the face of Israel’s continued human rights abuses and rejection of the norms of international law, it is time for the Government to take a more proactive and principled stand in its bilateral and multilateral relations with Israel.

The Minister said this conflict would continue to receive his highest priority and that he would continue to work vigorously and strongly condemn the violence. I will touch on some of the actions we could take. Like Senator David Norris, in the face of the actions in Gaza, I think we should expel the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. How many more dead children and civilians will it take for us to send this strong message to the Israeli Government that it cannot continue to kill civilians with impunity or without provoking a reaction? At the very least, we could recall the Irish ambassador from Tel Aviv. Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, El Salvador and Chile have already done this.

Israel refuses to accept international law as the basis for resolving its conflict with the Palestinians. Another proactive response would be to support an arms boycott of Israel. In recent years the Department of Defence has spent over €14 million on military equipment made by Israeli manufacturers. Israel’s ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast military international co-operation and the arms trade it maintains with complicit governments around the world.

There is no reason the Government should not send a clear and unequivocal message to Israel that it is not going to buy and sell military equipment with a country that is massacring civilians and enforcing an illegal and brutal occupation on millions of Palestinians. We should encourage other countries to follow suit.

The President of the State of Palestine has called on the United Nations to declare Gaza a disaster zone. The Government should support this call. I respectfully request that when the Minister is in conversation with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, he supports it.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this highly emotive issue. I condemn the taking of any human life. I welcome the Minister and commend his efforts to help resolve this tragic situation. It is a horrendous human tragedy which has been continuing for far too long and it is time to stop it. There are numerous tragedies happening in the world today, such as the tragedy of Syria which was not even included on the agenda for today's business but the Leader referred to it. More than 160,000 people have been killed in Syria and 3 million people have been displaced by the civil war. There has been a rise in terrorism across the globe. For example, ISIS has taken over parts of Syria and Iraq. Public executions have been broadcast on television and other media. I refer to the rise of the terrorist group Boko Haram, in Nigeria which kidnapped 300 Christian schoolgirls whose whereabouts are unknown. This group has killed thousands of their own people. The Russian-backed militia in eastern Ukraine is reputedly responsible for the shooting down of flight MH17 with the loss of 298 innocent lives.

Democratically elected governments have the right to defend themselves and their citizens. The world media is depicting Israel as the terrorist but if one looks back at history it can be seen what Hamas stands for. Hamas was elected in Palestine in 2006. After the election the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union asked Hamas to recognise Israel and to make a commitment to non-violence. Hamas rejected this request and sanctions have since been imposed by these countries and the European Union.

I refer to the Hamas charter which states that it is committed to the destruction of Israel and the killing of all Jews. Younis al-Astal, a member of Hamas, has publicly denied that the Holocaust ever happened, stating that it was a lie invented by Zionists. As we know, the Holocaust was the greatest atrocity in our world and it must never be forgotten. In 2012 Hamas opposed the teaching about the Holocaust in schools in the Gaza Strip.

No matter what are the aims of Hamas or what is stated in its charter, we must try every diplomatic solution and route to stop the slaughter of these people. Israel is a democratic country and it has a right to defend itself against years of continuous rockets being fired indiscriminately at its citizens by a terrorist organisation. I refer to the examples of a person whose neighbour is dumping rubbish in his garden or a child who is being bullied at school; they will put up with the situation for a certain time but eventually they will have to take action. Hamas has a duty of care to its own people but it is using its own people as human shields to gain propaganda advantage on the world stage and the civilian population is being killed in this bloody conflict. There must be a way found to end this human slaughter but it will be necessary for both sides to be dedicated and committed to a peaceful resolution, and to come together to find a way to cease this horrendous human injustice and carnage. Hamas has on numerous occasions rejected the right of the United Nations and other world organisations to sit at a table with Israel and to discuss these matters. Hamas is gaining nothing from this conflict, only the tragic deaths of its own people and with the aim of demonising Israel in the world press. Israel is gaining nothing only negative press, even if it is defending its own citizens. A ceasefire is the only solution. The Minister, the Government and the European Union must work towards stopping this futile taking of lives on both sides. We are all fully familiar with our own country's history. Determination, dedication, discussion and diplomacy, are the only means to bring about a proper resolution and to put an end to this futile slaughter of human life. I hope the Minister and our Government can help in some way to resolve what is a major human tragedy. It is time to stop.

I wish the Minister success in his ministry which includes the important trade portfolio. It is very important to help Irish companies to expand their businesses and to create more employment.

We have all been horrified by the sheer scale and brutality of the conflict that is consuming Gaza. Shocking images of UN shelters, schools and hospitals pulverised by shells and the steady stream of rockets fired indiscriminately into Israel are a daily feature of our media. The rapidly mounting death toll underscores the pressing need for the international community to ramp up its efforts to secure an immediate ceasefire and bring both sides to the table for dialogue and discussions. A ceasefire will be a step in the right direction. It will offer breathing space to the embattled people of Palestine and allow for a humanitarian relief effort in areas that are slipping into chaos. However, the deeply ingrained problems of the region remain unsolved. As long as the fundamental framework remains unchanged in the coming months and years, we will once again be visited with images of families destroyed in the Gaza Strip and the people of southern Israel fleeing for bomb shelters, as we have seen so often in the past decade.

The international community must resurrect the lost promise of the Oslo Accords. Many of us here today remember the pictures taken on the White House lawn in September 1993 when President Clinton persuaded the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, and the leader of the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat, to shake hands and embark on a journey towards peace. Two years later, Mr. Rabin was fatally shot by a Jewish extremist after a peaceful demonstration in Tel Aviv in support of the Oslo Accords. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on the cause of the death ten years ago of Mr. Afarat. It is my view that President Clinton was the greatest political leader of my lifetime. I afford him sole credit for providing leadership on the peace process in this country. To speak somewhat coarsely, he gave a kick up the backside to the British Government and brought all the parties together to talk peace, including those who were operating at the time on the military front. He had the courage to give Gerry Adams, now a Member of the Dáil, a visa to travel to the United States.

Likewise, the only way to advance the situation in Israel and Palestine is by dialogue and talk. However, I place Mr. Netanyahu who was first returned to power in 1996 responsible for what is happening. He reminds me of Mrs. Thatcher when she went to the Falklands to boost her position within the British Parliament. Mr. Netanyahu spent his first three years as Prime Minister undermining the Oslo Accords by expanding Israel's settlements into Palestinian territory. He taunted the Palestinians. It remains a fact today that he would rather stay in power than pursue a peace deal.

The Acting Chairman has indicated that my time is almost up. I do not wish to take time from other speakers, including my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney, who is always a brilliant orator. A two-state solution remains the surest path to peace for both peoples. Barack Obama who has been a disappointment as President gave a feeble performance in his live interview last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press". In the course of that programme, the host, David Gregory, conducted a pathetic interview with Mr. Netanyahu in which the latter was let completely off the hook. President Obama is no Bill Clinton. He does not have in him the drive and energy to advance a peace process in the Middle East. Yesterday he imposed sanctions on Russia which are pathetic, lasting only for three months and including the August holiday period.

We need a leader, a human being like George Mitchell, who drove the peace process in the North and brought all sides together with the support of President Clinton. George Mitchell tried to apply his skills and knowledge to the Middle East and that did not work out but perhaps Ambassador Haass could negotiate there.

I congratulate my colleagues, Senators Darragh O'Brien and Averil Power, on organising this debate.

It was organised by the Leader, Senator Maurice Cummins.

I was told it was organised by Senators Darragh O'Brien and Averil Power. I commend Senator Maurice Cummins for his leadership generally and on this issue.

I thank Senator Mary White for her comments. I am afraid my oratorical skills, such as they are, desert me in the face of the savagery and loss of life we have seen. Like others, I welcome the Minister and thank him for his balanced and objective statement at the beginning of this debate. I also echo the compliments paid to Senators Darragh O'Brien, Averil Power and others who proposed the recall of the Members of the House. I congratulate the Leader of the House and the Cathaoirleach on acceding to the request. I was impressed by the contributions from all sides of the House and I think the status of this House has been enhanced in the eyes of the public. I am pleased to see so many members of the media here and I am sure they will share the same impression of this debate.

We seem to see ourselves as honest brokers who can affect change in this crisis due to our history and neutrality. This is wrong because Israel views Ireland as a hostile state that is unequivocally supportive of the Palestinian cause. Suggestions that the Israeli ambassador should be removed from Ireland are misplaced. At least a line of communication direct to Tel Aviv is open but what benefit could accrue from the removal of the ambassador? The removal of the ambassador would only throw us into darkness and confirm the view of the Israeli people that we are hostile to them. I do not believe we are hostile to Israel but they do. Some 90% of the population of Israel supports the current government and the Israeli defence forces, IDF. We must face the fact that 90% of Israelis support what is happening in Gaza.

I am very pleased that some Members of the House who support the Palestinian cause have taken account of the contribution of Hamas to the crisis. It is only right and proper that this debate should be balanced. Hamas has fired over 2,600 rockets into Israel and it is only thanks to Iron Dome that the number of people killed on the Israeli side does not match that on the Palestinian side. Millions of Israeli citizens must attend air raid shelters five times per day. If the Members of this House lived in Israel would they sit back and do nothing in response to this? Would they allow the rockets to continue and instead pray Iron Dome saves their lives? This is what the Israelis face.

What does Hamas face? As has been pointed out, Gaza is a city-state that is no bigger than Limerick but has 1.5 million people crammed into it. Where are the rockets being launched from? As they are launched from the heart of the Gaza enclave, the Israeli response is inevitable. I am not justifying the actions of the Israelis. I take the same view as Senator David Norris and believe human rights are the same for all, irrespective of the sides involved. Any state or entity that engages in the abuse of human rights should be held accountable. The Israeli army must bear some responsibility for the number of women and children who are casualties. The Israelis encouraged people to take refuge in UN schools, but yesterday I heard a lieutenant colonel of the IDF try to justify the killing of women and children who had taken refuge at a UN school. He said, "We knew missiles were being launched from a building near the school."

However, the United Nations has indicated that it informed the Israeli army of the co-ordinates of the school on 17 occasions. Using modern technology, the Israeli army should have been able to pinpoint from where those missiles were actually being launched. This is not the first occasion on which the IDF has acted in this way. It did something similar in the Golan Heights several years ago and a number of Irish soldiers were killed as a result. On that occasion the United Nations provided the IDF with the relevant co-ordinates, not once but on several occasions. Again, the IDF blew the target involved out of existence.

Like several previous speakers, I am of the view that there is a right-wing government in place in Israel and that there is a strongly hawkish element within the IDF which wants to take out the Palestinian people once and for all. The Israeli authorities continue to ignore international pleas to bring their policy on settlements to an end. When I visited Israel I argued that we in Ireland know much more about the impact of settlements on a native population than do the citizens of any other nation in the world because we are still living with the legacy of the plantation of the country 400 years ago and continuing to try to resolve the issues relating to the replacement and relocation of people from one entity into another. The latter, of course, reflects what the Israelis are doing on the West Bank and in Gaza.

Ireland cannot be an honest broker in respect of this matter in light of the perception that exists in Israel. However, it can take action internationally and, as the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan has done, within the European Union. I will not go into the details with regard to last week's vote but I am of the view that Ireland made a very strong contribution in terms of ensuring there was at least some solidarity surrounding the abstention. If such solidarity had not been achieved, then a number of countries within the European Union would probably have voted against the relevant motion. The latter was what many people wanted. Ireland also has a very proud record within the United Nations. The fora to which I refer can be used to bring Israel and Hamas together. This must be done because, as Churchill stated, "To jaw-jaw always is better than to war-war." More than our counterparts in any other country in the world, we in Ireland know that it is only through discussion and negotiation that age-old problems which are somewhat similar to those in the Middle East can be solved.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Charles Flanagan, and wish him well in his new role. He has been present since the debate commenced at 2 p.m. In the light of the contributions made by Senators Paschal Mooney and Pat O'Neill, the Minister has now at least heard arguments which contain some degree of balance. I thank the Senators involved for illustrating to the House that there are two sides to this tragic story.

Many speakers outlined their deep concerns which I fully share in respect of the slaughter taking place across the Middle East. The Sinn Féin Senators referred to the horrific pictures of dead children on the beach in Gaza. I accept that these pictures were dreadful, but I recall images of dead children on the beach at Mullaghmore who had been blown up by members of Sinn Féin-IRA. I do not recall any condemnation being uttered on that occasion. I support the comments made by the Senators in question with regard to the undesirability of citizens in Israel cheering as a result of bombs exploding in Gaza and other tragic occurrences. However, I remember a mob of citizens on the streets of Belfast cheering when two British soldiers were pulled from their car and murdered. Again, I cannot recall Sinn Féin uttering any words of condemnation on that occasion. I find it difficult to deal with those who have undergone a sudden conversion in the context of using the word "condemnation". I recall that for a period of 25 years, the members of the Sinn Féin Party used a stock phrase to the effect that they did not believe in the politics of condemnation. I am disappointed that my friends from Sinn Féin are no longer present because I wish to state that I find it difficult to listen to lectures from them on morality, be it in respect of domestic or international issues.

In the context of attempts to resolve the tragic situation in the Middle East, I am a firm believer in a two-state solution. In order for such a solution to be arrived at, however, both states must survive. How many of us fervently wish to see the state of Israel survive and thrive? Just before the Lower House adjourned for the summer recess, Deputy Gerry Adams pulled a political stunt by asking those present to stand in support of the citizens of Gaza. If I pulled a similar stunt in this Chamber and asked those colleagues who believe in the right of Israel to exist and survive to stand, I wonder how many would remain in their seats? I am concerned in this regard because I wonder whether we now have a very unbalanced view of the events in the Middle East and why they are occurring.

Obviously, I condemn every single act of violence, as I have always done, whether it is on the streets of Belfast, Beirut or Gaza, and I want to see the violence brought to an end. I want to see a ceasefire and an end to the blockade, but I also want to see an end to the building of tunnels which allow terrorists to use them to murder and pillage Israeli citizens. It is a complex issue and is in no way as simplistic as some people would present it to be. We must ask ourselves the question: Why do so many citizens of Israeli, an educated, cultured modern race of people, support the current offensive action by the Israeli army? We must recognise the fact that the history of the Israeli people and of the Holocaust still bears heavily on that nation. Some of my colleagues, in particular, my friend, Senator David Norris, said that we must move beyond this. I remind our friends that in discussing Irish history, and the current situation politically on this island, we have spoken on many occasions about the Famine of 1840 to 1845. All of us are in some way bound to our history. The fact that there are citizens of Israel who believe that another holocaust could occur, and who can read in the press dispatches that not only Hamas but certain states want to wipe the country of Israel off the map, is central to their rather aggressive thinking.

I wish the Minister well in his endeavours to assist in peace making. A ceasefire is urgent and desirable and we need not say anything further about this. I appreciate the reason the Minister did not take the particular action last week and I fully support his decision but this debate needs to be balanced and we do not have sufficient robust, balanced debate. A timeslot of five minutes is entirely inadequate to address these subjects.

In regard to Ukraine, I very much support what the Minister said. I have raised this issue in the House in recent months. The activities of the Russian Administration must be a cause of deep concern. Addressing the conflict in Ukraine, which is on the edge of the European Union, is central to peace and prosperity across the continent of Europe. I am deeply disappointed but not surprised by the inactivity of President Obama, whose presidency I now believe to be entirely pointless. I hope the European Union will take the lead because Mr. Obama will not show courage. We must stand up to Vladimir Putin and support the people of Ukraine in their right to exist and in their right to integrate, in so far as they wish, with the European Union. This is a very serious challenge. I welcome the sanctions taken to date and I hope that we will be much more robust in continuing with that level of sanctions against the expansionist policy of the Russian Administration.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for staying for the duration of the debate to listen to all the contributions. Senator Paul Bradford said if he were to ask colleagues who believe in the right of Israel to exist to stand up, how many would remain in their seats. I would not only stand to support its right merely to exit, it should be allowed to thrive and flourish - merely existing is not enough. I fear that for too many Palestinians existing is all for which they can hope.

My concerns relate to the fact that a democracy is ignoring human rights laws. We have experienced that in the past in our own country in regard to the British Government and the hooded men, which was exposed in an RTE documentary. When the Irish Government took the British state to the European Court on Human Rights, the British Government was found guilty of torture in the methods it had used but, on appeal, the court found that it was extreme interrogation. We have now been made aware that the British Government withheld files, lied and deceived the court.

The Minister and the Cabinet must now take action because that European Court ruling is being used as justification by democracies around the world for what were known as enhanced interrogation techniques but which we now know was torture. That is the reason, when a state ignores human rights laws, those of us in this House, in this country and around the world should raise their voices. The international law to which I refer is the Geneva Convention signed in 1949, Protocol 1 of which refers to attacks which may be expected to cause incidental loss of life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which could be excessive in regard to the concentration and direct military advantage anticipated.

We can say without fear of contradiction that what happened to the UN school in the past 24 hours does not comply with the Geneva Convention. UN officials - Mr. John Ging and others - have explained that they had given the co-ordinates of that school on 17 different occasions. It was not a mistake or an accident yet, sadly, this country decided to abdicate its responsibility when it came to the resolution. I cannot see anything wrong with a resolution that condemns all violence against civilians, wherever it occurs, including the killing of Israeli civilians. I cannot see anything wrong with a resolution that calls for an end to attacks against all civilians, including Israeli civilians, and for a prompt reconvening of the conference of high parties to the convention with regard to an investigation, yet we abdicated our responsibilities and said there should be an EU response. The EU response is always too little, too late. Its own powers regarding the human rights clauses in the Euro-Mediterranean agreement, which allows Israeli products into the European Union, are not being invoked. It does not require anybody other than the European Union countries to do that, yet it does nothing. Ireland should not wait for the European Union to respond because, as we all know, the citizens of Srebrenica waited for the European Union also.

I, too, have been in a UN school on the West Bank and have seen the great work it does. I have spoken to the children and explained our own peace process. I told them they had two choices, namely, live in the current calamitous state of continuing violence perpetrated by both sides against each other or wipe out their opponents. I also pointed out to the children of that UN school in Bethlehem that their other choice is the choice we took in Ireland, which was the long, tortuous road of negotiations with our enemy. I asked those children which of them wanted to wipe out all the Israelis, and 48 schoolgirls of 12 years of age put up their hands. That is the problem Israel faces; it is not the rockets from Hamas. They can defeat those rockets but in terms of the next generation, 65% of the population in Gaza are under 16 years of age, schoolgirls have faced rocket attacks and bombardments night after night, and they see television images of children torn apart. Is it any wonder those children put up their hands? Israel does not need defence domes. It needs to understand how it can live with its neighbours.

I am last but hopefully not least.

The Minister is very welcome. I thank him for his patience and listening. I wish him well in his new role as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

It is good to be here today. I was one of the people who supported the recall of the Seanad. Many people asked what we can do and if we can make a difference. We only have to recall the bravery of those few young girls in Dunnes Stores in the early 1980s when they opposed apartheid. They were at the Galway Fleadh last week.

They are now grown, mature women and were heralded for their leadership. Leadership is critical in this case. Following the downing of flight MH17, the European Union has decided to impose further sanctions on Russia in respect of its support for rebels in Ukraine. However, it has refused to impose any sanctions on Israel. This is wrong. Both conflicts deserve a similar Irish and European response. Ireland's abstention in the recent UN Human Rights Council vote was regrettable and weak. There was an opportunity to show leadership and to step out from the EU group. Concerns over the wording of the resolution were not a valid reason for Ireland to fail to do the right thing and vote for it. Desmond Tutu said that if one is neutral in situations of injustice, one has chosen the side of the oppressor. This is, in effect, what the European Union did and Ireland was complicit. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas is no justification for the wanton death and destruction inflicted by the Israeli military on people living in Gaza in the past few weeks.

I have been fortunate to have a number of friends who do business in Israel and I have decided to bring balance to the story by getting an objective account from those with eye-witness and first-hand accounts. I note what one friend who does business in Israel told me. To confirm what Senator Sean D. Barrett said, Israel is a thriving economy and a leader in the Middle East in that sense. My friend says he is uncomfortable with the Israeli response to the missiles from Gaza. He earns his living there. He notes that the technology used by the Israelis is highly sophisticated and that the Gazans have no hope of inflicting any significant damage. Most of their missiles appear to be filled with fertilizer, which can cause only limited damage and that is only where they manage to hit targets which most seem incapable of, whereas the Israelis respond with two TNT missiles with the benefit of radar for every Hamas missile. These cause significant damage by comparison. The fact that Gaza is the most densely populated area on earth further compounds the human carnage and damage. We know the stories of the school playgrounds and the emergency unit that shook recently. I was really touched by the eye-witness account of Rudhán Mac Cormaic in The Irish Times when he was asked about the whereabouts of 11 children who were playing in the playground. He was told "Go down to the fridges [in the morgue] and you’ll find about 11 kids – all killed".

The civilian death toll tells us who the main victims are in the conflict. Most of them are innocent Palestinian men and women. To revert to eye-witness accounts, it is not fair that all the inhabitants should have to suffer in this way. There are 1.8 million inhabitants in the Gaza strip. I have no idea how many of them are engaged in militant activity, but the blockades in place for years must be lifted. Contrary to what Senator Paul Bradford said, it seems like the Israelis want to wipe out the Gazans. They want a genocide. I was struck by what Senator Bradford said because he spoke about the fear of the Israelis of being wiped out. Deep in the psyche of the Jews, the abused is becoming the abuser. It is a really dangerous psyche and it must be worked through. This is why the situation deserves careful handling. At that level, we must reach out for a different type of negotiation. We are seeing Gazans being completely wiped out. These are trapped people. They are enslaved by the Israelis. To get in and out of their country, they must seek permission. They are not independent and sovereign. They have no access to water or fuel. They are totally reliant on the Israelis. I regret the little time I have been given no more than many others. To broker this peace, we must be careful that we do not cause another genocide. Rwanda happened because the UN did not act quickly enough and it did not listen.

It has taken the deaths of three teenagers to cause an all-out war in Gaza. That is dangerous. I implore the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to lead for Ireland in the European Union for a different kind of brokerage, one which will understand the psychological underpinnings of the Israeli mindset and which will eliminate the atrocities taking place among the Palestinians in the Gaza community.

I do not agree with some of the previous contributions that the decision for Ireland to abstain from the UN vote on a commission of inquiry into Gaza last week was in the best interests of both Ireland and the European Union and how the member states of the European Union should stand together in matters of foreign policy. I shudder when I hear this type of rhetoric coming from Members, especially from the Government side. Is the reason we joined the European Union to be silenced? We are a sovereign nation, one which has past experiences of occupation, famine and war. We are a relatively new, young and small nation on the periphery of Europe. A nation without a voice, however, we are not. A nation without a conscience, we are not.

We all know the murder of civilians, in particular children, is always wrong. One child every hour is being murdered in Gaza. At 5 a.m. frightened boys and girls huddled with their parents in a UN-protected girl’s elementary school. The Israeli authorities were informed 17 times that the school was full of refugees, but seven and a half hours after they received the last warning, the bombs started to fall on the school with no warning, leaving 19 dead, hundreds maimed and more wounded. In anyone’s language, that is a war crime. Israel must be made to account for this.

Will the Minister highlight Ireland’s disgust at what is going on? He stated the Irish ambassador to Israel, Mr. Eamonn McKee, had a lengthy meeting with the Israeli foreign ministry, where he again made clear the Government's grave concerns and our particular appeal that there should be no escalation of the military campaign under way, as well as the need for all violence to cease forthwith. What was Israel’s response? Some 16,000 army reservists have been called up. Israel has no notion of ending this conflict.

This is not the first time we have been ignored. This goes back to 2010 when the leader of the military wing of Hamas was murdered in a Dubai hotel room by agents working on behalf of the Israeli state. Three of those agents were carrying Irish passports at the time. When the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Garda investigated this incident, it came to the inescapable conclusion that Israel was responsible for the forged passports and that this put Irish citizens at risk. The Department noted Israel did not assist in this country’s investigations but did not deny any involvement either. We are against extrajudicial summary execution. Israel, however, does not seem to be bound by any laws. If it will ignore us in this fashion, I do not see the point in having an ambassador to the Israeli state.

I support calls to recall our ambassador there and to cut diplomatic ties. No country in Europe has been brave enough to do this yet while other countries have. As Senator John Whelan said, we cannot take our lead from the European Union, the United Kingdom or the United States. We are our own nation. Let us stand and be counted as our own nation.

I do not condone the firing of rockets into Israel but I want to put on the record of the House that Israel has a very sophisticated missile defence system called the Iron Dome. Senator Paul Bradford accused this nation of having a very unbalanced view. There are 1,200 people dead in Gaza while 53 Israeli solders and three Israeli citizens have died. To me, that is unbalanced. It is genocide. The Israelis are trying to bomb the Gazans into the sea. Israel in this war is acting like a rogue state. It is waging an unimaginable war of terror against the people of Gaza.

I ask the Senator to conclude.

The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, branded the state of Israel a terrorist state. It is a definition with which I find hard to disagree.

I again thank the Leader of the House for allowing me the opportunity to not only outline the response of the Government to date but also to listen to what has been a most constructive debate with varying views on the part of Members from all sides of the House, all of which have a common bond, which is that all the views were expressed in an honest and sincere way. I particularly welcome the comments of the leader of the Labour Party group in the House and the Labour Party Whip and their balanced and comprehensive contribution to the debate.

I was surprised that Sinn Féin did not avail of the opportunity to rebut or dissociate themselves from some of the commentary made earlier by the Leader of the House. I am very happy to be here. I take on board the points that Senators have made about the time for contributions being somewhat restricted. I would be happy to come back at another date at the convenience of the House and its Members and indeed at short notice. I was very happy to confirm my availability irrespective of prior commitments when contacted very early in the week by the Leader of the House because I do not believe there is a commitment more important or one to which I could give more priority than to listen to the views of my fellow parliamentarians in the Seanad this afternoon.

In respect of Gaza, I share the deep anguish felt by the Irish people at what we have been witnessing and indeed the frustration from this afternoon's engagement that, to be blunt, we and other international voices have so far been unable to exercise the type of influence that perhaps we might like or that might be expected from some sources to impress upon either side or both sides to choose a different path. Earlier in the debate I set out the Government's position in the conflict, which I can summarise as this: Israel is entitled to defend itself, its people and its territory, but it is not entitled to do what it is doing.

With the permission of the House, I will confine myself to a number of questions that were raised in the course of the debate. I apologise in advance if I do not deal in sufficient detail with every question put to me because I understand a certain timeframe was put on the debate, but I welcome the opportunity.

I beg the indulgence of colleagues to allow me deal with most of the questions put to me in the course of the debate.

Most of this afternoon's questions centre on Ireland's abstention at the UN Human Rights Council. I refer specifically to the remarks made by Senators David Norris, Martin Conway and Paschal Mooney. I believe there has been some misapprehension over Ireland's vote on the resolution. Ireland did not oppose the resolution. We made a very clear statement at the Council session condemning civilian deaths, stating we believed international law had been breached and supporting an investigation into all such breaches - those by Israel and Hamas, and also those terrorist activities by other splinter groups that were mentioned by only one Senator this afternoon, Senator Hildegarde Naughton. It is important that any such investigation would deal with all terror groups.

With our EU partners, we as the Irish representatives had a number of specific difficulties with the precise wording of the resolution we were being asked to agree with. This is not something we can ignore and it is not something we can wipe away with the stroke of a pen. These related to both the need to ensure that all breaches of international law on either side would be investigated and also our view that the wrong mechanism was being proposed to investigate in any event. For reasons of efficiency and speed we would have preferred to use the existing structures, such as the office of the much-respected High Commissioner for Human Rights. We put this forward in the course of a robust debate. Indeed we had expressed these concerns previously to the Palestinian authors of the resolution and they were fully aware of them when they drafted their text, when they would not engage in the type of deliberation that is not only commonplace but is essential in order to reach consensus.

Throughout the day, Ireland and the rest of the EU group worked hard in negotiations to try to improve the resolution of these specific points. Up until a very late point in the afternoon we hoped that these negotiations would result in a text that we could support, but, unfortunately, this did not happen. At a very late stage in the afternoon the Palestinian delegation received new instructions which terminated, with sudden effect, the ongoing negotiations. This left Ireland with very little choice. As the problems with the text were not resolved, the EU group took a common decision to abstain.

I listened carefully to what Senators said. It is important to be aware that abstention on a resolution in an international forum is not the same as a "No" vote, nor is it simply sitting on the fence. The record shows that in most cases, countries that abstain are signalling that they are not trying to block the resolution but that they have specific and important difficulties preventing them from supporting it. This was stated directly at the session and was fully understood by all other countries present.

What were they?

I do not accept that this is in any way an abdication of responsibility.

What were our reservations?

The Minister to continue without interruption.

I outlined them in detail and if the Senator listened to my remarks he would have heard them. EU members at the Council try to vote together where possible. If Senators check the record going back over a series of meetings they will see that we try to vote together where possible in order to maximise our influence. Having 28 voices instead of one is far from an abdication of responsibility and far from an abdication of our independence. It is engaging in a process to find a resolution to give us a strong voice. Every Senator who spoke this afternoon and even those who did not will agree that what is needed more than anything else is a strong voice.

In this case the European Union had not decided on a common abstention. The indications were late in the afternoon that no other EU partner was considering a "Yes" vote, while perhaps four of the nine EU member states might have voted "No" instead. This was the point made by Senator Paschal Mooney from the other side of the House.

He is quite correct and his analysis is quite proper because this would have resulted in a worse voting outcome for the resolution, which would have had the consequential effect of undermining the overall EU influence within the Council. The resolution having been passed by those present, as we knew it would be, Ireland will now fully support the commission of inquiry in fulfilling its mandate. Senator Darragh O'Brien, or perhaps one of his colleagues, asked whether we would now go back with a new resolution in order to change the wording, and the answer to that is "No". That issue is dealt with and let us see how the process proceeds from here.

I want to deal briefly with the proposal to expel the Israeli ambassador, as evidenced by the contributions of Senators James Heffernan, David Norris and others. I note the contribution of the Independent Senator Sean D. Barrett in that regard. As we all know, there are very frequent calls to expel the Israeli ambassador, although we have never a proposal about any other representative within the diplomatic corps. Our foreign policy has always been based, above all, on the resolution of any conflict by dialogue. We do not, therefore, respond to crises by expelling the interlocutor except in most exceptional circumstances. Ambassadors exist, as we know, to allow clear channels of communication between governments and are more necessary in bad times than in good. We have continually conveyed our views to the Israeli Government through its ambassador or, as was mentioned in reference to my earlier contribution, Ambassador McKee in Tel Aviv. I do not intend to deprive us of this vital channel, particularly in a time of crisis.

The corollary, of course, would be the recall or the expulsion of our ambassador in Israel and the crippling of our own embassy in Tel Aviv. As well as communicating our views to the Israeli Government and reporting to me on the Israeli views of, and the politics around, the crisis, Ambassador McKee has a fundamentally important role to play at this time. He has been personally engaged in the evacuation of Irish citizens and their families from Gaza, which I am sure everyone will agree is a fundamental aspect of his role in times of crisis. I refer back to the points made very well by my colleague, Senator Paschal Mooney.

If we expelled every ambassador from Dublin for alleged human rights abuses, there would be very few CD-plated car registrations around our city. I am not sure if we want to take it upon ourselves to be the moral and ethical guardians of the world. While we spent most of this afternoon discussing Gaza, rightly so, we need to be mindful, as some Senators were, of atrocities in Syria, North Korea, Iraq and in numerous other difficult regions throughout the world.

Including Egypt and Nigeria.

I was asked about the matter of sanctions. Again, this is not for the first time the issue was aired in this debate. Senators will be aware that, as a small trading nation, Ireland will only consider sanctions as part of UN or EU measures. While we would like to think otherwise, the reality is we are too small to affect matters on our own as far as the imposition of economic or social sanctions are concerned.

What about South Africa?

As a member of a common trading area, we could not exclude goods lawfully on sale in the European Union; therefore, any sanction would have to be at EU level.

Even coming from illegal territories?

I called for worldwide sanctions.

The Minister to continue, without interruption.

Whether we support it - Senator Jim Walsh had his opportunity earlier-----

I put the question and the Minister is not answering.

-----I am not sure if there is the prospect of any such sanctions against Israel being agreed at EU or international level.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan could ask.

Sanctions are a slow-moving remedy and I am not sure of the effect they would have within the timescale of this conflict, having regard to the urgency and importance of a ceasefire.

I am surprised at Senators warning or advising that Ireland should not take its lead from the United Kingdom. I have seen nothing in any of this debate, or in the past few weeks or months, to show that Ireland is taking a lead from our nearest neighbour. I am not sure from where this idea entered into the mix.

The contrast or comparison between sanctions against Russia and sanctions against Israel has been stated. Sanctions follow from a common view of what is the best response to a particular crisis, all of which are unique. If partners do not agree on sanctions, as a response, then the sanctions simply do not happen.

In the case of Gaza, we cannot dispute the right of Israel to make some sort of military response to attacks on its territory but we clearly and loudly condemn the nature of its response and that is now being made. Let me contrast Gaza with Ukraine where we are dealing with an attempt to undermine or threaten the very sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of a major European state which is a direct neighbour of several EU members. This involved first, the illegal seizure of the Crimea, then the destabilisation of another large area, attacks on Ukranian forces and officials and, most recently, the downing of a civilian airliner which killed hundreds of EU citizens and many others, including, regrettably, one Irish person, Ms Edel Mahaddy who was originally from Dublin.

That comparison is an excellent insight into the Minister's thinking and means that the Palestinians need not expect any support from the Irish Government.

The Minister to continue, without interruption, please.

The Minister is talking about Ukraine, but I remind him that Israel does not respect UN resolutions.

The Minister to continue, without interruption, please.

Is Senator Walsh going to deny me an opportunity------

It would not be the first time.

-----of replying to the debate that has lasted for over four hours?

I am disappointed with the Minister's response.

I expected a little more from the Senator in this democratic forum.

Especially when we are talking about the fundamentals of democracy.

Such events in Europe - the killing of hundreds of EU citizens and many others - obviously calls for a very strong response from within the European Union.

Senators have rightly mentioned the events in Gaza in the context of the ongoing blockade, the need to end the occupation of Palestinian territory, and that settlements are an obstacle to progress and achieving peace. These are important issues and are of some urgency. However, they are broader subjects for another day's debate.

I agree that it has been a central element of Ireland's approach to try and prevent immediate crises, like Gaza, from obscuring the focus on the longer term. In all our engagements with parties in the region - and in all of my engagements in the past two weeks - at EU or UN level, we stressed the need to focus on the long-term problem, otherwise the immediate crisis will continue to repeat itself. As evidenced by Members in the course of their contributions, nowhere is this more obvious than in Gaza.

I shall now reply to the points made by Senator Michael Mullins and others on humanitarian efforts in Gaza. Ireland has consistently matched its material humanitarian contribution with support for international efforts to find a sustainable political solution to the crisis and advocated for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access. We have called for all parties to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law and to refrain from the targeting of civilians. Ireland continues to monitor the situation closely, in particular through its Mission in Ramallah, and is actively engaged with the United Nations, the European Union and many of the NGO partners. The latter do sterling work in very difficult circumstances showing great courage and bravery while seeking to respond, as positively as they can, to the current humanitarian crisis. In this regard, I recognise and refer to the presence, for the entire debate, of the ambassador and Head of Mission to Ireland, H.E. Mr. Ahmad Abdel Razek from Palestine. I was very pleased to have the opportunity of a constructive engagement with him late last week. I will continue to engage positively with the office and assist in so far as I can.

Reference was made to my previously expressed views on Israel, in particular by Senators Terry Leyden and Averil Power. Those previously expressed views that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself in no way impair my judgment as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to make an objective and honest assessment of the current situation in Gaza. In summary, let me make it clear that assessment is that the Israeli military actions are disproportionate in scale, indiscriminate in nature and must stop, as indeed must the Hamas rocket attacks into Israel. I am sure Senator Averil Power will acquaint herself with the attitude of Hamas towards the treatment of women and the imposition of Sharia law in certain parts of the region, about which we might not be so vocal.

Senator Ivana Bacik asked the very important question as to why the European Union was not more centrally involved in efforts to resolve the crisis and she put forward a proposal that I will be glad to take on board. The European Union is fully engaged in efforts to end the violence and to secure a ceasefire. The crisis was extensively discussed at last week's Foreign Affairs Council which I attended and where important conclusions not only on Gaza but on the underlying need to revive the Middle East peace process were adopted. I was pleased to participate on behalf of the Government and the people of Ireland. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France convened a meeting in Paris last Saturday which was attended by Secretary of State John Kerry and about which I received a full report. A number of EU and regional Foreign Ministers were present to reinforce the intense diplomatic efforts in order to achieve a ceasefire. The unfortunate reality from that meeting is that there is no end of appeals from across the international community to stop the violence but regrettably neither side is really listening or responding as it should.

In response to what Senator Ivana Bacik said, I would be very happy to contact, at the earliest opportunity, High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, with whom I spoke last week, and my counterpart, the Italian Foreign Minister, with whom I had a most constructive meeting in the course of the European Council. I will undertake to make contact with her at the earliest opportunity in order to see what further action EU Foreign Ministers might take, having regard to the fact that she currently holds the Presidency of the European Union. I will report back to the Leader of the House and Senator Ivana Bacik, if the House agrees. The Leader can inform the House of any initiative that might arise following this.

Senators Jim Walsh and Paul Coghlan made reference to the situation in Syria. The situation in Syria and the huge violations of human rights, especially by the Assad regime and its supporters, has been rightly described by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as "unspeakable". I do not think there is any need for me to add to that. The scale of the atrocities in Syria and the humanitarian impact are the most severe in the world at this time and pose a grave risk to regional stability in the Near East. I reiterate and let me make clear this Government's long-standing position that no military solution exists to the Syrian crisis and that a political framework, based on the Geneva communiqué principles, is the only viable means to bring this conflict to an end. I implore all sides to this conflict to seek the earliest possible end to the conflict in Syria for the sake of the Syrian people and peace in the Near East region. I hope we will have an opportunity to perhaps debate that issue in the autumn when we resume a full daily schedule of work.

Iraq was mentioned and again Senators will be aware that the advance of the ISIS movement in northern Iraq in recent months has raised a serious threat to minority communities in that area, including Shias.

This poses a particular threat to Iraq's Christian community, which was referred to by Senator Jim Walsh. Many of the people in this community, which was much reduced by previous violence, live in and around the greater urban area of Mosul. We are greatly concerned for the safety of these ancient Christian communities. Along with my predecessor, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, I have discussed this issue at recent meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. In the last few days, Ireland has discussed with EU partners the possibility of bringing forward a resolution on this important issue at the Human Rights Council.

Before I speak about Ukraine, I would like to say I was very disappointed by the contributions of the Sinn Féin representatives. They might have availed of the two speaking slots available to them to dissociate themselves from one of their public representatives, who was quoted by Senator Cummins as saying he would "prefer if the UN started shelling Israel to bring him [Netanyahu] to heel". Any call for the United Nations to engage in or perpetrate armed activity against another state is, frankly, outrageous. The suggestion made by the Sinn Féin representative that "the English were never coming to the table until Canary Wharf happened" is a dark harbinger of things to come if Sinn Féin comes to a position of power in this country. When members of Sinn Féin emote about the graphic details of women and children casualties in Gaza, as they are entitled to do, victims of terror such as Jean McConville come to mind.

I thank Members for their comments on the crisis in Ukraine. I will conclude by making some brief remarks in reply. Ireland has strongly condemned Russian actions from the outset of this crisis. The annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol following the illegal referendum of 16 March last was a flagrant violation of international law, including some of its most fundamental norms. The unchecked flow of militants and weaponry across the Russian border into eastern Ukraine since has fuelled a bloody conflict, which has cost more than 1,000 lives and created massive instability on the European Union's eastern frontier.

As a small nation, Ireland is strongly attached to a rules-based approach to the conduct of international relations. It is important in the context of all our international deliberations that we look for and are strongly attached to a rules-based approach. Russian actions are in clear breach of the Helsinki process, which has contributed in the past 40 years to overcoming divisions in Europe and building a peaceful and united continent. Given that Ireland served as the chair in office of the OSCE as recently as 2012, I cannot see how we could fail to take a strong view on such matters.

It is sometimes suggested the European Union shares a degree of culpability with the Russian Federation for the crisis. I believe this suggestion is as wrong as it is disingenuous. No military threats have been made by the European Union. The Union has not placed Ukraine at the centre of a zero-sum game where its people have to choose east over west. The Ukrainian people should be free to choose their own political destiny without external interference. There is an urgent need for Moscow to take steps to de-escalate the situation, for example by engaging in serious talks with the Government in Kiev without further delay.

The peace plan advanced by President Poroshenko on 22 June makes specific provision for the protection of the rights of Russian-language speakers and for national dialogue on constitutional reform leading to regional devolution. Ireland and its EU partners believe the President's peace plan remains a valid template for exiting the crisis, ending the bloodshed and arriving at a negotiated political settlement. We continue to be actively engaged in several multilateral forums, including the United Nations, the OSCE and the Council of Europe.

I know members of this forum are also members of the Council of Europe. I am sure we can have a report from the Seanad members of the Council of Europe, at a date to be decided by the Cathaoirleach and the House, when we can see the efforts being made to promote dialogue between all sides involved in the conflict.

Again, from a humanitarian point of view, Ireland has contributed €100,000 to the OSCE activities in Ukraine. In addition, five members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine are Irish and Ireland sent 16 short-term observers to Ukraine as part of the OSCE-ODIHR mission to oversee the presidential elections of 25 May 2014. I take the opportunity to commend them for having volunteered for this important task in very trying and difficult circumstances. Moreover, Ireland is considering sending an individual to participate in the EU advisory mission for civilian security sector reform in Ukraine which will advise on a revised strategy for the civilian security sector.

As stated, ultimately, there can be no military solution to the conflict. At the Foreign Affairs Council earlier this month we urged Russia to stop the increasing flow of weapons, equipment and militants across the border in order to achieve rapid and tangible results in de-escalation. We also urged Russia to withdraw its additional troops from the border, that would still allow it have a complement of troops. We take a very strong view against the assembly of further additional troops along the border which, unfortunately, is a feature of current unacceptable activities in the region.

I reiterate these calls in this House that there needs to be an end to the mixed messages. It is high time for deeds, not words. There is an urgent need to agree on a genuine and sustainable ceasefire by all parties on the basis of the commitments set out in the Berlin Declaration of 2 July. We all need to give our full support to the efforts of the OSCE as an essential facilitator in this dangerous conflict.

The European Union has particular responsibility to help promote peace and stability in Europe. I make no apologies for engaging, debating and cajoling and, ultimately, agreeing with our EU colleagues because I believe the European Union should continue to remain at the forefront of efforts to facilitate and engage in a meaningful dialogue involving Ukraine and Russia, among others, because one voice, as compared to 28 voices, is obviously in a much weaker position.

Silent voices.

There was absolutely no silence, as the Senator knows. To have to resort to a narrow partisan political point does no service to the very constructive and wide-ranging debate that we had this afternoon.

What about the Minister's own party?

I assure the House that Ireland will continue to play a full and active part in the EU efforts to that end. I thank you, a Chathaoirleach, for facilitating the debate and the Leader for instituting it and giving me an opportunity to outline the current Government position which is not silence, far from it, as I have demonstrated today to very good effect. I also thank the Senators for giving me the opportunity first-hand in this forum to listen to their views and hear their suggestions in order that we can all work together to play our part in what is a most difficult crisis and to which we in Ireland can make a positive contribution.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive replies to the many issues raised in the Chamber. That concludes the statements on the situation in Gaza and Ukraine.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.20 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 September 2014.