I thank the Minister and warmly welcome him to the House. I also thank the distinguished guests in the Visitors Gallery and the many friends and colleagues on all sides of this debate who have come here.
It is important that we set out the context. This is the Control of Economic Activity (Occupied Territories) Bill 2018, which is a Private Members' Bill. Somehow, with all the emails, all the telephone calls and all the lobbying for and against, there is a lot of confusion and a lot of information which, in a way, does not help. I thank the Minister for his absolute clarity in terms of where the Government is coming from. I thank him for coming in early, for setting the scene and for expressing in a very genuine way his concerns about how Ireland and the Government want to interplay with this, but also for the pragmatic way in which he has set out his case, which I acknowledge.
I want to make a number of points. First, I acknowledge there has been a huge number of emails, a huge amount of correspondence and a huge amount of confusion about this story. What we really need to know is what are the "occupied territories". They are defined as those territories that have been conformed as such by the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court or an international tribunal. We need to set the record straight in this regard. Ireland and its EU partners have a clear position on Israeli settlements. I take on board what the Minister said about a wider dimension - a European dimension - in terms of assisting and supporting a long-term sustainable peace process for this region. The West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the Golan Heights are territories which have been indisputably occupied by the Israelis since 1967. Israeli settlements, which are clearly illegal under international law, constitute obstacles to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict impossible. That is the reality.
In 2012 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade called for a ban on imports from illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. This ban is supported by Trócaire, Christian Aid and representatives of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, all of which are represented here today. I thank them for their work and preparation in regard to this legislation which they have fed in to all of us, across the political spectrum, in Leinster House. This is not and cannot be about a boycott of Israeli goods and Israeli trade. Simply put, boycotts do not work. They do bring focus and attention but, in the long run, they do not bring ultimate solutions. We have learned this from previous boycotts on other international stages. I strongly oppose any attempt to boycott Israeli trade or Israeli goods in the wider region.
As I have said, there is an important need for an EU dimension. While the EU condemns the illegality of settlements, it continues to support economic trade for those settlements and continues to trade with them. That presents a difficulty in that it does support some of the activities going on there. It is important to note that although the Bill covers other areas, we need not only focus on the Israeli and Palestinian territories. That has been the main focus today, however, so I will follow up on some of the issues to which the Minister referred.
It is my understanding that the Bill, if enacted, would make it a criminal act in Irish law for Irish persons or companies to sell to, import goods from or provide services to Israeli settlements. It would punish violators with up to five years in prison. There are potential economic impacts and we have to be pragmatic and realistic in terms of addressing these. These measures could be difficult to enforce since imports from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories do not arrive in Ireland directly in many cases, but generally via other EU member states. Goods arriving in Ireland, therefore, would not always be subject to the usual standard checks.
The Bill has drawn international attention, which is not bad. If nothing else happens today, we are discussing this in our Parliament and it is drawing international attention. I took the time to look at international media coverage today and it is mentioned right across Europe and across the United States. There is talk about this House meeting today to discuss this important topic. That, in itself, is a good day's work.