I would like to make a short statement on the Government's overall position, addressing the Bill as a whole. While understanding the motivation and intentions of the proponents of the Bill, the Government is opposed to the Bill for the reasons set out in detail by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when he spoke on Second Stage. The first and essential reason is that the essential purpose of the Bill is contrary to EU law and requires the State to do something which is not in its power. External trade rules are an exclusive competence of the European Union, so goods from settlements can only be excluded at an EU level, not by an individual member state. This is the essence of the EU Single Market. While it is noted that various legal options have been put forward to argue that the Bill is compatible with EU law, the clear and comprehensive advice of the Attorney General is that it is not. The Government has not been convinced by arguments to the contrary. We have every reason to believe the enactment of this Bill would expose the State to legal action, not only by the European Commission but also by the parties claiming to have been adversely affected by the Bill. We expect that the State would be liable for significant and recurring damages so long as the law remained on the Statute Book. This is not a course into which any Government would willingly enter against its own legal advice as provided by the Attorney General. This is not the only cost that the Bill would entail since the creation of new offences also carries a cost, but it is likely to be the largest.
The Bill would create real difficulties for business in Ireland and for Irish businesses in the United States, which could find themselves placed between incompatible legislative demands. I do not say this is right or justified but it is the case. It is also clear to us that Ireland's voice and influence on the Israel-Palestine issue in Europe and wider international circles would be lessened by a unilateral action of this nature. Far from leading the way, we would be marginalised and less influential in those places where we can be of most use to the Palestinian people. Finally, while the Government absolutely shares the objectives of ending the Israeli settlement project, we do not believe the Bill would have any significant effect on this. The volume of settlement goods reaching Ireland is not large. No other EU country has shown any interest in taking a similar step. Even the symbolic gesture of support for the Palestinians would be turned into yet deeper disappointment if the European Court of Justice, as we would fully expect, determined the Bill to be in breach of EU law. In the end, we would give a psychological boost not to the Palestinians but to the settlers. Taking these factors together, the Government must oppose the Bill. Since it is the fundamental basis of the Bill that we must oppose, the Government has not offered any amendments.