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Ireland’s position on the genocide case against Israel

South Africa has brought a case to the United Nation’s International Court of Justice in The Hague accusing Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Ireland has been asked by opposition parties, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and many Irish people to join the case, but the state has refused.

Firstly, a quick recap on the definition of genocide. In short, genocide is the intentional destruction of a people in whole or in part.

The ICJ is the UN’s top court, and its rulings are binding on parties to the ICJ – which includes South Africa and Israel, as well as Ireland and indeed Palestine.

While the rulings are unenforceable, the proceedings are being closely watched internationally.

The ICJ is not to be confused with the International Criminal Court (also in The Hague) which handles war crimes against individuals.

South Africa will be presenting evidence in the case it filed on 29 December, accusing Israel of genocide and violation of the UN Genocide Convention with its actions in Gaza since 7 October

So why is the Government not joining South Africa in its case at the ICJ?

The Taoiseach has said it is very possible that war crimes have been committed by both Israel and Hamas.

Speaking on This Week last Sunday, Leo Varadkar said one group of people that has experienced genocide historically is the Jewish people.

Mr Varadkar said: “I would be a little bit uncomfortable about accusing Israel, a Jewish state, of genocide given the fact that six million Jews – over half the population of Jews in Europe – were killed.

“I would just think we need to be a little bit careful about using words like that unless we’re absolutely convinced that they’re the appropriate ones.”

Mr Varadkar said that it was something for the ICJ to determine.

There are different views within the Government, however, with Green Party Leader Eamon Ryan saying South Africa has made “irrefutable” points on the Gaza conflict.

Minister Ryan said he noted that the World Health Organisation had said Gaza is facing “catastrophic levels of food insecurity”, with the risk of famine “increasing each day”.

He agreed with the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner that the international community has an obligation to prevent genocide and immediately consider all diplomatic, political and economic measures to that end.

Mr Ryan said Ireland had played a “strong role” within the UN on the matter.

He said Irish people had consistently stood up for the rights of Palestinian people, and regarding the ICJ case, he said: “The court case is one of standing effectively first between South Africa and Israel, and there are only two parties to that.

“But in terms of where we stand, in my mind, it has to be for the basic human rights of the Palestinian people which are being wholesale infringed, in my mind, at the present time.”

South Africa will be requesting an injunction by the top UN court to halt Israel’s military assault on Gaza

Ireland’s main opposition parties, including Sinn Féin, Labour, People Before Profit and the Social Democrats, have called on the Government to endorse South Africa’s action.

Sinn Féin has said there is no logical reason why the Government is not joining South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ.

The party’s Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Matt Carthy said the Government previously joined proceedings at the ICJ against Russia over of its actions in Ukraine and it must do likewise now.

“What the Palestinian people require, what international law requires and what humanity requires is meaningful action,” he said.

“The South African government have taken a meaningful action by bringing this case to the Hague this morning. And it is imperative in our view that the Irish Government join them in that endeavor.”

While Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns has written to the Taoiseach urging the Irish Government to support the case taken by South Africa against Israel in the ICJ under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

“I listened to the Taoiseach’s comments over the weekend with disappointment, when he said he had no intention of joining the South African case,” Ms Cairns said.

“I strongly believe Mr Varadkar should reconsider this position by asserting our own interpretation of the Convention’s provisions – as this Government did in 2022 in Ukraine’s case against Russia – or initiate proceedings of our own in the ICJ as a matter of urgency.”

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