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Remarks by Minister Séan Sherlock on the Recognition of the State of Palestine

Aid Effectiveness, Emergencies, Speeches, Ireland, 2014

For over two decades, successive Irish Governments have provided financial support to build the institutions of a Palestine State; to promote peace building and to meet the immediate needs of the Palestinian people.   The motion before the house calls on the Government to do all it can to assist in the development of the democratic and state institutions of the Palestinian State; I believe we are already doing this.  

Ireland, like other EU Members States, is committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority as part of our overall programme of support for the Palestinian people. This support, which enables Palestinians to build institutions and provide essential public services, is critical to laying the foundations for a future State.  We now provide over €10 million annually in support to Palestinians to help them deliver on their development priorities, to support the promotion of human rights and to meet immediate humanitarian needs. 

Ireland is one of five partners working directly with the Palestinian Ministry of Education and Higher Education to support them in delivering their Education Development Strategic Plan.  This year we have provided €1.5m in funding, bringing our total support to €7.5m but Ireland also provides technical support to the education sector.  There is clear evidence that our contribution is helping the Ministry to provide better quality education services to more Palestinian children.  

It is estimated that 18,000 homes were destroyed or severly damaged leaving approximately 108,000 people homeless.

I am aware from our contacts with officials across a number of Palestinian ministries that our work with others in improving education is seen as making a real difference to Palestinian institutions and is held up as an example. 

Other EU partners have engaged in parallel work with other Ministries, such as Finance. And the EU has for a number of years operated a significant police training mission, known as EUPOL COPPS, assisting the Palestinian police in developing and improving professional and human rights standards. Seconded Irish staff have played a valuable role in that continuing mission. 

In our work to build up the capacities of the Palestinian institutions, and prepare them to assume the responsibilities of a sovereign state, we know that merely reaching that goal of statehood is not enough. After decades of occupation, we want Palestinians to achieve a state that can be a model for a troubled region, and one that can deliver real improvements in the lives of its citizens. A Palestine based on the rule of law and respect for human rights is the best guarantor for the longevity of any peace agreement, and the future security and prosperity of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Ceann Comhairle, 

While we work to strengthen the institutions on which a Palestinian State will be built, we must ensure that the Palestinian Authority can meet the immediate needs of the people living in the West Bank and Gaza.  Their capacity to deliver essential public services, such as health and education, is essential not only for the immediate welfare of the Palestinian people but it is also critical to the creation of a Palestinian State.  In the current difficult context, delivery of public services is simply impossible without significant external support. 

Since 2008, working through a European Commission mechanism known as PEGASE, we have provided €12 million to the Palestinian Authority to deliver public services.  Our support has been focused on services in the areas of health, education and social protection.   

I know however that strong institutions alone will not guarantee the viability of a Palestinian State.  We are funding a number of Palestinian and Israeli organisations who are working to address human rights issues.  

They focus on addressing freedom of movement, absence of rule of law, rights of prisoners and detainees, women’s rights, and democratic development.   These organisations play an important role, not only in reporting human rights abuses but in holding their own authorities to account, a key element of all democracies. 

Regrettably while we work to ensure that Palestinian institutions are ready for statehood, we continue to have to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people.  The humanitarian situation continues to be precarious as the key drivers of vulnerability remain in place. The protracted crisis is compounded by recurrent escalations in hostilities, such as the appalling tragedy in Gaza this year, which increase humanitarian needs. 

The conflict in Gaza this year had devastating humanitarian consequences. At present, approximately 100,000 people remain displaced and are in need of food, water and health services and shelter solutions. According to UNRWA, some 20,000 people are still living in schools in Gaza. 

It is estimated that 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged leaving approximately 108,000 people homeless. 

Damage to public infrastructure was extensive and despite repairs to the water and sanitation network in Gaza significant constraints still impair the delivery of these services. Electricity outages of 12 hours a day continue in most areas across Gaza. 

Critical infrastructure was severely damaged or destroyed; fifty percent of all medical facilities sustained severe damage, 22 schools were completely destroyed and 118 schools damaged while over 70 hospitals and clinics were damaged. 

This latest conflict has compounded an already serious humanitarian situation with wide spread poverty, an extremely fragile economy and aid dependency.  Around two thirds of the population of Gaza were receiving food assistance prior to the crisis and after seven weeks of conflict, most Palestinians in Gaza can no longer meet their most basic needs: earning a livelihood is almost impossible. 

We provide €4 million annually to the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees, UNRWA; this year we responded to the crisis in Gaza by providing an additional €1 million to UNRWA.  This support is helping to provide urgently needed food, shelter and medical aid to thousands of families, many of whom had to flee their homes. 

Over the next two years we will provide a further €2 million to the Palestinian Authority and UN partners for long term recovery assistance in Gaza.

Over the next two years we will provide a further €2 million to the Palestinian Authority and UN partners for long term recovery assistance in Gaza.   

Ultimately, of course, we see the end of the occupation as the essential step in addressing the problems of Palestine, including Gaza. My colleague Minister Murphy has set out the ways in which the Minister and the Government are working to achieve that end. 

Within that context, the Government will continue to reflect, both nationally and along with our EU colleagues, on the role which the specific step of recognition of Palestine could play. We have made clear that the Government has an open mind about any action, including early recognition of Palestine, which can positively contribute to the goal which we all share of an end to the conflict and a secure future for both Palestinians and Israelis. 

Ceann Comhairle, 

This Government will continue to do all we can to ensure that a future Palestinian State will be one built on strong institutions capable of meeting the needs of the people of that state.