Irish premier Harris’s speech ‘absolutely clear’ despite Israeli criticism

Simon Harris’s comments about Gaza have been defended as “absolutely clear” after criticism from the Israeli government.

Israel condemned a short statement made by Mr Harris in the minutes after he was voted in as Ireland’s next premier by a majority of parliamentarians on Tuesday.

The Israeli government claimed “there are those in Ireland who persist on being on the wrong side of history”.

“Simon Harris, the new Taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland, chose to refer to the war in Gaza in his inaugural address but ‘forgot’ to mention the 133 Israeli hostages who have been rotting in Hamas tunnels for the past six months,” a statement by the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs said.

Israel-Hamas conflict
Dana Erlich (Norma Burke/PA)

The Israeli ambassador to Ireland, Dana Erlich, claimed the Irish Government condemned the October 7 attack and called for the release of hostages, but “has scarcely condemned Hamas itself” in an Irish Times opinion piece published on Thursday.

In his inaugural speech in the Dail on Tuesday, the Taoiseach said: “In Gaza, we are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe and we are seeing innocent children, women and men being starved and slaughtered.

“We have not been silent on the unforgivable terrorist actions of Hamas on October 7, nor can we be silent on the disproportionate reaction of the Israeli government, and as a country we will play our part in helping bring about ceasefire and a lasting peace.”

Mr Harris added that he would deliver that message on behalf of the Irish people during meetings with EU leaders on Thursday.

During a speech to his Fine Gael party at the weekend, Mr Harris also called for the “unconditional release of all hostages” and said “we unreservedly condemn the massacre carried out by Hamas”.

Sean Fleming, junior minister at Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, said Mr Harris was “absolutely clear” in his speech on Tuesday, and added that the Israeli government’s criticism of Ireland was because of Irish support for the Palestinians.

“If anybody listens to what Simon Harris said, he was absolutely clear about what’s happening out there,” Mr Fleming said.

He added that Ireland’s deputy premier Micheal Martin had spoken “umpteen times” about the hostages taken by Hamas.

“I think everybody knows where Ireland stands, and that’s probably why somebody went through a script to find some fault with it because the Israelis are not happy with the Irish position.

“Because we’re very strong that we want a ceasefire and we want it immediately, we want food to go through, we want proper discussions in relation to Palestine being a separate state.”

Ireland announced on Tuesday that it had begun discussions on recognising the state of Palestine, and Mr Harris is to meet Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Dublin on Friday to discuss the issue.

Mr Fleming said what Ireland says on the conflict is “being noted very carefully by the Israeli government”.

“Ultimately, yes, we’re out on the front in the EU when it comes to attack by Israel, or insults or abuse, and that speaks for itself.

Pre budget submission 2013
Sean Fleming (Niall Carson/PA)

“I think the Irish people will recognise, if we’re under attack and abuse from Israel, it’s because we’re very much on the side of the Palestinians, and they’re not happy with that.”

He told RTE’s Drivetime programme that while Ireland is militarily neutral, he is not “politically neutral when I see a bomb dropping and children starving”.

Mr Fleming added: “The words that were being used (by Israeli government representatives) was ‘total victory’, ‘destroy Hamas’ – that has not got anything to do with peace negotiations or a ceasefire.

“Nobody is saying the Palestinian state will happen now, but discussions have to happen now and we have to prepare the ground.

“The view from Israel is they will talk when they have destroyed Hamas and they have achieved total victory – that’s not the way this is going to play out in the long term.”

On Thursday, one of Ireland’s three coalition parties, Fianna Fail, said it had not invited the Israeli or Russian ambassadors to its Ard Fheis conference in Dublin this weekend.

“We do not believe it would be appropriate, given the war on the people in Gaza or the war in Ukraine. Fianna Fail has continuously condemned Hamas and its attack on the Israeli people on October 7,” a statement from the party said.

“However, more than six months on, we truly believe that the ongoing response from Israel is completely disproportionate and the fact that aid is being held back while children and others die from famine cannot and will not be condoned.”