A battle is underway in Ireland to ensure that a ban on imports from Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank will not be vetoed.
Legislation to introduce such a ban has received majority support in both houses of Ireland’s parliament, the Oireachtas. Yet the country’s government is expected to try and wreck the legislation by invoking the little known “money message” provision.
“Money messages” rely on a clause in the Irish constitution which states that no law involving the expenditure of public finance will be enacted unless it has been signed by the taoiseach, the country’s prime minister.
A paper drawn up by Michael McDowell, a prominent Irish lawyer and politician, insists that the legislation banning Israel’s settlement goods does not require approval via a “money message.”
The Occupied Territories Bill – as the legislation on settlement goods is called – “does not entail any direct expenditure and instead involves the creation of a criminal offense,” McDowell’s paper states.
Approximately 50 bills are stalled in Dáil Eireann, the lower house in the Oireachtas, as they are awaiting a “money message.”
Although the “money message” provision has long been in existence, it has only become controversial lately as Ireland’s minority government has been using it to block legislation which commands majority support in the Oireachtas.
Earlier this month, the government refused to issue a “money message” for the Climate Emergency Measures Bill aimed at halting oil and gas exploration in the nation’s waters. Simon Coveney, the foreign minister, indicated in January that he would seek to obstruct the Occupied Territories Bill by the same means.
McDowell’s paper argues that the rule of procedure under which these bills are blocked goes further than the “money message” clause in the Irish constitution. The rules of procedure can be changed, according to McDowell, who has formerly been the tánaiste – Ireland’s deputy prime minister – and the attorney general.
“World is watching”
Ireland’s political leaders have been under pressure from Israel and its lobbyists – including some members of the US Congress – to thwart the Occupied Territories Bill.
Yet support for the bill has remained solid among elected representatives in Dublin.
Niall Collins, foreign affairs spokesperson with the main opposition party Fianna Fáil, said that an independent legal adviser to the Oireachtas will soon provide an opinion about the use of “money messages.” The opinion is expected to be delivered in the autumn.
“This money message mechanism does have a role to play, as it stops a populist headbanger from coming forward with crazy promises which would incur a huge cost to the Irish state,” said Collins. “But the mechanism is open to abuse and this government has clearly been abusing it.”
Collins added that advocates of the Occupied Territories Bill are preparing to mount a legal challenge if the government continues blocking it.
Frances Black, the Oireachtas member who formally proposed the bill, vowed to fight for its implementation “even if it’s the death of me.”
“The government should not have what is essentially a total veto over opposition bills,” Black, who is also a well-known singer, said. “To do something like this is unfair and unjust. It’s a vital piece of legislation for the people of Palestine. The reality is this will give so much hope to the people of Palestine, that somebody out there in the international community actually does care.”
“The world is watching this legislation,” she added. “We have been invited to Brussels, the Netherlands, London and Chile to talk to parliamentarians about this piece of legislation. Parliamentarians all over the world are paying attention to this and considering bringing in similar bills of their own. What is happening now is anti-democratic and we have to call it out.”
Ciaran Tierney is a journalist based in Galway, Ireland. He won the Irish current affairs and politics blog of the year award at the Tramline, Dublin in 2018. Twitter: @ciarantierney. Website: ciarantierney.com.