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MV Saoirse - Statement by the Tánaiste

Commenting on the Israeli Navy interception earlier today of two vessels, including the MV Saoirse operated by the Irish Ship to Gaza campaign and with fourteen Irish nationals aboard, as they attempted to sail to Gaza, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Eamon Gilmore, T.D., stated:

“My initial reaction is one of relief that there has been no violence and that all the Irish nationals aboard the MV Saoirse are safe and well following this ordeal. My priority and responsibility throughout this whole episode, as in relation to previous flotillas attempting to sail to Gaza, has been to ensure that no harm would come to any Irish national involved and I am gratified that this has been accomplished.   

My Department both here and through our Embassy in Tel Aviv has been in constant contact throughout with the Israeli authorities in relation to this matter and have particularly urged that all possible restraint be exercised by Israel in carrying out any interception. I welcome that this clear message appears to have been heeded by the Israeli authorities.

The priority must remain the safety and welfare of all those who have now been taken into Israeli custody. I will be continuing to press the Israeli authorities to allow the earliest possible consular access by Irish Embassy officials to any Irish nationals detained and brought to Ashdod.

My views and those of the Government on the Gaza blockade are well known. We do not agree with it, regard it as contrary to international humanitarian law in its impact on the civilian population of Gaza, and have repeatedly urged Israel to end a policy which is unjust, counter-productive and amounts to collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians.

My Department’s official advice to anyone seeking to sail to Gaza at present in an effort to challenge the blockade remains unchanged. I cannot recommend such a course of action, given the likelihood that it could pose a clear risk to the safety and welfare of those doing so and in light of Israel’s clear insistence that they will enforce their blockade.

While Israel is entitled to prevent weapons and genuinely military materials entering Gaza, and therefore to stop and search cargoes, I do not accept that Israel has any right to prevent peaceful protestors or humanitarian aid from proceeding to Gaza. However, the priority above all must remain to seek to defuse any such situations which arise and ensure the safety and welfare of all those involved.”