Ireland recognizes Palestine … Karen Read trial from afar

Letter from Wicklow/Larry Donnelly

Ireland recognizes Palestine … Karen Read trial from afar

The massive gulf in outlook separating the governments of the United States and Ireland on the Middle East has been alluded previously in this space.  The divergence has never been more palpable than in the aftermath of the announcement by An Taoiseach, Simon Harris, that Ireland, together with Spain and Norway, will officially recognize the state of Palestine.  It comes at a fraught moment, as Israel continues the bombardment of Gaza in its ongoing retaliation for Hamas’s terrorist attack last Oct. 7, but Ireland had intended to do so for some time.

There is uncertainty as to what exactly recognition means.  The Taoiseach says the territory of the nation lies within “internationally recognized borders” as of 1967, prior to Israeli occupation of sections of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Ireland is recognizing the state, not the government; it deems the Palestinian Authority the legitimate government of the state, not Hamas, which is still judged a terrorist organisation.

The latter grouping has nonetheless cheered the move as has the former, with the Palestinian Authority saying that it demonstrates Ireland’s “unwavering commitment” to “delivering the long overdue justice to the Palestinian people.”  Israel’s livid foreign minister has asserted that it sends a clear message – “terrorism pays” – to the world, warned of dire consequences for Ireland, and immediately recalled his ambassador from Dublin for consultations as to next steps.

The Biden administration has not publicly decried Ireland, Spain, and Norway.  It did respond that a Palestinian state should be established via “direct negotiations” between the two entities involved.  Conversely, one avowedly “Zionist” Florida legislator has pledged to introduce a bill including the three on a list of “scrutinized countries.”   

Appearing on Newstalk radio here, Donald Trump’s ex-chief of staff and special envoy to Northern Ireland, Mick Mulvaney, was obviously ticked off.  The three-term South Carolina congressman ventured that the snub of a close ally, as it fights to secure its very existence, could lead to the suspension of the shamrock ceremony at the White House and lunch on Capitol Hill with the congressional leadership on St. Patrick’s Day, especially if his erstwhile boss is returned to power.  Others have speculated that it could damage present and deter future investment in Ireland by US corporations.

My own belief is that these assessments are off the mark.  At the highest levels, whether in politics or in business, there is an acceptance that the US and Ireland, for a host of historical and contemporary reasons, are poles apart and that they will have to “agree to disagree” on this one without imperilling a mutually beneficial relationship that is so cherished by so many of us on each side of the Atlantic.

That said, make no mistake: There are lots of Irish people, primarily on the left of the political spectrum, who are furious with Joe Biden and America more broadly at their support for what they see as a genocide.  For instance, Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s characterization of the International Criminal Court’s issuance of an arrest warrant for Benjamin Netanyahu as a “profoundly wrong-headed decision,” in tandem with the threat of imposing sanctions on the ICC, triggered near universal rage  – from moderate, typically pro-US commentators in addition to the usual suspects.

Of course, decent individuals everywhere have been horrified both by the revolting images of the death and suffering inflicted first by Hamas and then, grossly disproportionately, by Israel’s military.  We pray for an end to hostility and an enduring peace.  In the interim, American visitors to Ireland this summer would be well-advised to be mindful that things are perceived radically differently on this island than they are at home.  They are always welcome and will be treated to the same unique hospitality.  With respect to Gaza, though, there is abundant disappointment in Uncle Sam.

Of immigrants and elections

Since 2022, Ireland has taken in 100,000 + Ukrainians fleeing Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression.  Tens of thousands of international protection seekers escaping myriad unfortunate circumstances have also arrived.  They have entered a jurisdiction in the midst of a pre-existing, seemingly intractable housing crisis.  This has tested already stretched resources.  It is a sorry reality right now that scores of refugees are living in tents in Dublin city centre and locations farther afield with slightly better amenities.

There has been warranted and unwarranted criticism of the government for how it has handled an unprecedented surge of newcomers to these shores.  A common complaint that has been aired is the extent to which the government has relied upon hotel and other accommodation providers to house Ukrainians and others on a longer-term basis, hence enriching owners of those premises and harming the vital tourism industry by reducing the availability of badly needed beds.

Protesters in urban neighbourhoods, towns, and villages have railed at the impact on school class sizes, access to health care, and to other pressurized services.  While a minority has embraced racism and hate, stirred up by a motley crew of malevolent agitators, polls show that a solid majority simply think that Ireland has allowed too many people in, and much too quickly.  In short, and just like the rest of the West, immigration is finally a big political hot potato here.

Elections to city and county councils and to the European Parliament loom on the horizon at the time of writing.  It is a pretty sure thing that some self-described “community-based” candidates for local office, who are touting their skepticism about and/or outright opposition to immigration, will prevail when ballots are cast on June 7.  Which of the three most popular parties – Sinn Féin, Fianna, minor party aspirants – is an open question.  It could well be Sinn Féin, given that opposition to immigration is strongest among the working class voters the party has traditionally depended on.

Conjecture remains widespread that a few of Ireland’s 14 seats in the European Parliament could go to candidates appealing to that swath of the citizenry angered by the pro-immigration stance of the political mainstream.  An Irish Times survey, however, cuts against the theorizing.  The results, which carry a health warning in that there is a ways to go before a volatile electorate has its say, and because those questioned may have been reticent to admit backing an anti-immigrant candidate, suggest that this vote is diffuse, scattered among a large number of contenders with a similar message in the three constituencies.  I am not entirely convinced that it will play out accordingly.

At any rate, it will be fascinating to consider the outcomes and what the implications may be for the general election that must be held by March 2025 at the latest.

Of the Karen Read trial circus sideshow

Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York has been the focus of daily coverage and analysis in the Irish media. Yet scanning Boston news outlets online from 3,000 miles away, as well as scrolling through Twitter/X, it is decidedly second fiddle in eastern Massachusetts to the prosecution of Karen Read, who is charged with the second-degree murder of her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe.

The intensity with which cultish devotees monitor every second of the trial, shouting loudly that minuscule inconsistencies or oversights in witness testimony constitute conclusive proof of Ms. Read’s guilt or innocence, is extremely disconcerting.  We who weren’t there in Canton on that snowy January night don’t know what happened.  I have no idea if the case is as relatively straightforward as the Norfolk County District Attorney’s office is arguing, or if there is a grand conspiracy as Ms. Read’s defense lawyers insist, or if the truth can be found in the murky middle.

Naturally, I hope the jurors follow the evidence and the law to where it leads and settle on the correct verdict.  But even from this remove, I am sick of the circus sideshow surrounding a very serious criminal proceeding in which a woman’s liberty is at stake.  May the trial swiftly reach a just conclusion.  And may John O’Keefe, a good man by all accounts, at last get to rest in peace.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston born and educated attorney, a Law Lecturer at the University of Galway and a regular media contributor on politics, current affairs and the law in Ireland and the US.  @LarryPDonnelly