Prime Minister Brian Cowen told Parliament on Tuesday that there will be “serious consequences” if harm comes to Irish citizens detained in Israel for their part in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla that was attacked by Israeli soldiers.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has accused Israel of “kidnapping” Irish citizens who were aboard the flotilla attacked by the soldiers on Monday.
And Irish former President Mary Robinson said she and other former world leaders were “absolutely outraged” by the raid.
Martin, who summoned Israeli Ambassador Zion Evrony to his office within hours of the attack, said the Irish government wants an independent, international inquiry into the incident, a view shared by Cowen and several EU countries which condemned Israel’s storming of the six-ship flotilla with 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid.
Robinson was in Johannesburg with a group of 10 senior international leaders known as The Elders, among them Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan.
She said the ex-leaders were appalled by the attack in international waters but also by the treatment of Gaza. She said, “It’s one of the greatest human violations and the blockade is illegal and is counter-productive. We believe that out of this event must come the wider justice. There must be an end to that blockade on Gaza.”
Seven Irish passport-holders, including Monaghan-born reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia Paul McGeough, were in the flotilla and were captured in the raid and were being deported or faced deportation from Israel.
Three Irish politicians were refused access by the Cypriot authorities to the flotilla before it sailed towards Gaza. They were TDs (members of Parliament) Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Chris Andrews and Senator Mark Daly.
Another five Irish people are on board the ship the “Rachel Corrie,” an Irish vessel which became separated from the main flotilla for 48 hours through logistical reasons in Cyprus. It set sail after the other ships and was due in Gazan waters mid-week, but Israeli authorities claimed they would also block it.
Maireád Corrigan-Maguire, Irish winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976, was one of the Irish aboard the Rachel Corrie which was carrying construction materials, education equipment and some toys. “None of our ships carry arms. They are purely humanitarian,” she said.
She said it was necessary for the vessel to complete its mission “to assure the people of Gaza the world does care.”
She added, “Their port has been closed for over 40 years. With 1.5 million people, it’s like the population of Northern Ireland, totally cut off from the world by this inhumane illegal siege of Gaza. Their borders are closed. There is a shortage of medicines.
“Could you imagine if that happened to the 1.5 million people in Northern Ireland? The world would be absolutely crying out that this stop immediately.”
Labor Foreign Affairs spokesman Michael D Higgins called on the government to demand safe passage for the Rachel Corrie.
“The minister for foreign affairs must make it clear that any assault on the Rachel Corrie would be regarded as a hostile act against Ireland and a clear breach of international law that could not be ignored by this country,” he said.
Fiachra O’Luain, 27-year-old Donegal-born candidate in last year’s European elections, was one of three Irish people on board one of the lead ships which traveled in the first wave of the flotilla when it encountered Israeli naval commandos.
His father, Joseph Bangert, who lives in Brewster, Cape Cod, said initially that while information was hard to come by, he had heard unconfirmed reports that his son was wounded and taken into custody by the Israelis.
His father added in an RTE interview that when he eventually saw the Israeli defense film of the arrest he could see his son was walking. “He had two arms and two legs and his head was still there so I was very happy,” he said.
O’Luain, who is held in a detention camp, plans to contest his deportation from Israel.
His father said, “I'm scared for Fiachra but I am also proud of him. My son is heroic.”
Flotilla organizers eventually reported that all Irish in the convoy were unhurt.
Fintan Lane, a 42-year-old Dublin book publisher who was also planning to contest his deportation, received praise from his family.
His Cork-based father Jim said, “I am proud of my son, not only for going on this solidarity mission to Gaza, but also for refusing deportation.
“He is making a point that Israel should have no control over who enters Gaza. He has done nothing wrong and I support him.”
Late on Sunday night, in his final blog posting before communications were cut, Lane wrote, “Tension is mounting among the passengers. Everyone is wearing their lifejackets and preparing for an Israeli attack.”
Demonstrations were held across Ireland on Monday evening after the flotilla raid. More than 1,700 attended Dublin’s protest, including Lord Mayor Emer Costello, when demonstrators marched from the city-centre to the Israeli Embassy in Ballsbridge.
They were addressed by Sinn Fein’s O’Snodaigh and Fianna Fail’s Andrews who were prevented by Cypriot authorities from joining the flotilla at the weekend.
O’Snodaigh, who called for the Israeli ambassador to be expelled, said, “It looks as though this cold and calculated attack took place in international waters, in breach of all international maritime laws. There must be action from the international community.”
Andrews said, “Israel has proven repeatedly that it believes itself to be above international law, evidenced by the fact that it carried out these attacks in international waters.
“I have just spent a week with several of the people who were on board these boats and I can say with absolute certainty these people were only concerned with peacefully bringing badly needed aid to the region.”
At least nine people were killed after the Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish “Mavi Marmara” ship, from the pro-Islamic aid group IHH, and Free Gaza’s “Challenger” in international waters more than 40 miles off the coast of Gaza. Israel said its soldiers were shot at but the activists, who said they were unarmed, insisted Israeli troops came on board shooting.
The ships were part of a flotilla attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
his meeting with the Israeli ambassador Foreign Minister Martin said, “I made it clear that the Irish government expects the immediate and unconditional release of all the Irish citizens detained.
“The seven individuals concerned did not enter Israel illegally; rather they were essentially seized from international waters, taken into Israel and asked to sign documents confirming that they entered illegally. This is simply not acceptable.”
Martin added that he condemned Israel’s “unacceptable and disproportionate” use of force and he accused it of “essentially kidnapping” the Irish citizens aboard the ships.
By Tuesday two Irish citizens were ordered to be deported and were expected to be put aboard flights out of Israel. They were Shane Dillon and Issan Ben Ali.
They were among the Irish citizens detained in Israel after the Gaza-bound aid flotilla they were sailing in was raided by armed and masked Israeli commandos in the early hours of Monday morning.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore