Sinn Fein Senator Paul Gavan has raised the plight of Palestinian children with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during Questions at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Senator Gavan said:
“The Irish Government has taken over the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe until November, and has identified as a key priority the importance of youth participation and engagement in participatory democracy.
“Palestinian children and youth have known no other life than that lived under military occupation. Many Palestinian children are exposed to dangers on a daily basis due to attacks on schools, and other threats including military checkpoints and the conduct of Israeli military around their schools.
“As the Minister knows, the Norwegian Refugee Council reports an average of ten attacks on education per month by Israeli Authorities and settlers in Palestine.
“Today the Occupied Palestinian Territories is regarded as one of the riskiest places on earth for children to go to school. Fifty-four schools in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have demolition orders held against them by Israeli Authorities.
“Is the Minister’s intention to ensure that the Council of Europe brings its considerable influence and expertise to bear in support of Palestinian children, and hold the Government of Israel to account for perpetuating these crimes against children?”
Minister Coveney, who was responding on behalf of the Committee of Ministers, acknowledged that the occupation of Palestine was both illegal and immoral, and emphasised the need for all countries to speak with one voice on the issue.
However he made no direct reference to the dangers facing Palestinian children. He also appeared to question whether the Council of Europe as a forum could be of particular use with regard to this topic, despite a long history of engagement by the Parliamentary Assembly with this issue.
Speaking after the exchange Senator Gavan expressed frustration at the Minister’s response, saying:
“As an organisation that champions Human Rights, Democracy, and The Rule of Law The Council of Europe has taken an interest in the plight of Palestinians for many years now.
“The Irish Presidency could be an opportunity to encourage the Committee of Ministers to take a greater focus on this issue and in particular crimes perpetrated by the Israeli State against Palestinian children, but there was little indication from the Minister that this would be done.”