First Irish citizens and dependents leave Gaza via Rafah crossing

A number of Irish citizens and their dependents have been granted permission to leave the Gaza Strip for Egypt.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said arrangements were in place for the country's embassy staff in Cairo to provide them with consular assistance, including travel back to Ireland.

Speaking in the Dail, Mr Varadkar said: “We expect additional Irish citizens and dependents in Gaza to be on the list in the coming days and we are working tirelessly to ensure that all who wish to do so are allowed to leave as soon as possible.”

Around 35 to 40 Irish passports were in the enclave during the escalation of hostilities.

The Taoiseach was responding to a call by Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

During Leaders' Questions, Ms McDonald said a civilian refugee population in Gaza was being “slaughtered en masse by one of the most savage military forces on Earth”.

He said: “A child is killed every 10 minutes in front of the world. Gaza – a graveyard for innocent children. Israel's bombardment has destroyed Gaza's health infrastructure.

“Hospitals are running out of the fuel and electricity they need to power vital equipment – ​​maternity, cancer care, all care is being decimated as the wounded and dying in hospitals try to keep up with gunfire, tank fire and airstrikes.”

He added: “The Irish government should refer Israel to the International Criminal Court. Israel must be held accountable. There must be immediate ceasefires, that is the only thing that will transform this horrible situation.”

When this phase of the conflict ends, we need a more active approach by the European Union pushing for a two-state solution

Leo Varadkar

Mr Varadkar said he agreed with the call for a ceasefire but said it would be important for “all sides” to observe a ceasefire.

He said the proposal to refer Israel to the ICC was “flawed” as an inquiry, which would include events from the October 7 Hamas attack, has been ongoing since 2021 and dates back to 2014.

Mr Varadkar said: “Referring Israel to the International Criminal Court at this stage, where the investigation is already underway, would be like reporting an alleged crime to the gardai (Irish police) after an investigation for many years.

“It would simply have no practical effect or practical value. Also, your proposal is wrong because your proposal is to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court and not the situation in the region and this allows Hamas and Islamic Jihad to get away with it.

“Maybe that's your intention, maybe an omission – but it's not the right approach.”

Israel is not interested in international law

Mary Lou McDonald

Mr Varadkar's comments were met with loud objections in the chamber of parliament.

The Taoiseach said Ireland would instead give another three million euros to the ICC.

He added: “For too long, European countries and the European Union have been willing to help the Palestinians and deal with the Israelis without pressuring either side to do what is needed.

“When this phase of the conflict is over we need a more active approach from the European Union pushing for a two-state solution, telling the Palestinians that we are not going to continue to give you aid if you do not respect democracy and human rights and the suppression of terrorism and telling the Israelis that we are not willing to continue to trade with you the way we do if you are not willing to be serious about a two-state solution and allow the Palestinians the right to the state they need and deserve.”

Ms McDonald said Mr Varadkar had been “disingenuous” on the ICC issue.

He said: “Israel is not interested in international law. Why; Because Israel is never, ever held accountable.”

He said there had “correctly” been multiple complaints to the ICC following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He said: “Why is Israel different? Why can't the international community state the truth that the world saw in their eyes as the Palestinians are being slaughtered? Why can't Israel be held accountable?'

Mr Varadkar replied: “It is not the same as Ukraine and there is already an investigation into possible war crimes.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Micheal Martin is in Egypt ahead of planned trips to Israel and the Occupied Territories.

“I am very pleased that a number of our Irish citizens are on the list today, Wednesday, to go through the Rafah crossing,” he told RTE.

He said the government would work to get the remaining Irish citizens through the crossing, but said it was a “fluid situation”.

“I can't give you exact numbers, but it's good news that a number of Irish citizens are on that list,” he said.

Mr Martin's visit is also focused on trying to secure the release of Israeli-Irish girl Emily Hand, eight, who is feared to be held hostage by Hamas in Gaza.

He is expected to hold talks with his Egyptian counterpart on the issue during his visit to Cairo.

“I am very focused on this particular issue. As an Irish citizen of eight years, I believe it is imperative that they be released, and indeed all hostages, and especially children who have been abducted,” said Mr Martin.

Emily's Dublin-born father Tom and her half-sister Natali were in Ireland this week along with relatives of other hostages to raise awareness of the situation and call for Irish support to secure their release.

They met Mr Martin in Dublin and also met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Irish President Michael D Higgins.